October 14 – 15, Sarria to Melide
The day out of Sarria, just two more to go to finish the journey, would be the one where the wheels came off the wagon. Joanna was physically and mentally done, truly in need of a rest day yet I, the unbending task master and cheapest man in the world, was fixated on making it to Santiago on schedule, not just because of the extra bike rental expense but because we’d made a number of hotel reservations in the days following Santiago that would begin to cost us if we had to cancel them.
Sunrise in Sarria
As mentioned earlier there were many pilgrims starting out that day, so many that the Hyundai Corporation had representatives at the outskirts of town handing out blue plastic business cards shaped like the Camino shell with contact information on it as we were informed we could contact them at any time for assistance.
And boy, did we give it a thought as the day progressed. The first hitch came as soon as we left the edge of town; not having looked closely enough at the map we wound up on the hikers Camino instead of a paved road, and it was choked with pilgrims, from one side of the path to the other as we traversed rocky and fairly technical dirt trails. We’d encounter inclines so steep we’d need to dismount and walk and then navigate tricky descents. This went on for many a mile, broken up occasionally by a clear dirt path or stretch of paved farm road.
Early Morning Riding
When we could catch our breath we marveled at the physical beauty of it all, but that was short lived as we plunged yet again into a difficult stretch of cycling. About thirteen miles into the ride we approached Portomarin where I had planned on stopping to grab some food and discuss options with Joanna, who was clearly laboring, close to abandoning that day’s ride right there. This would have complicated things to no end.
We finally came off the dirt trail and crossed the Rio Mino to a roundabout, to the right taking us up a steep hill to Portomarin, straight ahead or to the left to continue on. At that point although food and a break were important, the idea of climbing the hill and making a detour lost out to just continuing on and hoping for the best. This would turn out to be a mistake as we looked back on the day in hindsight.
For we got stuck again on yet another dirt track. The downside of switching to bikes halfway through the Camino is that none of our resources were geared for bike touring. One map book we had, a compact Michelin product did show roads as well as the Camino but we were often reluctant to use the roads if we couldn’t be sure they would be safe. This would change in the next couple of days.
This stretch of the trail would take us to the steepest part of the day, climbing 1,200 feet to Ventas de Naron before we could start fifteen or miles of gradual descent to our final destination for the day, Melide. This was another consideration as we had added about 8 miles to the course in order to make our last day into Santiago a little shorter. The problem was in addition to Joanna’s fatigue factor, we’d lost so much time earlier in the day on the dirt sections I was worried that we might still be out riding after dark.
We did about five miles of dirt trail, walking up and down more steep sections before finally hitting the two lane highway, LU-633, which we would stay on until connecting with N-547, the road we’d end up taking all the way to Santiago. Within a couple of sections of gentle uphills reminiscent of riding back home in North Carolina, we came upon a cafeteria just outside of Gonzar, an answer to our prayers.
I went inside to order Joanna a plate of fries with a ‘broken egg’ and ham and while at the counter, noted a business card on the wall indicating taxi services for riders and bikes, thinking we might need to use that resource. When Joanna’s food came the treatment of the eggs, cooked almost to hard boiled, didn’t appeal to me so I went back in and ordered a Hamberguesa Completa.
Yes, a hamburger. The damn things are ubiquitous here now. Francois had a big half pounder in Montpellier the night we went to his favorite British style pub and they turn up on many of the menus we see. When it came it was a thing of beauty. A ¼ pound of nicely done beef, sesame seed bun, lettuce, tomato, onion and best of all, a bottle of Heinz Catsup to put it over the top.
That burger may well have been one of the best I’ve ever eaten, mainly due to time and place, but it and the plate of food Joanna put down ended up saving our day. We’d been running on empty for an hour or more and with a sufficient dose of protein and carbohydrates now in our system we would finish out the course, not quickly but it enabled us to tackle the remaining 32 kilometers (20 miles) with determination instead of desperation.
A River Crossing
Fortunately, the elevation on the highway was less than if we had been hiking so cresting Ventas de Naron was easier than anticipated and from there the downward sloping road gave us a bit of relief as we pedaled into the outskirts of Melide and to our lodging, A Lua do Camino. This is a gorgeous place, fairly new, two stories with a grand entry, grassy front lawn, pool out back (too cold to use), and a showpiece shared bathroom.
We picked up our shipped bags and went up to our room and I then bought a beer and enjoyed it there, savoring the fact that we had indeed made it. I can’t say enough about how Joanna persevered, riding on one of our hardest days when she wasn’t at her best. There are times when we romanticize these adventures, make them sound like each day is an easy walk in the park. But there are days that take you to your limits and so far we’ve managed to make it through each one.
In keeping with the fires that had raged recently in Napa, California and the brush fires we’d witnessed a day earlier climbing O Cebreiro, huge fires had broken out in Portugal and Galicia, the area of Spain we were riding through. It had gotten smokier as the day progressed and by the time we walked to the main drag of town and up the long street in search of a meal the skies had turned an ominous gray.
Too tired to think much about eating and not finding any kind of a pilgrim meal, we stopped in at a bar/cafeteria with a good crowd out front and ordered from their simple menu, Carbonara for Joanna and a plain (French) omelette with green salad for me. My last egg dish of this nature had been more than a month ago on Paros and it was nice to enjoy such a simple pleasure. Joanna’s pasta, while not outstanding was still pleasing.
Smoky Skies in Early Evening
Our return to the pension saw the skies darken even more, the oppressive smell of fire everywhere. We turned in at our normal time, tired but satisfied that we had made it this far knowing that we had one more day to go. The terrain was full of more up and down, mainly up at the start so we both knew it wouldn’t be a piece of cake. We’d see how we both felt in the morning.
A Lua do Camino: http://www.aluadocamino.com/
Spanish Fires: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-41634125