From Finisterre to Rioja.
in 7 days
Averaging 102km a day at 20kmh. Doing very well.
Not bad going considering we´ve also taken in the two main passes on the camino de Frances - Alto do Poio at 1,337 m and Foncebadon at 1,550 m. Not quite alpine but high enough and due to some bad timing on our part fairly beat us because we we're trying to do them at 2:30 on very hot afternoons. You cant cycle when you are melting.Santiago de Compostela
A bit of a tourist trap unfortunately. Unlike on the route along the north coast, the Camino de Frances is heaving with people. The route we are following is a road "interpretation" of the Pilgrim's route. This means we're not actually cyclingon the gravel tracks, but a good deal of the time the Pilgrims are walking on or near the road. Everyone seems a bit confused when they see us, firstly because we are going the wrong way and secondly becuase with so little kit some dont realise we are on a trip longer than a day or two.
We managed an early start from a nice little Pension in the town on the Sunday morning so that we could ride around town while it was deserted. Very much worth it as it is a beautiful town and without the hoards of Pilgrims (some authentic, some earnest and a lot of them overweight Americans by the coach-load).
The 200km from Finisterrre to Portomarin is pretty unremarkable except for the slog up the hill before the drop into Portomarin itself (hit a record 71.7 kmh on the descent, only recently gone faster)Portomarin
Great campsite here on the reservoir. Run by a very friendly chap. Ordered some "tinto", preferably Galician, was told the only had local tinto de Casa. How local? The bar maid points out the window the vines in the garden. Tasted all the better for it.To Alto do Poio
We needed the fortification of a good feed. First big climb started mid afternoon on the way out of Samos, near Sarria. Samos was a v pretty Monastery town on the river, unfortunatley from here starts over 36km of almost unbroken climbing of a total of around 1,500m including a few short descents. Like just about everywhere else in Spain, there was fortunately a bar at the top. The descent follows an equally twsity road down a steep sided valley that also contains the Autovia A6. The juxtaposition of the massive piece of civil engineering and the dainty little old road was quite striking. About 3/4 the way down the hill we stopped at our first Pilgrims Refuge. In post of these you are supposed to have to present a "Credencia" (small passport type document) in order to gain a bunk for the night, but we were let of in this case. A pleasnt, pokey little bunkhouse with a lively chef and for the first time some English speakers (Irish & Australian, natch)The Top of The Camino
The next climb was also twisty and non stop for 10km up to 1,550 m. At which point there is a n Iron cross on top of a 5m pole. Although only half the pole is exposed as a round the base is a massive pile of stones. Apparently Pilgrims should bring a heavy stone from their home to the highest point and deposit it under the cross to represent absolution of their sins. If their sins are too great then the stone will weigh too heavy for them and they will not make it this far. I have found atheism gets around this problem.
All the way up the climb we kept looking out across to lower passes and wondering why on earth the original pilgrims had chosen this higher, and harder route. It wasnt untill the languid, long descent did we realise that when approaching the pass from the right side (the East) it was a very easy gentle way up into the Sierra.
We stayed in another very simple bunkhouse at Rabanal del Camino for €3.50 each for the night, but M was kept awake a lot by some chap snoring like a chain being dragged over a cattlegrid. From up here, looking east, it is very flat indeed.The really grim bit.
Once we had rolled down into Astorga, we grabbed some breakfast and set off across the plain for Leon, the joint regional capital of Castilla y Leon, although there's clearly a vocal minority who want some sort of independence for the Leon part of the region as nearly every street sign is defaced. Bit sad really.
The Camino route from Astorga to Leon is prety much dead straight with a fraction of a gradient down from west to east right next to a main road. There is an alternative motorway next to this but beacause it is a toll road post of the traffic stay on the main road making this the worst stretch of teh route. It runs for over 50km which is ok on the bike, a couple of hours, but for walkers ehading west, it would mean something like 2 days of trudge into a prevailing wind. Nasty.
Foiled by out of date camp site direction signs we had a long day of it (116km) getting to the next night stop in El Burgo Ranero. The road turning into more interesting tree lined quite routes throgh corn fields. From here to Burgos is more of the same although the terrain gets gradually more hilly and remarkable like the Chalk Downs of England.
We climbed the last major pass before the Pyrenees at Puerto de Pedraja near San Juan de Ortega, but this wasnt much of a hill as it is actually the edge of the sierra before you drop down in to the lower areas of Rioja. We finally left the camino at Beldorado to take us to Haro, the capital of wine making in Rioja. The road is down hill for nearly 50km with barely a crank turn for the last half of the afternoon. My kind of riding!