Day Thirty Three: St. Jean Pied de Port to Espinal: Grampies Use Napoleon Route, Invade Spain - Grampies Go On Their Knees - CycleBlaze

April 29, 2017

Day Thirty Three: St. Jean Pied de Port to Espinal: Grampies Use Napoleon Route, Invade Spain

As requested by Sabine, the owner/operator of our gite, everyone reported for breakfast at 6:30 a.m. We all ate "en famille". Sabine is definitely skimping on stuff (like no bath mat, soap, or towels) and her breakfast fit the mold, with just old but toasted baguette pieces, butter and jam, and commercial yogurt in plastic. Still the whole town seemed to be full, and our gite was too, with Peter - the man from Medicine Hat - accommodated on a hide a bed in the common room.

By 7, as advertised, we were out of there. The pilgrim welcome people had given us a guide sheet showing the way to Roncevalles. The sheet identified a "red" route, which is the one used by walkers, unless closed by bad weather. Then there was the "green" route, on road and used by cyclists and walkers in bad weather. So all our companions beetled off up the red route, leaving us to the green.

Dodie and Peter (from Medicine Hat) fuelling up to tackle the Pass
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The rest of the "family" at breakfast
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The red route and the green route
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Lots of walkers setting off - 99% will take the off road but more difficult red route
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We expected this to be a tough uphill slog and that's how it began. Or actually, it began with some steep uphills and also some descents. Dodie pedalled up slopes she otherwise would be pushing. This was because it was early in the day and also because she was pumped to succeed with this climb. We moved along quite smartly, I thought, and soon came to a place with several large stores. Only a little later did it dawn on me that we had not only entered Spain, but that these stores were positioned on the border no doubt to sell at lower prices to French customers.

The terrain was of course all new to us, but it was certainly recognizable as something like Bavaria. There were sheep high on the hills, cows that looked a little Swiss, green alpine meadows. We passed through two little towns, the second being Valcarlos. It had a church, but we did not try to look inside, being focussed on making the climb. However it also had a touching mural depicting the church, a village dancer, pilgrim, and a few other local landmarks. This made a pleasant diversion.

Mountain sheep
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Mountain cow
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In this photo and the two following, the main impression seems to be of green. But at the time, the main impression was of mountains
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The Camino as we enter Spain
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The church in Valcarlos
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The mural in Valcarlos - the church is recognizable in the background
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I had misunderstood the "green" route as being the cycling route. It was a fine point. Certainly cyclists would use the green route, but that did not necessarily mean they would always stick only to the green line. The critical point arrived near the little hamlet of Ganecoleta. The "Camino" sign pointed down a little road to the hamlet, way down by a rushing stream. The road continued up and to the right. The green route went down. So we went down, way down. At the end of town the road ended in a paved path. OK. But then the paved path turned to dirt and headed straight up. We backed out and returned to "town". There a man confirmed that the dirt track was going to continue staight up, to the top of the pass.

So we were back on the road. Traffic was light, but with tight curves there were poor sight lines. So we kept switching sides of the road, staying away from the outside corners.

Down in Ganecoleta - mistake!
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This path is going nowhere - for a bike anyway
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We needed the yellow road, not the green path at this point!
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Retreating from Ganecoleta, we noticed this strange roof construction
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One of the few walkers on the green route. This man has two new knees - 9 months old. He says recovery is not yet complete, but he seemed to walk on very strongly. Nine months ago, he said, before the operation he could not walk at all.
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Escape from Ganecoleta
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We looked up at the hills and began to cautiously congratulate ourselves, for the hills seemed to be parting, letting us believe the pass might soon be at hand. At this stage we were only pushing, there being no question of anything level or gently up, let alone down.

So we pushed, up and up. Normally Dodie can only walk a few kms, using the two sticks. But the bike is more effective, acting as a walker and she can go further with it. Even so, this was unrelenting and steep up and up.

The road continued up, unreasonably up. Then it went up more. I mean, you would look up and see a car up there. After a while it would come down to our level. We in turn would push, push, until we could look way down at the road bit we used to be on.

This switchback is an easy (shallow) one, lower on the pass. Later, the road was ascending literally a vertical face and you could look far down at the road you came up from.
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As we try to cope with the change to Spanish, Basque language is not helping at all
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Hard to see, but the camera is looking far down at the road we just ascended
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At slow Grampie speed I seldom get tired or strained. But after seven hours of pushing, it was getting wearing. I have no idea how Dodie was doing it. One advantage early in the day was that despite a starting temperature very near freezing, we were not cold. We had started wearing all our clothes, save those we use as pyjamas, but were able to take off a lot quite soon. But nearing the top, there was a bitter and hard wind. It chilled us, but we had hopes of reaching shelter soon and did not relayer up. At points we had to stop because of wind gusts. Then I was glad of my heavily loaded bike. I just squeezed the brakes and hung on to it.

After a really and truly unreasonable amount of climbing, the little chapel at the summit appeared. Locked, or we might have bedded down right there. After that it was steeply down. The wind of the descent was chilling too, but we knew that Roncevalles would be close at hand. It was, and since it it a small town there was no problem in finding the tourist information.

Made it! This is the chapel at the top of the Ibaneta pass.
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Tourist information was a little disconcerting because everyone was speaking in Spanish. But when we got through the car or camper van borne tourists and got to talk to someone, his english was exellent. Still he told us there was no room in the town. Dodie was at the end of her tether by this point, chilled, exhausted. She started to cry. The man said breathe, said something could be done - such as a taxi to another place. More tears. We sat Dodie down and I plied her with chocolate from Bayonne. That helped a lot. Meanwhile the man phoned maybe ten places. Lots of fast Spanish, but even I could hear the message - no way. Finally, the man did come up with a place in Espinal, about 6 km distant. With the help of the chocolate, Dodie could do that.

The three towns, Roncevalles, Burguette, and Espinal were clearly different from French ones - cleaner, less crumbly. At Espinal I went into a restaurant with the B&B name and address written on a piece of paper. with no language, felt helpless, and the waitresses had no idea. But a patron did. she took me out in the street and in halting English pointed the way.

The B&B lady was very kind, and spoke some French, so we were able to handle the parking of the bikes and other details quite easily. Also the building is gorgeous - lots of nice wood, tile bathrooms. So all was well, except that the usually successful plan of putting exhausted Dodie in bed did not work - knees were now reacting to so much pushing and too painful to allow her to rest. It took four more hours for drugs to kick in so maybe she can rest.

I went down and ate supper with the three walkers who also are here. They also reported that they had had to carry on from Roncevalles to Burguete to Espinal looking for a place. Even in Espinal, they said, the first two places they tried were full.

We have reacted to all that by booking a place in relatively nearby Pamplona (40 km?). Dodie's knees are going to need a short day, and Pamplona is big. Still, the place we would have chosen, based on Rick Steves, was fully booked. Apparently Monday is a holiday, so this is a holiday weekend. We sure hope the rest of Spain will not end up being full all the time!

In the Roncevalles TI. Some tears and the young man, saved the day.
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Leaving Roncevalles. we did not really have a chance to look at the place
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Still some distance to go
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Burguete
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A typical building in this region
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Say what?
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Near our B&B on the main street.
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The B&B has beautiful wood and tile. 38 euros only.
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Where we have been and where we are going. There are still a few bumps in the profile coming up on the way to Pamplona.
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Today's ride: 37 km (23 miles)
Total: 1,453 km (902 miles)

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