Jac [t'other half] had been wanting to do this trip for, ooh, ages. I had been sold on virtually none of its virtues other than getting to ride off road all day long for about 2 weeks. I could have done that some where else that would have ticked all the other boxes that I'd liked to have ticked - namely ragging around fun, walker free trails somewhere with nice warm weather on an unencumbered bike while I pretended in my tiny mind to be an Enduro-God. ; )
I gave in. Times conspired such that I need to do something fun after being stuck in an office for too long over the past few years so with some free time looming I said I would do the trip. Jac booked some time off and my contract end date was set to the day prior to our flight departure at the beginning of May 2014.
We made it, it was fun. More fun that I expected, and I did not have to set foot in a church. Jac's report of the trip is here [http://minxcompendium.blogspot.co.uk/2014/06/a-bike-ride-to-end-of-world-and-back-bit.html].
This post is to relate some of the gear choices and preparation that we undertook, should it ever prove of any use to anyone... If you want to read something interesting about the trip then skip the rest of this and click on the linky above.
We had a few months to prepare, I reckoned that we would both be fit enough to cope with our planned days of between 65 and 90Kms, and if we were not then we would be by the end of the first week. So that was fitness ticked off the list.
Research indicated that as the route was a popular walking route, attracting around 200,000 pilgrims in 2013. So it seems that there is plenty of accommodation if you do not go in a 'holy year' or in high season. As luck would have it May was a good choice as it was early enough to avoid the crowds and should provide decent weather.
Jac initially wanted every stop to be planned and booked, I did not think this was a good way to go as there was likely to be a lot of accommodation choice at frequent intervals along or near the route [there was] and I struggled to get any trustworthy indication of how long sections of the route would take. If we ended up a day behind [or ahead!] then it would bollocks up a lot of planning and take some effort and stress to resolve.
Best just to accept that you don't know where you are going to end up each night and enjoy the daily Camino mini-adventure of finding bed and food. Tight, but loose, as the saying goes...
Our biggest conundrum was the one we wanted to make as small as possible - luggage. This was two-part...
The logistics of getting to the start and home from the end was a bit of a fankle, but google solved all our problems. We got some compact Ground Effect Tardis bike bags which take 29'er hardtails with a bit of disassembly and old foam camping mat as protection. We discarded the camping mats at SJPP and the bikes were unscathed - the bags are much smaller and easier to handle than our usual heavily padded cases - I'd definitely use them again. The bags them selves fold down to a size roughly equivalent to two packs of A4 printer paper and only weigh a kilo and a bit. We planned to visit La Poste at SJPP on the morning of departure and mail them to a chap called Ivar in Santiago who would hold on to the bags until we chapped on his door and gave him €20 for his troubles. As it turned out this all went pleasingly to plan - although it is worth checking the opening hours of the post office...
We organised a van share from Biarritz airport to SJPP with Caroline at ExpressBurricot, although it would have made a nice warm-up ride or train journey if wanted to complicate things a little more.
On the trail.
Now all we needed to worry about was what to carry with us. The plan was to stay on the camino, ie ride off road as much as practical. We were going to be taking our 29'er hardtails, neither of which have provision for pannier racks - which is good, because panniers are truly awful off-road. So we did some research and paid a bit more attention to paragons of bike-packing geekery and guessed that we could get away with a seat pack, a dry bag on the bars and a small riding day-pack for odds and sods.
|Astorga - home of amazing pastry products.|
This version of lugguage was new to Jac and I and we needed to make sure we could make it work for us. So we duly picked up a brace of Wildcat Mountain Lion bar harnesses, some Alpkit Koala seat packs and 20l AirLockXtra dry bags and set off on an overnighter trip along the Fife Coastal Path. In February. So we stayed at a nice hotel, but packed everything that we expected to take on the Camino plus a few odds and sods just to see whether they fitted.
It was on this trip that I found that the Mountain Lion, a big dry bag and a short-headtube / low stack bars and having too much fun on descents made for front tyre shaped holes in your drybag. Er, oops.
We tried again a month or so later with an over-nighter to Peebles off road from Edinburgh. Everything was fine except for yet another hole in yet another drybag... Although we managed to get the weight of our Koala and drybag combined down to 6.5kg - which was bearable.
We tried smaller bags, but ended up slightly compromised (we felt at the time) on the stuff we would need to leave out or mercilessly crush. I was also unimpressed with the way the bar harness squished all the cables. More google action and I had the answer winging its way to me from an online retailer - the Vario-Rack from Klickfix. This was a solid rack that was held slighly away from the bars by a Rixen&Kaul KlickFix doofer. It could be set up so that there would be no interference with the front wheel. The stock harness straps were removed and we used the Aplkit clippy straps instead.
This rack also meant no weird cable-rub and more space on the bars for GPS, bell, lucky velcro straps and the like. And the rack could be detached from the bike quickly if needed, without having to dick around with the straps.
Just to point out the Wildcat harnesses worked fine, but we wanted to use bigger bags than they were designed for... hey ho!
What else did we take? 2 and a half days worth of riding kit [wash and wear], one off bike outfit, a small two season sleeping bag from Vango and a silk liner - both of which proved their worth, although you probably could have survived with just the silk liner and some warm PJs ; ). Camera, GPS, usual bike repair kit, 2 tubes, patch kit and tubeless anchovies a pump and some cable ties. I used a camelbak bladder which mostly leaked at the tube / bladder join. Jac's Osprey bladder was much more watertight. I took a 16l Evoc daypack, which was bigger than I wanted, but it was never bursting at the seams so remained comfy feeling. Jac had a smaller 10l Osprey Raven.
We lucked out on the weather - wall to wall sunshine and favourable winds until we were a few hours from Santiago, which is just as well as my waterproof jacket was found wanting the next day as we headed towards Finisterre...
In hindsight we both could have discarded at least a kilo of stuff, without compromise. This would have made a small but perceptible difference in the handling of our bikes, but as it was everything worked just fine.
The only breakage was a partial one and that was 2 vertical bars of my Variotek rack - I think I was having too much fun on the descent to Molinaseca and repeatedly bottomed out the forks as the bag and rack flexed a bit downwards, as well as the cable probably having stretched a little from when I fitted it initially. I did not notice it until later but 2 of the 4 vertical bars of the rack were cracked right through. My fault, and the rack remained in one piece and totally solid for the remaining 400Km... Oh and the rack saved the drybag from getting another hole in it.
|busted but still working|
Is it worth doing?
Yes. Do it. Or something similar.
Pick the time of year carefully and learn at least a wee bit of Spanish. Also there are many different 'caminos' to Santiago - check the Bicigrino and Confraternity of St.James websites for a starting point.
We took 10 days. Accommodation was available, but frequently full up by the time we arrived, especially in the cities - so we needed to try a number of different places at the end of the day before finding somewhere - we never had to sleep in a hedgerow. You could definitely go quicker, especially if you opted out of the Auberges 'timezone'. Equally you could happily slow it down and take it at a more sedate pace. Do what fits.
In terms of terrain there is a bit of everything, and generally enough variation each day to keep you suitable entertained. None of the trails were 'danger of death', and most of the roads were fairly quiet.
Way marking was pretty much spot on all the way. The only exceptions were in the cities when you had to pay more attention for the shells and arrows and just outside of Leon where the arrows are a bit misleading. We took a GPS but rarely used it for anything as fancy as actual navigation.
SJPP > Zubiri
Zubiri > Ayegui
Ayegui > Azofra
Azofra > Burgos
Burgos > Carrion de los Condes
Carrion de los Condes > Villadangos del Paramo
Villadangos del Paramo > Molinaseca
Molinaseca > Sabugos (Padornelo)
Sabugos > Lestedo
Lestedo > Santiago de Compostela
+ 2 days out to Finisterre