Run fast ... fall down

Run fast ... fall down

Friday, September 11, 2015

Camino de Santiago - Santiago to Finisterre in a day

I got invited to give a talk at a conference in Santiago de Compostela in NW Spain. Actually there were 3 conferences in the same week, one on fundamental processes in quantum dots (M-T), one on ferroelectricity (W) and another on solution processed solar cells (Th-F). Luckily for me, I don't know jack about ferroelectricity, however the other 2 are right up my alley. This left me with a day in the middle of the week with no plans.

I googled Santiago de Compostela when I first heard about this conference about a year ago to see if I wanted to go. Then I randomly got asked to speak and read up a little bit more. It turns out that on a plane I once saw a movie called "The Way" which was about Emilio Estevez doing a long distance personal journey hike - Appalachian Trail style - across northern Spain. The trail system is huge and extends many countries but all the trails end in Santiago. It's a pilgrimage. One is said to have "done" the Camino de Santiago if they walk at least 100 km of the trail. There are many ways to "do" the camino, and everyone does it their own way.

Many do the "French Way" - which is a month or more and starts in France, some start in Germany, UK and some others bike, but I began thinking, does anyone run it? With a day to sightsee and 100 km needed to do the C-d-S, it seemed plausible that I could take a bus 100 km out of town and run back.

Then I found out about a co-worker who did the French route earlier this year. I set up a meeting with her to find out details, if I could run - would that be disrespectful to the pilgrims, did she ever see any runners, how would I find water/food/(aid stations), etc. She pointed me to another option which is a part of the trail she didn't walk which goes from Santiago to Finisterre. It goes to the ocean and was advertised to be 3-4 long days away, depending on walking speed. After some more searching and mapping the whole trail out it was also about 100 km. I looked into that and Finisterre used to be believed to be the end ("Fin-") of the world ("-terre"). The westernmost point of the old world. So I changed my plans and decided to take on the route from my hotel room to the end of the world - the Atlantic Ocean - which was 55 miles away.

I had a dinner banquet to go to on Tuesday night, and dinner is crazy late in Spain. Restaurants don't open until 7-9 PM and often dinner is much later. I got back to my hotel at 1 AM and packed up all my stuff and planned to leave at 4:30 AM. However I couldn't sleep at all after being exhausted all day - jet lag. It became 3:30 and I was still wide awake. I pushed back my alarm to 5 and then somehow fell right asleep for only an hour and a half. I rolled out of bed and left the hotel by 5:15 AM. I scouted the first km a few days ago so I would know how to get on the trail and that was really helpful. Another problem is that Spain tries to stay all on the same time zone and that makes for weird daylight hours in Santiago, sunrise isn't 'til 8AM.

I hiked for about 3 hours in the dark. Normally this isn't a problem, but I had never been on the trail, don't know much of the customs, my Spanish is, let's just say, oxidado. Leaving Santiago, the first trail marker said 88.022 km to go!

The trail gave a good introduction by immediately jumping into some dense forest trails. I started doing some pace math and figured I needed to keep to 14-15 minute miles to finish in a reasonable time. This meant I had to jog on and off pretty much every mile. In the dark it was hard to run much, so I promised myself I'd run more once the sun came up. Then the trail went right by some houses, and seemingly for the next 3 hours in the dark, there was a hovering cloud of barking dogs over me. Dogs would hear me coming and I would never knew which ones were chained or in fences and which were free. There was never a problematic dog as all the ones who aggressively barked were fenced and the free ones were very lazy. However the barking is annoying. It was annoying me. 7:00 and still no sign of life in this country. All dark and no people up at all. Finally a few minutes after 8 it was respectably light and I started seeing the occasional car drive by when passing through some villages. Just at sunrise I arrived at Negreira to a waterfall.

Once the sun was up, the dogs stopped barking and it started raining. It rained on and off the whole morning. Negreira is usually the next stop after Santiago for Pilgrims so it wasn't even light yet and I'd covered a days worth of the trail on fresh legs. I finally started to see other walkers as I was 14 miles into my journey. I wasn't sure how the reaction would go but it turns out everyone just said "bien camino". I wasn't sure to reply "gracias" or "bien camino" back or say "y tu tambien".

A little sour

Cushiony soft lush trails most of the way.

Some road sections. Hikers ahead in this photo

False advertising

The dog led the rally
Since I was generally moving much faster than the walkers, I usually could be assured no one would catch up to me. This was useful because I was ~25 miles in and needed to find a bathroom. All I saw were cornfields. I then figured a cornfield would be a great hiding place, my idea was not original as I found lots of toilet paper on the ground 3 rows in! I was sure to pack mine out, and then was also sure to short sell some Spanish corn commodity.

Just as I got back on the road, low and behold was a runner! Dressed just like me, wearing the same pack I had. She asked me what I was running, and we ran together for a short while. Her friend then caught up and they had the same plans as me. They left about 6 AM so were moving faster than me so I let them pull away.
2 runners from CA and 2 pilgrims with rain flies on their packs.

Miles and miles of easy trail

Stone wall amongst wildflowers

First view of the ocean
Eventually after 40 miles or so I got my first view of the ocean in an inlet in the village appropriately named Cee. From here, the trail dropped straight down and negotiated a series of towns along the coast. The view never disappointed.

Through the towns the navigation got a little tougher. There were random yellow arrows painted on rocks, walls, streets, and even a car!

I had to check my GPS - preloaded GPX route - several times to make sure I was on the route. I finally reached Finisterre and the end of the world. It took about 13.5 hours.

0 km left!

Then I had to walk back to town (another couple miles!) and bumped into the other runners again. We shared tales and then I remembered a sign that read "vegan lasagna tonight!" on my way through.
It ended up being a pilgrim hostel type thing that had free dinner for everyone. Total hippy fest. The bar tender loved my story of running from Santiago in a day and poured me free beer. I left them a 10 euro tip and as the only paying customer that night they called me a cab to go back to Santiago.

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