PLEDGES, PILGRIMS, STATISTICS – Cycling the Camino Portugués

Lisbon to Santiago de Compostela  March 20- April 6 2023

634 km     15 Cycling days    3 Rest days

Weather : Rainy days: 1     Coldest 6C (Coimbra)      Hottest 26C (Santarém)

Bike weight 16kg: FOLDING Bike Friday New World Tourist 2022 – Wheel size 20″ – Gears 18 – Disc brakes) + padlock.

Belongings weight 22kg: Clothes/bike tools/food/1.5l water. 2 Ortlieb back panniers/ 2 Decathlon front panniers /1 Ortlieb handlebar bag

Safety Equipment: rear vision mirror/ Hi Vis Flag protrudes 60cm on traffic side / Hi Vis rear pannier cover/ Hi Vis Reflective vest & Front and back lights / Spares – spokes/brake cable/gear cable/inner tube

 Cycling Days over cobbles before I purchased a padded seat cover: 10

Falls from my bike : 1 – head first day 1 – after which I learnt to push my bike over rougher tracks.

Average times lost each day: 8 Ok, yes, the trail was marked with arrows, I had Brierley’s excellent Guidebook with detailed maps, and, from Porto, the ‘Wise Pilgrim’ App. but….. longest, er, ‘detour’: was 4km up a forest track to a historic old village, the Camino trail then visible in the valley far below..)

Non-cycling 20% – part uneven terrain – Roman Roads, hills, rocks, forest trails – part my fitness level post-Covid. A track through the eucalyptus forest one afternoon proved too steep even to push my bike. It takes a while to realise I can remove each pannier and carry them up the muddy slope then slither back down and pull up the bike. Whew!

Litter Collected: 150 pieces Personal Pledge 1 : ‘Pick up 10 pieces of plastic rubbish daily’ (I’ve recycled a discarded 5litre water container, fixed to my front carrier within a string bag). This area I stopped for lunch for example looked better – and perhaps saved the lives of a few fish in the waterway…

Custard Tarts consumed in Portugal :  1 per day with an espresso at the first café I passed (except one sad day I didn’t pass a custard- tart-selling café on my ride. And one day in Porto, I took an afternoon cooking class ; of course I had to sample my creation). Personal Pledge Two – ‘Sample one ‘Pastel de Nata’ (Portuguese custard tart) daily’.

2 Highlights…..

……. people

Do you know 2200 pilgrims registered their arrival the same day I did?

A Russian/Ukrainian couple seeking a place to settle, a German man far older than me who was struggling up a hill hoping to find somewhere to stay for the night , whom I walked alongside for a while – he explained how 5 years ago, he’d completed a 2700km pilgrimage from his home in Germany, to the ‘Hello New Zealand’ greeting from a fast walking German man ( yes, I met a lot of Germans) returning south from Santiago – we had met earlier south of Porto and although walking, he had completed the pilgrimage long before me and was well on his way back… “Some days”, he said, “I walk 50kms.”

A cheery ‘Bon Camino’ from a passing tradesperson who wound down his window one cold misty morning unaware he had reassured me that i wasn’t lost as I feared. A cheerful young man who unbidden began pushing the back of my bike as I struggled up a paved Roman road .”If it was me with the challenge, I’d want the same,” he explained. Olaf , a bikepacker from Iceland, who could lift his packed bike with one han d, aided me to lift my bike alongside his onto the speedboat ‘ferry’. A 40ish man who’d quit his job in Germany, flown to Portugal, bought a second hand bike for 100 Euro and was heading as far as he could with his funds, who had joined the Camino by accident, inspired by Pilgrims en route.   Shared life stories over dinner with a German lady far older than me, whose aim was to walk just the final 100km required to receive the latin ‘Compostela’ , the proof of pilgrimage. With her pack being carried by a baggage service, she was already limping but still determined. So many deep conversations with strangers whose challenges, joys, purposes all varied – to all of you who added to my journey, to those who inspired, uplifted, deepened my thinking, I say once again, Bon Camino’.

…. history

What an honour, what a privilege to pass across Roman roads (albeit challenging for a bike) and mediaeval bridges, visit a Visigoth grave (yes I also had to look this up), and explore roman ruins, the 12th century castle of Tomar and the 13th century university town of Coimbra, to visit the coastal church foundation engraving from 900AD dedicated to St Iago, following a route pilgrims have taken for 1000 years.  


Hills and more hills!  A low point was after the aforementioned hill through the forest , my hostel was at the top of the steepest street in the historic city of Tomar, and on arrival the host wasn’t there to let me in. (Can you imagine my joy 40 mins later when I sighted my bed?)   

Bed bug bites : fortunately just one single cluster of 3 on my wrist. I always slept in a sleeping bag and liner but my hand must have shifted under the pillow of a hostel bunk bed one night. That was all– these tiny bites soon disappeared. – no sign of the dreaded infestations others had seen in the news and grimly warned me about.  

What would I do differently? Take less stuff!  It was a common refrain amongst pilgrims, how the amount we carry on the Way is a microcosm of the baggage we carry through life.  Those of you who know me wouldn’t definitely not call me a minimalist! Yet lifting my bike plus all the gear over rocks, up historic steps, across streams has challenged me….

As a wise cyclist stated in a recent online Bike Forum,

“We pack our fears. Fear of hunger, overpack food. Cold, too much clothing. Injuries, a huge first aid kit. Calm your inner fears and let your bags get lighter.”

Why do I need more than 1 pair of shorts?”, I ask myself the day after arriving in Santiago. “Will I miss the 3kg I posted on that day to my next destination, Barcelona?”  Time will tell. Grandpa Bear stays though. Of course.


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