The Road to Santander

August 20, 2013

Since we now have the opportunity to relax for a few days, we need to decide how best to use the time and then how to continue the Camino. I tried to answer the second question first. I haven’t mentioned it before but one thing that you notice when walking the Camino is how many people are following the trail by bicycle. For the most part, the trail is ideal for a mountain bike. When I was crawling along with my swollen legs, I thought more than once how it would be fun to do a section of the Camino with a bike.

Now I have a chance to do so. I investigated a few companies that provide bikes in Spain and eventually arranged for two mountain bikes to be delivered to our hotel in Burgos on Thursday. If we ride 25 miles a day, we can make it Mansilla de las Mulas (just short of Leon) in four days. We’ll leave the bikes there and take a train to Madrid the next day.

I tested my legs while riding a bike in Burgos and it seems to be more comfortable than walking. Even with a leisurely pace, we shouldn’t have to ride more than 3 hours a day. The weather is cooperating as well. Yesterday, today and tomorrow has been very hot (around 90) but it’s cooling off starting on Friday when we start our ride.

The other question above is what to do while I rest for a few days. Since it was going to be very hot in Burgos, we decided to take a bus to Santander, a resort town on the Atlantic coast. I had no idea what to expect but it has turned out pretty great so far.

The bus ride was incredible. Rather than follow the freeway, the route crosses a spectacular canyon with narrow roads, switchbacks and gorgeous scenery. It reminded me of the high country in Utah, except there’s 400-year old villages scattered around the countryside. Eventually, we reached the coastal plain of Cantabria which features beautiful beaches and dramatic cliffs that drop into the Atlantic Ocean.

Since it was our anniversary, we splurged on a fancy hotel downtown with a spectacular view of the harbor. Honoring my policy to ignore the actual cost of non-Camino expenses, I’ll just say that it cost 16 nights in a private albergue. After we checked in we enjoyed a bottle of local red wine and a few snacks that we had collected from the grocery store. The sunset on the mountains across the harbor was magnificent.

Once it got dark, we went out prowling the bars and restaurants in the neighborhood surrounding the hotel. Given the warm nighttime temp’s, the bars were packed with locals and tourists. We finally found a table at a popular place and enjoyed our official anniversary dinner.

Tomorrow we’ll move to a different (cheaper) hotel and enjoy another rest day before heading back to Burgos on Thursday.

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Descanso

August 19, 2013

Before I forget, I want to thank all of my friends and family who are following this blog and making comments. Thanks also to the people I haven’t met in person but made contact through the Backpack Club (my name for fellow peregrinos).

My wife Kathryn arrived safely last night around 5 pm after making her connection to the train in Madrid. It was a good thing that she made it because the next train was sold out. I was already cleaned up by the time she got to the hotel so she didn’t have to see the grimy peregrino (yet).

Our hotel is the Meson El Cid and it features a drop-dead stunning view of the cathedral from our room’s window. I’d love to tell you how I managed to get such a choice room but it was just luck. We are directly across the entry plaza so our entire view is filled by the church’s facade.

After we got settled we went out for a stroll around the area. It stays light until after 9 pm so dinner starts late. We met my friend Nancy for dinner to celebrate our safe arrivals into Burgos. It was a pretty fancy place and I won’t say exactly how much it cost but it added up to five menus de peregrino.

Today was a day of rest. We slept in until 9 am or so and barely managed to make the breakfast that ended at 1030. After that, I decided to see if I could find a doctor to look at my legs. Since I bought a travel insurance policy and it wasn’t an emergency, it took me the rest of the morning to call the insurance company, coordinate with their European service provider and find a doctor nearby. Around 1 pm I walked a few short blocks to a local hospital and was greeted personally by the medico at the reception area. After a discussion of my symptoms, he decided to take some x-rays. Although the x-rays showed an interesting growth on my left heel (which has been there a long time), there was no indication of anything that would cause the pain I’ve been having.

When the doctor returned to the examination room, he gave me his opinion that I should rest for a week and not walk any more of the Camino. Some of you may see this as a horrible news, but I see it a bit differently. First, I’m not necessarily going to follow the doctor’s advice. My legs are definitely beat up because that’s what the Camino does. Second, taking a few days off is a great chance to celebrate our 30th anniversary in a little more style than a 5 euro a night municipal albergue.

So here’s the new camino plan: relax until the end of the week and see how my legs feel. If I’m doing better, we’ll continue for the days remaining. If not, we’ll have a relaxing vacation in a gorgeous country.

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Burgos at Last

August 18, 2013

I’ve only walked for ten days but the Camino has taken a toll. My pace has slowed from about 3.6 km/hr to 2.8 km/hr. The walking is slower, especially on the downhills, and the rest breaks are longer and more frequent. I’ll have some deep thoughts tomorrow but today is all about getting into Burgos to meet my wife Kathryn. Her flight to Madrid lands at 10 am and she’ll take a train to Burgos that arrives at 4:30 pm.

So the march begins.

The first part of the walk today leaves Ages and quickly reaches Atapuerca where human remains over 900,000 years old were found. It reminds me of the Mel Brooks routine about the world’s oldest man. Google it.

The route continues over a large hill and finally the city of Burgos comes into view. There’s another prayer circle at the summit of the hill before descending into rolling wheat fields where hunters are using their dogs to flush birds from the rows of cut grain. I’m used to hunting in the USA where you have to stay away from roadways and buildings. It’s a lot looser in Spain and the hunters are hunting within 100 yards as you walk by.

The Camino eventually crosses the freeway and follows the length of the Burgos aeropuerto to a road intersection. This is a critical option to your experience entering Burgos. If you turn right, you’ll walk along the sidewalk along a busy roadway for the next few hours. If you cross the road and walk about ten minutes, you’ll follow the river all the way to the cathedral.

Luckily, my friend Nancy had alerted me of this option and I found the river easily. If I hadn’t, I would still be out on the road mumbling to myself and scaring passersby. The path started out pretty simply but got nicer and nicer as you got close to downtown. Since it was Sunday, a lot of people were enjoying the walks alone, with family or with friends. Those of you who have spent time in Europe know how the people love to walk. By the time I got to the bridge that would take me to the cathedral the walkway was packed with people. I passed through one of the arched entrances into the plaza in front of the cathedral. Our hotel was situated on the plaza as well so I checked in and waited for Kathryn to arrive.

Notes from today:

Left Ages at 0815, arrived Burgos at 1600
Total time 7.75 hours
Total distance 22.0 km
Average speed 2.8 km/hr

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Taking it Easy

August 17, 2013

After two nights in a donativo albergue, I’m ready for a real bed. A donativo is an albergue run by dedicated volunteers who serve two weeks at a time. The albergues are typically associated with a local church, and the experience includes a communal meal, evening prayer service, sleeping mats on the floor, and a simple breakfast in the morning. Sort of like a slumber party for grownups.

The word donativo means that you make a voluntary contribution when you leave in the morning.

When I left at 0745 this morning, most of the other pilgrims had already hit the trail. This is fine with me because the mornings are cool and it’s a great time to walk by yourself. Since there was no wifi last night, I posted my last blogs along the trail today. I took a lot of breaks (note my average speed below) but both my legs were hurting and I didn’t want to push the pace too hard.

The second half of the day was spent without villages so it was a pretty quiet experience. I was considering stopping earlier than I planned but I took a long break, changed my socks and felt like a new man. I’m really glad that I continued because the last hour was through a shaded forest and I got to walk a labyrinth. Now I can walk into Burgos tomorrow to meet Kathryn. She lands at 10 am in Madrid and will take a train to meet me. Monday will be a rest day.

Notes from today:

Left Losantos at 0745, arrived Ages at 1600
Total time 8.25 hours
Total distance 22.1 km
Average speed 2.8 km/hr (it’s not a race, right?)

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Settling into the Camino Flow

August 15, 2013

Today is the Feast of the Assumption so it’s a national holiday in Spain. Last night, there was a procession of the Virgin Mary and Christ Child through the streets of Azofra. A folk dance troupe led the way around the small village. The procession started and finished at the church where mass was held at 8 pm. As soon as Mass ended, the disco cranked up in the town square and the bars started getting crowded. For those who haven’t been to Spain, the normal dinner hour is 9 pm. You’re lucky if you leave your table by 11 pm. It’s a very civilized way to live.

The music and drinking continued all night long but it was remarkably quiet at the albergue. I walked back to the town square at 0800 this morning for coffee and the bar was still filled with highly inebriated people who were singing and harassing any young females who wandered past. I was told that the party was planned to continue for 2 more days. Luckily, the camino traveling circus was leaving town.

Like yesterday, I found myself walking with someone right away. This guy was named Marc and he lived about 1-1/2 hours south of Paris. He was in the final few weeks of his Camino from Le Puy to Santiago. He has walked all of the sections in random order and he needed to walk to Ponferrada to connect everything together. I found a lot of people take years to complete the trip. My experience will be the same.

Notes from today:

Left Azofra at 0830, arrived Granon at 1545
total time 7.25 hours
Total distance 22.4 km
average speed 3.1 km/hr

The photos below are in random order.

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Grinding It Out

August 16, 2013

My left leg isn’t getting any better. i think it’s shin splints because it hurts almost all day. I should probably take a few days off but Kathryn is meeting me in Burgos on Sunday and I’d like to walk the entire way. So far I’ve walked almost 175 km (over 109 miles). I really underestimated how difficult this would be. Even though I’ve backpacked a number of weeklong trips, I’ve never walked 8 days straight averaging almost 14 miles a day. Even if the terrain is flat, it’s still a challenge.

Over course you meet people who are cranking out ridiculous distances. I met one guy who had done 58 km in one day and was averaging over 40 km/day. He was also carrying a big backpack and wasn’t moving very fast when I saw him.

Last night was my first night in a donativo, which are staffed by volunteer hospitaleros and where you make a voluntary contribution for lodging and meals. The accommodations are very simple, including sleeping mats on the floor and a communal meal. Cooking and cleanup duties are shared as well.

The albergue where I stayed was attached to the church in Granon. When you arrive, you are welcomed warmly by the hosts and they offer you a cold drink and (for me) an ice pack. After dinner, we enter the church’s choir loft through a secret passage and hold a prayer service with candles. It’s a moving experience and each pilgrim gets to offer a prayer for a special intention. I’m planning to repeat the experience tonight in Losantos.

I’m really looking forward to a rest day in Burgos. Only two more days until then.

Notes from today:

Left Granon at 0745, arrived Losantos at 1430
Total time 6-3/4 hours
Total distance 20.5 km
Average speed 3.0 km/hr (note that I’m slowing down)

Once again, photos are in random order. The WordPress app makes it hard to move photos around.

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Every Day is a New Adventure

August 13, 2013

I was very apprehensive leaving the albergue this morning. My left leg was really hurting the day before – something I’ve never experienced. Perhaps it was shin splints. I looked at the planned destination for the day. It was Azofra, 14.5 miles away. Luckily there was another large town about 3 miles before it, so I decided to take it slow and re-evaluate when I stopped there for lunch.

I got an early start and and ran into a Spanish guy named Alex who wanted to practice his English. We walked together to the first town which turned out to be 1-1/2 hours away. Alex was an interesting guy and I got to practice my Spanish too. Here’s Alex. After we said goodby he took off jogging back to where I met him.

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After that I was on my own for the rest of the day. I took it slowly, especially on the downhills. The temperature was perfect – in the high 70’s – and the terrain was gently rolling. I tried to stop every hour to rest my leg. At lunchtime I rolled into Najera and got a coke and a bag of ice for my leg. I also took more ibuprofen and put some anti-inflam cream on my leg.

The final push into Azofra was 3.6 miles, and I spent the time thinking about my sister Mary who would have 53 today. After struggling with addiction to prescription pain pills for many years, Mary died of an accidental drug overdose five years ago. Like many families, my family has been affected by drug and alcohol addiction multiple times. Although Mary’s death was the most tragic episode, each of the situations reminds me of all the people struggling with this terrible disease. My walk today was dedicated to all those people.

Notes from today:

Left Navarette at 0730, arrived Azofra at 1500.
Total time 7.5 hours, total distance 23.2 km.
Average speed 3.1 km/hr

Bintang shirt on the Camino!

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