Biking Camino de Santiago Spain

Pilgrims in Parallel Worlds

Sunflowers and cycles on the Camino de Santiago
Written by Kirstie Pelling

Pilgrims in Parallel Worlds

Kirstie Profile SmallHave you ever felt like you were travelling in parallel worlds? Where you are following a path in which your experience seems intimately connected to but yet invisible to others? Running parallel. Well, we know pilgrims have made the journey to Santiago for thousands of years. And we know there are thousands of pilgrims heading there now, just as we are. But where are they? We don’t seem to be able to find them. It’s like we are travelling in parallel worlds. 

Invisible in the heat

The sun burns on. And we cycle on. Past olive groves and bodegas, through medieval towns with cobbled streets and bolt studded doors, through scrub-land and over motorways. We look for rivers to swim in and find they have dried up. Even factor 40 sun lotion and cycle shirts are poor protection against a sun that scorches and sears our skin. We ride early and late to try and avoid the worst of it, but with temperatures touching 35 degrees some days there’s little window of opportunity for riding in the cool.

Seeking shade on the Camino de Santiago

We’re grateful for any shade at the moment

Steep, hot and tiring

The kids are tiring and the road is relentlessly steep; every day I hope for respite but none comes. I squint again into the sun’s glare, focussing my attention on keeping the bike from wobbling on the difficult gradient, pushing, always pushing sluggish pedals around with my feet. My sunglasses lie unused in their case, their tendency to steam up on tough hills has rendered them a useless fashion accessory. The sweat builds up on my forehead, even when I pause the bike for a rest my body continues to pump it out. After a while it starts to run down my face, stinging my eyes. I can’t see and the pain is irritating. I wipe my face with my tee shirt that resembles a wet rag.

Camino de Santiago Sign

Whatever the weather, there’s still only one way

Days full of contrast

And yet this is such a journey of two halves. Just another ten or so kilometres and we’ll be at a campsite, plunging into a cool open air pool. And that is the beauty of cycling the Camino rather than walking it. While the pilgrims are confined to hostels in the prescribed towns on the route, meeting the same crowd each night, we have the freedom to wander off the map a little. In the late evening at Puento La Reina and Estella we see them, hanging around outside hostels and the Red Cross; they seem lethargic and drained, having walked in the hot sun to secure a bed for the night by 1pm. Meanwhile we breeze past and up the hill to a campsite that’s full of partying Spaniards, cracking open beers, diving into the pool and cooking for the family.

Relaxing in the shade while cycling

Not everywhere is suitable for us to stay, so we make our own arrangements

Not my kind of refuge

A couple of days ago we reached a hill town and felt like stopping. I wandered over to the nearest refuge. He had been full by 1pm, so had leased a church. There were already fifty pilgrims packed into the aisles and on the altar. All lay face down on dirty mattresses, or sat near stain glass windows trying to escape the heat of the evening. It was so quiet. As he showed me to a tiny space at the back of the church I tried to imagine my three children keeping this sense of sleepy quiet. I turned him down and he shook his head. Where were five peregrino’s going to find accommodation at this hour?

Sunset on the Camino de Santiago

Sunset on the Camino de Santiago

Freedom of the open road

We cycled off up the hill and set up our own campsite, on the scrub , at the side of the N111. No swimming pool, no facilities, but free of charge and the children could make as much noise as they liked.

Cycling on the Camino de Santiago

Pushing along the Camino de Santiago…. sometimes it’s the only way to make progress!

About the author

Kirstie Pelling

Kirstie is the Editor of The Family Adventure Project. A professional writer and poet, she's the creative and journalistic force behind many of the stories and features published here. She's a co-founder and co-director of The Family Adventure Project and also works as the #poetinmotion producing and performing poetry for print, video and live performance.

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We're Kirstie & Stuart. We share an adventurous spirit, a passion for indie travel and 3 kids. The Family Adventure Project is our long term experiment in doing active, adventurous things together. Find out more...


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