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Susan Alcorn's Backpacking Tales and Tips Newsletters 2018

 All Newsletters 2018 , 2017 , 2016 , 2015 , 2014 , 2013 , 2012 , 2011 , 2010 , 2009 , 2008 , 2007 , 2006 , 2005 , 2004

Shepherd Canyon Books
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Publisher of "We're in the Mountains Not over the Hill--Tales and Tips from Seasoned Women Backpackers."

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Susan Alcorn’s Backpacking & Hiking Tales and Tips #228 February 2018

  1. The many benefits of hiking poles
  2. KINDLE version of Healing Miles: Gifts from the Caminos Norte and Primitivo
  3. Woman attacked on Camino
  4. The focus on setting records going too far?
  5. Taking a short, steep horseback ride  
  6. Regional: Camino talks on packing (Silicon Valley Chapter)
  7. Regional: Northern California “Shell Blessing and potluck in March
  8. Regional: Special Camino Norte & Primitivo presentation after Nor. CA walk
  9. Regional: Susan and Ralph's programs at S.F. Bay Area REI stores Norte and Primitivo 
  10. REI Adventures offering trip along Norte route
  11. APOC Gathering spots filling fast. 
  12. Regional: Excellent, and somewhat challenging, hiking opportunities
  13. Regional: East Bay Regional Park District’s Trail Challenge 2018



#1. The many benefits of hiking poles. 
Ralph and I have used several types of hiking poles over the years—after our initial backpacking trips in the Sierra where we each used a single wooden pole found trailside.  The first purchased poles were aluminum—which we liked initially, but then better things came along. We don’t like the twist-to-adjust ones because the twist mechanism always seems to fail at the least convenient times. Some people like the locking-type mechanism, but I no longer see a need to adjust the length of my pole whether going up or down hills. I absolutely love my current poles—Black Diamond, of carbon fiber, which collapse down 15 & ¾ inches and weigh 4.5 oz. (for the pair). 

Why I love them: provide stability—especially when stream-crossing, on uneven ground, scrambling up hillsides, descending steep paths. Push me along faster on level ground. Work upper body and take some of the load off lower body, which provides help to the knee, hip, ankle, and feet joints, etc. 

Some other benefits not always considered:

  1. Prevent hands swelling in hot weather
  2. Provide support for some tent models
  3. Protect or possibly ward off animals—including insects
  4. Useful for guiding snakes off the trail
  5. Provide entertainment – baton twirling during idle moments
  6. Allow drawing arrows to point the way (temporarily only) or initials in the sand
  7. Measure depth of water, or mud, before a crossing

Phillip Werner, also known Section Hiker, asks, “Why aren’t all Trekking Poles This Good? He loves his new Pacer Poles as he explains in this current blog:

#2. The KINDLE version of Healing MilesHealing Miles: Gifts from the Caminos Norte and Primitivo is also now available on Amazon. Please spread the word to your friends and family who might be taking a Camino walk this year. And if you enjoy Healing Miles, please consider writing an Amazon review. 

#3. Appalling news from the Camino near Finisterre: I am sorry to have to report that a pilgrim woman was abducted and raped while walking from Finisterre to Santiago just two days ago. She survived the attack and is receiving care. I want to remind people that more than 300,000 people reached the pilgrim office last year—and that figure does not include the many who walked Camino routes but did not go into the office to receive a credential. Still, there are isolated areas, and trails that are more remote, so taking precautions is important. Most everyone agrees that hiking in Spain is safer than hiking in many parts of the U.S., but that is cold comfort to anyone who experiences an attack.

Here’s a repeat of an item in last September’s newsletter with some safety precautions, "Women’s Safety on the Camino. In general, the Camino paths are very safe places to be, but just like in the ‘real world,’ incidents occur. Anyone on the trails is well advised to program Spain’s (and many other countries in Europe) emergency number, 112, into their telephone. There is a downloadable App that allows you to send an alert from a mobile device/smartphone to the police.’ 

Finally, for the benefit of everyone, it is urged that you report all incidents to the police.”

#4. Outside Magazine, Marc Peruzzi, Jan 20, 2018. OUT OF BOUNDS: Stop the Progression Already. Increasingly, what we do outside is less about enjoying the activity itself as an intrinsic good, and more about planning ways to go bigger, faster, and farther, often for our selfie-stick mounted cameras. And so it went that once healthy outdoor pursuits devolved into suicide clubs."

#5. Horses to take you up to O Cebreiro on the Camino Frances? Just heard about during a local pilgrim walk. Probably wouldn’t be for me because every rental horse I have been on races back to the stable instead of forging on ahead, but some love this service. When on the Camino, you’ll see a sign at the start of tiny Vega del Calcarce, which is a few miles ahead of the 620-meter elevation ascent to O Cebreiro. The actual rentals began in Las Herrerias. The service is by Victor, reached at 638-041823. Cost, last I heard, is 35 Euros—pretty steep, but so is the ascent. On Ivar’s forum I saw a comment that the horses are not well cared for, but the majority of people using this service did not comment on this claim. 

#6.  Camino Events - Packing for the Camino. Regional: Judy Barnes and Pat Day of the Camino Silicon Valley Chapter. Tuesday, February 6, 6:30 – 8:30 p.m. REI, MARINA. 145 General Stilwell Drive, Marina, CA Register online or call the store at 831-883-8048. And, Wednesday, February 7, 6:30 – 8:30 p.m.REI, SAN CARLOS, 1119 Industrial Road, San Carlos, CA

Register online or call 650-508-2330.

#7. Camino de Santiago: Regional S.F. Bay Area. The Northern California Chapter’s Annual Shell Blessing Ceremony and Potluck will be  Saturday, March 17, 2018  at St. Augustine’s Catholic Church in Oakland. Check at APOC’s website at for more details or changes.

#8. Camino: Northern CA chapter: The next regular informal walk around Oakland’s Lake Merritt will be on  Saturday , Mach 3, 2018. From Laurie Ferris’s Camino Provides site, “The group meets at the pergola on the east side of Oakland’s Lake Merritt at  10:30 a.m.  and starts walking at  10:45 a.m.  in a clockwise direction around the lake. It is a paved and level 3.3 mile walk and takes about an hour.” Everyone is welcome. 

3Following the March walk, there will be lunch at the Barlago Italian Kitchen and Susan and Ralph Alcorn will be presenting a narrated slide show on their Norte and Primitivo Camino pilgrimages. Lunch and the program will be RSVP-required as space is limited. More event details will be posed by  Feb. 10  on the Peregrinos Northern California Facebook group, or you can email

#9. Susan and Ralph’s REI Events on the Caminos Norte and Primitivo: Ralph and I are going to have a schedule full of narrated slide presentations on the Caminos Norte and Primitivo at the end of March and through April. All events are free; reservations recommended (but generally not an issue). We would love to see you! 

March 27, 2018 .  Tuesday ,  7:00-8:30 pm.  REI, Mountain View, CA 

March 28, 2018 .  Wednesday ,  7:00-8:30 pm.  REI, Berkeley, CA 

April 3, 2018 .  Tuesday ,  7:00-8:30 pm.  REI Fremont, CA

April 4, 2018 .  Wednesday .  7:00-8:30 pm.  REI Corte Madera, CA

April 11, 2018 .  Wednesday ,  7:00-8:30 pm.  REI Concord, CA 

April 17, 2018 .  Tuesday .  7:00-8:30 pm.  REI San Francisco, CA

April 19, 2018   Thursday .  7:00-8:30 pm.  REI San Carlos, CA

April 24, 2018   Tuesday .  7:00-8:30 pm.  REI Saratoga, CA

April 28, 2018 .  Saturday .  9:00 am.-10:30 am.  REI Dublin, CA

#10. Camino: REI is giving a nine day-trip along the Caminos Norte and Primitivo. Priced from $4,199.

#11. Final Reminder: Annual National Gathering of American Pilgrims on the Camino,  April 12 – 15, 2018 . 

Vallombrosa Center, Menlo Park, Complete information and registration for all events: Things are filling very fast!

1#12. Nifty Ninety: As I mentioned in the January newsletter, Ralph and I are embarking on a new challenge, the “Nifty Ninety Peaks” as thrown out by the Sierra Club Bay Chapter. I’ve resurrected my blog to write about our progress so far and why I think it would be a fun and worthwhile goal for local hikers. We’ve now completed 14 of them and it’s turning out to be a great excuse to plan hikes with friends. has more info. 

#13. Regional:  East Bay Regional Park District: Healthy Parks Healthy People. Trails Challenge 2018. Trails Challenge is celebrating its 25th Anniversary! Every year more than 10,000 people use this FREE self-guided program to explore our regional parks and to keep fit outdoors. The free printed Guide Book and T-Shirt are available at participating Visitor Centers or the EBRPD administration office, while supplies last. No Registration is needed to participate. Simply pick-up or download the Guidebook and get started! The Guidebook includes detailed trail descriptions for hikes in 20 Regional Parks or Trails. Hikes range from easy to challenging. There are trails open to hikers, bicyclists, dogs, and equestrians, and many are wheelchair accessible. To complete the challenge, hike five of the trails – or 26.2 miles of trails.

NEW! All 20 featured trails are now available on the AllTrails app. First download the free app, sign-up and log in, then go to and click on “Copy to my lists”, followed by "Continue in App". The featured trails will show under 'Lists' in 'Plan'. 

The app indicates where you are on the trail, enabling easy return to the trail if you stray from it. You can also record your hikes, and share your photos, comments etc. with others.

Buen Camino/Pleasant hiking/Tale care!

Susan Alcorn aka Backpack 45


Late Breaking News: Healing Miles now out on Kindle

  1. Earlier feats on the John Muir Trail
  2. Camino de Santiago 2017 statistics
  3. Healing Miles: Gifts from the Caminos Norte and Primitivo
  4. Peaceable Kingdom launches new Camino support project
  5. Reminder: dates of national Pilgrim Gathering
  6. Checkpoint and the G2G 2018?
  7. New Year’s Resolutions
  8. My intention for 2018 – Ninety Nifty Peaks
  9. Regional Events, S.F. Bay Area


2#1. Setting records on the John Muir Trail. Nowadays, when one sets a record for being the oldest, youngest, or fastest person to complete a major trail—or achieves another exceptional goal such as climbing Yosemite’s El Capitan even though quadriplegic or blind or in some other way greatly challenged—we hear or read about it in minutes. This has not always been the case. 

Back in the day, people also did amazing things—and they didn’t always get noticed in the manner that they now do. And sometimes we forget that the current crop of hikers, runners, climbers, etc. have probably benefited from those who came before. New, better and lighter equipment is available, for the most part trails have been improved or better marked, alternate routes have been discovered. 

I love this story sent by reader Dick Ryon of Livermore, CA.

"I never fail to bring up a friend's incredible journey on the John Muir Trail when the opportunity arises. I forget how long ago, maybe in the early 1970’s, my friend Larry Marino ran the John Muir trail, unassisted, without caches, in 5 days. I no longer remember the exact time, hours and minutes. He was so fatigued at the end that he did not recognize his wife and ran past her at Happy Isles in Yosemite at the conclusion of his run. As far as I know, there are no references to his amazing achievement. (This took place way before the internet.) Larry died a few years later in a bicycling accident, going from Los Alamos to Santa Fe, NM. Larry and fellow mountaineer - physicist Jim Wilson and a couple others also skied the John Muir trail together in winter." 

[ed.] I like reporting firsts, fastest, youngest achievements, in much the same way I enjoy the Olympics—seeing what the human body is capable of doing. However, even though I needed weeks to complete the John Muir Trail and months to complete the Pacific Crest Trail, I still consider it a huge personal victory and accomplishment. Anyone doing major miles on our grand trails is a winner in my book! -- photo from Mt. Whitney summit. 

#2. The Pilgrimage to Santiago – 2017 statistics. According the Pilgrim Office in Santiago de Compostela, 301,036 people received Compostelas for having traveled on foot, the required minimum 60 miles (100 kilometers) or by bicycle or on horseback 120 miles (200 km). You can find much more detail online at, but a few stats: just over half were men (50.88%), just under were females (49.12%). The greatest number, 25.54%, started their walk at Sarria (at the 100 km. point); in second place was St. Jean Pied du Port (500-mile point) with 11.41%. Most took the Camino Francés (60.04%), followed by the Portuguese route, the Ingles, the Via de la Plata, Norte (3.35%), the Primitivo (2.90 %). 17,522 were from the U.S. 

#3. Related to item #2. Please keep in mind that if you want a less-crowded, somewhat more challenging, alternative route to the Camino Francés, consider picking up a copy of my new book, Healing Miles: Gifts from the Caminos Norte and Primitivo. These two routes are beautiful! It’s now available in soft cover and will be out on Kindle shortly. or your local bookstore can order it from Ingram.

#4. Rebekah Scott and her husband Patrick live in Moratinos, a tiny village near the Camino Francés. If you should happen to meet them while on the way, you would soon learn that they are doers, not slackers. Rebekah and Paddy, as you may recall, organize a small group of volunteers called the Ditch Pigs that goes out each year to clean up trash left by walkers (and others) alongside the Camino route. 

Here’s her latest project: “Welcome to the Peaceable Projects newsletter. 2018 and the launch of something beautiful. It's a new year, a new look, and a brand-new Camino-based non-profit dedicated to keeping charity alive on the Camino Ways to Santiago. We're launched! Arching over the InterWebz, and you´re first in line for the fun! 

Go right now to … and nose around the splendid new Peaceable Projects Inc. website. You´ll see familiar places and faces and learn what´s happening now in Moratinos: learn of our new projects for 2018, see where your contributions are going, and ponder opportunities to join the activity… all in one online location. It´s engineered for SmartPhones, IPads, and on-the-move media as well as big, clunky computers like mine… so check it out while it´s hot! 

Sign up on the site for updates like this one, so you never miss a thing. 


Our mailing address is: peaceable projects, Calle Antanon 2, Camino de Santiago, Moratinos, Palencia 34349, Spain. Email: rebekah scott <"

#5. Reminder: The National Gathering of APOC is approaching. American Pilgrims on the Camino hosts an annual Gathering of Pilgrims. The Gathering is an opportunity to share experiences, to support one another and to learn more about the Camino and pilgrimage experience.

The 2018 Gathering’s theme is “Making Meaning from Memories. There are three parts to the gathering:

Tuesday, April 10 - Thursday, April 12, 2018 . Hospitalero Training. Location to be announced and more information available this month on registration.

Wednesday, April 11 - Thursday, April 12, 2018 . 2nd Annual Chapter Coordinators’ Workshop, Vallombrosa Center

Thursday, April 12 - Sunday, April 15, 2018 , Vallombrosa Center, Menlo Park, California

Complete information and registration for all events will be available January 2018

1#6. Checkpoint and the G2G 2018? For those who just can’t let an opportunity go by for a huge challenge, check out the information on the Grand 2 Grand Ultra-2018 event and the Mauna to Mauna Ultra -2019 (Hawaii’s big island). The G2G event is 273 km, 6 stages, over 7 days. It’s from the rim of the Grand Canyon to the top of the Grand Staircase (Arizona to Utah). Dates are  September 23 – 29, 2018 . “Registration for G2G 2018 is still open and entries are being received with country quotas filling fast. See the link to the competitor list below.” 

The M2M is 250 km, 6 stages, 7 days. September Pre-registration for M2M 2019 is open and the planned date for the event is May 2019! Pre-registrants will be given priority when formal registration opens in a few months from now. or check their Facebook pages.  (photo by Susan Alcorn: Southwest sunset).

#7. New Year’s Resolutions and Intentions: As most of us have learned, New Year’s Resolutions are hard to keep. This doesn’t mean they can’t work, but statistically they usually don't. Forbes Magazine gives hints on how to be successful. First of all, why do they fail? “#1. Ambiguous Terms.” Saying you want to “Get Organized” is not particularly helpful. Stating that you “will not allow clutter on your desk” just might.  Setting “#2. Overly Ambitious Goals” is another way to set yourself up for failure. If you can’t presently walk a mile, saying that you will run the Grand 2 Grand this year might not work. How about saying that you will add 10% to the distance you presently can walk or run and consistently doing it? “3. Lack Of A Strategy” is their third tenet. Instead of a vague “I’ll walk no matter what,” consider how you could make this real. Do you need to buy a new rain jacket? Do you need to find a hiking partner? Do you need to modify the goal to make it realistic, “I’ll walk when I am not on a plane to Australia? I’ll walk unless I have dental surgery planned. I’ll walk every day except the anticipated day of my granddaughter’s birth. In other words—give yourself a bit of wiggle room, but stop yourself from making such excuses as “the laundry needs to be done,” or “I partied too late last night.” 

#8. Susan and Ralph set a new goal; it's an intention, not a resolution! A few years back I interviewed a local hiker and photographer, David Sanger, who had taken on what I thought was an interesting project. He had set out to climb a local hill, mountain, or high point every day for a month. But, after the month was over, he kept going…and going. He no longer goes out daily, but he has continued with his personal challenge and has climbed and photographed well over 100.

Recently I found an article, entitled “Nifty Ninety Peaks,” in our local Sierra Club chapter’s newsletter, and I was intrigued. These high points are all in the San Francisco Bay Area and can be reached by day hiking. And, so this has become Ralph’s and my latest goal. The rules are simple—do the peaks, send in the dates, receive a bumper sticker. There’s no time limit for doing them. Just as with most trails, it’s self-reported. There are no “peak police.”  Ralph and I have already done some of the peaks, so we have started with the peaks we have not done. 

I know that many of our readers don’t live in the Bay Area so this list won’t help you much, but my suggestion is that you keep your eye out for a new personal challenge that might provide some extra motivation to get out there and keep exploring.

#9. Regional: Wrap up of Bay Area happenings. The John Muir Land Trust, which focuses primarily on the Mt. Diablo area, has new trail maps available to the Fernandez Ranch and Carr Ranch.

East Bay Regional Parks is kicking off their annual Trails Challenge (the 25th anniversary). Participants are challenged to walk at least five featured trails, or 26.2 miles. Maps and featured trail information is available starting today (Jan. 4). Free tee shirts are available, while supplies last, at some visitor centers. Registration is not required; you keep your own records and submit them when you are finished. 

Save Mount Diablo has a new trail map of the Diablo Trail, a 30-mile multi-use trail, available. You can get a copy at one of their events or email  

Sierra Club Bay Chapter has numerous hikes coming up such as “Muir Woods/Steep Ravine 3C loop hike.” (Marin County) Rain cancels. Meet  9:15 am.  at Mountain Home trailhead. Ends  5 pm.  Moderate pace, but not for beginners. Leader: Bob Solotar. 510-525-2110 or

Northern California Pilgrim walks: The first Saturday of each month walks around Lake Merritt continue. On January 6, the 3.3 mile walk will be followed by an optional Lunch & "Wayfaring" Film Screening. Meet for the walk at the pergola of Lake Merritt, Oakland at  10:30 am

3On Saturday, January 13, 2018, 9:30 AM - 5:00 PM. San Francisco, California. Lands End Hike & Labyrinth Walk. “Welcome the New Year with the Northern California Chapter with a hike and labyrinth walk at the end of the world! This 12-mile loop route starts at the historic Beach Chalet building at Ocean Beach. This year we're reversing the course. We'll walk through Golden Gate Park, on a short section through city streets, then through the forested Presidio, by Andy Goldsworthy's Spire. At the Golden Gate Bridge, we'll enjoy fresh sea air and sweeping views of the ocean and Marin Headlands. Next we'll follow the rugged coast heading south and walk the Lands End Labyrinth. We'll continue along the coastal Lands End Trail to the Cliff House and end back at the Beach Chalet building, where we'll cool our heels and have a casual bite at the Park Chalet Restaurant. Reservations are required if you are eating with the group at Park Chalet. Please email Stephanie with number in your party by Thursday, January 11. RSVP not required if you’re just doing the hike.

"Please refer to the American Pilgrims - Northern California Chapter page for more information, event updates or cancellations." 

Labyrinth at Lands End by Susan Alcorn

Happy New Year!

Susan “backpack45” Alcorn

. I’d love to include your success stories and other items of interest with the hiking/backpacking and Camino communities. I encourage you to send them to me at for consideration.
Susan “backpack45” Alcorn

 All Newsletters 2018 , 2017 , 2016 , 2015 , 2014 , 2013 , 2012 , 2011 , 2010 , 2009 , 2008 , 2007 , 2006 , 2005 , 2004

Emma Gatewood first hiked the entire 2160 mile Appalachian Trail at the age of 67.  She last hiked it at the age of 76.

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