A few years back, Vítor, Sandra and myself cycled ‘El Camino de Santiago‘ – the Way of St. James – a pilgrim’s route that connects many European cities to Santiago de Compostela, in northwestern Spain. In the Middle Ages, visiting St. James’ shrine in Compostela’s Cathedral was one of three most important Christian pilgrimages, together with those to Rome and Jerusalem.
These days, Santiago de Compostela’s notoriety can’t compete with that of Rome and Jerusalem, but ‘El Camino’ is still a very popular route. Those that do it for spiritual enlightenment or penance are nowadays joined by a growing number of fitness aficionados (arguably just a different sort of penance). We fall squarely on the latter group, so we devised a route suitable for repentance: we would add the ‘French Way’ (taking us from the French village of Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port to Santiago de Compostela) to the ‘Portuguese Way’ (which connects Santiago de Compostela to Porto, in Portugal). We would do the resulting 1.000km (625 miles) in 11 days, strictly sticking to the original hiking trails, as not to miss the fun stuff by opting for the available cycling alternative routes.
It’s funny how our mind works. Looking through the pictures brings back a lot of visual snapshots of the voyage, but it’s writing about it that resurfaces the emotions that went through my head while cranking the pedals.
When you’re not having fun on the downhills or scaring the pants off of hikers (just kidding. Maybe), a voyage like this gives you ample opportunity to think about things. On the uphills, each one of us would settle into his own rhythm and be left alone with nothing but breathtaking landscapes and his own thoughts. It really helps putting things into perspective.
Of course there can be too much of a good thing. My inner thoughts are not interesting enough to fill 6 hours of daily pedalling and, as much as I love cycling, it can feel menial after doing it for several days.
There was also the issue of weather. Anticipating a scorching August in the unsheltered northern Spanish trails, we went with minimal gear (Vítor and I even went to the extremes of shaving our heads to cope with the heat). It ended up being one of the most miserable summers of the decade, so we had an equally miserable introduction to ‘El Camino’. I remember one morning where, after a few hours of mud and bitter wind, we took shelter in a roadside ‘bodega’, enjoying the warmth of a hot chocolate. On the back of all our minds was the unspoken desire to quit.
Fortunately none of us was mature enough to admit it, so we trudged on to what became one of my dearest memories. The weather eventually got better, and we enjoyed an unforgettable voyage that offers a unique perspective of northern Spain and Portugal.
P.S. My dwindling memory wasn’t capable of attaching a place to all the pictures above. If you know where any of the unidentified pictures was taken, please let us know in the comments or an email!