28 June 2012

Camino de Santiago de 5: Zubiri - Los Arcos

We got a late start as breakfast only started at 7am. We enjoyed conversation over breakfast with a Korean couple who were walking St Jean to Pamplona and hoped to return another year to do the rest of the Camino. By the time we were on the road it was almost nine.

We had hoped to push on quite quickly to Pamplona, but the trails were quite tough with lots of ups and downs and we made slow progress. The day was already hot, even before midday. Shortly before Pamplona we were going through a tricky, narrrow section and I fell over to the left-hand side, where unfortunately the ground sloped away from the trail. I ended up upside-down in some bushes, and my bike ended up upside-down, perfectly balanced on the edge of the trail. Alberto was out of sight ahead of me, but we had just passed a French walking pilgrim who rushed to up to me and threw her pack on the ground to try and help me. I wasn't injured, just a bit scratched, but it must have looked scary from her point of view. She didn't speak English, but I managed to communicate that I was okay, and she helped me climb back up the trail.

I ended up in some bushes like these!
Although nothing was physically wrong with me, my confidence was shaken and I walked my way through the rest of that particular stretch of trail. Fortunately, what followed was a long approach to Pamplona on a paved path through a riverside park. Just what I needed!

We arrived in Pamplona and had some delicious pastries from a bakery on Estafeta (the street that the bulls run down). It was almost noon, and we had only covered about 20km. Then, as we were getting ready to leave Pamplona, Alberto discovered a puncture. We headed to the central square to change it under the shade--and then discovered that our 'good' pump was missing. I had been carrying it in the outside pocket of my Camelbak, and it must have fallen out when I took my fall. It seemed like nothing could go our way.

Fixing the puncture in Pamplona

We fixed the puncture and inflated the tire with our backup pump. Then we found a bike shop and bought a better pump again. By the time this was all done with it was nearly 2pm. We assessed our options and decided to call ahead to Los Arcos, some 70km away, to reserve places in a private albergue. Then at least we wouldn't have to worry about finding a place to sleep. Still, it was a tall order to cover in an afternoon three times what we'd managed to in the morning.

Almost immediately, we were glad we had called ahead as the heat was becoming a significant factor and we had some serious climbs out of Pamplona. On our way out of the city I had a clipless fall at a pedestrian crossing -- just to compound the frustration we were both feeling. But there was nothing to do but press on.

We climbed and climbed on a gravel path, up and up above pamplona. I walked a lot of it -- and even walking was exhausting work in the heat. At the top of the hill were the iconic metal statues of peregrinos, built by the Amigos de Santiago de Navarra, along with several windmills taking advantage of the great, cooling breeze. Alberto was chatting with a British guy who was walking the Camino, but was an avid cyclist. After a rest and a snack, we decided to take the roads on the descent, seeing as how we were short on time.

Climbing away from Pamplona
Windmills in the distance


The descent to Puente de la Reina was a ton of fun -- the wide, smooth roads were nearly deserted and even though I was quite timid with speed, I still had a great time. After Puente de la Reina we rejoined the trail and had some more tough, steep climbs. On one short section, I literally could not walk the bike up the hill. I had to brake the bike with bent arms and anchor my feet, then extend my arms forward to push the bike up, take a step and then repeat the whole process. The heat was relentless and there was very little shade.

I started to feel very discouraged that we were still so far away from Los Arcos, so we switched to roads again. The NA-1110 was empty again, apart from a few Navarran machacas on their road bikes. We passed through the town of Estella which looked really cute, and I was sorry we didn't have time to explore it. We stopped to eat some more food just outside Estella and a man stopped us to give advice on which parts of the Camino to follow and which parts to stick to the road. He also alerted us to the fact that there was a fountain of wine in the next town! Of course it was up a massive hill, and as soon as we had seen the fountain (and tasted the wine!) we descended again. We were learning that this was standard practice on the Camino. Gratuitous hills just to pass through towns, as if there weren't enough hills in Spain already.

Fountain with wine and water

Tasting the wine
The trail started to get better after this, wider and with fewer obstacles, although there were still plenty of ups and downs. Eventually, we headed back to the roads for the final 10km or so into Los Arcos. By that time I was hot, sore, tired, sunburned, covered in mud and bugs. I've rarely experienced such relief at reaching a destination on the bike. Certainly not any time this year, not even the finish of the 300km ride!

Los Arcos
When we arrived in Los Arcos we discovered that our albergue was pretty crap -- full of young cool kids who were having beers in the garden, more like a typical youth hostel than a pilgrim's resting point. It was 8pm by that point so we went straight to find dinner, without even showering. We found a restaurant serving a menu del peregrino and shared a table with a French couple who spoke very little English (are you noticing a pattern?) We tried to communicate the best we could and managed to get across the basics such as where we had started and how long our trips were, but mainly we just ate ravenously.

We got back to the albergue and showered and headed for bed almost immediately. We were feeling very defeated, although looking back on the day there were lots of great moments to go along with the bad. I worried about how I'd cope the following day - I had a bit of soreness from the fall, and the tops of my thighs were badly sunburned - they hadn't seen sun in over a year and all the sunscreen I had applied on just seemed to sweat off immediately. I did discover that chamois cream makes an excellent substitute for aloe vera and was able to go to bed without too much pain. We would have 100km to cover the next day if we wanted to make it to the refugio in Tosantos.

Stats for the day:
Odometer: 95.47
Moving time: 6h52m
Stopped time: 3h53m
Overall average: 8.9kph
Max speed: 68.4kph

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