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Cycling Day 4; Tuesday 4/6/02;
O Cebreiro to Ligonde (93 km)

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We got up at 6, and were on our way by 7. With the cramped dormitory, and some pilgrims still sleeping, it was easier to pack in the corridor. My panniers were lighter than ever – the weather meant that I was wearing winter cycling leggings, two jackets (one warm, one waterproof), and gloves with cycling mitts underneath. I couldn’t find my best glasses, so used my spare pair. After fruitless searching, I decided to abandon them – maybe they were in a recess of the panniers. (They weren’t!) The weather reminded me of holidays spent in the Welsh mountains – fog, and cold. We needed to have our lights on. I was happy with my back light – five fat flashing LEDs, but the one at the front was emitting a feeble glimmer. So it was just as well there was very little traffic. O Cebreiro is at 1300 m, and the road dipped for a few kilometres, and then rose to El Poyo, 1337m. Somewhere along this part of the route is a big statue of St James, looking determinedly towards Santiago.. We rode the descent very gingerly – the fog was giving us 50 m visibility, not enough to get any proper speed up. Gripping the brake levers hard started to get quite uncomfortable. Eventually, we were below the clouds, so we could speed up a bit, though it was raining by now. When we reached Triacastela, we stopped to defrost with a big coffee and some chocolate, then had another of each! We continued the descent, soon reaching Samos, where Chris stopped suddenly, so I braked hard too. The road surface changed from grippy tarmac to slippy concrete, and as the front wheel skidded off to the left, I fell off to the right, then me and bike slid on for a few yards together. I got to my feet, and apart from a grazed thigh, and holes in leggings and glove, I was fine. The padding of the extra clothing was very welcome! The bike was OK too. I was touched that the driver of the car behind, and some pedestrians, instantly came over to see how I was. The reason for stopping was to get a credencial stamp from the monastery, so we did this, then carried on through the rain. I felt sorry for the bedraggled walkers, who often wore black capes that covered them and their rucksacks – groups of walkers looked like a column of some strange black biped beetle. As we passed other pilgrims, walkers or cyclists, we generally wished them “Buon camino” or encourage them with “Ultreia!” (Onward!). Climbing one of the hills on this day, we overtook the German couple again, and Chris was able to chat to them in German. They had cycled all the way from the Pyrenees. As we were passing them for the second time, they clearly travelled slower than us, but kept at it for longer!
After reaching Sarria, there was more climbing, but then at last, a descent where we could go as fast as gravity and our nerves dictated. There were some fabulous stretches, where I topped 60 kph, so it was a bit tricky when my foot unclipped from my SPD on one of the quick bits. I got it back in with not too much difficulty. Chris has more experience of fast downhills than I have (he’s done L’Etape du Tour several times), so I was quite happy for him to be in front! Much of the town of the Portomarin, at the foot of this 9 km downhill, had been moved and rebuilt, as a reservoir flooded the original town. More climbing followed, then we found ourselves on narrow country lanes. We met a group of half a dozen US pilgrim cyclists, and rode with them for a while. They were on an organized trip, with their baggage transported between overnight stops. So with our panniers, we were higher up the pilgrim hierarchy!!! Not that I believe in pilgrim hierarchies… Hannah (Chris’s middle daughter, and my god child) had been walking the Camino (and was already in Santiago), and had recommended the refugio at Ligonde. We couldn’t find it!! We found one run by a US evangelical group, but a) it wasn’t quite open and b) it wasn’t the one we were looking for. A couple of kilometres beyond what we thought was Ligonde, 500 metres beyond a café, on the right, we found it! Again, we were told on arrival that we could only have beds if walkers didn't need them, but they didn't, and again the offer of a common room floor was there if needed. The German couple turned up later in the afternoon, but there were no spare bunks, so they pedalled on. I was very impressed by their cheerful and stoical attitude – there was a town with accommodation not far away, but the rain was still pouring down. The pilgrims were a very international bunch – Spanish, English, German-Welsh, and one French lad who seemed to be suffering from some sort of manic mental illness. Some of us decided to cook a meal, so we brought ingredients from the house next door (and I mean house, not shop!). The Italian and I cooked, me doing the chopping, him doing all the clever stuff, like exquisite garlic bread. Neither of us spoke each others language, but we managed with French, and gestures. Perhaps I should have mentioned the copious quantities of wine we bought from next door – I’m sure that helped the communication…. The meal was great – there are times when I am really happy to be a European, and this was one of them! We swapped lots of pilgrim anecdotes – Katja, traveling alone, had had to fend off amorous male pilgrims on a number of occasions!! The Spaniards moved on from wine to some sort of spirit, and invited me to join them… I can’t remember what it was called, but it was nice… I recall Chris giving me some sort of warning, but alas I ignored it. Sometime later in the night, it occurred to me that too much alcohol has distinctly undesirable consequences, and that at my age, I ought to know better......

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