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  • Writer's pictureValeria Rodriguez

Bike-Packing El Camino de Santiago: A Journey of EVERYTHING.


I don't know where to start.

Some people have asked me if I feel like a different person now that I've completed the Camino de Santiago. A simple answer is, I will. I don't think we have the ability to know at the moment what changes us and exactly how until we do something or think something different down the road and look back and wonder, "Wow...now that was different. I wonder when I made that change". So to those wondering...for right now, I'm still me...a stronger version, for sure; A version of me that did things I never expected I could or would; A version of me who is happy to have crossed off another epic adventure from my bucket list; A version of me who has a full heart from getting to soak in the experience, knowing that seeds have been planted in me that will bloom when I least expect them to...but when they do, I will know that they were from #ElCamino.


The Camino was more than just the miles (or kilometers) logged. It was more than the views and breathtaking scenery... it was a journey of realizing that I'm always looking for answers but maybe I need to focus on asking different questions. It was a journey full of reminders to trust and be present instead of always trying to see the road ahead.


Our bike-packing adventure took us from Madrid to Santiago de Compostela, spanning a total of 452 miles in 7 days, with an elevation gain of 5837 feet on the highest day but nothing less than 2,200 on the "flattest" day. The challenges were real, with climbs ranging from 9% to 14%, and even steeper ones that forced me to dismount and walk. But overall, I was impressed with myself. At the tops of some of those climbs, I swore I was running into the last 200m of an 800m race at the Olympics.


The funny thing is that when I arrived at the office where you get your certificate of completion for the Camino, there was a quote on the screen:

"If you could see the journey, whole, you might never undertake it. You might never dare the first step that propels you from the place you have known to the place you know now."

All I could do at the moment was laugh and shake my head. Truer words could not have awaited me at the end of this journey. This quote perfectly encapsulates the lessons I learned along the way.


So let's break down the adventure if you are up for a read...

Day 1: Pozuelo to Segovia-76 miles

I had no idea what I was getting myself into. We started in Pozuelo and headed into the center of Madrid through Casa de Campo. Beautiful and hot from the get-go. Kilometro 0 in la Puerta del Sol was full of tourists. I wanted to shout at the top of my lungs that I was about to embark on an epic adventure, but I knew...that just like life, it was mine alone for the knowing. The 5 of us who embarked on this journey, lined up our bikes around KM 0 sign on the ground, took a picture, and clipped in.


From there we rode out through Madrid. Weaving through it on two wheels filled my heart. As we left the city behind us, the rolling hills started appearing and so did the mountains in the horizon. Chuy, our guide, pointed at the mountains and said, over that one is where we end today. I laughed thinking he couldn't be serious. He was.


After riding through our first castle of many on the trip, we started climbing. First on the road, 5-7% climbs. And then we got into the mountains and the inlined switched to 9-10% and the road path turned into a gravel/rocky path. Personally, it was a really hard day, and doubts crept in, making me question if I could finish the ride. But when the ground beneath us gives out, we must remember that progress is progress, no matter how slow it may seem. It's okay to doubt, but we have to keep pedaling until we get through it.


After the long hard climb, we started the descent on rocky paths that I could not believe I was riding down. I paused to ride a horse that crossed my path, because WHY NOT. And when I thought we would never get to our destination, we turned the corner and saw the Aqueducto de Segovia. My eyes teared.

That was only day 1.



Day 2: Segovia to Simanca - 71 miles


Day 2 started by exploring Segovia and then we rode into flower-lined fields then tree-lined trails, and thennnnn we hit the sand. UFFF that was hard. The ground moved right out from under me. Doubts are common along the way, but patience and keeping an eye out for the next yellow arrow are essential. I rode through, fell a few times, got up...and finally made it to Simanca. To my surprise, the last mile was uphill to the hotel. That evening, the doubts really set in. I started wondering if my legs could handle the mileage or if my muscle cells would explode.


This day I sat with the thoughts that the people we encounter on the journey always influence our experience, so it's important to choose wisely. Just because we are on the same path and headed in the same direction doesn't mean we are on the same journey. The journey and the environment are always subjective.


Day 3: Simanca to Bercianos del Camino- 76 miles


On day three, I felt a shift. Maybe it was having Maricarmen's Coaches words in my head or the fact that I was starting to gain some confidence in myself. Ulysees said: "Day 3 you will start feeling better".


There was a steep climb of about 17%-18% that I didn't make it up on my bike, I had to walk. However, the amount of climbs I tackled like a champ, had me feeling on top of the world. We rode through fields of windmills and solar panels that brought to light how advanced Europe is with renewable energy. At the end of the day, No one can ride for you; you have to complete the journey yourself.


The Albergue we stayed at that night was precious and we were able to do laundry! I know it doesn't sound like a big deal, but when you have been riding with all your gear on you, it feels awesome to get to wash EVERYTHING.


Day 4: Bercianos del Camino to Rabanal del Camino- 73 miles

Day 4 was the first day we started really seeing "Caminantes", and it really helped shift the focus from the miles on the garmin to seeing all the other people making the journey to Santiago...all with the shell hanging from their bags.


LEON was on the first stop...and it was full of commotion and movement. As we rode in we saw a sign that said: "Te miro y me sonrie el Mundo". I loved that the Camino was full of loving messages. It is true that we see what we choose to, and I know that I was looking for allll the love I could find because my heart was/is so full.


After Leon we rode through Villadangos del Paramo. We stopped at la Casa de Los Dioses in the middle of nowhere at the home of a man who set up shop there. His home was full of food, quotes, and #CAMINOvibes. One of the signs said: "Creas to que Crees". Ain't that the truth!


We got a little rain as we rode into Astorga and a very steep incline welcomed us into the city. We saw el palacio de Gaudi and ate una tarta catalana before we headed out to our "last stretch". Little did we know it would be uphill to the very end. We finally rode into an old quaint town with a 7% incline right up to the front door of an adorable Albergue to close the day. There we met our first cyclists friends of the the Camino. They were older riders, all doing Santiago, all very sweet and encouraging of Mari and I.



Day 5: Rabanal del Camino to O'Cebereiro- 53 miles


This day started off in the clouds- LITERALLY. Riding through winding downhills roads straight out of a Tour de France advertisement.


Our first stop was a the "Cruz de Hierro". There we left the rock we had brought with us. I brought a rock from Miami and wrote names down on my rock and placed my rock and some polloroids at the base of the cross. There was such a peaceful vibe at this place. My heart was full.

The Cruz de Ferro, or Iron Cross, is a cross on the Camino de Santiago, located between the towns of Foncebadón and Manjarín, on the Camino Frances. It consists of a wooden pole about five feet high surmounted by an iron cross, a replica of the original preserved in the Museo de Los Caminos in Astorga.At its base, a mound has been forming over the years. A legend says that when the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela was being built, pilgrims were asked to contribute by bringing a stone. The tradition is to throw a stone, brought from the place of origin of the pilgrim, with his or her back to the cross to symbolize their journey. Today, the cross is believed to have been placed here in the 11th century by Gaucelmo.


Once we left there we rode through a few more towns, roman bridges, ate near castles, got our passport stamped a few more times , road alongside a river, and finally go to the "winding staircase" of the trip: 5 km uphill. THIS was the incline I did know was coming, and yet it didn't make it any easier. There were points where I felt like I was barely moving, but I knew that one foot down and I'd have to walk the rest of the way up. SO I NEVER STOPPED PEDALLING. I questioned why I force myself to do these things! I asked myself what I was trying to prove to myself. What more proof did I need to be able to believe in myself that I can do hard things? Turns out I never found the answer to that question, but I did get to the top of O'Cebreriro and I celebrated with Mari and a few sangrias!



Day 6: O'Cebereiro to Melide- 68 miles


After the climb from Day 5, I thought the hardest part was behind me. I was wrong. Just like life...never short of throwing you curve balls. Day 6 Started with lightinging speed desents on winding mountain roads, but after Sarria, the journey got long and hard. Long steady inclines, lined with windmills, monestaeries, farms, quiet towns, cows crossing, and gravel/rocky roads but all brigning me closer to Santiago.


Melide at night was the sweetest top. We walked through town to get pulpo and churros but left with memories of couples dancing for el festival de San Juan on the street in the most precious block party ever. It made me want to grow old with someone who will want to take me dancing in the middle of a tiny town.


Day 7: Melide to Santiago de Compostela- 34 miles


The last day seemed to get off to a start before I'd actually been able to wake up. Leaving Melida we took a steep climb and an even steeper descent to start the day. Most of the day was lined with walkers and caminantes, which made for the specialest day of the camino. There were some fierce inclines that tried to take me out, but we made it through. having Mari riding infront of me paedaling through the challenges made me feel like I could do it too. Sometimes, even if we want to unclip, our bikes won't let us, and we have to pedal through the challenges. Some inclines seemed impossible from a distance, but as we got closer, I realized they were not that bad. On the other hand, some inclines appeared doable from afar, but as we approached, i had to lean down onto my handlbars to keep my front wheel from pulling up.


On this last day, it was clear that you can't encourage others if you don't truly believe you will get there or make it through. Mari never faltered. She never doubted we could make it. Having a fiercely strong friend to ride through adventures with makes all the difference.

After 4:44mins of riding, we rolled into the cathedral of Santaigo de Compostela. I could barely believe that we made it. The emotions, exhaustion, and disbelif settled in. "If you could see the journey, whole, you might never undertake it"--That's for sure, but i'm glad I did. I'm glad I figured out how to make it through once I was already moving.



In summary...

Bike packing from Madrid to Santiago de Compostela was an incredible adventure that tested my physical, emotional, and mental limits. Clearly we are always one decision away from our next accomplishment. A journey of 726 km can only be accomplished one pedal stroke at a time, just like any journey we decide to embark on. We won't always see the route and we will second guess ourselves bewtween yellow arrows, but we just have to keep looking for the signs. This camino was a journey the duality of life: I can be fierce and vulnerable. I can be strong and shake. I can convince myslef I can do anything I set my mind to and tearfully ask my body "Can we get through this?" I can cautiously ride off a sidewalk and do a full send down a loose rock trail. I can be the biggest scardy-cat and brave enough to clip in for Epic adventure.


I'm thankful for the Camino, thankful for Mari and Chuy who rode through this Camino with me--keeping the faith when I would falter, thankful for the physical and mental health to try, thankful for the love and encourgament along the route. I'm most thankful for the reminder that we don't always know the whole CAMINO before we start for a reason, we just need to know that we CAN figure it out, one step (pedal-stroke) at a time.


So #BuenCamino to all of you! May the yellow signs be clear, may the ground be firm, and may your heart lead your way.


If you got throuh this recap, I'd love to read your comments below. I'll leave some pictures too, but if you go to Instagram, you'll find a few more.



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