I was actually right on budget yesterday- thanks Rafael. This statement is significant…
I woke up this morning very tired. There was another person in my room, of whom I had heard nor seen nothing, just a little dishevelled bedding peeking out from a lowered screen- yeah, these cubbies all had a locker, light, outlet, shelf and partition screen, cool! Come to find, as I rouse, that there is an Irish pilgrim in there. He had shut the curtains, so I was surprised I woke up in time for checkout, it was so dark. That I don’t understand, I like to be woken up by the daylight. We talked about the weather, about speaking English, and also a little bit about Northern Ireland, which was intense… A lot of memories up there, a lot of people killed. I need to research more about that.
I am a bit of a Debbie Downer this morning, for my boots are wet, it is 38 degrees outside (3-4 C) and scheduled to rain again. I was loath to leave, honestly, but I knew once I got on the road all would be well, come hell or high water, though hell sounds cozy this morning. I looked outside and there was some sun peeking out, which meant nothing to me, for the rain loves to come out to play when I am around. There was a little vague hope in the forecast though, claiming a nice dry spell from 12- 5, which is solid! So much for “worse than yesterday.” It is cold though.
I step out for a cup of coffee- there is no stove at this hostel, but that’s alright. They serve coffee right outside the hostel in three places, but for some reason I go to a place around the corner. On arrival, it looks expensive. I cautiously enter the building and sit down. I never know how to get what I want, and meekness is ignored in this country. I stand at the bar for a few moments and watch the barkeep make two coffees. After some thought, I decide to sit down at a table and hope for the best. The man delivers his coffees and comes over. I order an americano, which has various names, but “café larga” seems to do the trick. It arrives, and I relish it. I am weary and my throat is sore, probably from the cold, wet and constant hocking of loogies that my faucet of a nose necessitated all day yesterday. The coffee comes with a little pastry, greasy and savory, which one is supposed to dip in the coffee, I think. I devour this. Last night I saw tapas bars with trays full of little sandwiches of various types, and this café was also brimming with them- perhaps eight large trays full, on either side of the bar. I thought fondly of witnessing the trays in action last night, and all of a sudden, here is the man, with the disposition of a maître de, flourishing a large tray. I pick a small hoagie type thing with meat and cheese in it. I suspect it might cost something, but a biking man needs his breakfast. So be it. I finish it quickly, and immediately here is the man again, dropping off another sandwich of the same kind, but toasted, with a comment, in passing, to the effect of “You polished that one off quickly, have another…”
I am beginning to suspect I am being taken for a ride. What was supposed to be a breakfast for no more than 2 euros may be turning into 5 or 6… I eat half of this delicious sandwich and, with effort, leave half of it remaining on my plate, as a sign not to bring any more. But the cheese will cool, this article is time sensitive… I eat it, finish my coffee. But my throat still hurts, and I am still tired, so I order one more. “When I do, I do a lot.” I slurp the delicious joe and go up to pay, bringing my dishes with me like a good boy. “Quanto?” -here we go- “2.30 euro.” …I count out the money and ask, “2.30?” “Si.” I cannot believe it. What a happy accident, my wandering in here! I can’t explain it, but that is a heck of a price for two cafés and breakfast. A beautiful start to my day. Miraculous.
I return to the hostel and pack up. The sun is still shining! I easily find my way out of the city and ride above a nice river flowing through rich, verdant pasture. I tell you, again, Spain is beautiful. I almost bust out my sunglasses, for that cheery yellow orb is smiling at me! Here are some of the pictures I promised:
The castle walls of Old Lugo, tall and fat.
My legs are tired today, so I take my time, enjoying the lack of rain, taking many pictures. My morning was soon off to an interesting start, for I saw two large, dead boars in the ditches. One sees a diverse variety of roadkill in my mode of travel, usually not polite to mention, but the boar intrigued me, as it was large and very bristley. I was wondering whether or not to make mention of it, when I saw a second one, which sealed the deal, and caused me to wonder if I would encounter any live ones…
The day began with a climb. I am tired and sore, taking it easy in a high cadence with low impact, patiently making my way. Hills do not bother me if the grade is reasonable. But this hill is very long. Very, very long. I crest with gratification, then coast down slowly only a short way before heading up again. Goodness. I am nonplussed, but what a conspicuous hill! A little more climbing, and then down, down, down at last. There is a grocery store in a town at the bottom of the hill, so I restock, my sandwich items having been wiped out with a little help in Santiago, as you might recall. Resupplied I start off, and wouldn’t you know it, I hit another, steeper hill.
The weather has been wonderful today, by the way. There were a few short, steady showers, but the drops were thin, mere shadows of yesterday’s storm, and well within the functional range of my raingear. It was not too cold for a fellow exercising, and despite my slightly damp feet, I was in good shape. But these hills. This one is shorter than the first, but mean. My legs, fatigued from the day before, and further wearied by hill #1, are having a rough go of hill #2. I have to stop every 100 meters or so to keep my heart from exploding. At this point I acknowledge that I am in the mountains, for certain.
The pictures are a little dark, which betray the foreboding clouds that loomed behind the hills all afternoon, but the sun reigns supreme. I actually get to ride with my shadow, for the first time since the burned forests! Along with the weather, I am very comfortable in this region of Spain, for it is almost just like home- there are pine forests, I begin to see oaks trees for the first time this trip, along with other deciduous trees. There are ivy, blackberries, gorse, scotchbroom, wild rose, and bracken fern lining the roads. The only aspects that really dispel the illusion are intermittent stands of eucalyptus and my attempts to communicate with people!
Well, same deal as yesterday, I pass a few hostels, one at a quarter to 3:00, but the weather is good, and there’s a lot of daylight left. I decide to keep going. It may have been that my progress was slow thusfar and I was on the second long descent of the day. Oh, I knew I’d pay for it, but I wanted the easy distance. As if I were not convinced of the mountainous terrain, I begin to see snow on the hills distant, but was not concerned.
My descent levelled out across a large, frightening bridge. It must have been 100 meters off the valley floor, windy, with a very low guard rail. It was one of those situations where you ride in the road because you are better off getting hit by a car than falling off the edge. I couldn’t get a good picture of it, but it was similar to this one I saw later:
Yeah. That little white blob on the bridge is a truck. Very scary. Kudos to the Spanish engineers, though these bridges look awfully sparse to me…
Immediately after this I encounter a tunnel. These are rather dangerous for a pedestrian. I put on both of my lights and sprint through, avoiding the creek on the side and getting dripped on from the ceiling. Cars are coming from the other way and the noise is amplified so I can’t tell whether there is also a car behind me, and there are a couple, which pass me innthe tunnel. I made it.
When I was a kid, we would be driving through the forests of Oregon, near Detroit or over the pass to Sisters, and I would see great rock outcroppings jutting out of the forest and imagine fortresses and castles, always hoping to round a corner and see a lonely keep, steeped in mystery and romance. I still feel this. There is a gigantic set of buttes outside of Shasta in Northern California aptly named “Castle Rock.” I must admit that I do not do a great job of keeping my eyes on the road in this section. I can never stop imagining, hoping, it as a castle. Well, today I was just minding my business, and my dream came true:
Just a humble old tower trying to blend into the landscape in the middle of nowhere. I absolutely love it. I am eager to experience this again!
Well, the weather is so nice I think about camping, though I know the rain will come. I am also nearer that snowline… Around 4:00 a mist begins to gather above, and I watch it charge down over the ridge and congeal. I am in for it. It hits, heavy, and there it is not rain, but sleet. I see in this a little cause for worry. Fortunately, the sun fights through again, and in five minutes it stops! Lucky break- I am a little wet, but tolerably so. I realize I am actually quite near my arbitrary goal for today- I like to have a prospective hostel picked out, just in case, and this one was a stretch, so I thought- only 6 kilometers away! I am tired though. I had come out of the descent into a long, gentle, incline that just kept going, and my legs are thrashed. I have to stop every hundred meters again. I am so close, but so far away! It begins to snow now, thick. I start getting anxious, pushing myself.
I soon calm myself though. I realize that it won’t make much of a difference whether I push myself or not: I’ll get into town ten minutes earlier, but ketonic, dehydrated, disoriented, and red in the face. I stop. I need to eat. I pull some crackers out and munch in the billowing snow. I also begin to walk my bike up the hill, and it feels good. My legs are done, they have put in another solid day- 67 hilly kilometers- and I am not ashamed, though it is hard to believe I have only travelled 40 miles to get here. It feels so good to walk, to use different muscles. The difference in speed at this point is minimal anyway, and psychologically I am being productive. I only walk a hundred meters though, before hopping on my bike and riding the rest of the way into town.
I try the first lodging I see- locked, dark. I try the second, going into the adjoining bar to inquire. Nope, not open. I ask if there is anywhere in town that is. She points me to the place I was just at. I say the door was locked and she looks at me with consternation and says I have to push the buzzer. Ahhh…. I return, and push the buzzer, which looks old and in disuse. I push all the buttons and it crackles into life, surprisingly. I ask about a room and the door opens. I heave my bike inside, walk to another mirrored door and step into a dark stairway. I don’t know what’s going on here. I look around, decide to climb the stairs. It is pitch black. I stumble up a flight and see light coming from under a door. I open it. I am looking out from behind a bar… I keep my head poking out until someone notices. Next floor, I am told. As I head up, a girl comes up after me, turns the lights on. Ah, she must have taken the elevator! I follow her slowly up another flight into reception. How much? She makes a phone call. “38 euro.” No, no, no. For that I may have to risk my life outside! Discount for pilgrims? She has to make another call. “30.” Goodness gracious, that is two nights in a hostel! I ask if there are any other places in town. She says yes, but she doesn’t know what the price is. I have her explain where it is and hope for the best.
It is across the way, just off the main road, a nice looking stone building. I walk in, and there is an old couple sitting by a fire in a cozy bar. Do you have room? Yes. How much? 26 euro. Damn, that’s steep, but I’ll take it. The woman is a dear and helps me with my bags. They live here too, the place is called “Casa de Garcia,” and I park my bike in the garage between their cars. She shows me to a great room:
She then asks me if I want dinner, and what I want to leave tomorrow. I answer- yes to dinner, 10 o’clock for checkout- and satisfied, she leaves me to it. I shower after piling most of my clothing on top of the radiator, then go down and ask if I should pay now, to which she says no, tomorrow. We chat about my trip, the weather, pilgrim traffic. She complements me on my Spanish, but I soon betray my need for more practice. It is very pleasant, very cozy. Outside, the weather rages.
Her dinner cost me 10 euros, but it was worth it. I have been craving a sizeable home-cooked meal, and this woman reminds me of my grandma. She serves me a basket of bread with a plate of meat and cheese, which I devour. Then she brings me this:
Oh yeah. Worth every penny. Meanwhile, it is gusting outside, heavy snow. It is supposed to snow here the next three days. I have to get out of these mountains. I look at hostels down the road. The pilgrim hostels are closed, and the rest of the lodging seems to be from 40 to 60 dollars. Can’t do it. Granted, with these big days, I am saving money, basically eliminating a night of hostelling, but I can’t do this. Neither can I sleep outside. I could, but what is money for if not to keep one out of such nasty weather? There is a reasonably priced hostel outside of León, which is a whopping 126 kilometers away. Geez. I am thrashed. If I make it, it will have taken me three days to cover the ground I planned to do in seven, actually putting me one day ahead of schedule! Schedules be damned. I just need to get out of the mountains! The route is downhill for the first half of the day, but with a big climb to Léon. It will be snowing all day tomorrow, from the looks of it. I don’t know about this. Well, snow is not necessarily as wet as rain. I plan to start early and see how the day goes. I must admit, there is a little part of me that wonders, in hindsight, whether the rain was so bad…