I set off on that cold damp Sunday morning knowing that I had a mountain to climb. After a gentle warm-up to cover the first 10km to Tricastela, I stopped at around 9:30 to grab a coffee and catch the end of the early morning F1 race beamed in from China. Outside the bar I saw the ominous sign of Snow ploughs and gritting trucks re-loading and preparing to clear the road ahead. I added my photos to Facebook and immediately got responses from friends and family comiserating with me on the state of the weather, and sharing anecdotes about their cosy Sunday mornings.
The official Camino route from Tricastela to O Cebreiro would take me along rocky, muddy footpaths snaking up either side of the main mountain road. In the rain I decided to stick to the road and ascend the 1000m climb on tarmac.
The route until now had been rolling up and down, with plenty of climbing, but no serious prolongued ascent against which to test myself. I fought my way up 7% inclines and around switchbacks, grinding my way up the hill at 7 kmh. As I gained altitude the rain became colder and the clouds heavier, flecks of white sleet interspersed in the contant drizzle. Every few minutes I would take a break to briefly reduce the wind-chill, take on calories, and receive the good wishes and comiserations of friends and family on Facebook. I plugged my headphones in, selected a playlist and pushed on uphill, keen to make the summit before lunchtime. The heavy cloud above me turned into a mist hanging in the valley. The sleety rain rain began to thicken into a more consistent snow. The slush that had been coating the road signs began to turn white as the snow was settling. I heard a constant stream of pings in my headphones notifying me of updates to my facebook page. I could have felt so cold and alone on that mist-shrouded hillside, but the regular pings and notifcations interrupting The Rolling Stones and Janis Joplin reminded me that I had a support crew back home and out in cyberspace.
Once I got above 900m, the snow covered landscape began to feel more magical, the layer of snow deadened the sound. I also knew that I was nearing my goal for the day. The effort of cycling was keeping most of me warm, and the cape kept the worst of the cold wind off me. My ony real discomfort were my feet. Cycling shoes have metal cleats on the bottom that connect to the pedals, these cleats are adjustable and are secured in place by bolts and plates inside the shoe. My point being, cycling shoes are not water-tight. If you get off your bike when the ground is wet, water will seep into your shoes.
Ice-cold water was soaking my feet.
So I was relieved to feel the hill level out as I approached the summit.
I headed into a bar at the summit, ordered a beer and a hearty lunch before attempting to thaw myself out.
Lunchtime merged into early afternoon, feeling returned to my toes and my cold wet shoes turned warm and dry. it was time to move on. I only had another 9 or 10km to go, most of which would be a gentle downhill.
I arrived into O Cebreiro around 5 PM, a beautiful stone village that was over-run by local day-trippers. Every verge was loaded with parked cars, kids were playing in the snow, and every bar and restaurant was full of loud family groups enjoying the “sobremesa”. I went from bar to bar looking for a place to stay each one warmer and more welcoming than the last, but each one frustratingly unable to offer a room. The Albergues were all full. Eventually I managed to find a B&B with a room available. I unpacked my heavy wet panniers, turned up the heating and draped every bit of kit over every radiator and hot water pipe in the room before heading into a warm shower.
Once I was warm and clean, I looked out of my B&B window to see that the snow storm had stopped and the mist had cleared.
I was exhausted from the days climb, and attempts to keep warm. Despite having progressed a mere 36km I felt a huge sense of achievement and satisfaction.