The Road to Santiago The Road to Santiago


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06.06.01 Pamplona, Spain US$1 = 196 Pesetas Map Map

Time to begin the last stage of the path. I had an awkward, yet fun breakfast with my host, her husband, and a Japanese guest. No one spoke English. My host and her husband lived in Nevada for seven years. Is there a Basque community there? From the photo they showed me, it must have been back in the sixties...

After one last stop for some chocolate croissants (hey, I leave France today!), I headed out of town. The first 11km weren't so bad. Mostly flat, a few tough uphills, but a nice warmup for the day. I didn't notice the border when I crossed over. I saw an odd sign, but I was going uphill at the time, and didn't pay much attention. There was no shoulder, but the traffic was light, so it wasn't much of a problem. It was a nice ride along the river valley. Very cool and green.

Then, the hill began. Steep! The sky lowered, and a light mist turned into thick fog and heavy rain. I never saw the Pyrenees as I rode through them. But I sure felt them! I took it slow and easy. When I rode, I rode fast. But I also stopped frequently to take it easy on my aching knees. Thankfully, there were many spots to pull over, though still no shoulder. It was rough. Three weeks ago, there is no way I could have managed. But today, it was easier than other mountain passes by a long shot. One big part was the rain. Although it took my view away, it also took the heat away. I was in my sleeveless jersey, long sleeve shirt, and rain jacket. Temperatures were in the low 50's. So the weather was almost a good thing.

The map was wrong, so I came to the top of the pass 1.3 km before I expected it. A very happy surprise, to be sure. There was a small church there next to a hill covered in crosses. The first planted by Charlemagne after his nephew Roland was killed around here retreating from the Muslims. The monument was damaged. A British tour group were there in a bus, and helped me out with a photo.

  Crossing the Pyrenees :: Spain   Crossing the Pyrenees :: Spain
Crossing the Pyrenees
Crossing the Pyrenees

It was a nice fast downhill from there to Roncevalles. A cold downhill. It was a small shock getting there. A trend I would see continue in days to come. The Camino as a bus tour group route. Tons of people wandered around, fresh off the bus. There were also a half dozen bike tourers, though I've seen no one on the road in days. I wonder where they came from? One French guy rode his mountain bike on the trail. He was covered in mud from head to toe and wiped out. I think I prefered my route.

  Church of Santiago :: Roncevalles, Spain
Church of Santiago
Roncevalles, Spain
The tourist office was very helpful, giving me all sorts of information about the Camino. They also pointed out where to go to get my Credenza stamped. My second stamp along the way.

The church was very beautiful. Small, but peaceful and quiet. After the two loud Germans left, that is. I sat and tried to meditate to be in the right frame of mind to enter Spain (I didn't feel like I was really there yet), but the mood escaped me. *sigh*

It was a roller coaster ride down from there. A couple tough uphills, but then a fast downhill to Pamplona. The nice wide shoulders on the road I heard about finally appeared. Damn good after France. I almost had a lane to myself. Sean likes! :-)

  Along the road to Pamplona :: Spain
Along the road to Pamplona
Getting into Pamplona seemed to take forever. It was traffic hell. Merging lanes, exiting traffic, trucks rumbling past. Long after I technically entered Pamplona, I was still following signs for the center. Which abruptly dumped me at a roundabout with no idea where to go. A lovely young lady helped me out once she understood my accent. (South American Spanish isn't working for me here, I never remember when to lisp) Next thing I knew, I was riding into Plaza del Castillo, the center of the old town.

As I was consulting my map to get my bearings, I was approached by a smiling nun. 77, she was a teacher. I didn't understand most of what she said to me (that lisp again), but she was asking how my pilgrimage was going, where I started, etc. She asked me what I was looking for, and when I told her the road, she walked me over to a big city map, and pointed the area out to me. (Her eyes couldn't read the map without her glasses) She sent me on my way with a kiss on each cheek and a handshake goodbye, welcoming me to Pamplona. Now, that's the way to enter a country.

The good feeling didn't last too long, though. One hotel after another was full. Just when I was getting concerned, Hostel Bearn had a room for me.

Considering I had just crossed the Pyrenees, I felt rather well. But it still took me time before I gathered myself to go out into the day. I'm in Spain! Huh. A new country.

As par for me, I was completely disoriented being in a new country. I decided to put off pilgrim duties until tomorrow, and handle some business instead. Email, trail food, maps, etc.

I was sick of my baggy travel pants, so I decided to see if I could find an alternative. The second store I checked had some nice lightweight jeans. Fits the bill for me.

My usual routine of not eating the first day I'm in a country isn't a good idea when I'm travelling by bike. But old habits die hard. Wandering around town at night, nothing drew my attention. The culture is different here, and things don't yet make sense to me. Tomorrow, they will.

One thing that did make sense, though, was the Irish pub around the corner. A pint at the bar, then downstairs to listen to some live jazz. I felt even more like an outsider than ever. A social place, and I could barely ask someone's name. Ah well, so it goes.

Hotel 4500
Jeans 8000
Internet 500/hr

Stats ODO  01757km
DST  75.65km
AVS  20.2kph
MAX  48.7kph
ATM 03:48:42

06.07.01 Pamplona Map Map

A blah sort of day. I wandered the city all day. The running of the bulls route, got my Credenza stamped, not much else. In a slump today, feeling burnt out and ready to end this. The pilgrim spirit is completely lacking today. I managed a pizza and an evening stroll, but early to bed.

Stats ODO  01757km
DST   0.00km
AVS   0.0kph
MAX   0.0kph

06.08.01 Estella Map Map

Time to set off into Spain. Getting out of Pamplona was easy enough. A couple of killer hills, but it was a nice ride. 22km to Puente la Reina. Huh. Rejoining the La Tolansa route after leaving it in Orloron.

I checked out two churches. The first, the Church of the Crucifix, had a very graphic cross. Not some modern type with the guy just chilling. This one suffered. The other church was just down the road. A "wow" escaped me when I went inside. A gilded alter in a stone setting, with carved statues on the sides. Very nice.
  Iglesia del Crucifijo :: Puente La Reina, Spain   Puente La Reina, Spain   Iglesia del Crucifijo :: Puente La Reina, Spain
Iglesia del Crucifijo
Puente La Reina, Spain

Puente La Reina, Spain
Bridge out of town
Puente La Reina, Spain

I left town by the Puente. There was too much traffic on N111. I took a side road that took me high above the highway before the two joined up again. As I said, too much traffic, even with the nice shoulders.

I got into Estella soon after noon. A friendly woman at tourist information stamped my credenza and provided information about the town. Chinese for lunch. Yum.

It's amazing. At 3:00, you can walk down the road, and not see a soul in town. But 3 hours later, the streets are absolutely buzzing with activity.

Nice churches, though I'm tiring of them. The mood is only slowly coming back.

There was a live band in the square tonight. The town is like one big party, just going to town. What a change from France.

Hotel 7000
Lunch 1500
Film 875 x 2 for 36 exp 200 Kodak

Stats ODO  01802km
DST  44.74km
AVS  21.3kph
MAX  60.5kph
ATM 02:05:38

06.09.01 Santo Domingo Map Map

What a crappy day. I didn't eat enough yesterday, so today, I was very low on energy. I skipped half the stops today, I just wasn't in the mood. Including the wine fountain. Alcohol is the last thing I need in this state. On one hill, I was just knocked out, not enough power to get up it. I had already finished off the nuts and fruit. Now, I finished off the last of my power bars I brought from home, the last granola bar from France, and the rest of the bread. It helped a little. Viana was incredible. Unfortunately, up a big hill. Nice church, nice town. I wish I had more energy to check it out.

From there, the day got worse. I decided to skip Logrono. Cities are just too hard to get in and out when I'm just passing through. But my bad maps showed absolutely no secondary road out of town, only the autopiste. That, or the rough Camino, were my only options I could see. I'm sure there were other ways, but I was tired and in a bad mood. So, I took the highway. Stupid move. 6 lanes, super fast traffic, loads of exits and entrances, and many uphill kilometers until my exit. I rode full-speed the entire way, fearful a cop would pull me over. Of course, for me, full speed on the hill was a whole 20kph. At least there were nice wide shoulders, so I could stay far away from the traffic screaming past. By the time I got off, I was exhausted, both physically and emotionally.

I was planning to stay in Najerra tonight. But when I got there, some festival was going on, and the town was crazy. Signs didn't seem to point anywhere, and I couldn't find a hotel, though I saw signs for ones. That was enough for me. I checked my maps, found the way, and hit the road again.

Santo Domingo was another 20km down the road. Works for me. I like the story about the town as well. Guy wants to be a monk. Monasteries won't take him. So, he starts his own. There's a big cathedral there now, with a live chicken and rooster. Long story. I liked the place, except for the bloody tourist group that seemed to be following me no matter which way I walked around the place, the guide describing it all (in Spanish) in a loud voice. Argh.

I found a decent enough, simple room a few blocks away and collapsed, inhaling the junk food I picked up at the gas station out of town. (Saturday afternoon, all is closed.)

I was in a rough state, though. I haven't been eating well since I got to Spain, and I'm at my limit, I feel. Everything hurts, and it's not getting better. I choked down some seafood for dinner, not enjoying it, but needing the nutrition. I'm hoping Burgos tomorrow will improve matters. As it is, I'm tempted to just call it off, despite the effort it took to get here. *sigh* The spirit is failing.

Room 2500
Dinner 1200

Stats ODO  01904km
DST 101.71km
AVS  20.1kph
MAX  53.5kph
ATM 05:02:30

06.10.01 Burgos Map Map

Early start to the day. I'm determined to get to Burgos in time for lunch. It was a relatively short, rainy ride there. Decent enough road, and food yesterday seemed to help a little. I took a break at several churches along the way, sheltering from the rain, and trying to warm up a little. It's cold, today! One steep pass warmed me up a bit, though, over the Oca. Once over the top, though, it was a fast, cold, damp downhill to Burgos.

Once in town, I pulled off the road to check the map, looked up, and realized I had pulled right up to Hostel San Juean, one of the places I had planned to check out. No problem getting a room. The very friendly manager even gave a 1000p "peregrino discount". He gave me a whole spiel on the history of the town, how it had been a crossroads for trade for millenia, what I should see in town, and so on. All in Spanish, but I understood enough of it. Nice clean room. Shower in room, toilet down the hall. TV, which I'm now thinking is a bad thing. I cleaned up after collapsing for a while, then headed out to see the town.

I like Burgos. Maybe because it fed me? Yeah, maybe. :-) Soon after I left the hotel, I walked past the Fast Factory. It's embarrassing, but when I'm alone, I prefer fast food setups. No waiters pestering me if I set my food aside for a minute to draw, or ask me if I want coffee. I never want coffee! Anyway, it was a local version. Tasty bocadillo and drink with a yummy chocolate croissant afterwards. Yum.

  Arco de Santa Maria and the Catedral behind :: Burgos, Spain
Arco de Santa Maria and the Catedral behind
Burgos, Spain
Fed and happy, I checked out the Cathedral. Wow. Huge gothic monstrosity. Very impressive, but almost too much. I don't much like cathedrals like this. Too big, too impersonal, no center, just lots of small chapels. It was beautiful, though.

I sat on a wall across from the Cathedral afterwards, to people watch and draw. There were many more churches and buildings around town I should check out, but I'm a lousy tourist, and I'd much rather watch the other tourists. And there were many. I heard more Americans today than any time since leaving the States. Lots of Spanish tourists as well. Good sights.

It was Sunday, and most places were shut for the day, but I wandered around some. Nice city. Looks like a good place to live for some reason.

In the evening, I went out for Italian food. I had a very good meal at Prego. Well prepared and plentiful. I was the first person there, and almost the last to leave. As I was finishing off my hot fudge sundae, I overheard an American couple having trouble with the menu. I offered my phrase book, and before I knew it, I was seated at their table, having a very convivial time of it. Nice people. They were about my parents age, from Texas. They've been travelling for several months now through India, Turkey, Italy, France, and Spain. Very mellow people. We talked for hours over wine. They just came from Santiago (by car) today, and warned me about the terrain coming up. Uh oh.

It was midnight before we knew it, and I had a very long ride tomorrow, so we settled our bills and strolled home through the quiet streets. I bid them goodbye at their place and continued on home. I wondered why all the bars were closed, then remembered it was Sunday. Ah. Good recharging day.

Freezing cold! <50° F

Room 4650
Dinner 2900
Lunch 895

Stats ODO  01972km
DST  67.89km
AVS  21.1kph
MAX  52.0kph
ATM 03:12:53

06.11.01 Sahugan Map Map

My god, what an incredible day!

I started the day right. Two bocadillos from the Fast Factory. One for breakfast, the other later for lunch. It was easy getting out of Burgos, a fast, flat road. It got windy and hilly after about 20km, but not bad at all.

I'm standing next to some young wheat fields now. Everything's green. Red poppies in various fields give a splash of color. The wind is rustling through the fields, looking like ripples on the water. Birds are singing behind me. Today is the first sunny day I've seen since getting to Spain. The bright sun is warm on my back.

I turned off the highway after a few more kilometers, and the day just got better. Smooth narrow roads all to myself, wandering between towns along the Camino, riding along with no hands, whistling and happy, a good feel to the day. It felt friendly and easy today. I ate an early lunch looking out over Castrojeriz after visiting the churches and meditating in one. A return to the mellow feeling I had in the beginning, before the miles began to drag on me and the days grew long and hard.

  Pilgrims Crossing :: Spain   Biker Pilgrim's Sign :: Spain   Ruined monastery :: Spain
Pilgrims Crossing
Biker Pilgrim's Sign
Ruined monastery

But it was a long day. I pulled into Carrion de los Condes after 3:00. The town, of course, was shut down. But signs were confusing, and I couldn't find anything. Several drunks kept yelling at me to go away whenever I rode past their bar. I could only find two hotels. At the cheap one, there was no one answering the door, and the sign said to ask at the nearby supermarket, closed now. The expensive place was across the river, out of town. And I didn't like the look of the place. I had ridden 101km so far today. The day was to get longer.

The next major town on the Camino was Sahagun, 41km away. Um. Well, why not. Despite the map, I swear it was uphill the entire way. I was getting tired by the end, ready to stop for the day. 90 miles is enough for one day.

I had some trouble at first finding my way in Sahugun, but eventually picked a hostel at random. Nice people, nice room. I was a little knackered by now, for good reason. But I managed to go out and check out the required pilgrim stops, get my stamp, and see the town.

A festival was starting up, it looked like. Bands were playing all over town. People in bright outfits strolled down the narrow roads. There were also these strange, strong, high wooden fences along the road. The road to the Plaza de Toros. Uh huh, the bullring. A truck went past me. Um, should I? Why not. An older gent indicated I was crazy, but go for it. So, I slipped in. There I was, in Tevas, rolled up jeans, Hawaiian shirt, and duffel bag slung over my shoulder. Everyone else (most younger than me) were in more traditional garb.

Firecrackers went off, and we were off. Now, don't get me wrong, I got nowhere near a bull. There were plenty of others vying for that honor, trying to stay close. I just tried to stay close to the front of the people and kept my eyes open for any faster bull breaking through. I jumped the fence right before the arena, though. I didn't know how to get out once I was in the arena, and I wasn't about to be stuck there. 10ft high, I was over it in two steps. I got laughs and slaps on the back, with a few comments I couldn't catch.

I found a seat at the arena to watch the show. There wasn't a bullfight today, just several clubs (teams) with bands playing, dancing. Members down in the arena taunting the bulls, then being chased behind or up these wooden barriers on the sides. It was quite a scene.

  Bullfight :: Sahagun, Spain   Bullfight :: Sahagun, Spain
Sahagun, Spain
Sahagun, Spain

Back at my place, I had a good meal and good conversation with the manager.

Then up to my room and asleep immediately, despite the constant firecrackers, bands, and general partying going on outside. I was wiped out.

Room 500p
Dinner 1200

Stats ODO  02116km
DST 144.00km
AVS  22.6kph
MAX  53.1kph
ATM 06:21:48

06.12.01 Leon Map Map

Today couldn't be anything but an anticlimax after yesterday. But at least it was a relatively short ride. My body (and butt) was still hurting from yesterday, though, so that was enough. Roads weren't as nice, the weather was dark and threatening, and the towns not as interesting.

But I was in Leon in time for lunch. I found a room easily enough, cleaned up, and got out in time to eat. I found a little restaurant tucked down an alley, and ended up ordering two meals for lunch. Yum, very good.

The Cathedral here makes me take back my comment in Burgos. Wow. The outside is impressive, yeah, yeah. But inside. Oh yeah. High, arching overhead, all lined in bright stained glass windows. A rainbow of colors overhead. I liked it. Good feel to the place, too. It had spirit still. I checked out the other various churches around town, but wasn't as impressed. A heavy rain sent me home, and I never made it out again. A nap turned into a 12 hour sleep, much needed by my tired body. Snore!

  Catedral :: Leon, Spain   Catedral :: Leon, Spain
Leon, Spain
Leon, Spain

Room 3100
Lunch 2100
Email 400/hr

Stats ODO  02179km
DST  62.87km
AVS  21.8kph
MAX  49.6kph
ATM 02:52:52

06.13.01 Leon Map Map

A rest day! Ah! It felt so nice waking this morning, looking at the time (7:00), and then going back to sleep for a couple more hours. My body is extended, and taking a much-needed rest. It's been changing, too. My ribs are prominent, now. My shoulders, and the big muscles I built at the gym are gone. My legs are huge, and not a shred of excess fat on them. I still have the love handles, curse them, but I'm skinny, now.

A relaxed day. I checked out the churches again. I like the Cathedral. I vegged in a park, writing in the journal, people watching. I'm trying to decide what I'll do with my excess time since I'm not riding to Barcelona after Santiago (I decided that). It looks like it's going to be hard getting my bike to Barcelona. Trains might not allow it. Flights could be cheap enough, $75, that I'd consider it if I could leave my bike at the airport in Barcelona. That would be ideal. Box my bike in Santiago, fly to Barcelona. Leave my bike and half my gear there. Hop a train to the beach, back to Barcelona, and back to the airport at the end. Pick up my stuff the morning I leave, and I'm off! It could happen.

Stats ODO  02179km
DST   0.00km
AVS   0.0kph
MAX   0.0kph

06.14.01 Rabanal del Camino Map Map

A charge-ahead sort of day. I left Leon late, and rode straight to Astorga. I didn't feel like visiting any more closed churches. Heavy traffic, but the road was decent enough. I got to Astorga just after noon. Just enough time to poke my head into the church before it closed. Ah well, it was very beautiful anyway. Afterwards, I sat in the park next door, chomping on some fruit and sipping juice. I did my best to keep up with an older lady who sat next to me and talked a mile a minute to me. I think I said "No entiendo" a couple dozen times. :-)

I finally made my escape, and started the serious uphill for the day. Up, up, up. Not too steep or windy, but always up. I got to Rabanal early. When I arrived, the church bells were ringing non-stop and drums were playing. A wedding was going on outdoors in the square. I rode past, thinking the town was beyond, only to hit the leaving Rabanal sign around the bend. Looking at the map, I saw only uphill ahead of me, up to 1500m in the next few km. I wasn't too tired, but I decided to leave that for another day. Maybe not the best choice, but there it is.

There were a couple of hotels in Rabanal and a refugio. I saw a couple dozen pilgrims waiting for the refugio to open, and made a beeline for the nearest hotel. Nice place. Simple, but clean and nice. The guy even helped me carry up my bags.

After cleaning up, I went downstairs for a late lunch. Absolutely stuffed myself for 1200P. Good food, too.

Rabanal is a very small village, so there wasn't much to do after eating. I sat in the old church for a while. Tiny, run down, or rather worn in feeling. Nice change after all the fancy cathedrals I've visited lately. After I walked from one end of town to the other (5 min) I didn't have much to do. So I just relaxed all evening in peace.

I'm getting close to Santiago. I feel like tomorrow will be another test of a day. Not sure why, exactly. The hills will be bad, but that's not enough anymore. In my mind O Cebreiro is Cerberus, the three headed hound guarding the underworld. Or in this case, the inner world. We'll see. In any case, I went to bed early and slept well, a sleep full of comfortable dreams.

Room 4500
Lunch 1200

Stats ODO  02249km
DST  70.21km
AVS  20.1kph
MAX  49.5kph
ATM 03:28:39

06.15.01 O Cebreiro Map Map

I woke up this morning feeling strong and alert, a gift for the upcoming test. 10km straight uphill into the teeth of a headwind so fierce, I had to ride in my granny gear. What an intro to the day. But I felt strong, the miles passing quickly under my wheels. I passed many walkers this morning, only slighter slower than myself up the steep hill.

  Puerto de Foncebadon :: Spain
Puerto de Foncebadon
  Pilgrim stop :: Manjarin, Spain
Pilgrim stop
Manjarin, Spain
  Ah, downhills! :: Rabanal del Camino, Spain
Ah, downhills!
Rabanal del Camino, Spain
  Cold riding :: Rabanal del Camino, Spain
Cold riding
Rabanal del Camino, Spain
  Church of Santiago :: Villafranca, Spain
Church of Santiago
Villafranca, Spain
It was very beautiful. A grand vista. Clouds raced by overhead, horses galloped over lavender-covered fields. But it was cold! I had my long sleeve shirt over a jersey and my rain jacket on, and I was still cold riding uphill. I tied my bandanna over my ears so I wouldn't go insane from the shrieking wind or drop off from the cold.

When I got to the Cruz de Fuerto at the top of the pass, I found a small chapel and a group of pilgrims recovering from the climb. I feel so lazy. Most of these started walking at 6:00 this morning. I was still asleep then.

I chatted off and on with a Spanish biker who rode at about the same speed as I. Decent chap. We took turns drafting each other. It was a big help. This pass is the highest point on my entire ride. I've been higher, but not this time around. :-)

It was another 5km of up and down before the road turned down. Along the way, we stopped off at the small church/pilgrim stop at Manjarin. A social bunch of people were there, along with a couple very odd sorts. Two guys were dressed in complete pilgrim costumes, right down to the robes, shells, and walking staff.

After that, the road turned downhill, and we dropped out of the sky to Ponferrada. The Spanish bike dropped behind in Molineca, a very attractive town before the city. I kept on cruising. Ponferrada was a shock after last night, but not as bad as the Lonely Planet book makes out. I found a supermercado and stocked up for the next day. Then snacked in the square. People were very friendly, especially the young ladies, smiling, saying "Hola peregrina, que tal?"

Getting out of Ponferrada was a nightmare, though. First, I took the wrong road several km in the wrong direction. Then, after getting directions from a couple of people, I found the road. And found extremely heavy truck traffic, high winds, and relentless uphill. I wasn't enjoying it at all.

It was a great relief to leave the road at Villafranca. It was a nice enough town, but not as special as I expected. Pilgrims too weak to continue were allowed to turn back here as if they had gone all the way to Santiago. What would it have taken for me to turn back here? Something big. I've been through too much getting this far to give up now.

As I was riding down from the Eglises Santiago, I heard a loud twang from my back wheel, and something hit my shin. I thought it was a branch or something, but I didn't see anything. I passed it off as nothing, and rode on. I'd later discover the extent of my error, though too late to do much about it.

Back onto the nightmare road out of town. A highway is being built here, but only sections are done so far. At Villasirde or thereabouts, thank god, most of the traffic went onto the new highway, and I was left my much calmer country road.

It was an exhausting climb up to O Cebreiro, my second pass of the day. By the end, I was only making it a single curve at a time. It felt harder than it should have been. This is when I got my first hint something was wrong. It looked like my wheel was badly out of true. I thought it was because of this afternoon, the extremely bad quality of the roads. I was partly right. But one of the effects was that my rear brake kept hitting the rim every turn of the wheel, in effect hitting the brakes constantly. I managed to adjust it enough I could continue, but O Cebreiro was definitely the end for today.

I met a French biker in the last few km before town. He was 69, and had ridden all the way from Paris. He was as wiped out as myself, but wanted to ride down the other side for tonight. I considered it, but not with my wheel the way it was. Besides, it was 4:30, late enough to stop. When I got to town, my language was all messed up, I kept speaking French to everyone.

My second attempt scored a lovely room for the night. Posh room with the thickest, softest towels I've seen in years and a big comfy bed.

I got my credencia stamped at the church. Another very nice, simple place. The views here are incredible, definitely the best scenery of the trip. Long, rolling hills, green and covered in flowers. I climbed a hill outside of town and just enjoyed the view. It was very cold, though. Walking back from dinner, the sky was black with clouds. A storm was on the way.

  Palloza :: O Cebreiro, Spain   It's been a long road :: O Cebreiro, Spain   View from the town :: O Cebreiro, Spain
O Cebreiro, Spain
It's been a long road
O Cebreiro, Spain
View from the town
O Cebreiro, Spain
  View from the town :: O Cebreiro, Spain
View from the town
O Cebreiro, Spain

"Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again..."
-Daphne Du Maurier, Steven King's Bag of Bones
My place had a stack of old books on a shelf. I made the mistake of picking up Steven King's Bag of Bones. Big mistake. Never read ghost stories alone late at night, with a storm raging outside, thunder and lighting crashing around you, and not a light in town outside your room.

Thank god my bed had a light switch within reach. I read the entire book by 2:00. Bad, Sean, you need your sleep.

Room 4000
Dinner 1300

Stats ODO  02347km
DST  97.62km
AVS  17.6kph
MAX  50.8kph
ATM 05:31:31

06.16.01 Portomarin Map Map

I was wrong. Yesterday was an alarm, a warning the gate was at hand. This morning was the real test. 2300km without a major problem, my bike finally had trouble today. Truing the wheel, I quickly realized it wasn't just out of true. The twang I heard yesterday was a spoke breaking. Not just that, a freewheel side spoke. I can't fix that here. By the time I gave up on it, my hands were black with dirt and the bike was no better. The wheel was so lopsided, I had no choice but to unhook the back brake or else struggle against it the entire way. This, with a 1000m drop ahead of me today. Life was not mellow.

To make things worse, just as I finished putting my bike back together, the rain started again. And I thought yesterday was cold! The thermometer read 36° F! With rain! I was bloody freezing! 8.5 km uphill more or less, then downhill all the way to Triacastello. Thank god, or my back wheel would never have made it. As it was, I had to keep the speed below 30kph. With only a front brake, and rain slicked rims, any faster would have been suicidal.

My only hope was to reach Sarria before the bike shop there closed for the weekend. If I was too late, I would have to do my best to fix it, and limp on to Santiago.

  Benedictine monastery :: Samos, Spain
Benedictine monastery
Samos, Spain
Too bad, because Samos looked very much worth a stop. Some good looking architecture there. I snapped a pic, then hurried on, not hoping I'd make it in time.

A couple German guys looked out for me today, offering help, and checking on me from time to time to make sure I made it to Sarria. Karma coming back to me.

I made it to Sarria by 12:30. Thankfully, the bike shop was still open. They managed to fix my wheel in an hour. I can't express my relief riding (uphill) out of town on a steady bike again. That cinches it, Santiago is the end of the ride.

Downhill to Portomarin was awesome. Fast, straight downhills, picking up speed and staying there, breaking the 50kph speed limit. I loved it!

Portomarin wasn't exactly what I expected, but nice enough. I got a nice room, visited the church (relocated here after a dam flooded the valley where the original town stood).

Dinner was disappointing, but good company made up for it. Some of these pilgrims have had a very hard time. Sprained ankles, blisters, and thorns seem to be the most common problem. Everyone there had to take public transport because of problems and not enough time. A lesson to be learned, I suppose.

"Of one thing I am certain," Oliver Statler wrote upon completing his pilgrimage, "the transformation I yearn for is incomplete - I do not really expect to achieve it - but I know that the attempt is worth the effort."
Tomorrow, I reach Santiago.

Wow, the time has come, only 6 weeks later. I've worked hard to get here, both physically and mentally. This was one of the hardest physical challenges I've taken on. And I've done it. I don't feel I've reached the same point mentally, but I do feel I've made good progress, a breakthrough, and that's what's important. A beginning. I hope I will look back on this and agree years from now.

Room 4000
Dinner 1200

Stats ODO  02417km
DST  69.49km
AVS  20.2kph
MAX  55.1kph
ATM 03:26:04

06.17.01 Santiago de Compostela Map Map
"How long the road is. But for all the time the journey has already taken, how you have needed every second of it in order to learn what the road passes by."
- Dag Hammarskjold

When I woke this morning, one thought dominated all others. Santiago! Today! Now! Thousands of miles away, I doubted this day would really come, if I was honest with myself. The road seemed too long, I felt too weak, the temptations too great. But on the other hand, I don't think I would have accepted anything less than my arrival in Santiago by bicycle. Nothing short of injury could have stopped me. Mentally, I had few expectations, and didn't know what would happen. I went through many tests to get here. Tests of fire (furnace-like heat with no shade to be found), tests of air (winds so strong, they've knocked me right into the air and off my bike), tests of earth (mountain passes that go straight up with no flat road to be found), tests of water (deluges so strong, I was riding blind and being beaten senseless by the weight of the water driving down on me), tests of spirit (the inner demons and just look at the map), all preparing me for the end. But along with the tests, people have come forward with offerings of water for my parched throat, food for energy, conversation for spirit, and endless encouragement. As well as cryptic questions and thoughts spoken to encourage proper mindset. A truly mythic experience.

Before it's even over, I feel I got some of what I wanted out of this ride. I sense I learned more about my spirit than I've figured out yet, and with time, I hope I'll work the rest out.

I left Portomarin early, eager to finish the road. I said goodbye to the other pilgrims at the cafe and rolled my bike down the cobblestone road out of town. The miles passed quickly. My legs were strong, the bike felt light, and even though the roads weren't the best, they weren't the worst. Not much else to say about the ride than that.

I was in Lavacolla before I knew it. Pilgrims used to bathe in the river here before climbing the Monte del Gozo to look down on Santiago for the first time. I liked the idea, but managed to get myself truly lost while riding my bicycle on the path away from the road. I wanted to take the real Camino path into Santiago rather than the big city highways. Before I knew it, I was in the middle of some woods with no clue which path to take. My compass just spun in circles and the sun was high in the sky. An hour or so later, I ended up trusting my instincts and managed to stumble out onto a road that was going my way. So much for taking the path. I guess after following the roads for so long, the path was not for me to follow into Santiago. So be it.

I rode to the top of the Monte del Gozo, where I found one of the largest refugios I've seen yet along the Camino. A large dedication to the Pope's visit here last year seemed rather tacky, but as I looked down to the end of the road, I didn't really care. I suppose I was rather tunnel visioned at the time. :-)

My bicycle just fell out of the hills into Santiago. As I merged with the heavy traffic, I still wished I could have followed the path here, but it was too late now. The twisting of the roads led me further into the city, until I found myself in front of an old monastery in the historic part of town. I was turned about, and didn't know where on the map I was, so I left the map in my packs and just followed the road. Then, I turned the corner.

I had arrived.

  Arrival! :: Santiago, Spain   Catedral del Apostol :: Santiago, Spain
Santiago, Spain
Catedral del Apostol
Santiago, Spain

Stats ODO  02512km
DST  95.62km
AVS  19.3kph
MAX  53.5kph
ATM 04:56:59

©Copyright Seán Connolly

Santiago de compostela Portomarin Cebreiro Rabanal del Camino Leon Sahugun Burgos Santo Domingo de la Calzada Estella Puente la Reina Pamplona Roncesvalles St-Jean-Pied-de-Port