Thursday, May 27, 2010

<EM>Santiago de Compostela</EM>

ShellWe made it to Santiago de Compostela a couple of days ago.  Honestly, arriving at the cathedral holding the remains of St. James was a little underwhelming.  Maybe it's because I'm a bad Catholic, (due in part to the fact that I'm not Catholic), or maybe it was because the final 10 kilometers were through the industrial part of town and then through a congested city.  Those certainly contributed, but I think the real reason I was nonplussed was that all of the pleasure of the pilgrimage was in the journey, not in arriving at the destination.  I'm already scheming of a return trip to do more of el Camino.

We arrived the cathedral just in time for the lighting of the botafumera during the Pilgrims' Mass.  The botafumera is a giant (5 ft tall) incense burner that they swing back and forth across the cathedral at the end of the Mass.  If the rope it hangs from were to break it would certainly kill a few people.  While it has it's spiritual meanings, it's size is attributed to it's effectiveness at masking the odor of all of those stinky pilgrims gathered in the pews.  It worked quite well at that, but only for a little while.  

Our final stop out of town was at the Pilgrims' office where we could get our final Credencials to prove we'd made it all the way.  They were very serious about the affair, closely inspecting each stamp in our passports and asking us where we started, how much of it was done by bicycle, where we stayed, etc.  I sweat more during the interview than during the ride.   


Our pilgrim days aren't over yet.  Next we're off to where it all began for more two-weeled pilgriming.  Since we were going to Jerusalem I asked the priest at the cathedral in Santiago if he wanted me to take James' remains back to where they came from.  I don't think he understood me because he got really mad and told me to get out of there.   Must have been a language barrier. 



Monday, May 24, 2010

What is Your Santiago?

What is 
People make pilgrimages for many reasons.  Most of the pilgrims I have seen on el Camino de Santiago appera to be seeking adventure in one of its many forms.  And Camaraderie.  And Spanish vino.  The latter are easy to spot.  Other pilgrims travel to Santiago for personal reasons.  For strength, for wisdom, for answers.   Still others travel for spiritual enlightenment, to be cleansed of sin or to know God.  Fruit standToday I saw a well-travelled peregrino walking toward me on the trail--away from Santiago de Compostela.  that is the way pilgrims of old did it, those that survived anyway.  They would walk out their front door, walk to Santiago and then, presumably having found what they were looking for,  turn around and walk back home.  

Santiago DCWhat were they searching for?  God?  Forgiveness?  Knowledge?  Whatever it was, it must have been valuable enough for them to leave their homes, their families, their farms and their livelihoods, and risk their lives in hopes of finding it.   

Deyanira And the modern day pilgrim?  They share with the medieval pilgrims a desire to see Santiago.   I asked Mags what she was searching for.  What is her Santiago?  Reminding me that this whole pilgrimage thing was my idea, she said she was here seeking experiences.  There's nothing wrong with that, I suppose, but imagine taking the same approach to life--"Well, I'll just plod along and see what happens."  No sir, a successful pilgrimage should begin with an end in mind.

So what is the end I have in mind, you ask?  What is my Santiago?   It's spiritual and for that reason I won't say exactly, but my Santiago involves strengthening some of the most important relationships in my life.  I can feel that strength growing with every pedal stroke.  Isn't it peculiar how our inner self grows strongest when we weaken our physical self?  Canine pilgrim

And what about you, Pilgrim?  What is your Santiago?  


Sunday, May 23, 2010

Pilgrims´ Progress


Many have said a modest person is one who could carry all their important possessions in a backpack, or in my case, a set of panniers. The last few days have convinced me it was a pilgrim who said that first. I also carry a set of panniers on my pilgrimage of life. Sometimes I add things or carry them just becasue. It could be what other people think of me, for others, it could be a consuming lifestyle that´s out of control. Like all heavy loads, there comes a time when so much weight keeps me from moving forward. That´s why I sometimes like to stop and ask myself if I´m carrying around burdens that I don´t need. What do I have in my panniers that I don´t need. 

There are of course burdens I can load into my panniers that don´t weigh me down.  In fact, they can even make my load seem lighter.  I´m speaking of memories, and today I thought I share a few of mine from the past couple of days on el Camino

First is the four American girls sitting next to me here in this internet cafe.  They´re printing off fake IDs so they can go out clubbing.  I wish I had my camera with me, I´d send a photo to their daddys. 

Next is the priest we met along the way who stamped our credencials.  He called us ¨eagles soaring to Santiago. and told us if we asked Santiago when we get to the cathedrial we could get any blessing we desired.  Then there was German pilgrim who helped Mags lift her bike three times over a rock wall because the trail between the walls was too muddy. 

There are all the pilgrims I see each night walking so gingerly because of sore legs, blistered feet and aching backs.  The albergues where we stay the night all smell like Ben Gay and stinky Europeans.  Incidently, I should say that most of my experience with Europeans has been in hostels, so you´ll forgive me for thinking they all stink all the time. 

At one albergue the hostess asked if we were married before she would let us have a private room.  She was a sweetheart.  Another host at our first albergue gave us his dinner because we arrived too late to buy something from the cafe in town.  He saw that we were going to bed hungry and brought out his own dinner for us.  Muchas gracias Igor. 


Last is a memory of regret.  In some ways I feel like we´re going too fast on this pilgrimage.  The way all of our physical needs are met by the albergues and the pilgrim restaurants, it allows us to meditate and think of the meaning of our pilgrimage.  But we´ll be finished soon, and I sometimes think I´ve loaded too much unecessary stuff into my panniers to unload it all before we arrive in Santiago de Compestela.  

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Story of <em>el Camino de Santiago</em>


ASTORGA, SPAIN.  According to Christian history, James (Santiago in
Spanish) the apostle, traveled to Galacia, in what is now northwestern
Spain after Jesus´ death to preach Christ´s message.  Greeted with
little success, James returned to Jerusalem where he was summarily beheaded. 
Legend has it that his remains were returned to Galacia for their final
resting place.  

Fast forward about eight centuries to a Christian hermit wandering
around Galacia, doing whatever it is that hermits do.  He witnesses a
compostela or field of stars (a meteor shower perhaps?) and takes
refuge in a cave where he discovers some headless human remains.  He
then chats with the local Catholic Bishop who confirms that those
remains are indeed the remians of the Apostle James.  That is how the
pilgirmage to the field of stars of Saint James, or Santiago de

During the middle ages millions and millions of Christians made
pilgrimages to Santiago de Compostela.  It was the third most
important pilgrimage in Christendom, behind Jerusalem, which was often
too dangerous, and Rome, which I imagine was a little too close to the
beehive for most worker bees to want to visit.  Prudent
would-be-pilgrims woud save those two destinations for when they had
some serious sins to walk off, but for lesser indescretions Santiago de
Compestela was pilgrimage enough. 

Popularity of the pilgrimage diminished in the 17th and 18th
centuries, but not before the Way of St. James, or Camino de Santiago
was permanently (and literally) etched into the terrain of northern
Spain, and not before the benevelence of Santiago was etched into the
psyches of all Spainiards.  He is said to have appeared numerous times
at the height of battle to turn the tide in the favor of the Christians
in their reconquest of Spain from the Moors.  That is why James is
sometimes called Santiago de Matamoros (James the Moor Slayer) and why
Santiago is the patron saint of all of Spain. 

 In the past couple of decades the popularity of pilgrimages to
Santiago de Compestela has soared again.  Perhaps due to a
general disatisfaction with the secularism that has spread across europe
for the past few decades, or perhaps because Europeans needed a grand
adventure like that was closer to home.  I suspect it is both. 

Mags and I started our pilgrimage on el Camino in Astorga, about 250
km from Santiago de Compestela.  Tornado warnings in Dallas led to a
cancelled flight out of Salt Lake and ultimately to our arriving in
Astorga 24 hours later than we´d planned.  They also Caused us 15 hour
layover in Newark, NJ (One hour is all anyone really needs to fully
experience Newark) for which getting bumped to first class for our
flight across the Atlantic was little consolation. 

DSCN1884 I´ll have more to say about this tomorrow, but for now I´ll repeat
what I´ve said in the past, that there is no better way to see a new
place than by bicycle, and that long distance touring is the highest and
best use of a bicycle.  The people along el Camino are very friendly
toward peregrinos (pilgrims), probably because in some towns el Camino is
all they have going for it, economically speaking.  It´s a strngth in
numbers thing, because this pilgirm isn´t blowing a lot of euros on this
trip.  Last night we stayed at an albeurgue, a hostel for pilgrims, for
only 9 euros.  That´s not 9 euros each, but 9 euros for both of us. 
And dinner tonight was, from the ¨special pricing for pilgrims¨ menu, less than 20 euros for both of us, and most importantly, the portions
were more than enough for a pilgrim sized appetite. 

More manana.  Buen Camino!


Sunday, May 16, 2010

Pilgrim's Prayer

Caminodesantiago2006august68 God, You called your servant Abraham from Ur in Chaldea, watching
over him in all his wanderings, and guided the Hebrew people as they crossed
the desert.  Guard these your children
who, for the lover of your Name, make a pilgrimage to Compostela.  Be their companion on the way, their guide at
the crossroads, their strength in weariness, their defense in dangers, their
shelter on the path, their shade in the heat, their light in the darkness,
their comfort in discouragement, and the firmness of their intentions; that
through your guidance, they may arrive safely at the end of their journey and,
enriched with grace and virtue, may return to their homes filled with salutary
and lasting joy. 

    -Codex Calixtinus- 12th Century  


Friday, May 14, 2010

<em> Buen Camino</em>

I don't normally get excited about a new bike, probably because I tend to break my mountain bike frame every year, but this new bike has me absolutely giddy. 


Why? Because it can do this:


and this: 


and this:


So I can do this:

Camino de santiago

Check back soon for posts from along The Way

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Litter bug

I have a confession to
make.  It is something for which I feel
deep shame and embarrassment.  So please
bear with me while I get this off my chest:

Despite my environmental
ethic, and everything I learned in elementary school and as a Boy Scout, I’ve lately developed a
habit of littering.

RVR3 This reprehensible behavior
first manifest itself two weeks ago in the first round of the Mountain States
Cup in Fruita, Colorado. 
57 pros lined up for a 31-mile loop through the desert, all vying for a
modest cash payout (that only paid three places deep) and a truckload of
external validation, which most of us were competing for.  In preparation for such a long race, I put two
bottles filled with CarboRocket on my bike and hoped it was enough. 

The start of the race went
exactly like one would expect when 57 cyclists race down a sandy wash.  I saw two crashes and was in front of another
that took out several riders.  About 15
minutes into the chaos I looked down and saw that both of my water bottles were
gone.  The responsible thing would have
been to go back and find them, but instead I bummed a drink from Charlie Gibson
and kept going.

I was fortunate the
neutral water stations hadn’t run out when I got to them, thus preventing a colossal
meltdown in the desert, but I might have learned my lesson about littering if
they had been out.  Instead I continued my irresponsible
ways last weekend at the third Intermountain Cup race at Five Mile Pass.  Even though I got some new water bottle cages
that held my bottles snugly I still found a way to spread my trash around the

At 44 miles, Five Mile
is another long race,
so I figured I’d need some food along the way. 
I put two packs of Clif Shot Bloks into my jersey pocket.  This race started more humanely, i.e. less
chaos, than in Fruita, and I finished the first lap with the main group.   At the start of the second
lap I enjoyed one
of my Shot Bloks, but while putting the pack back in my pocket the vest I was
wearing over my jersey got in the way. 
After a bit of fumbling which led me to believe it was in my pocket I
felt it bounce off my foot and onto the trail, which told me it wasn’t.  No worries, I thought, that’s why I packed

The next time I snacked on
a Shot Blok I took extra care not to do it again because I didn’t want to run
out of food
less than half way into the race and because deep down I know that littering is wrong. 
So you can imagine my surprise when on lap three I reached back for
another snack and felt an empty pocket.  I had done it again.
5MP1  Lack of control is a classic sign of compulsive behavior. 

I saw both of my packs on
the trail during my third and fourth laps, and I am
ashamed to admit that I
never stopped to pick them up.   For all
I know, they’re probably still out there, feeding the ants and lizards.  What has come over me?

There, now I've said it.  I hope this first step puts me on the path toward ending this vile behavior forever.  I feel so dirty. 

Race results are here and