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Post Script, 2020 Farewell Chris

Cycling Day 3; Monday 3/6/02;
Riego de Ambros to O Cebreiro (81 km)

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Morning arrived, and apart from feeling somewhat muzzy, I was fairly unscathed by my overindulgence. We did not make an early start, and had done less than ten km before stopping to buy bottled water, biscuits and Mars bars. Looking at Chris’s back tyre, it was obvious that it needed to be replaced – the kink had worsened, and it was bulging threateningly. The tyre swap didn’t take long, and unable to just throw the old tyre away (they were a present from his daughter Hannah), Chris strapped it to his rear carrier. (Chris has subsequently mounted the bulge portion of the tyre on a small plaque in his loo!) It was quite hot, and we saw a number of other pilgrims on foot. One chap, who was quite elderly, was carrying a massive lopsided rucksack, and making painfully slow progress. We rode on, stopping by a roadside water fountain to top up our bottles. I had a couple of 500ml bottles, and this was the day I realized that even though they had a nice Bob Jackson Cycles logo, they were just too small! Chris lent me a fold up bottle, which took another litre. We reached the town of Villafranca del Bierzo, had our credencials stamped in the tourist office, and bought bananas and oranges.

My bike outside the tourist office

Then we visited the church of Santiago (up a short steep hill). Here, pilgrims who were too ill to complete their journey could be granted the same benefits as those who reached Santiago.

Chris outside an interesting church on the outskirts of Villafranca del Bierza - note that it looks hot, because it was!!! This isn't the church of Santiago -that's much older, in the centre of town.

We were now back on a main road, the NV1, and it varied from pleasant to otherwise, according to whether the new motorway, often on spectacular stilts, had been built. Fifteen kilometres from Villafranca, we turned back onto the old road and started to climb. Somewhere on this road, Chris gave me some salt, which I ate to counteract the effects of the heat, a tip he’d found useful cycling in Malasia, and in the Andes. Chris warned me that this was a long long hill; he was right! It was proper climbing – the terrain changed from fields and woods, to mountains with just grass for covering. As we passed a farm on the lower slopes, there was a moment of high drama – a lorry thundered by, avoiding a farmer on one side and a cow on the other, but a puppy (aahhh) dashed across – and made it! See photo below.

(Well, actually, both the lorry and the puppy have gone out of shot….)

The road continued onwards and very distinctly upwards – we overtook a number of walking cyclists, including a German husband and wife, who looked to be in their sixties – she was about half a mile behind him. We passed the three Dutch cyclists (two women and one man) who we’d met the day before.

Still hot, still climbing! Look how tiny the shadow is. Definitely my toughest day!

When we got to Pedrafita (1109 metres), we had a quick stop for a drink and snack, and as the weather was looking a little doubtful, put on our cycling jackets. The main road dropped down to Galicia, but we turned left to continue our climb to O Cebreiro. It looked like 3 or 4 km on the map, but it felt like 20! At one point, Chris was a dot in the distance, I’d used all my water, and with my jacket on, was getting very hot. My speed dropped to 6 kph, and I just wanted to give up! The moment passed, Chris waited for me with water and Mars bar, and we pedalled on. We finally reached O Cebreiro, and made our way to the refugio. It was crowded, and we put our bags on a pair of bunks, in a tiny dormitory with four double bunks squeezed in, then joined the queue to book in. We may have done that the other way round…. but it was all fairly anarchic, so bagging bunks first would have been quite sensible! This was where I first encountered the pilgrim hierarchy for myself – walkers are at the top, and cyclists are underneath! So we were told that if there were still bunks unfilled by walkers at 8 pm, we could have them, if not, we were welcome to the common room floor…. Possession being 9/10ths of the law, we hoped to retain our bunks!
Chris had been sending articles to his local paper (here is the first one, here is the second), and we went to the common room so he could write and send his latest report. (here) He was using his tiny Palm Pilot with a fold out QWERTY keyboard plugged in. Then he used the infrared link to his mobile to email it to the newspaper. While this high tech wizardry was taking place, I crashed out across three battered lumpy chairs and was sleeping like a baby in minutes. Perhaps not exactly like a baby, because I was snoring loudly – Chris apologised to the other pilgrims in the room. I don’t think they were too bothered – when I woke up, he was explaining to a gathering of the curious how the technology all worked, in French and a little Spanish. On a Practical Pilgrim Day run by CSJ, the walkers vs cyclists issue, and a possibly related one, a certain antipathy to modern technology (mobiles, radios, walkmans, etc) emerged. There seems to be a feeling that the more arduous the journey, the more meritorious. Chris and I would imagine ever more odd ways to make the pilgrimage; we quite liked the idea of skateboarding, and travelling by stone curricle also appealed (naturally, you’d have to carry the curricle when you weren’t crossing water.) Really, I think people should just make the pilgrimage that suits them – whether it is long, short, on foot, by bike, with/without support (eg van to transport their luggage). But there are rules about who gets a Compostela, the certificate issued to pilgrims. Walkers and pilgrims on horseback must have completed at least the last 100km and cyclists the last 200 km, in one stretch, to qualify. (More from https://www.csj.org.uk/the-compostela)
Once Chris’s article was sent, we looked around O Cebreiro, a small village with some pallozas, very old thatched round houses. The church is squat but beautiful, and was the site of an ancient miracle – the wine at Mass changed to blood, a tribute to the faith of a parishioner, and a reproof to the disbelieving priest. After meeting our spiritual needs, our thoughts turned to food and drink - we discovered a bar, and had a beer – I was almost too tired to enjoy it! As we left the bar, the fine weather had gone, and clouds were swirling around. We ate a good three course pilgrim meal at a restaurant, and I treated the wine with due caution! As we walked back to the refugio, mist enveloped us. Even though it wasn’t very late, the other inhabitants of our dormitory were all tucked up in bed. In the night, I woke up and identified at least two snorers (out of only eight pilgrims!) Clearly, there may have been one more when I was asleep……

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