Astorga - Vuelta a Iberia - CycleBlaze

October 2, 2019

Astorga

Rachael and I are both a bit apprehensive about today’s ride to Astorga.  At 32 miles, it’s a short one; but it’s the first significant climb of the tour as it climbs 3000’ into the Mountains of León in roughly ten miles.  the climb is one thing, but our health is the other.  My cold is steadily improving day over day but is still with me, and Rachael’s own seems to be holding steady as well.  Will the exertion of the climb set us back?

The route we have mapped out is the obvious best choice - along quiet minor roads the whole way, following the French Camino, and reputedly through one of its prettiest stretches.  Nevertheless I played around with the map last night looking for easier alternatives before convincing myself that nothing better exists.

So, a challenge lies ahead that hopefully we’ll be up to.  The weather is with us today, fortunately - fair skies, a modest but favoring breeze, and a comfortably coolish temperature when we start out.

Climbing up our room’s victory stand one last time, I check out the look of the day. It looks fair.
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On the plaza, Ponferrada
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Let’s roll!
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Leaving our room, we first stop in at the nearest market to pick up the day’s lunch, and then leave town eastbound on LE-142, the minor highway that we’ll follow for much of the day’s ride.  

Rachael still has her Garmin, but I’m using the RideWithGPS app on my cellphone, with the cheap handlebar mount I picked up yesterday.  It’s taken me a bit to figure out some of the quirks of the app, but I’m gradually coming to the opinion that I prefer it to the Garmin.  There’s one significant drawback though - it chews through the camera’s battery at a good clip, and a full charge won’t come close to holding for a full day’s outing.  Since Rachael can keep us on track though, I don’t need it most of the time anyway, especially on days like today where we’ll follow the same road for the next fifteen miles.

The first four miles are a lazy introduction to the ride, just enough to loosen us up as we approach the base of the climb.  After dropping a bit to the Boeza River, a small tributary of the Sil that it joins just downstream in Ponferrada, we roll along on the level for a few miles before stopping to admire the graceful stone bridge at Molinaseca, its origins dating back to Roman times. 

As soon as we leave town we gain a bit of elevation and start getting the views. We’re surrounded by low mountains. These are to the west, back toward Galicia.
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The view back toward Ponferrada
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The bridge at Molinaseca. Its origins are Roman, but it has undergone many revisions over the centuries. It was known as the Bridge of the Pilgrims, for the passage over the Meruelo River it provided them. Behind it is the baroque church of St. Nicholas of Bari.
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The bridge at Molinaseca.
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Immediately beyond the bridge we begin climbing, at first following the course of the Meruelo River as it gradually recedes below us into a deep, narrow canyon.  After a few miles of this we break away and continue climbing into the Mountains of León.  It’s a rather relentless climb, rising 2,700 feet in about 9 miles.  It unfortunately is not uniform - some stretches are a more modest grade, but toward the top they’re awful in spots, leaving us both straining in our lowest gear to keep moving forward for just-a-few-more-agonizing-spins.  But we make it!  We both feel a real sense of accomplishment after finally cresting the final rise.

The Meruelo River is now buried deep in this narrow ravine.
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The beautiful Santa Maria Magdalena Church, at Riego de Amblos.
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The huge chestnut trees around Riego de Amblos are very impressive.
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Peregrinos descending through El Acebo de San Miguel.
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The way through El Acebo de San Miguel
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This long distance traveler humbled us, pulling his cart up this agonizing climb. He had a map of his journey on the side of his cart, showing that he began somewhere in Poland.
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I like this shot Rachael took. For a change, it gives a sense of how steep this climb is.
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One of the easier stretches, perhaps a mere six or seven percent. She’s just cruising up at a relaxed cadence here.
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A last look back at Ponferrada, far off in the valley.
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Lunch break, at the top at last.
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Well, we stopped for lunch just shy of the summit actually. There are still a few hundred more feet to the high point, after rolling along the crest for a mile or two. This monument is the Cruz de Fierro, at the highest point on the French Camino.
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An organized bike group arrives coming from the other direction, sporting sleek racing bikes and no baggage. We all scramble to the top for a shot at the famous monument.
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Cruz de Fierro, the high point on the French Camino.
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Over the top now, our work for the day is done.  It’s a long, gradual descent east into the open plains of central Spain, with inspiring views that extend seemingly forever.  It’s an easy grade on this side - the pass is much harder the direction we’ve come - so we can relax, freewheel, and absorb the views on the empty, smooth roads.

It feels like we’ve crossed into a new region here, and our home for the next few weeks as we turn south through toward Extramadura, hopping through a series of two night stays at historical towns.  It should be great, with a forecast for near perfect weather in the days ahead.  It feels like our spin through Galicia and into Northern Portugal was a small pre-tour to the main event, which starts here.

Good news greets us when we check in at our hotel, just a few blocks from Astorga’s most important monuments - a small package from Amazon.  Rachael’s new camera mount arrived, as planned.  Video tomorrow!

And, to end on a technical note.  We observe with pride that we didn’t lose anything or encounter any next adversities today or yesterday.  Two adversity-free days, and counting!

Dropping off to the east, we descend into a vast, open expanse. A different Spain lies ahead.
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Entering Tabinal de Camino, we see our first stork nest of the tour. This one’s empty today, but we’re hopeful that we’ll see a stork or three in the coming weeks.
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First sight of Astorga. Also, our first look at Rachael’s new 9 euro windbreaker.
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Astorga’s awesome cathedral greets us as we weave our way into town.
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Ride stats today: 34 miles, 3,900’; for the tour: 258 miles, 15,100’

Today's ride: 34 miles (55 km)
Total: 258 miles (415 km)

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Angela NaefWhew! Nice work on the climbing especially loaded and with residual colds. You guys are tough, We’re loving the photos!
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2 months ago
Jen GrumbyHere's to diminishing colds and adversity-free days (AFD)!!
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2 months ago
Scott AndersonTo Angela NaefNot as tough as we’d like to be, but we were happy to rise to the occasion today. Thanks for the encouragement!
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2 months ago
Scott AndersonTo Jen GrumbyStreak!!
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2 months ago
Jacquie GaudetHave you tried putting your phone on airplane mode? Some GPS apps will still work that way--you can see where you are on your route but you can't search and find a new route.

Battery drain is why I bought my Garmin after trying my phone as an activity tracker for a (rather long) day ride.
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2 months ago
Tricia GrahamI have got rid of my Garmin and use my phone on a handle bar mount all the time. The amount of battery it chews up is a problem but I attach it to a power bank which I carry in my front bag
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2 months ago
Scott AndersonTo Jacquie GaudetOh, well there’s an obvious idea that didn’t occur to me. Thanks!
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2 months ago
Carolyn van HoeveYou might want to check out the Komoot app and see how it compares to RideWith GPS ? You can download the maps to use offline and it’s specifically for cycling.
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2 months ago
Scott AndersonTo Carolyn van HoeveThanks, Carolyn. I could check it out, but I’m pretty content with RideWithGPS after working with it for so long. It also has downloadable maps, as long as I don’t forget to download them.
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2 months ago
Ron Suchanek+1 on the battery backup. I've got one that's pretty small and will charge both phones fully and still have little juice left. I used a cellphone for navigation.
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1 month ago