Saturday, 30 April 2011

"Bon Courage" - Camino de Santiago by bike

After a 10-hour sleep I was ready for the next day.   We wandered out of the hostel in search of some milk to have with breakfast.  Then we set up the gas cooker on the balcony of the hotel and made coffee to have with breakfast.

The day was overcast and drizzly but nevertheless we packed up and started riding.  We were heading to St Jean Pied de Port, the classical ‘start’ of the Camino de Santiago (actually, there are many Ways of St James across Europe, but St Jean Pied de Port is the place that most of the routes converge to then head up over a pass into Spain).  The weather cleared and it was a nice switchbacked ride up the pass.  At the top we were looking down on France to one side; and Spain to the other.  It was funny hearing all the french being spoken in the carpark; while Spanish cyclists would cycle up the spanish side, turn around, and head home again.  Julie said she got all confused when asking for the toilet as she started speaking a mixture of French, Spanish and English “Spa-franglish!”

It was a flying downhill into the next little village; immediately all the names and signs were in French.

We arrived in St Jean Pied de Port; it was buzzing with tourists (all hikers).  The symbol for the Camino de Santiago is a shell; so there were hikers carrying a shell on their pack; and symbols of shells everywhere.  There were throngs of people in the narrow street; and we felt quite chuffed to be staying at the quiet little camping municipal only a few metres from the hubbub.

The next day we had to decide whether to cycle with fully-loaded touring bikes up over the big pass with all the walking pilgrims (the adventurous route) or take the road.  Julie kept asking me what I had decided and I kept deferring the decision by saying “lets go buy our chocolate biscuits first”.  Then “and we need some bread from the boulangerie too”.

Eventually we decided to just go for it.  A warmshowers contact had said it was a great ride; though he’d pushed his bike for 22km of the 26….  “worth it for the views”.

We headed up the hill.  It was a beautifully paved narrow road, but steep.  Not quite walking the bike steep, but nearly.  Every hiking pilgrim we passed seemed to look at us with a bit of wonder; and the french would call out “bon courage!”

 As we slowly wound our way up the hills it got cooler and cooler and we were cycling in the cloud.  The view got less and less as the mist shrouded us.

   Then the paved road ended and the path  became grass and rocks.

 It was windy and misty – just to add to the challenge.  I had promised Julie that according to the map there would be a maximum of 5km ‘off road’ – Julie was very doubtful.  We pushed the bikes up the rocky bits, and rode when we could.  There was still no view at all – just white mist!

 Finally we reached the top - bit of an anticlimax as there was no sign or anything - and then the road on the other side.  We completely left the pilgrims in the dust as we flew down the winding road to the next town.  We got the camp cooker out again for a cup of tea and lunch.

Not long later we came across a solo touring cyclist poring over a 1:1,000,000 scale map at a picnic table.  I went up to him “do you speak english?”  “I AM English!”.  He said he didn’t really like cycling but thought he’d go on on a cycling holiday anyway….  He was headed to Santiago too, so he has now joined us.  He has a bike trailer and thought it was too heavy so sent back to England 10kg of luggage – which included all his camping equipment – and even spoon and plate.  We were planning to camp outside Pamplona and he was happy to join us – without a tent!  He slept inside our two bike bags….

The next day we followed the Camino de Santiago sign-posted route through the city of Pamplona.  My plan was to then go along the road, but we ended up on the pilgrim route a bit longer than expected; cycling up a rocky path.  Julie said “I thought today was a Tarmac Day!”.
  But the views were very rewarding; looking back at the city; and around to the villages dotted among the green waving wheat fields.

We followed highway N-1110 all the way to Logrono; it was complelely quiet as there is a new major highway running almost parallel, so all the cars and trucks were on that; we had the old highway to ourselves.

We camped again in Logrono - Craig the english cyclist is gradually 'improving' his 'tent' - this time he fashioned a roof out of a silver emergency shelter sheet he was carrying.

From Logrono we followed the wonderfully quiet N-210 to Najera; after that it turned into busy highway and we took the gravel walking route again - that was quite fun for a change as the pace is so different to fast road riding.

We met some german cyclists in Belorado who suggested some quiet back roads to cycle on to avoid the busy highway - we'd already done over 80km by this stage but Julie said it was the best road of the day.  Tiny well paved road that wound gradually up a hill, giving fantastic views over the green waving wheat fields and cute copper-coloured villages.  The plan was to stay at a campsite that we could see on the Michelin map.  We arrived, relieved, at the small village; over 100km on the odometer.  There was no campsite.  Julie conversed (fantastically well) with the locals to find there really wasn't any camping (I think they were amazed it had appeared on the map).  I had to have a chocolate biscuit.   Eventually, after four chocolate biscuits I felt better and we decided to continue another 15km to the next campsite.  Which didn't exist either.  By this time we'd travelled over 120km and it was 8:30pm.   Fortunately we found the third campsite relatively easily and ate our posh dinner(purchased 45km and many hills earlier) in the dark - blue vein cheese, spinach, mussels; and 2 bottles of wine.  We were all on a high for having made it - Craig reckoned it was the best day of cycling ever.

1 comment:

  1. Came home last night from having spent the weekend in Byrdies hometown for the Rotorua marathon – cool to find an update with gorgeous pics, and saint Byrdie has taken in a stray :-) cheers.