Initially there were 3 amigos, Ray, Peter and Stathis, with an idea to cycle the Camino de Santiago. We are ex-TAFE teachers who cycle together on a regular basis. Stathis had the original idea but had an accident on his bike and broke his shoulder. Peter and Ray decided to go ahead, calling ourselves the ‘Camino Comrades’, and set up a Facebook page by the same name.
Early on we decided not to take our bikes with us as we both had other travel arrangements before and after the actual ride and only wanted the bikes for the Camino itself. This meant that we needed to hire bikes for the trip. Pauline Caillaud, Triana Backpackers, email@example.com provided the solution. She delivered quality mountain bikes, in cartons, to our hotel in Roncesvalles, on time. Rear panniers, tools, pump and lock were included. Triana Backpackers deliver bikes in Spain only, therefore we hiked the mountain. Just as well because we encountered snow! The bikes were de-hired in Santiago from a convenient location just behind the Pilgrim’s Office.
Our planning started by obtaining a guidebook to the Camino de Santiago: John Brierley’s A Pilgrim’s Guide To The Camino Santiago, St Jean-Roncesvalles— Santiago: The Way of St James. We found this book invaluable in planning our adventure as well as guiding us along the way. We would recommend it as essential reading to anyone contemplating the journey.
Although the guide is for pilgrims walking the Camino trail, the maps show the road as well as the trail. More detailed road maps are undoubtedly available but we were able to find our way with the guide and asking directions from the public, who were always friendly and willing to assist. Motorists were cyclistfriendly and always gave us a wide berth generally going to the other side of the road where possible. The roads are excellent and with little traffic at this time of year what more could a cyclist want.
Selecting when to go was an important early decision. TAFE holidays were a factor for Peter, whereas Ray was retired and this didn’t matter. The spring month of April was chosen and proved to be a good choice. Being early in the season there were fewer other pilgrims and tourists, making accommodation easy to find. At this time of year the weather is unpredictable and we were expecting plenty of rain. However, we were blessed with mainly cool sunny days with little wind: ideal for cycling.
Our 19-day program
Because our journey on the Camino Francés starts in St Jean-Pied-de-Port this became Day 1 in alignment with the Brierley guide. But we both needed to get there from Australia. We agreed to meet in Biarritz, France, on Saturday 4 April. Peter flew to Barcelona and travelled to Biarritz by overnight train. Ray flew to Heathrow to visit relatives in London for a week, then Ryanair from Stansted to Biarritz on Sat 4th. We chose Biarritz because, not only is it a beautiful seaside resort, but is easily accessed by rail and air. Also, transport is available from the airport to St Jean, Express Bourricot. The trip takes approx 1 ¼ hours by bus or mini bus depending on numbers. Being early season there were only us and 2 others on the morning we travelled on Monday the 6th, so we went by mini bus, with Caroline being our driver. We would totally recommend this service. Caroline, considering the needs of pilgrims, offers other services including a morning shuttle from St Jean, with stops up to La Croix Thibaut, as well as transport of backpacks from accommodation to Roncesvalles. Details can be obtained at www.expressbourricot.com (+33) (0) 661 96 0476. In St Jean we stayed at La Maison Donamaria with host François. We would totally recommend this place. We had our backpacks transported from our accommodation to The Hotel Roncesvalles and again received excellent service and value for money.
Day 1. Hiked 25K from St Jean to Roncesvalles. Encountered snow, got lost and walked for 10hrs. Not a good start.
Day 2. Assembled the bikes, loaded gear from backpacks to panniers and cycled 37k to Huarte, joining the pilgrims’ trail just outside Roncesvalles and downhill mountain-bike riding.
Day 3. Cycled 30k through Pamplona to Puente la Reina. Just past Cizur Menor we joined the pilgrims’ track and pushed the bikes up the mountain to Alto del Perdon. Not recommended–should have stayed on the road.
Day 4. 72k (3 pilgrim stages) to Logrono. Here we needed a roadmap as we found ourselves on the A12 motorway. The police directed us back onto the N111.
Day 5. 51k (2 pilgrim stages) to Santo Domingo. Best albergue so far, Casa del Santo: Pancho gave us a warm welcome.
Day 6. 73k (3 pilgrim stages) on the N120 to Burgos. We found that the pilgrim track was best accessed going into, through, and out of the towns and cities. This ensured that we met and socialised with pilgrims. Stayed in pilgrim and do in this beautiful city. Stayed at the AC Marriott hotel in the centre of the city. 60€ per night twin-share with breakfast. From here to Santiago we stayed in twin-share hotel accommodation.
Day 8. 87k (4 pilgrim stages) across the Meseta to Carrion de los Condes. Some pilgrims regard this flat plain as boring. We enjoyed some easy cycling.
Day 9. 80k (3 pilgrim stages) to Mansilla de las Mulas.
Day10. 19k into Leon.
Day 11. Rest day in Leon. Stayed again in the AC Marriott Hotel and hired electric bikes to tour the city.
Day 12. 53k to Astorga.
Day 13. 60k to Ponferrada. Spectacular mountain scenery including tunnels.
Day 14. 25k to Villafranca. Quaint little village.
Day 15. 51k to Triacastela. Up the mountain to O’Cebreiro and down to Triacastela. Hard day’s ride.
Day 16. 35k to Morgade via Samos and Sarria. From Sarria the number of pilgrims increases and scenery changes. This is the departure point for pilgrims to obtain a 100k Compostela. Followed the LU633 out of Sarria for approx. 5k then right onto Camino trail. This section is a must-see. The accommodation at Casa Morgade is atmospheric and the host really makes all welcome.
Day 17. 37k via Portomarin to Palas de Rei.
Day 18. 70k to Santiago de Compostela.
Day 19. Rest day, de-hire bikes and fly out to Stansted (UK).
What did we take?
The bike hire included 2 Ortlieb city rear panniers. At 4.5kg per pannier, this meant max 9kg of gear. We took sleeping bags and floor mat just in case (secured on top of rear bike rack with our backpack), but didn’t use them, as we were always able to get a made bed that looked ok (no bed bugs). One pair of riding shoes, a pair of jeans, toiletries and cycling knicks and shirts. A waterproof jacket and a fleece and you have it. Ray took a solar charger (voltaic cell) for his phone and camera but used it only once as power was always available in twin-share accommodation. We carried no food other than a couple of energy bars for morning and afternoon tea. Water was plentiful in fountains along the way and we only carried a standard water bottle each.
The Camino Comrades will never forget this trip, or the lessons we have learned about life. For anyone thinking about cycling the Camino we hope that our shared experiences may assist you with your trip. Heading into the unknown with no bookings can seem daunting for some, but if you allow things to take their course, our experience is that all will work out just fine.