El Camino de Santiago

There was a lot of downhill riding today, which is always a good thing.

I sat and scrolled through the stats on my little cycling GPS (affectionately named the ”crap nav” because of its terrible route suggestions) and I noticed two things about today’s journey;

The first thing I noticed was that I had flown down the biggest descent of the day at 43.3 miles an hour (69.68 kmph)! Pretty fast for a bicycle. The second thing I realised was that I had now officially cycled further from home than on my first tour. This felt like a big achievement as I looked back on how far I had come. 1174 miles and counting.

The populated cycle routes in France were a thing of the past, and sometimes it seemed like the roads stretch on endlessly.

Over the last couple of days I had been zipping past a growing number of people walking the same way I was riding. I found out from a guy named Tom that I had stumbled across the ‘Camino de Santiago’ a network of pilgrimage routes to the city of Santiago de Compostela.
(wikipedia link here)

I decided to stick close to the Camino and cycle all the way to Santiago, the pilgrimage was well equipped and had much better amenities than the route I had been traveling.

The next city would be León and the mid July sun was becoming more intense as the days passed. I was forced to start taking siestas in the early afternoon, hiding in any shade I could find and waiting for the heat to pass. When I finally arrived in the city of León it was 38°C. I took the afternoon off to get some food and sit in the shade with a couple of cold beers, waiting for the cooler night to roll on in.

Following a day off to explore the city, I had decided to start cycling earlier in the mornings and later into the evenings. Waking up early was tough, although the thought of having to climb 1500 metres in the Spanish heat was motivation enough.

Besides, cycling to a sunrise is a damn good way to start any day.

Getting an early start really helped my progress the next day. By 1:00PM I had covered almost 40 miles (60KM) and I found a bridge over a river to hide from the early afternoon sun. A (very) quick dip in the cold river had me feeling fresh and I took up a comfy spot to wait out the sun. It felt rude to not have a glass of wine, so I endluged.

Three hours, a quick nap and another glass of wine later. I pulled my feet away from the waters edge and prepped to ride into the evening. An uphill assault had me riding until 10:30PM. I could avoid the heat but not those hills.. I must have covered almost 60 miles (100KM) by this stage and my legs were beat. I turned away from the switchback of this evenings long climb and made a hasty camp at the side of a dirt road. I fell asleep fast under the full moon.

Six hours later I was up and at it again. My legs ached, my body was tired and my eyes were heavier than my panniers. The summit was in reach and the rising sun was cheering me on.

Later that morning, on this quiet and empty road, I met a guy called Christian at 1300 metre pass in the mountains. He was 62 years old and was walking the Camino at a staggering pace. He had a string tied around his waist to a cart that he was pulling with his camping gear and belongings on. It was quite a sight to see, but what impressed me the most was the fact that he had covered 600 kilometres (372 miles) of the pilgrimage route in only 15 days! After a 5 minute chat at the summit he was off, I stopped for breakfast before continuing and never caught back up with him. The man was a rocket.

As the Camino is predominantly walking route, I was frequently joining and diverting from the path I was following where feet could go but pedals could not. All the same my journey along the pilgrimage was very scenic and peaceful. You are lead through towns, valleys, mountain passes and even across a river or two. Everyone along the route was very friendly and there was a lot of camaraderie between the pilgrims. It would be an awesome hike for anyone, religious or not.

I, myself, was having a great time.

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