Thursday, July 27, 2017

Los Caminos de Santiago

Hello, my friends, after a long absence. Oh my, lots has happened and there is lots to talk about. In this blog post I'll describe my incredible walking tours, yes two!, on the fascinating El Camino de Santiago.

Las Tortugas Ancianas
I have trike toured in Spain twice and loved it.  Both times I rode many different Caminos that go to Santiago de Compestela. These Caminos are ancient pilgrimage routes that all end at a gorgeous church in Santiago de Compestela in the Galician province of northern Spain where the bones of the apostle St. James are interred. Every Camino is fantastic and wonderful to experience. On my tours, there were a few other cyclists but mostly the Caminos are for walking. These pilgrimage paths have a long, rich history and people have been walking them from every part of Europe, and beyond, to Santiago de Compestela for over 1,000 years. Every day I would meet people from all over the world and it seemed like everyone had a distinct purpose for walking. Some pilgrims were walking for religious reasons, some for spiritual reasons and lots more were walking to get through difficult times in their lives. I met people who were grieving the loss of loved ones, getting over relationship breakups, celebrating surviving cancer and others trying to overcome addictions. The stories I heard were endlessly fascinating. After traveling by tricycle for many years I decided to mix it up and do a walking tour following the ancient pilgrimage route of El Camino de Santiago del Norte.

There are many popular starting points for each of the Caminos. People fly, take trains or buses to get to starting points. Others simply open their front doors and start walking, often thousands of miles from Santiago. I met people who started walking from Bavaria, London, Vienna and even Belarus. After the experience of meeting so many pilgrims, I felt compelled to walk as well.

There are many Caminos to choose from but I was interested in only 2, the Camino del Norte and the Camino Frances. Both Caminos start just over the Spanish border in the French Basque country.   The Camino Frances is inland and the Camino del Norte is along the coast. I chose the Camino del Norte for a particular reason. The year that I wanted to walk turned out to be a special one. This was a year of mercy which is a holy year in the Catholic calendar where the holy doors in the grand churches are open. For Catholics, it is a big deal to take a pilgrimage and then enter the church in Santiago through the holy doors.  Because it was a holy year, the most popular Camino, the Camino Frances, was far too crowded for my comfort  and so I decided to do the Camino del Norte. After posting on Facebook about my plans, 2 gals I know through triking asked to join me.

Guggenheim Bilbao

After lots of research and planning into how to pack for a walking tour, including buying my first backpack, I flew to Spain in early October to start my own Camino. The 2 gals, who also ride tricycles, joined me in Madrid. One gal, Susan, lives in Montenegro and April lives in Connecticut. They didn't know each other but both are also big time hikers. I was a bit apprehensive how they would handle my slow speed. Yes, it's true, I'm not just a slow triker but a very slow walker as well. We continued together on a short flight to Biarritz France to start the Camino del Norte. This Camino is considered the most difficult and also the most beautiful.

The reviews for this Camino were spot on. It was spectacularly beautiful everyday and also very difficult. Some hills were so steep I felt like they were actually dangerous.  But wow, the views were incredible. The three of us called ourselves Las Tortugas Ancianas, the old turtles. Most days we would walk alone not seeing any other pilgrims until we got to the Albergue, pilgrim accommodation where we could stay the night. I have a difficult time sleeping under the best of conditions and the snoring at the Albergues was very hard on me. Not being able to sleep well can really wear me down. Luckily, we were able to stay in many towns that also had hotels. Usually, Susan and April would share a room and I would get a private room. This helped a lot. Each day we walked through quaint countryside with jaw-droppingly gorgeous views of the sea. The whole Camino was stunningly beautiful every day. The path was also super hard for me. It seemed like everyday I would hobble into town completely exhausted.  I have terrible depth of perception and the steep paths required I walk at an even slower pace. By the end of the day I was so tired often I actually had trouble moving my legs. Sometimes all I could do was collapse in my bed and the gals would go out and get me food. I learned a ton about hiking from April and Susan and I don't think I could have finished without their help. We also had fun but, unfortunately, we really weren't the best matched trio. It is hard traveling with 3 people and then so intensely for 6 weeks. With the personality issues, we were all pretty tense and uncomfortable. In the future, I think I would ask more questions about trip expectations to get a better feel for personality fit. I would also figure a way to build in an escape option ahead of time when traveling for so long with others. Many days the mileage was more than stated in the guidebook and sometimes we had to walk 15 miles or more which is too much for me. Being exhuasted and in pain every day didn't help either. That being said, we survived and made it to the end. It was a true feeling of accomplishment to arrive at the church in Santiago to finish the Camino del Norte. Unfortunately, the holy year ended 2 days before we arrived and the holy doors were shut. None of us are especially religious people so this wasn't a huge disappointment.

Pilgrim passport needed to stay in Albergues and receive the Compestela

The experience of being in Spain also inspired me to learn more Spanish. I was the only one in our trio who was able to speak even a little Spanish and that little bit proved very helpful.  Learning Spanish has been a goal of mine for many years and it felt like the time had come to start that challenge. I returned to Portland for a family event in late November and began researching where to study Spanish.  I also kept feeling like my Camino experience with the 2 gals was incomplete and it, somehow, felt unfinished. I kept feeling like I wanted to have a more contemplative and meditative Camino.  I wasn't sure exactly what that meant but the feeling continued to haunt me.  Then a lightbulb went on. Why not go back and walk another Camino, this time alone? I immediately loved the idea and made plans to do the Camino Frances. But first, I decided to go to Mexico and spend 2 months at a Spanish language school. I not only want to learn more Spanish to use while walking another Camino but, in the future, I also want to do trike tours in Cuba, Central and South America. Knowing more Spanish will make those trips easier, safer and much more rewarding. Not to mention that Spanish is the 2nd most spoken language in the world, after Chinese. More people speak Spanish than English. Spanish is spoken in 22 countries and all over the US.

In January, I went to Guanajuato, Mexico to study Spanish at Escuela Falcon on the recommendation from a friend. Guanajuato is a Pueblo Magico and a Unesco Heritage city high in the mountains of central Mexico. I signed up for classes 3 hours a day/5 days a week for a total immersion experience. When I enrolled, 2 months seemed like such a long time but, in reality, studying a language for 2 months will only give the very basics. I've been to this city before when I triked for 6 months through Mexico in 2007. Guanajuato is one of the few places that truly captured my heart and I have always wanted to return. One of my goals was to feel more comfortable speaking Spanish. I am painfully shy to speak Spanish. It takes me so long to hear what someone is saying, translate and then think of a response I know the words for. The teachers were incredibly patient with me and little by little it became easier. I loved the teachers and, even though it was very hard, I had a great time learning Spanish at Escuela Falcon and want to return to learn more.

In April of this year, I flew back to Spain to walk the Camino Frances. I followed the same transportation method from just a few months previous. I flew into Madrid, took a short flight to Biarritz, France and then a bus to the starting point,  St Jean Pied-de-Port. The first day I walked over the Pyranees mountains. This Camino is the most famous of all the Caminos and there are always many people on the path. There is a lot to see on this Camino. A lot of art, culture, architecture and history. I walked with people from all over the world. Some of the most fun people I met only spoke Spanish and they loved that I was trying. I couldn't believe that I was not only able to communicate but be understood. My Spanish is still very basic and it takes me a long time to translate in my head and think of words I know to form a response but, hopefully, as I speak more this will get easier.

One of the most amazing aspects of walking the Camino is carrying so little on my back. I walked with only 10.4 lbs of gear and didn't miss anything. There is a lot of freedom with carrying so little. I gave myself 2 months to do the Camino Frances. I ended up in Santiago with 2 weeks until my flight and so I walked a loop out to the coast and KM marker 0.0 in Finesterre. Then I walked to sweet Muxia before returning to Santiago. Upon completing atleast 100 kms of any Camino you can receive a Compostela and a certificate of distance from the pilgrim office in Santiago. There are 2 more certificates for walking from Santiago to Finesterre and Muxia. I left Santiago with 4 certificates. Each is very different and a nice momento from the trip.  The last loop was lovely and capped off the trip nicely. The Camino Frances is very busy and the walk out to the coast is tranquil and quiet. It was this last bit that gave me the contemplative and meditative Camino I was looking for. I enjoyed the extra time to digest all the walking and experiences and felt totally done with walking when I returned to Santiago. 

Another thing that happened is I have a whole new appreciation for cycling. Oh my goodness, walking is so much harder than cycling. On my trike, I can go further, carry more and I have more options available. My body doesn't hurt as much either. I'm really happy I did these Caminos and got it out of my system. Now I'm ready and excited to get back to trike touring.

Stay tuned for my upcoming trike tour plans!

Friday, June 17, 2016

Big Pine Key to Miami, Fl

March 15th to 21st, 2016

Garmin Info and Maps

Kim's favorite beer
Getting to Key West was an amazing ride. To get so far on my tricycle was a great feeling. Key West was the furthest point on my US tour but not the end. I spent 2 more nights at Kim's house. She is such a sweetie. I got laundry done and mailed out 74 postcards. The ladies at the post office were so cute. The counter lady and another lady waiting in line helped me put stamps on all the postcards. With their help, I was able to get the postcards mailed quickly. We had fun too.
Bike path markers

The next morning I got packed up and said thanks and goodbye to Kim. She was so generous to open her home. It was great having Kim to share this momentous tour achievement. And again, as so many people I've stayed with across this great country, I had never met her before. She followed my ride and offered a place to stay once I made it this far. People in the US really are very nice and more trusting than what I expected. I've met so many people in Florida I didn't have time left in the day to write my blog. This tour has been so social. Every other day I've stayed with people I hadn't met before. These are people who often have seen my posts on Facebook and felt inspired. It's been an amazing feeling.

Sweet birds
Seven Mile Bridge

After leaving Big Pine Key, I started riding back to Miami on the very same road I took to get here. The winds had, finally, died down and weren't an issue for the first time in over a week. The sun was shining and the temperature was perfect. About 15 miles into the ride Kim texted to say she was having lunch at a burrito place. I was only a mile away and pulled in for lunch. It was fun to see Kim again and the burrito was delicious. Then it was back over the Seven Mile Bridge. There were a couple of bikers who were riding toward me over the bridge on the wrong side of the road. The man was furious at having to pass me. The traffic was too loud to stop and tell him he was on the wrong side of the road and there wasn't a way they could get on the right side of the road anyway. The rest of the ride was easy and I pulled into the Long Key State park. I got a real site at the park right on the ocean. I could hardly believe my luck that a site was available. These sites are quite expensive at $33 but I had a beautiful place to stay for the night. It was a lovely site and bugs weren't even an issue.

Drying out my towel

Beautiful end to the day
Letting the tent and fly dry out in the morning

Denny and Nancy

I slept well and started out on Route 1 again. I stopped at the same places including getting Cuban coffee again. Although this time I also got a piece of flan, yummy! After my coffee and flan, I started to ride away when I heard someone yelling at me. It was one of the waitresses, I had forgotten to pay. What a dork! I went back and left them a good tip. Then it was back through a lot of small keys to the Pennekamp State park in Key Largo. Nancy, the camp host who offered to share her site, was waiting for me. This was so nice. This couple was awesome and even made me dinner.  

View from the road.

Local flavor

Returning to camp with hosts

Beautiful boats
Sharing a campsite with camp hosts
In the morning, my camp host site mates had chores to do and got going early. I packed up and rolled over to where they were working to say thanks and goodbye. Another example of the continuing generous hospitality I've experienced throughout my tour. This was a really beautiful day. Most of this tour has been in much colder temperatures then I expected and to ride in warm weather and bright sunshine was a delight. I followed the bike path and found it easier to negotiate going north than south.  I made my way to Homestead where, again, the last 20 miles are on a very busy and loud road. Paradise Farms was expecting me and I retraced my route. Again, lots of cyclists were camped in the grove of palm trees. Some of the cyclists were the same as I met the last time I was here. It was fun to see these guys again. Later in the afternoon, an older woman of 70 showed up. She was doing a tour of Florida on a Brompton. The farm manager had to go find her because she was hopelessly lost.  He escorted her on his bike back to the farm and she couldn't understand where she went wrong but was happy to end her ride for the day. She set up her tent with everyone else in the palm grove. It was as if she had never set up the tent before because she set up inches from other tents and just a half hour later, her tent was sagging badly. There was some rain over night and her tent didn't stay dry. 

Flowering mango trees at the entrance to Paradise Farm
George and Bridget and puppy

There was another fun couple, George and Bridget, who were touring on a 3 wheeled motorcycle Polaris pulling a popup tent with a bike on top. George was sagging Bridget who cycled everyday. They also had a sweet dog along. All of their gear was stored in fascinating fashion. They had rented one of the bungalows on my first night here and now they were camping too. This couple is a lot of fun.

Bridget takes Myrtle for a spin
Cyclists enjoying a nice meal with owner Gabriele in the black top
Micro greens
Entrance to Paradise Farms
One of the reasons I wanted to be here 3 days before my flight home was a college friend who lives in Miami asked if I would give a presentation to her daughters elementary school. Sure, I thought that would be fun. This friend forgot about spring break and the presentation was cancelled. So, I had a few days and decided to spend it at Paradise Farm. Cyclists can stay as long as they want if they are willing to put in a little work. There are lots of palm trees all over the property and removing large palm fronds is a continual battle. I helped Gabriele and another cyclists load up a trailer with fallen fronds. It was hot and humid but I enjoyed dragging the fronds from all over the property. The trailer had fronds stacked high in the air and then we drove to the dump. That was all the work I was asked to do. The next day was a bit rainy and the cyclists sat around drinking beer using the wifi. The older cyclist had taken a ride to the everglades and, again, gotten very lost. The ride to the everglades national park is only 5 miles away and she got very lost putting in over 50 miles for the day and she never said anything about actually finding the everglades. Her stories were very humorous and, even though she is always lost, she doesn't get discouraged. 

Lots of bike path routes around Miami

The following day I would be riding to a hotel close to the airport to prepare for my flight back to Portland. I said goodbye to Paradise Farms and Gabriele. Again, she talked enthusiastically about riding in Cuba this fall. That would be an amazing tour. I rode away from the farm with the older cyclist on her Brompton. Within a few miles she had to return to the farm to retrieve something she forgot. I said goodbye and wished her luck. A few miles further Bridget rolled up on her way to the beaches east of Miami. It was fun meeting up with people I knew from the farm. We were on a bike path and when it ended I continued north on busy roads. I stopped at an office supply store to pick up bubblewrap and tape I would use later to wrap up Myrtle for the flight home. When I got to the area around the airport I pulled into the first hotel I saw even though I knew there would be cheaper ones further on. I got checked into the airport Hilton taking the trike into my room. Once I got settled, I spent the rest of the afternoon getting Myrtle folded and protected with bubblewrap.  I attached the flags, cooler bag and helmet under the seat. Then I connected the 2 panniers and attached them together with a bungy cord to form 1 piece of luggage. I was very happy with this technique.

Last hotel room of this tour
Myrtle chainrings and derailleur wrapped
Myrtle ready for flight

My flight in the morning was very early and I was outside the hotel ready for the shuttle van at 6 am. There was only one other passenger waiting. The driver easily loaded my trike and gear into the back of the van. I gave him a good tip and he made sure I was taken care of once we got to the airport. The whole experience was so easy. I rolled Myrtle to the ticket counter and the agent didn't hesitate to accept the trike. She asked if I 'needed' the trike and I said yes and the trike went on the plane at no extra charge. American charged me $25 for my checked panniers. I took my rack bag as carry on and my handlebar bag as my purse. Even though I rarely have issues with the trike on flights, I still get nervous. There is no way to predict how the check-in procedure will go. This was a very easy check-in and I was happy to be at the airport early enough to get a cup of coffee and relax. I was also ready to get home to Portland.

Panniers weigh 29 lbs - nice!
Myrtle waiting to be weighed

Myrtle on the baggage trailer - last to be loaded on the plane

Wow, has this been a fantastic tour. I want to take a moment to thank everyone who followed along, gave me a safe place to stay, offered advice and for all the encouragement. Being a part of our cycling community is truly a privilege. My tour across this great country was simply put, a blast. I can hardly believe all the people I met and especially all the trikers and recumbent riders. Fantastic and fun! Now I will be spending the summer in Portland recovering and then figuring out where to go next. 

Until next fall, enjoy and adios!