|Camino: Pedaling to Earth’s End|
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July 12, 2004
If you’ve browsed through the bike section of my site you’ll know that years ago — in 1980 to be exact — I set out on my first long-distance solo cycling trip through Europe. That trip lasted about six months, but it brought a wealth of experience that I’m still feeding on. It began in London, where I bought myself a lovely F. W. Evans touring cycle. From London I took the train to Greece, where I pedaled and explored for a couple of months before begining the long ride back to London over many wonderful backroads.
I enjoyed the experience so much that I knew I’d have to try it again someday. It’s like a virus: there is no antidote. The next opportunity, though, didn’t come until 1987. I quit my job at UBC and bought a round-the-world airline ticket. Bought another bike as well: a Bauer Whistler touring bike, which I picked up at Bloor Street Cycle in Toronto. One year later I returned to Vancouver, having pedaled once again through Europe (from Lisbon up to Finland), in India (Ladakh), across one corner of Australia, and in New Zealand.
And that was it for my long-distance solo cyling for many, many years.
Then three years ago, in June of 2001, I decided to burn up a few weeks of unused vacation time with another cycle trip in France. My route that time was along the Stevenson Trail — GR70 — through the Cevennes in central France. This is the route that Robert Louis Stevenson describes so wonderfully in his book Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes. For that trip I used a mountain bike rather than a touring cycle so that I could follow the walking trail as much as possible. It was a lovely ride, through a particularly beautiful part of France.
This year marks my 50th birthday, and late last year I decided that I needed to mark the occasion with something special. After much deliberation (and some doubts) I decided to try biking along the Camino: the ancient pilgrim route through France and Spain, leading to the town of Santiago de Compostella. From Santiago there is an additional, optional leg to Finisterre: Earth’s End. Hence the title for this section of my site.
On my earlier travels I kept in touch with family and friends by postcard and letter: long, rambling letters that were a kind of journal-substitute, or journal-supplement. I checked regularly at Poste Restante for mail as well: I still remember the keen anticipation I felt while waiting in line, and the avidity with which I watched the postal clerk leaf through the sheaf of mail waiting in the pigeon-hole labeled “H”. And the disappointment if there was nothing waiting there for me.
That was before the Internet, and the Internet café. I’m not all that thrilled at these recent technological developments. Part of the pleasure of a long-distance solo ride — a large part, for me — is the opportunity it affords for contemplation. You’re riding along some quiet road. There are trees around and above you; there might be a small stream. Ideally the sun would be shining, and you would have a good book or two in your panniers, and a small cache of bread and cheese, perhaps a bar of chocolate, some bananas. As you pedal, your mind might be replaying a snatch of dialogue from the book you’re halfway through, or it might be mulling over one of the larger philosophical issues that always seem to percolate to the surface when we are left to our own devices for a while: free will vs fate; various ethical dilemmas; the meaning of life. Issues that you never seemed to have much time to contemplate during the regular grind of your workaday world “back home”.
Letters (and journals) seemed to me to be the perfect medium to attempt to describe the moments of a day, or to expand upon those few fragments of thought that seem worth preserving. Which is why I’m not quite sure whether I’ll make much use of Internet cafés on this particular trip.
But I thought I’d at least try to leave the option open. And so as an experiment I’ve cobbled together this special-purpose “blog” for the upcoming trip. In theory it should allow me to post the occasional entry when the mood strikes me (provided I’m within range of an Internet café, of course). In practice, it could be that this entry is the only one that will appear.
For those who have stumbled on this page in search of practical information on the Camino in general, or on cycling it specifically, I will direct you to the following resources:
And until we meet again: Ultreya!
© 2004 Michael Hayward
The 3 Ps: Preliminaries, Preparations and Packing
Departure! (and contact info)
Beginning to begin
El Burgo Ranero
Villadangos del Paramo
Rabanal del Camino
Interlude: A New Philosophy
Villafranca del Bierzo
Santiago de Compostella
The end of the earth