The roads were indeed wet as I left fond memories of George and Natalie further behind with each pedal stroke. The threatening clouds were just that, threatening, never amounting to anything but bluster. By evening those grey clouds broke and scattered for the open ocean further south, leaving in thier wake a magnificent sunset to end a long day on the cranks. I am now headed north up thru Pais Basque country. North, too yet another friends house.
My route is along the smallest most remote “D”roads I can find. Abundant hardwoods are festooned in thier autumn splendor, vibrant shades and hues are dabbled like so much paint on an artists easel……God has his hand in the landscape on display. The countryside is rolling a little higher and steeper with each passing mile. One full day of brilliant sunshine is followed by a nasty day of rain and wind which kept me pinned in my tent for the entire day. Survived the day of rain without much damage to me, my tent or contents.
Broke free of the mud and mire that was my bedding ground for away to long. Further south, and many short steep climbs, takes me along cathedral trail as I came to call it. As you rode along, it just seemed that each distant hill had a Cathedral sitting at it’s crest. A statement of a time now past in largely secular France. Each day comprised some 25-35 short and often very steep climbs. The further north by northwest I went, the longer and harder the hills became, down to the point that some I simply had to push my bike up. The grand vista which lay always over my left shoulder, was that of the snow mantled Pyrennes. The white caps of snow recede into the vibrant hues of hardwood trees which inturn gave ground to the verdant green pastureland. Grazing white sheep dot the green grass like giant cotton balls across the Pais Basque lanscape.
Busy with pedalling, grunting and farting to claim yet another hilltop village, I was passed by a small truck with 2 road bikes in the back. We all waved and smiled and I rezumed my pedalling. Some few moments later I actually crested that hill, arriving in a small town square with a tiny church as its focal point. There on the side of the road was a fellow biker sort of cheering me on, I stopped in order to catch my breath and exchange cycling pleasantries. It turns out this fellow had met up with the two fellows in the truck mentioned earlier, they were bedecked in the latest racing spandex and team colors, ready to tear up the roads of rural France. They were sort of laughing scoffing at my road tractor…..eh, bike. Her all black paint, and dull colored appointments, bags hanging off any and every place you could hang something from. She is no beauty when sitting beside the carbon fibre works of art they road…….too many smiles and snide comments for to simply shut up. All 3 of these fellows were and still are younger than am I, so, I motioned for the very first fellow I met to come over with his bike……it took a little coaxing, but finally he rolled his bike on over. Holding it by the crossbar, I hoisted it over my shoulder one handed, nothing difficult, it only wieghs like 11 pounds. Then I motion for him to come around opposite of me and hold my bike…….slowly, tenatively he approaches the offside of my bike….holding the seat and handlebars…….I ask him if he “has” my bike because I will let go. With a broad smile he nods and claims his metallic prize. His smile oh so quickly fades into that of total shock, eyes like pie plates as both he and the bike fall strait over backwards…….perfectly pinning him to the ground with its wieght. Oh how I wanted to slap my leg laughing…………but no, not me, I held my composure as I helped him out from under my steed. All three left with a little more respect for those who travel the long lonesome road of a world voyage………..soon as they left I tossed out all the bricks I had put in my bags…just kidding.
Much of my ride or roads has coincided with the Compostella route. The via de Compostella has actually several routes and names. So let me explain if I can. You may even want to rent the movie called “The Way”, starring Martin Sheen….a good flick. This movie set in modern times uses the Compostella as the scripts backbone, and the people you meet in the movie
added the human story to a biblical frame. Yes, the Compostella is a biblical pilgrimage story of one Saint James. But, like all good stories there are twists, turns, and yes even an occasional half truth. Once here, in Europe that is, you will find there are actually three walks by various Saints, it,s just that the pilgrimage of Saint James is the best known. Since I am now in Spain, I will add yet another bizarre twist to the whole Compostella story. The reason for the original walk was one of duty and a Godly calling by that of Saint James, walking from Rome to Santiago de Compostella on the sea coast of northern Spain. That pilgrimage journey has morphed over the years into many who walk for a Godly reason, but it may have to do with asking for a miraculous healing, or thanks for such an event…..but with an eye and heart towards God the creator. Slowly the secular crowd have also taken to walking the Compostella as well. Since the original Compostella route makes abundant use of abbeys and churches as places of refuge for weary travellers on thier personal pilgrimage…..it stands to reason that overtime the secular nonbeliever types would have thier voices heard as well. So, as I am told today while in Ondarrua Spain, located on the atlantic coast, there is a new route growing in popularity which takes in more scenery and hotels and far less hardship and churches. Trust a total disbeliver to screw up an intimate human spiritually guided story.
Anyways to the point. Once again the day finds me rolling into the base of yet another hill in my path towards days end. Ahead of me is a walker……I have seen enough of them that I can pick them out from simple day hikers. He is an aged man ( oops, turns out he is same age as myself ) slightly stooped, walking stick in hand and a backpack…..the classic “compostellaian” as I call them. Rolling up beside him, he turns to greet me and our visit begins. I can see he wears the Compostella sea shell around his neck, and he carries a simple stone in his pocket, which he proudly shows me. The sea shell is an adornment visible on houses who have over the years supported the travelling pilgrims with both food and shelter, a marker to all who see it declaring your intenttions as a pilgrim. The stone on the other hand is carried as a symbol of the wieght of your personal infliction, and at the far end of your journey you toss your stone onto the mountain of stones carried by thousands of others who walked before you.
This fellow was placed in my path by God not by accident. Please read on. Being from Spain, and being 65 when he began his walk, he wanted it to be a true or real pilgrimage likes that of James. He left Barcellona
with what he could wear, a simple blanket to sleep, but not one penny in his pocket. He has never bought a meal, never bought a hotel room and never went without. Kindness of Christ and the saints who dwell among us has been his constant companion on this incredible pilgrimage……but in a very bizarre way it gets even better. Eventually our visit turns to myself and my own journey which is always fun to share. Quickly though, my mention of Mongolia and Russia ellicit a broad smile and excitement in his eyes, it was easy too see the chage in his composure. He begins to tell me about his nephew and a friend who left Barcellona 2 years ago as well, and how they are travelling around the world and rode thru Russia and Mongolia just this summer as well. It is astounding to me, just how small the world is and how interconnected our lives become if we just have the courage to get off the couch and begin living the life that God has planned for us. I ask Antonio, my trekking friend……”does your nephew have long hair that is very curly, and does his friend Carlos have thick black hair…..are they maybe 30 years old. “Yes, yes, thees is my nephew and Carlos, do you read they story?”. No I said, I am pretty sure I met them both in Russia. His face went totally blank, like someone just pulled his hard-drive out……..the look that followed was that of disbelief. Seeing that we had a bit of a mental disconnect, I get out my phone and scrolled back thru images……sure enough, I find the 2 guys Pine and I met and whom fit the description he gave. When I showed him the image, it was unbelievable for him that I would have an image of his nephew in my phone……..I thought he was going to faint or kiss me for joy. We both acknowledged God’s divine hand within moments and events like these, both of us knowing we are pilgrims on different journeys but with the same end goal. If you go back to Blog post 15, you will read my mention of both these fellows and thier own amazing 50,000km journey thus far.
Dang but I am long winded at times, but just too many good stories and memories too not take a moment and share them with all of you. My itinerary has me rolling headlong into the village of Ustaritz at the heart of Pais Basque country. Where proudly the Basque lay claim to a region within both France and Spain….as, thier own. Just a provincial region south I was rolling thru Gascogne where it seemed cows and cereal grain farming ruled. But rolling out of that region into what is Basque country it is easy to see that sheep have amply replaced cattle, and grazing takes precedence over farming. The grass is still thick and vibrant green, yes, even this late in the year. The hills just get steeper by the minute, so tractor type farming would not work here. Within Ustaritz is another friend, Pierre Duinat, or the wild haired one as I call him. We both met during my saddletree making class, and a good friend he became. Knowing my route took me north, he made me an offer of a place to stay and a meal if I so chose. Pierre lives as a widower, a man preoccupied with interests and hobbies, and like many of us….TIME is his curse. The house is 3 story, huge and grand all in one breath. The ground floor is all hand cut stone of some 16″square, hardwood timbers make up the roof of each level, rock cut and stacked 3 stories tall and 3 feet thick at ground level. The upper two floors have 12″wide heavy oak flooring with hand forged “TEE” style nails holding the beautiful character laden boards in place. High 12 foot cielings, heavy hardwood doors and shutters at every turn. You wind your way vertically in the house on a 8 foot staircase. Each room repleat with a 6 foot wide fireplace, the dining room has an 8 foot wide fireplace. And it all sits in the middle of 20 unspoiled acres of assorted fruit and nut trees. Built in 16 something, it was the last place that Jean Lafeyette slept in his home country before setting sail for the Americas to aid us in our War of Independance.
Thankyou Pierre for a great visit and fine meals sitting in your garden.