12/19/2011 to the End of the World


Finisterre is the name of the peninsula that pilgrims would come to after walking to Santiago and seeing the crypt of St. James, one of Jesus’s apostles. The name means literally, “the end of land”. It was the end of the world for early pilgrims who would watch in amazement as the sun went into the ocean.

My how things have changed. Now people bicycle around the world. A hotel and lighthouse clutter the point. Normally thronged with tourists there is a bus parking lot and public bathrooms.

I think I would have liked seeing it 500 years ago. I would have liked to have felt that awe that earlier pilgrims felt. But I can’t get past my global awareness. Alone on a cold December morning I console myself with peeing off the end of the world, a rare opportunity on a small planet.

But oh, what a beautiful morning to be out on a bicycle.

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Looking east into the coastline of Spain.

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Fishing boat.

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Ahh, the Finisterre peninsula. The town is Fisterra.

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Pilgrim’s progress.

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The hotel and lighthouse at the tip of the Finisterre peninsula.

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The goats of Finisterre.

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Finisterre looking west.

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Hey, someone left a brass boot.

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Looking East, up the coast of Spain. That is a radio tower.

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On the ride back to Cee, where I spend a second night. Cee is tucked into the inlet before the mountain.

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Once again the truth of the saying “It’s the journey, not the destination.” is verified. My thoughts now turn south towards Portugal and Morocco. I am excited to wake up tomorrow, pack my bike and ride. How wonderful to look forward to each day with enthusiasm- and a little trepidation. I’ve made a cheat sheet of Portuguese words which I have tucked into my handlebar bag to study as I ride.

12/18/2011 to Cee, on the Finisterra peninsula.

Some days are vast spaces of inner quiet. I only get tinges of frustration or impatience on these days. The rain? No problem. 37 degrees? More layers. The rain came and went and so did the sun.

For me the body power thing is humbling. Everyone else rushes past with enormously superior power and speed. I inch along. Sometimes I fall into rightousness about superior ecology or present moment awareness, but it just means I’m defensive.

What I am doing is slow and takes work and the payoffs are not outwardly evident. What a colorful oddball I am inching along ignoring the vastly superior transport that flies past. How blind can I be? What a simpleton!

Taking a car makes so much sense for most people’s mindset, it’s hard to argue with! But which came first, the mindset or the car? Could it be that cars have changed the way our minds work? Could it be that cars have changed our values?

Riding a bike is not an economy, but a luxury- of time. I feel rich in time. Rich in pleasure. Rich in health and connection.

Driving a car is a type of poverty.

Ok, Ok, my soapbox is shattering under the weight.
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Leaving Santiago, headed for Finisterra the end of the Medieval world.

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I’m cycling in a cloud.

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They’re not crypts or mini churches or covered bridges to nowhere. They were built to store grain. They don’t appear to be used anymore. There are many scattered around the countryside.

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Overlooking Cee.

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Cee Harbor.

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The Finisterra peninsula.

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12/17/2011 Santiago


If you can overlook religion you can look at cathedrals as works of art symbolizing the noblest thoughts and feelings of mankind.

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Here, hopefully, you are lifted from your ordinary state of mind into something more sublime, reflective.

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Set dogma aside, know nothing of religion, and enter one of these works of art in wonder.

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Find testimony to the beauty and power of the human spirit and your own spirit will be moved.

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You pass through this simple door to receive the credentials for completing your pilgrimage. I was moved, almost crying to be here.

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I linger in the cathedral afterwards.

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The Cathedral

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There is a lot to feel and think about.

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A minister is giving a sermon. He is small and old, his sermon worn and monotonous, his coughing interrupts his frail voice. How wrong in such a place. Man, there should be a rippin drum circle instead. Or George Cluny and Angelina Jolie shooting lightning bolts. Or Mick Jaggger swinging upside down from the ceiling and rockin “Satisfaction,” the pipe organ shaking the stones, and 100 nuns interjecting “hallelujah.” You get the idea. Alas, I may never see anything so appropriate, so I use my imagination.

12/16/2011 Into Santaigo and the end of my pilgrimage.


It’s 4:30 AM. Can’t sleep. The wind is gusting around the hotel, flapping flags and banging everything not tied down. I stick my face out the window. The rain is cold and stinging. I feel excited to soon be cycling in this storm. My reaction surprises me. I feel powerful, and vulnerable at once. My vulnerability makes it exciting, the power is in casting myself into the storm and sailing it to Santiago, the end of my pilgrimage.

3:30 PM. The reality is less appealing. A strong headwind sends that stinging rain into my face all day. A dozen times the wind pushes me to a dead stop. I don’t really understand how I can get so soaked, with my waterproof jacket and pants, but I do. They cling to me like cold Saran wrap. My waterproof gloves and waterproof socks are soaked and cold and squishy. I grab the handlebars tightly and water squeezes out of my gloves. I am cranking into the wind and rain in my lowest gears all day.

I do reach Santiago, and dive into a private hostel for the night. The owner is Spanish and very loud. I know he is not angry or upset. It’s the Spanish way, the other end of my laid back California way. So I keep listening and paying close attention and don’t react. He is actually very helpful and soon starts laughing and calling me friend. I put my hand on his shoulder in the Spanish way and all is good.

Another couple shows up at the hostel. They see my bike and ask “Hey, are you that guy that’s cycling around the world? We heard about you from another hiker….” Can you feel the smile on my face?

My pilgrims passport showing some stamps. It has been soaked, tattered and taped.

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Tomorrow I see the cathedral and get my certificate. What fun this has been!

12/15/2011 to Melide, Spain


Blood and sex. That’s what people want. I’ll start with sex. So what is it like to sleep with a dozen others in a dorm?

Strangely comforting, the way animals must feel in a barn with their own kind. There is a vulnerability in sleeping in the same room together. We are collectively saying, ” I will not harm you, and you will not harm me.” Everyone makes an effort to be respectful and quiet.

Night might be silent, but sleeping is not. The Italian guy two bunks over murmurs something and rolls over. The heavy Spaniard on my left kicks something in his dream. The nine year old French boy makes a high pitched whistling as he sleeps. A dreaming Korean girl says something quite loud in Korean. The noises comes to a stop as everyone is roused, there is general rustling, and in a few minutes, silence again.

Now someone gets up to use the bathroom. The snorer is woken. He rolls over and begins to snore more loudly. One pilgrim can’t sleep. He tosses, frustrated, trying to decide what to do. A small flashlight clicks on. He unzips his pack. Earplugs are retrieved. The noise rouses the snorer who shifts position and stops snoring.

I sigh and let sleep take me….

Ok, OK, that’s not really sex. I’ve disappointed you, but that’s how it is with me and sex.

Let’s try blood.

This farmer is butchering his hog. He is holding it aloft with his tractor. He says he butchers three hogs a year to feed his family. He kills it humanely, first with a little gas to calm it, then a special gun that shoots a rod into it’s brain. The hog dies in a second. That’s mom in the background with a neighbor.

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The son with the bucket collects the liver, intestines, etc. He takes them into the house to mom for processing. Nothing is wasted.

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I think photography is about photographing light. The subject is secondary, good lighting makes everything beautiful. Grey overcast days are flat, but when the sun does break through there is magic.

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Many house use thin slabs of shale for their roofs.

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I cross paths with Carlos, a Spanish cyclist from Madrid and we cycle into Melide together. He is going to stay in a hotel that costs 20 euros. He says it has a private bath and internet.

I decide that is what I want to do too. The room is very nice and I am pleased, I’ll sleep well tonight. But I do miss my stable mates.

12/14/2011 to Sarria


Arrhythmia is a great teacher of going slow. In fact, any disability is a great teacher. What do disabilities teach? They teach us self acceptance, mindfulness, independent thinking, and to create values that are self chosen.

I am a student today. The road is hilly and there is a headwind and I am cycling as easily as possible. No pushing, my heart will not allow it. Speed. What is it with going fast? Why do we seem to hold speed as the highest value? Is it richer to have more experiences by rushing from one to the next or to l-i-n-g-e-r? Are experiences something to be consumed like doughnuts or created from the richness of your presence?

Cars rush around me. I hear their thoughts, my thoughts: “Why doesn’t he get a car, he’ll never get anywhere at that rate?” “Thank God I’m not doing that.” “I’ll show him how it’s done, just a little push on the accelerator, and zoom, I’m up the hill.”

Speeding cars make a noise like air being ripped. They rip away the many pleasures of travel, leaving their owners with the hollowness of speed and convenience. What about an autumn leaf that falls in your path? What about the sensation of the sun warming your nose? What about eye contact with a curious cow? What about the dip into coolness next to a river? Who is the bird singing to? What about the wake up of gulping icy air? What about the moment to moment shifts of color and shadow as the clouds and sun dance? All deemed worthless before the God of Speed.

Then I spot two touring cyclists ahead of me. I can spot cycling weakness, I know the signs. The man is strong but the woman is a novice and weak. They move at her pace. I can catch and pass them. They stop to take off a layer. Hah! I gain on them. They spot me coming and hustle to get going. They pull ahead. Game on. I put out more effort than I should and get dizzy. Damn arrythmia. Must slow down. They get away.

I reconcile myself with philosophy.

But wait! They’ve pulled over at a cafe! Now I’m in the lead! Yay! I hold the lead for two anxious hours. Then I confidently stop to snack. Oh no, here they come! “Hola”, “Hola”,”Hola”.

Sensibility gradually returns. I am out of speeds spell. For the remainder of this unique and beautiful day I cycle as gently and as richly as I can.

Two pilgrims gazing towards Santiago.

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12/13/2011 to Cebreiro


When things are going well all the higher functions come out to play. I breeze along on a warm day feeling gratitude, wonder, love, a sense of unity, a sense of peace, and a sense of well being. Today is not that day. Those higher realms of pleasure are stripped away by the cold gusty headwind and hard rain, and the effort of climbing 2200 feet in those conditions. My inner clothes are soaked from sweat and my rain gear is soaked from rain. Stopping for more than two minutes is not an option because I start shivering.

I keep going because I have no other options. The reality is survival. Hypothermia is a 10 minute rest away. I struggle to stay clear headed and to balance pace for body warmth with slowness for endurance. I cannot mess up.

The old road becomes so steep and the headwind so persuasive, that for 5 kilometers I push the bike uphill, achieving small goals with a minute rest reward.

At the peak is an albergue. It must be open, and thankfully it is. But I cannot decide if I should bring the bike inside or just walk in. But should I walk in all wet or shed wet layers outside? Can’t decide. Can’t decide. I know what is happening so I just do something, walk in. Water streams from my clothes- inner and outer- and onto the tile floor. My numb fingers fumble with the soaked currency, almost everything is soaked.

I’m better now, a hot shower and some food later. I dry everything while sitting on top of the clothes dryer for warmth, and singing for attitude.

No photos. Today was too real. The camera crew quit. The wind howls around the albergue now, shaking the windows and making the doors rattle. The human animal survived and withdraws until needed again. His home is dark and hard to see into, but I know his name.

12/12/2011 into Ponferrada


This AM a Canadian pilgrim and I explore the inside of the cathedral in Astorga together. When I look at the altar piece, considered to be a masterpiece of woodworking, tears come forth again. After a few minutes the feeling passes. It feels good to be overwhelmed by beauty.

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Detail

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The pipe organ spreads it’s wings above the choir.
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I climb 2000 feet and am almost a mile high. The temperature is in the 30′s. If I stop riding, I start shivering in minutes. Must keep the muscles working to stay warm.

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THe iron cross at the top of the summit. The origin and meaning of the iron cross has bee lost in the fog of time. A 20 foot high pile of rocks is built up around the base, tossed there by pilgrims like me over the decades.

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The view on the descent.

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Lots of villages on the way, each with it’s own charms.

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I end the day in Ponferrada, which translates literally to iron bridge. The city is named after a bridge that was built for pilgrims in the year 1200. I can’t find it. I think it is rusted away. I’ll look again tomorrow on my way out of town.

12/11/2011 into Astorga


Javier and I say our goodbyes at the hostel. Like all good goodbyes, I am sad. He takes off for church and I make one more round of the sights.

Then I run into Javier who is waiting for church to start. He invites me to attend. I hesitate, then accept. I have never been to a real Catholic sermon and in such a grand cathedral. I am rewarded. Though I understand very few words, I can sort of hum along, and I like the minister, who delivers his sermon with a passion, directing it at the 4 young people in the audience. I am stopped from partaking of the body of Jesus Christ by the woman next to me, who has figured out I don’t belong. That’s cool. To have the minister put a cracker in my mouth would be odd.

Javier persuades me to see the museum which is now open. They don’t allow photographs. I see a room full of 1000 year old church artifacts, sarcophagus’s of kings, a room full of leather paged hand copied bibles next to four foot tall hymn books. Javier explains. In the days before printing presses when books were hand copied, it was too much work to make a separate book for each chorus member. So they made one big book that 20 people could read at once. The books smell like must and old leather and dead air. I inhale deeply the books molecules making them part of me.

I start cycling at 11:30.

Cycling over a Roman bridge. Those Romans were everywhere leaving impressive public works.

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The auburge in Astorga is a converted convent. Five euros a night. I set out to see the sights before it gets dark and freezes.

Astorga has an impressive density of high powered architecture for a town just bigger than a village. I walk past an open excavation of a Roman house, with a marvelous tile floor circa 200.

And there is a Gaudi in town.

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Now that is a focused entrance- on the Gaudi.

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And the cathedral is right next to it. What a pair. You walk around a corner and WHAM. They hit you in the gut like stepping out of a timeship airlock.

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The front of the cathedral. It is considered to be the height and finest example of the late barouque style. You look at the picture and think you have an idea of how big it is. It is bigger than that. What presence.

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Roman wall surrounding the old city. I’ll be over those mountains in the distant background tomorrow. The latest report is no snow- yet.

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Today marks two months that I have been cycling in Europe. I feel more confident that I can find the cycling pattern that is best for each place and season. I am more flexible and I improvise more. My ease in accepting has deepened. I have more control over my level of cheerfulness, but still need to improve here. I can ride slow and not feel like I should be going faster. My body has become leaner and stronger. I am better at letting each thing take the amount of time it takes; not rushing the experience. I am better at going with interruptions and changes to my careful plans. I play more easily and my heart feels more open. I am confident I will continue to meet good people all over the world.

12/10/2011 Into Leon with Javier


The morning is cold and raining. Javier and I set out before sunrise. We must ride on the streets because the Camino is muddy. Javier must return to Barcelona tomorrow, so we swing by the train station in Leon to get him a ticket.

Javier wants to celebrate and invites me to a favorite restaurant of his where the speciality is baby pig. These pigs are less than 5 weeks old and must meet certain max weight requirements- I think it was 6 lbs. The whole pig is slow roasted for a couple of hours and is so delicate that it is chopped with a plate at your table.

Baby pig being chopped with a plate.

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We have other delicacies like cow tongue, and beef that has been aged for two years by drying in the mountain air, and aged sausage, and a bottle of red wine that I am told best compliments these exotic flavors.

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Those of you who know my normal dining habits know what a stretch this is for me. I am doing fine, picking pork from delicate ribs, until Javier does me the honor of offering me the head of the pig. When I look at that baby face frozen in a tight grimace I have to decline. Javier explains how good the brains are, but I cannot be persuaded. We finish and head out to sightsee.

From a Roman bridge to a 1063 church, Leon is amazing.

San Marcos, now a luxury hotel. The state in order to best preserve the building has converted it. It costs about $1000 a night to stay there. If it was a hundred or two I would do it, it is so awe inspiring.

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Pilgrim gazing at San Marcos.

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Ceiling detail.

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Detail.

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Hotel courtyard.

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Hotel Museum

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Stained glass detail. If God is in the details, you will surely find him in this cathedral.

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Courtyard.

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Also in Leon is this amazing Gothic cathedral with grand vaults and a sky full of stained glass. It really does take your breath away and bring tears to your eyes. It is hard to get a sense of scale from the picture, but you have to stand a long way back to get it all in frame.

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Imagine the time in which this was built. A farmer would be plowing his field and look over and see construction begin. He would probably live in a simple adobe hut plastered with straw and mud. It would be finished 400 years before Columbus set off for America. There is an embarrassment of historical architectural riches along the pilgrim trail.

Let’s not forget this Gaudi designed now public building. He managed to combine familiar architectural elements in ways that to me look off worldly. Same notes, but he plays jazz.

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It is now AM in the Abbey where Javier and I are the only two guests.. The chatty social old caretaker shows up early as I am trying to finish this, and sets the table. He asks if I want coffee.

No gracias.

He asks if I want pan. This means a chunk of something like Melba toast.

No gracias. He asks if I want leche.

No, tengo. He is sure I mast be mistaken and asks if I want milk- in english.

No, tengo.

No tenamious? he queries.

I affirm. He throws his hands up to show his frustration. He then tells me I am carrying way too much weight and explains how he only walks with one change of clothes. He shakes his head in disbelief at someone carrying a computer. I suggest he wake up Javier and get breakfast for him. He wakes up Javier. As I finish typing I hear Javier being polite.