03/10/2018 Simon ‘Wardy’ Ward is nomadonanomad
I found out, after a few days in Spain, that Eurovelo 1 is twinned with the Camino de Santiago, for quite some distance. Not sure how far, and I’m not bothered to find out, but the issue is the signs become the ones for the Camino and the Eurovelo signs just vanish. In hindsight I had read about this before setting off but with so many other things to remember it had slipped my mind completely.
Even then the signs for the Camino change from being very nice professional looking things to a smudge of yellow paint on a rock that’s barely visible and all sorts of different stuff in between, and you’re expected to be able to follow this shit!
The Camino is also mainly for hikers and, it would appear, is an iconic route in the hiking world. Again, I can’t be bothered to google how far the entire trail goes but I did see a sign after riding it for two days saying that the folks walking had only got another 457 kms to go! So, it’s been used to join up a couple of bits that make the Eurovelo route complete, but the surface for large stretches of the Camino is bloody awful to say the least and far harder on a bike than walking.
The Camino has also been part of the reason for the appearance of the many ‘Albergues’ on route. These are what we Brits would call Youth Hostels except there aren’t too many young people using them. The accommodation can be single or double rooms, if you’re lucky, but for the most part it’s dormitory style and you stash your gear under the bunk beds. Luxury it is not! But it’s cheapish and the folks are, for the most part interesting and well travelled.
Now these hiking folks can be pesky blighters and I poked a lot of gentle fun at them at every opportunity, despite being heavily outnumbered. They are all up at the first crack of sparrow fart in the morning and most will set off before sunrise. Being the lone cyclist for the most part, at least I got to use the shower without any queueing once they’d left. The big problem is that the folks walking all stop at 3.00pm and book up all the rooms and beds leaving people like me to go from place to place being told ‘completo’. (Full)
After stopping at 3.00pm because it’s too hot, they all wash their ‘smalls’ and sit around with their ‘blister support groups’ in full swing. It’s a wonder to me why they do it, but they all thought I was stupid doing it on a bike anyway. I can only suppose it’s a good job we’re not all the same as it would be a strange old world.
One place I stopped at, Navarette, I was taken to the room which had 5 beds in it and told that I was the only one staying there. Bingo! Settled in, spread myself out and decided that I would have a lie in the next morning and set off at a decent time, around 10.00am, after a sumptuous breakfast. Starting early is not normally a problem for me from a point of getting up and ready, it’s just that in the cold mornings it’s hard to know how to dress. Go uphill, and very soon you can be getting far too hot, but going fast downhill can get really cold with extra layers, not to mention gloves, needed.
So. Navarette. Fast asleep in a comfy bed. It’s 6.00am and I suddenly thought the world was about to end. The smallest, and definitely loudest, person to ever hike the Camino de Santiago just happened to be staying in one of the other rooms and was up and ready to get stuck into the trail. She opened, and then smashed closed, every one of the kitchen cabinets. (The kitchen just happened to be next to my room of course) Just as she’d finished her percussion session and started her breakfast, an equally small and noisy hiker went through the same procedure. Maybe they were part of a convention?
Just as they seemed to have calmed down a bit a third one appeared. Again, very small and extremely noisy. So much for my lie in. At 6.45am the first one had finished getting ready and reached for the door, rucksack on. She then screamed her parting shot to the others, ‘IT WAS SO AWESOME TO MEET YOU TWO LAST NIGHT, BUEN CAMINO’. She then slammed the door behind her and just for good measure gave the doorbell some lusty rings!
I swear I could have cheerfully throttled them all, my lie in shot to pieces and so there was only one thing to do but get up and get going. I set off by 8.30am and it was bloody cold. Faffed around on the Camino for most of the morning but my early ‘awakening’ and the trail had pissed me off, so I got onto the roads and started to make good headway. (It’s worth noting that the roads, and the drivers, are every bit as good in Spain as they are in France)
Really whizzed along and ended up, after a lot of kilometres, in a place called Villafranca Montes de Oca. I really wanted to get to Burgos the next day as I’d had a tip that I would be able to change my US Dollars there at a particular bank. Checked the maps and had 36 kms to go. First up, a 6 km walk, pushing the bike, up a very steep hill but then a long downhill run into Burgos itself. Made the climb in good time and was in the city late morning. Excellent.
Found the bank and they declined my dollars. They sent me somewhere else, so did they, and so did the next lot before I gave up. I had planned to get some new shorts as the ones I set off in those 4 weeks earlier were now hanging off me and I needed to get some more in the size I used to take 25 years ago. Thoughts of a much needed haircut were in mind as well. But I was so disappointed not getting my currency changed that I forgot everything else and had a pizza instead! I don’t normally eat fast food but what the hell, it’s not as though I need to lose any weight as it’s falling off me.
Left Burgos sated by the pizza and smashed out some more kilometres, ending up at Hornillos del Camino. (Yes, back on the Camino because it’s a difficult area to get through reasonably directly on a bike as the roads are mainly motorways) The hikers were there in force, bed blocking, but I was just in time to get the last bunk. Met some really nice people, had a few too many beers showing Kevin, a German fella, how to drink, and I crashed on a sofa downstairs, having the best night sleep on the trip! (Never saw the bed I‘d paid 10 Euros for)
Next day started with an 8 km push along awful trails to Hostantos but then fortified by coffee and pan y chocolate I got moving on some great roads to Casteljeriz where I’d decided to, again, leave the Camino as I wanted to take a short cut along good roads to Palencia. Leaving town, I went past the turning for the Camino and headed off down a great road with 28 kms to go until Palencia. The road, initially was downhill followed by an uphill section which I was sure I could make it up without too much effort providing I got enough momentum on the downhill stretch.
I was starting to really crank it up when I realised there was a car stopped at the bottom of the hill and an elderly Spanish fella was standing in the middle of the road. It dawned on me immediately that he was going to tell me I was going the wrong way as he would assume I was following the Camino. I stopped, I didn’t have much choice, as he was determined to ‘help’ me. He insisted I was on the wrong road and all my Spanish deserted me and all I could say was ‘No Camino’ over and over, and point in the direction I was going. When I convinced him I was not going to turn around, I then had to do the uphill bit from a standing start. Please take note everyone, never stop a cyclist when they have momentum as it’s bloody hard, not to mention frustrating, to have to crank it up again.
Made it to Palencia in great time, had a reviving beer, it’s not the alcohol I need, it’s the sugar, honestly, and set off again. As usual cities are bloody hard to navigate your way out of, but I eventually got going properly and set my sights on a place called Castromocho. No idea why, but it was on the way. If it’s rural I can wild camp so it’s not an issue. Rural wasn’t the word so I decided to press on and, lo and behold Eurovelo 1 was just down the road and following a canal path. As I had great memories of the Brest/Nantes canal in France I decided that was it. Found the path but with some difficulty, and it was immediately obvious that this was not like the canal paths I’d been used to in France.
I was sure I would find a decent place to pitch the tent and went past a couple of ok looking places but, as usual, I wanted to do just a few more kilometres as there was a couple of hours of daylight left so why not? Bad decision! All of a sudden, the bike ground to a halt as a large stick had got caught up in the chain. Here we go. Miles from anywhere and my mechanical skills are crap. What to do? I slowly reversed the bike and the stick dropped conveniently out of the chain. On inspection everything looked ok so just carry on? No, not a chance, something was badly wrong as when I turned the pedals there was nothing. Not a dickie bird. Totally useless. Oh, my Buddha!
So, there I was on the shittiest canal path known to man and the bike is bollocksed. I was already tired and now I’m bloody annoyed to say the least. Decision made to walk on in the same direction as there must be a village not too far away. That was also a dumb idea as after about 3 kms I bump into a couple of fishermen and they tell me I have another 5kms to go. That was bad enough but their laughter made me want to push them in the canal as a minimum.
I had made one good decision, which was not to attempt any repair until I had got myself somewhere where I could have a proper look at the problem, and after some sleep. Walk it was. Eventually I came to a small bridge and enough signal to get the map working on the iPad. It was nearly dark but there was a small village just 2 kms away. Maybe help was at hand? Made it to the village, Castil de Vela, after dark, and luckily it was fiesta and the whole village was out and about. The whole lot of them stared at me as I trudged to the only bar and ordered a beer. (I’m English, it’s what we do when in crisis)
Then, when everyone realised what a problem I had they all rallied round and tried to find out what to do. This was a problem as no-one spoke any English and, because I was exhausted every Spanish word I knew had disappeared from my mind. Sign language came to the rescue and someone who spoke 3 words of English was summoned and then a wonderful guy called David was soon helping me get the bike into the back of his work van and he took me 14 kms to Medina de Rioseco where there was a small hostal. What kindness again, just when it was needed?
Of course, as this was a Saturday night, phoning the manufacturers to describe the problem and maybe fix it myself would have to wait. So, I took the chance to spend Sunday having a crash course in Spanish on the ‘computadora’ to see if that would help. I put the rest of the trouble behind me and relaxed. Medina de Rioseco is a nice little town, and I needed a rest.
The bike would have to wait until Monday morning. I sorted all the tools out and waited until SJS Cycles opened in the morning. I had even googled how to get speakerphone working on my old iPhone so I could have both hands free! I got to speak to Dave and, after explaining not only the problem with the bike but that I was a mechanical numpty he did a brilliant job of talking me through the whole thing and I got it done! Elation was not the word as I had been anticipating either a 45 kms walk/push to the next city or an expensive taxi ride with the driver taking the piss in Spanish.
Enough for now, can’t wait to get going again in the morning with a feeling of a challenge conquered. Just hoping that’s it on the problem front for some time. Fingers crossed.
As always, thank you for reading this far, and may your God go with you.
Simon ‘Wardy’ Ward.