Monday, June 16, 2008

Palencia, Spain

Friends: There was no river or mountain pass or distinctive geographic feature or even a change in the quality of the pavement marking the border when I crossed back in to Spain from Portugal at the small town of Feces de Abaixo, only a sign stating "España".

And a little further was another sign, the fondly familiar Camino de Santiago sign, two feet wide, three feet high, with the golden streaks of the scallop shell on a sky blue background, the streaks converging upon the base of its shell, symbolizing the many roads that lead to Santiago and self-awareness and enlightenment. Just outside of Feces was a small post with the Santiago emblem pointing towards a footpath. There haven't been many, but in the past two days I have passed a handful of pilgrims, mostly on bike but a few on foot as well, on their way to that hallowed city. This wasn't the main Santiago de Compostela route, just one of its many tributaries. If there´d been a tourist office or evident official Santiago hostel in Feces I would have stopped to add another stamp to my pilgrim passport. I'd only filled half of its nine pages with 27 stamps, half as many as some collect, but my average of four a day had to exceed most.

It was nice to be back to the easy wild-camping of Spain and its vast, unsettled expanses. There was a much greater population density in Portugal. The land-holdings there were smaller and closer together, forcing me to be a little more creative than I need be in France and Spain in finding a place to camp. Still, it only took a slight bit more ingenuity to find a place to pitch my tent.

My first night in Portugal I sought out a campsite down an overgrown dirt road towards a river and a cluster of trees, where I found an abandoned old shed of a barn swallowed up by the vegetation. The next night I went up a dirt road that had no recent tire tracks and set up my tent on a grassy path between a couple of neighboring vineyards, and slept as well as anywhere.
With it light until past ten I have not come close to fretting that I might not find the best of camping spots before dark.

Regardless of whether my campsite has been worthy of the cover of National Geographic or more suitable as a rodent's lair, I unfailingly set up my tent with triumph and joy, filled with the great satisfaction of not having to hand over a passport or lucre and then read or listen to an array of idiotic do's and don't's for the privilege of sleeping on someone's patch of earth. That nightly ritual of setting up my tent when and where I want is always an exclamation point on another day of blissful biking freedom, followed by the equal bliss of sitting in my tent and gazing out at my natural surroundings as I chow down and pore over my map, seeing how far I've traveled and what lays ahead, reveling in my day and anticipating the next.

I had hoped the terrain might have been a little flatter back to France 50 miles south of the route I had taken to Santiago, but it very much mirrored the terrain to the north, though it was more denuded of trees and the flats were planted with vast expanses of wheat. Other than the framing mountains, I could have been in the Dakotas. Shortly after crossing back into Spain and turning east I had a 3,000' climb that included a couple of tunnels. It was another strenuous day of climbing. Eight hours on the bike earned me 80 miles--a paltry ten miles per hour average. But the next day the terrain flattened and with the wind at my back, just as it had been a week earlier in the same section to the north, I had another frolicsome century, though without any drafting assistance this time. Seven hours on the bike earned me a bountiful 115 miles. It was hard not to feel sympathy for the occasional bicycling pilgrim struggling along in the opposite direction going half my speed.

One of the delights of Spain is seeing the company names of former and present sponsors of Tour de France teams--Banesto, Kas, Once. They each set off a fond string of memories, recalling the mighty Kings of the Road who wore the company name on their uniforms--Kelly, Indurain, Jalabert...

Later, George

1 comment:

T.C. O'Rourke said...

Congratulations on the new Blog, George.

I do hope you will keep dispatching your missives via email as well, but I'm excited to turn new people on to Chicago's most legendary touring cyclist.