The Camino hadn't really registered with me before we moved to Spain in 2003. Once I "decided" to do it I procrastinated until a couple of friends from Venezuela said they were crossing the Atlantic to ride the part from Leon to Santiago.
If I was going to take the time off I might as well do the whole thing; from Roncesvalles, I thought at first, and then from St. Jean Pied de Port. Thankfully, some of the sites I visited on the internet sparked an interest in riding that additional stage.
Even living in Spain logistics can be a bit of a pain, albeit always much less than if you live abroad. After juggling a few options my wife very kindly volunteered to drive me to France and then pick me up in Santiago.
All was set. I would start off on my own and meet up with my friends somewhere along the way. We agreed on playing it by ear. Committing to be at a specific place on a particular date sounded a bit to risky.
I picked up my Pilgrim's Passport at the Pilgrim's Information Office in town. After filling in a log book, the helpful volunteer at the desk handed me my credential, a list of all the bicycle stores from St. Jean to Santiago, and a map of the 2 possible routes to Roncesvalles. In perfect French he recommend the "easy" way that goes parallel to, and often on, the D933 road warning (correctly as I was about to discover) that part of the alternative Napoleon route was very muddy from the down pour of the day before.
Regardless, I had set my mind on avoiding civilization as much as possible, and always sticking to the trail so I promptly set off on the "hard" way.
Just barely out of town you start to climb. Though the roads are paved for the first 16Km and therefore intended to be used by cars, they were much steeper than I had expected, probably the steepest I've seen for a paved road. That plus the 13 extra kilograms I was hauling on the bike made the minimum effort required to move forward as demanding as a hard workout.
But the day was beautiful so I just stopped frequently to take in the view, snap pictures and drink plenty of water... 2 bottles of which I finished in the first hour. At a small house near Honto, an unfriendly lady reluctantly re-filled them for me. This is practically the last source of water until the fountain about 11Km and a good 700mt vertical climb away.
Even though I felt a a long way from home it's not really very far away from anything, not in the sense the Amazon is. Weather permitting, you'll not only come across other pilgrims you'll exchange the occasional nod with what I guessed to be retirees taking their afternoon walk.
I had taken along what was to be the staple of my diet for the next 12 days: a "bocadillo de jamón serrano" - cured ham on French bread with some olive oil. It served as lunch and did me well until my arrival at Roncesvalles.
The effort for the stage was greater than I expected. An uneasy feeling that I had set a target that was too ambitious (getting to Santiago in another 11 days) crept up on me a couple of times. But the scenery did wonders to keep my mind "clear". That alone was worth the whole trip.
Suddenly it felt like in no time I was in Roncesvalles and sorry it was all over for the day.
People do the Camino for many reasons. Some are devote Catholics for whom the Way has a deep religious meaning. Others do it just for the physical activity. Then you have the ones that do it for the food, for the people you meet, to find themselves or because it's the cheapest way to cross Spain. The list is endless.
No one comes away from the Camino untouched in some way or another. I'm not particularly religious but it's certainly a spiritual experience. Unless you have no interior life what so ever, you practically can't help being contemplative and doing some soul searching. The kaleidoscope of personalities you'll encounter (if you go and stay more or less alone) will be at the very least entertaining but more likely enriching.
That first night while sharing the