|Camino: Pedaling to Earth’s End|
July 13, 2004
I’ll quote from one of the many websites which describe the Camino:
I’ve chosen to travel along the Arles route (also known as the Via Tolosana, since it goes via Toulouse) — mainly because it takes me through a section of France that I don’t know well. As an added bonus for myself, I’ve decided to add on a section before Arles itself; again, to take me though another region of France that I’ve not visited before: the French Alps and Haute Provence. My plan at this stage in the game (and all of what I write herein is subject to last-minute alteration based on whim, circumstance, etc!) is to take the train from Paris to the town of Briançon, and from there cycle south (through Digne, and Aix) and west (passing south of Avignon) to Arles. This section will be quite hilly (one website describes Briançon thusly: “with an altitude of 1326 meters, Briançon is located in the middle of mountain ranges whose altitude is over 4000 meters”). I’m not quite sure whether my legs will hold up: I haven’t cycled with a fully loaded bike in years. But I figure I can always follow the Durance River (downstream, of course) if the alternatives look too daunting. Sometimes it is best not to know too much in advance, or you may never undertake anything new at all.
I’d like to visit Manosque (birthplace of French writer Jean Giono) en route, and stop in Digne les Bains (where there is are a number of Andy Goldsworthy’s sculptures at the Centre Reserve Geologique) en route to Aix en Provence. I have fond memories of Aix from a visit made with the lovely J on our honeymoon 10 years ago. While I’m there, I may try to track down where writer M. F. K. Fisher stayed, as described in her book Map of Another Town.
I’m allowing 10 days to 2 weeks to warm up and get to Arles. The guidebook I have (from the Confraternity of St. James) gives 745 km as the walking distance between Arles to the Col du Somfort at the Spanish border, and a further 158 km to the town of Puente la Reina, where the Via Tolosana route joins the other three branches of the Camino Francés. The same guidebook suggests 26 walking “stages” to the Col du Somfort, and a further 6 or 7 stages from the Somfort pass to Puente la Reina (near Pamplona).
I’ve heard from another Camino cyclist that it is not unreasonable to cover two walking stages in each day’s ride, which would mean about two to three weeks from Arles to Puente la Reina. From Puente la Reina to Santiago itself is about 690 km, for a grand total of approximately 1600 km. Add on the Briançon to Arles section and the total will be close to 2200 km.
I’ll have a total of seven weeks available to me, a combination of accumulated vacation time, and some unpaid leave. I know that this sounds like a lot of time, but by my reckoning it isn’t all that generous given the distances to be covered, my lack of training, and the fact that I’ll be following a walking trail for much of the route, rather than paved roads. So we’ll see…
I’m trying to leave all options open, including the possibility of altering my plans entirely when I reach the Spanish border. Above all I do not want this trip to feel like a treadmill: the whole point has been to free up a chunk of time, to set myself a distant goal, and head gradually towards it. After all, I have books to read, sights to (slowly) see, cheese to nibble on, and croissants to eat!
I’ll admit that I’ve been looking forward to the French sections most of all: I’ve loved cycling in France ever since that 1980 trip. And I may just find that I still love it so much that I turn back at the Spanish border, and point my front wheel north instead — towards Paris, my destination those many years ago. As I said above: I will reserve the right! Santiago de Compostella has been a pilgrim destination for over a thousand years. I figure that it will be around for a few more…
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