Monday, September 24, 2012

Day 16 - Castro Dozon to Santiago de Compostela

I sit here with a heavy head (too much wine last night!) and mixed feelings about being finished. You get so used to the routine of riding and travelling that it is strange to be finished.

The evening before in Castro Dozon the dark clouds and wind has started to build, the forecast was not good, and we expected storms over night with heavy rain and strong winds forecast.

The final day started with our usual early wake up, we awoke to pitch black darkness and rain. We decided to sleep another 30mins and check if there was any improvement. We woke again at 7:30am and it was still pitch black but the rain had eased a little.

We had to be in Santiago as we already had a hotel booked and paid for, along with a connecting train the following day. Our new Spanish friends were a little more flexible but we decided we should all travel together in the bad weather.

Slowly getting ready, it passed 8am and it was still pitch black. Usually by now the sun was really heating up, but today it couldn't even break through the heavy clouds.

Everyone put on all their clothing to keep warm and dry, we laughed at Luis and Augusto who had packed their work all weather gear, along with some plastic bags for booties.

Louis & Augusto in their all weather kit

As we rolled out, the rain eased a little further and some light finally broke through the clouds.

Ominous clouds
Augusto's broken rack mount was still not very sturdy, and there was no way it would survive on the offroad trails. So they had planned a route entirely on the road, which closely followed the offroad sections of the proper camino way.

With the weather so bad, we decided that we should stick together, at least until it improved. But we would take the last 20k as a minimum on the proper trails.

Getting clearer
The first 30k of the day were all downhill, still being fairly early for a Sunday morning we bombed down in the rain in the middle of the road on the national highway.

Just as it started to clear a little more

Another front rolled in and the rain got heavy again, and we got soaked



Driving the train in the rain
Regrouping at the bottom or top of each hill, the traffic was getting busier so we were now riding in the shoulder a lot slower. The further north we had travelled the less cycle friendly the traffic became, which was even more of a problem in the rain.

Rishi and I decided that we would take the offroad trails at the next junction, with 20k remaining to Santiago. But we would all regroup at a small town 10k from Santiago.

Back on the trail, no traffic!
As we rolled up into the hills, it was relief to be back in the forest with no vehicles around.

The region is a typically wet place, and the rain had not slowed the trails at all. So we rolled through in the quiet forest, passing through the occasional small village with the motorway in the distance.

Rain again
Getting darker!

Meeting up with our freinds back on the motorway intersection, they had only beat us by 2mins! With the camino route being more direct but through the rolling hills rather than the flatter motorway.

The boys!

We set off together back on the Camino, which was now approaching the outskirts of Santiago.


Almost there

Santiago in the distance
Finally we caught our first glimpse of the Catherdral and everyone went quiet, slowing down and realising we had almost finished. 16 days of riding everyday towards a destination, but really it was about the experience of the journey, which was coming to an end.

Arriving to the cathedral with the hoardes
After the final slug up the hill into the old town we emerged onto the main camino route joining the masses of people arriving from the more popular Camino Frances, with hundreds of walkers and more cyclists we had seen in the entire journey.

First glimpse of the cathedral

The final group
Everyone is elated, and almost in a surreal daze to be finished. People all around are reuniting with each other laughing, taking photos. And eventually visiting the church, passing the Portico de la Gloria which is now unfortunately roped off, and touching the altar above the tomb of st James.

The altar

For us though this was not a religious journey, rather an experience. Which is true for many today.

After 3 nights of Albergues, we leave behind the journey and checkin to a hotel, a hot shower and same relaxing.

We reunite with our new freinds later and receive our Compestelas, a certificate of our completion of the camino.

Celebrations follow, with the plan to indulge in Santiagos speciality, "pulpo ala galega" octopus with pimento on, olive oil & rock salt.

1euro Jarras at 100 montaditos

Pulpo time

The Pulpo

The feast, and wine in bowls!

Proper man bar

Cathedral by night
And the journey is complete.

Time to start planning the next one :)

The boys will do the Northern Route same time next year

Now a night on the train, 3 nights in Madrid, and finally back to Melbourne.


Sunday, September 23, 2012

Day 15- Vilar de Barrio to Castro Dozon

We started out this morning with our new Spanish friends Luis and Augusto and took them for a bit of mountain biking on the camino! We passed through some awesomely fun single track through the forrest that was quickly replaced with some serious rocky descents, some of which had to be walked. It was pretty slow going. One of the descents seemed to go forever and Ben and I woohooed all the way down, Ben getting a little over excited and almost loosing his panniers.

Lovely single track


Hike a bike

The single track train
We rode into Xunqueira and realised that Augusto had broken the other side of his pannier racks on one of the rocky descents! He had already broken one side yesterday and had strapped it to his seat stay with wire and zip ties. We left Luis and Augusto to fix the other side, they were going to proceeded on the road for the rest of the day while Ben and I continued on the camino. So we headed on to Ourense.


Another Roman bridge!
After Ourense the serious climbing started. More climbing than yesterday and over a shorter distance, but this time on cobble stones!!! Bloody tough work!





We climbed all the way to Cea, ready for a lunch stop but there was a feria on so all the bars were not serving food! We pushed on and luckily found a place to eat only a few km from Cea. My legs were burning from the day after day climbing in Galicia and I didn't think I would be able to do more of it on the rocks, so from Cea to Castro Dozon we took to the road, which was equally as steep! By the time we rolled into Castro Dozon I was done. As we came into the town we saw two bikes at a petrol station....Luis and Augusto! So Spain won the race, although they did take the road while we were on the dirt ;-)

More tough trails

We stayed at the albergue with Luis and Augusto and made a feast of carbonara, along with some wine and beer. We also met up with another Spanish cyclist Maria Eugenia who is going to join our cycling group for the ride into Santiago tomorrow!

With our new friends Luis and Augusto

Day 14 - Villavella - Vilar de Barrio

Another day of contrasts, we are now in Galicia, the final region of our trip. Today was the 3rd consecutive day up in the sierras (mountains) which will continue through most of Gallica.

We started high up in the mountains, and after a lot of the trail followed the road yesterday we were keen to get back on the proper offroad trails.

Knowing that we started with a descent, we were unsure how rideable it was going to be.

Straight out of town we headed down into the farmland, which must be mainly cows as we could smell the shit literally! It was so moist that they had laid a strip of granite slabs down the centre of the path to avoid the slop. Riding down this in the dawn light was interesting to say the least. We managed to avoid falling in the adjacent poo, all the way to the bottom.


Once down in the fields, the trees opened up, and the rolling hills started.

We went through a very small village, which had a entire section of the village containing abandoned old stone houses, while the rest of the village included modern houses, very strange.

Then the rocks got rockier.


We tried to ride as much as possible, but the fear of flatting was always in the back of the mind. And we also had to avoid the thorn bushes that were everywhere.

The trails got slower and slower, and we realised we had barely gotten 5k in just over one hour. Slow going!

Finally it started to smooth out, but it only got steeper. And we started to gain back some of the early descending.
Eventually we made it back to the road, to find yet more climbing.
Back up in the clouds, which looked menacing today. The weather forecast was for rain, we had been so lucky so far we were just hoping for the best. Being above 1000m we were not looking forward to any rain.

We arrived through more small villages with lots of abandonded houses. Being so high up in the clouds it was eerie being in these villages.

Climbing higher further, we came around the corner and did a double take.

A giant resovoir.

Now we were ready for the descending.

Following the trail, we started to ascend a very loose dust track which looked like sand but was much lighter through all over the place.

Then the descent finally started.

5k of the most fun I have probably ever had. We bombed down 300 vertical metres on this loose dusty double track. With dust flying all over the place Rishi had to back off a few hindered metres just able to see anything.

Rishi and her dust trail
Arriving in the next town with the biggest smile on our faces, we spotted a local Rishi could wacky race. He really wasn't any match.

Still shaking out the arm pump from the last desecent, we had another 400vm to descend, this time on the road.
A bit more on the brakes this time, with the fear of meeting and oncoming truck, or worse a BMW doing 150. The solid white line seems to mean nothing here.

With only 60k done, we are ready for lunch. By pure luck, we stumble into an average looking Taberna. They have a set menu, which has one option, soup & a mixed plate. And it was delicious and light, just what we needed. Ready to go the waitress brings out two giant frozen icecream desserts. Not sure if it will go down well we wolf it down.

Already done our riding to the schedule we are keen to push on and get ahead of schedule to minimise the riding ahead.

With climbing on the schedule, we have never trusted the profiles. But this one we found was fairly brutal, 350+vm over 5.5k almost 7% average gradient! At least this one was in and out of the shade.

Finally we arrive at the top, with another 5k of flat rolling hills. Before a 5k descent again into the next village.

After last nights luxury in the spa hotel, we are back to reality in an Albergue, which is actually quite nice.

We have spent a fun evening with 4 walking pilgrims, and two other spanish cycling pilgrims, sharing stories with various people translating between spanish, english & german.

The spainard cyclists are planning the same stop tomorrow night as us as well, so apparently a Australia vs Spain race is on.

With only two days left we have left a manageable amount of riding to finish, we are just hoping that the forecast heavy rain for Sunday stays away.