Before one can begin an extended cycling tour it is necessary to have the proper equipment. As I was coming directly from South Korea, I had virtually none of the required gear. No helmet, no bike shorts, no pannier bags, no water bottles. No nothing. Most importantly, I had no bike. Fortunately I scheduled 3 days in Bristol, England where I stayed with my friend and fellow traveler, Jon. Together we made a mad tear through city’s many bike shops and camping supply stores and somehow managed to wrangle all the essential gear, the most critical piece being the Specialized Tricross Sport.
This bike was a perfect fit for our tour. It’s durable but lightweight, can handle multiple road conditions, has great components, rack mounts for panniers, and excellent handling. It also had a hefty price tag, but we figured if we’re going to be on a bike for 7 hours a day, we might as well splash out a bit and get something built for the job. The picture above is of my bike after I reassembled in the Porto, Portugal Airport. Jon and I were joined by two other riders, Chett and Marc, who were both English teachers we had met in Korea. Together we were one Englishman, one American, and two South Africans, respectively.
The date was May 7th. It was slightly overcast when we left. We had no map, no place to sleep, and no food; just a general goal of heading north to Santiago, Spain. That, and lots and lots of adrenaline.
Marc (left) and Chett take a break along the N-13 in Portugal.
Never underestimate the power of a bungee cord. Between camping gear, clothes, spare equipment, and food, we ended up hauling approximately 50 pounds on the back of our bikes. There was always more stuff than space. Loading up before each day’s ride became something of an art.
Sunset on the Atlantic.
My tent was a cheap single-man that I bought in Korea. It did the job, but I think a single Korean man is slightly smaller than a single American man, so it was a bit on the cramped side. It was like sleeping in glorified body bag, but every tent is the same size when your eyes are closed.
It took two and a half days to make it to the Portuguese/Spanish Border.
This is the bridge that separates Portugal and Spain. There’s no border control once you’ve made it into the EU.
Relaxing in Spain
The best part about traveling on a bike is the fact that you get to see scenery you would miss by speeding down a highway in a car. We mostly took small, lightly trafficked national roads that took us through sleepy villages like the one pictured above, just south of Redondela, Spain.
This couple was getting their engagement photos taken on a beach in Cesantes, Spain. The one camp site in this town was closed so we had to improvise. After the sun set, we found a patch of grass behind a beachside hotel and pitched our tents in the cover of dark. The building provided great protection from the wind and we used their bathroom facilities in the morning. Total cost of lodging: $0.
The following day we rode 70 miles into our destination, Santiago De Compestela, Spain, home of the world famous cathedral of the same name. Located in NW Spain, the city is home to roughly 100,000 people and is a UNESCO Heritage Site, as well as the “European City of Culture” for the year 2000.
The girl in the white lab coat was working at an outdoor medical information booth the center of the old city. She saw that we were tired and hungry after a long hard day of riding and gave us all a bunch of apples for us to eat. Just one of many kind people we would meet along the way.
Marc’s bike and an apple for the road.
In Santiago we stayed in an what’s called an Albergue. This is basically a large hostel, but it is reserved for pilgrims traveling the Camino de Santiago, also known as The Way of Saint James. The Camino de Santiago is a network of roads that extend all the way throughout Europe, but all share the same end point, the Santiago de Compestela. For thousands of years, religious pilgrims have traveled the Camino by foot and more recently, by bike, in order to pray at the altar of St. James in the cathedral. Today many tourists also make the trek, sleeping at the Albergues along the way. The Albergues vary in size and amenities, but most cost about 5 Euro for the night. The one in Santiago is massive as it is the final stop on the pilgrim’s trail. We were lucky to find beds there as a torrential downpour hit the city just a few minutes after we checked in.
The Cathedral of Santiago de Compestela, the supposed burial place of one of Jesus’s closest apostles, St. James.
This was the general effect the Cathedral had on visitors.
The inside of the Cathedral housed the most ornate craftsmanship I had ever seen. It seemed as though every inch of the altar had been covered with gold. I’m not sure on this, but I believe King Midas may have been the interior designer on this project.
We spent two days in Santiago sleeping in and taking in the sights. After that we were headed east towards Pamplona. But first we had to get through the difficult Galician Mountains…