Saturday, 2 August 2008

Up and down in the Kingdom of Navarre

Riding tandem is a strangely solitary experience when your stoker has his mp3 on. When Cameron disappears into his earpieces, to a world of Molly Moon and Monsters Inc, I'm riding solo; except I've got 100 kilos of cargo pulling me backwards for each pedal forwards. Some pilgrims carry stones with them on their journey, each stone a sin to be redeemed on arrival in Santiago. I wonder if it has to be stones, or is there some kind of weight for weight equivalent I can claim.

The road is quiet except for a regular little click that comes from my bottom bracket. Click. One for each turn of the pedal. Click. Tapping out my cadence. Click. It's slow now, as we crawl uphill. Click. My watch, fastened to my handlebars tells me the time, climb and altitude. Click. I time the clicks. 40 per minute. A slow grind. Click.

As pedalling pilgrims we travel the camino at a changing pace, our speed determined to some extent by how fresh our legs are but mostly by gradient and terrain. It's a marked contrast to perambulating pilgrims who seem to plod along, clacking their sticks at the same pace all day long. Crossing the Kingdom of Navarre is a tough undertaking whichever way you travel, first requiring that crossing of the Pyrenees, then negotiating the numerous ups, downs and hilltop towns of the Camino as it makes its way through and beyond the plains of Pamplona towards Rioja and Castille.

Sometimes our progress seems almost imperceptible. This morning a kilometre uphill took 20 minutes. Plenty of time to notice the scent of pine and eucalyptus. Click. To examine delicate flowers growing in the verges. Click. To watch olives growing on trees and lizards basking by the side of the road Click. To notice a bead of sweat form on your forehead, slide down your nose, making a salty trail to your lip. Click. To wonder why on earth you are doing this.

Then looking up, there's the brow of the hill. The prospect of redemption, release from the grind. Suddenly I feel a change of rhythm; pedals spin easier. Click. Click. Lifting my head I see a new horizon; opening up slowly at first; a new stage of the unfolding Camino. A sepulchre high on a hill, bells chiming, shadowy medieval streets, a bar, an ice cream, a tortilla bocadillo. But no time to contemplate this now. Click. Click. No pressure on my pedals now. We're freewheeling. Accelerating.

Clickety, clickety, click. A breeze in my hair at last. Sweat evaporating in the wind of descent. Thirty, forty, fifty kilometres an hour. Landscape rushing past but no time to look. Clickety, clickety, click. Concentrating hard; gripping the bars; keep the bike on track. 100 kilos of sins forcing us down the hill; faster, even faster. Clickety, clickety, click. Noisy now; flags flappering, tyres humming, wind whistling, whipping along at sixty, tuck down low, reduce resistance, nudging seventy. Clickety, clickety, click. One, two, three kilometres. At this pace we'll be in Santiago by lunchtime. Three kilometrea in three glorious minutes. Consumed in hard earned joy but noticing nothing. Perhaps there's a different joy in the perambulating clackety plod.