160618 – This River Flows with the Sweat of Pilgrims

Another albergue, another 8:00 am departure. We left Ponferrada for a planned 80 km. The first 50 km had ups and downs, but we knew at 50 km the climbing began in ernest, steeper and longer than yesterday. Starting at roughly 700 meters, we would eventually reach over 1300 meters. Consider that for a minute. 600 meters is almost 2,000 feet, straight up. Sam’s app reports our cumulative climb for the day as over 1,600  meters. Looking back, today likely ranks as one of the days with the most climbing in a single day for me. For Sam, from a country with few mountains, it’s comparable to his entire last tour.

Generally we’ve been following the pedestrian part of the Camino Frances, but today signed redirected us up (always up) to nearby small roads, with other peregrinos far below us. Sometimes when the Camino trail follows the side of the road, we move to the street to avoid inconveniencing those on foot, as long as we don’t feel emperiled by the traffic ourselves.
We wound our way through the streets of Villafranca del Bierzo, spotting a castle (closed) on our way through.


While I initiallly wondered if Sam was in shape for the trip, he’s a much stronger cyclist than I am. He climbs hills with power, with a higher base speed than my own. I often start back up early while Sam finishes up when we make a stop, and he catches me with ease. Sam zips past me going downhill, and I usually find him waiting for me at the top of a hill when we climb. However, today we found his weakness – long, steep hills. Perhaps coming from a country with no mountains? Or my three-weeks on the road already? As the climb began in ernest, I often pulled ahead of Sam. 

Even so, progress was slow on both our parts. At one point a pedestrian on foot slowly pulled away from me, as I’d climb 100 meters, stop to rest, only to resume my climb. As we struggled our way up a particularly scenic valley, following a river far below, Sam emoted, “this river flows with the sweat of pilgrims.”

Given yesterday, I’m occasionally stopping to make sure he still followed. At one point I realized I hadn’t seem him for a while, and settled under a tree to wait. From there I watched a farmer bring his cows up from a valley far below, eventually bringing them to me. The cows struggled to overcome their fear of a lone cyclist by the side of the road, while I waited to see if they’d shove me off the mountain. Eventually the two dogs barking at their feet drove them past.


We had spectacular scenery all day, long views down mountain valleys, with cloud-tufted mountain peaks. I took photos, but none of them capture the majesty of the breadth and depth of the mountains and valleys surrounding us.


At the summit we again ran into our friend the German cyclist who would have brought my jacket to Lyon. I finally learned his name is Josef. He plans to likely cycle 20 km farther than us, so we might well have seen the last of him. Buen Camino Josef.

While today’s descent didn’t have the sheer spectacle of yesterday, we arrived in Triacastela 15 km downhill shortly after we reached the effective summit. At one point on the way down Sam touched his disc brakes to see how hot they were. We set forth again with Sam’s burned fingers. We selected the first alburgue we came to in Triacastela, and settled in.

The alburgue experience continues to intrigue me. They’re very similar to hostels, but not. Each of the core defined sections of the Camino ends in a city with a number of alburgues, but an alburgue exists every five to ten kilometers. They range in quality, and cost five to nine euro. A couple of them I have stayed in exist on donations. On average they’re a small step below hostels. The kitchens are a bit more basic. They’re more gender-neutral (shared bathrooms and habitacion). They have less of a function on a social area, in part because everyone’s exhausted when they arrive, and in part because people eat and socialize at the nearby cafes and restauraunts that spring up around them. You can easily just set forth on the Camino and find accomodation whereever you desire to stop. In many ways it reminds me of following EuroVelo 6 with the campgrounds every 10 – 20 kilometers.

We’re now only 140 km from Santiago de Compostela. Sticking with cycling 80 km /day, we’ll be there in a couple of days. From there I have to solve getting myself (and the bicycle) back to Lisbon. If I decide (correctly or not) that I have time, I might first cycle to the End of the World.


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