Shoes or Wheels? – May/June 2015

Adam McAree

I arrived in Santiago de Compostela on May 20th and immediately checked in to an alberque on the edge of town that I’d found online. I was worried about vacancy issues and wanted to give a specific address to the cabbie at the airport. Roots and Boots was perfect, but probably the most expensive rate I’d end up paying for a shared room with a bunk bed. Little did I know at this point in the trip.

My calendar was wide open until June 3rd and I was expected to be back in Santiago de Compostela (SDC) for a conference I would be attending with Lydia and guests invited from pilgrim chapters around the globe. I had originally wanted to fly into Paris and make my way to Saint Jean Pied de Port, meet up with my father, walk for ten days together but one thing led to another and flying into SDC was my only option. I considered the options: take a bus to Leon and walk back? Walk the Way in reverse? Walk to Finisterre and hike up and down the coast? Take a bike as far as I can and walk back?

The last option (biking) was most appealing. After exploring the Forum, I learned of Bicigrino.com and figured out that I could go as far as the border of Galicia for a day rate of 40 euros (again, the biggest expense after the flight). The bikes come with panniers, flat repair kits, odometer, and big, 29er wheels – perfect for gristly terrain and smooth descents over rock, gravel, and stumps. I booked a bicycle in the largest size available and found it had been delivered to the albergue when I arrived that afternoon. It was ready to go and I would drop it off in O Cebreiro upon arrival three days later. I knew not what to expect, how long it would take me, how difficult the climbs would be, or where I’d stay each night. Something in me refused to use a guidebook but I remained motivated by “not knowing.”

I woke up Thursday after my first alberque sleep. It was dawn. The German girls who’d just finished the Camino Norte remained in their sleeping bags – some snored, others tossed as I fidgeted with my belongings – unsure of the eitquette regarding wearing just my wool boxers around the room and what I could safely leave on my bunk while I left to find breakfast.

I found a place nearby with wifi and an Americano breakfast – eggs, bacon, orhange juice, and coffee. It was close and cheap and let me figure out a course for the day while I fueled myself. I was a bit nervous but excited to embark on the Camino. I returned to the alberque, jammed the contents of my backpack into the two panniers, said goodbye to the innkeepers and set off to find the “trail.” It was certainly trickier than I suspected but I eventually found the main stretch. By this time – late morning – there were many pilgrims entering the city that I used as my wayposts. Their smiling faces, hiking poles, and a confident, “buen camino” made my trail easily recognizeable as I made my way upstream further and further out of SDC.

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