Search This Blog

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Praza do Obradoiro: Santiago de Compostela



It is 6 am; the sky is gunmetal gray trying to make up its mind whether to rain or not.  There is a slight chill in the air, but no breeze moves through the plaza. The square and building are mostly made of gray stone, which seems to match the sky today. The well-worn stones have been given a shiny wet sheen from last night’s rain along with puddles here and there. There are a few people wandering about careful not to step into puddles while others are seated on the damp stones looking up at the Cathedral seemly deep in thought. It is very quiet at this time of the day no birds, no loud voices, no sirens in the background, no bagpipes or toots from the stupid make-believe train that takes pilgrims and tourists on a short ride around the city.

It seems now as if the Praza is starting to wake up taking a deep inhaling breath of the morning air. The inhale seems to draw pilgrims into the Praza through the tunnel opening where the Camion de Santiago has led them.  This space has been the end of the Camion de Santiago for 100’s of years. I imagine that today Pilgrims act no different from the ones who have traveled to this place for centuries and looked upon the Cathedral.  As they enter and look up, many are overwhelmed with tears, others with joyous laughter. They look around for familiar faces of fellow pilgrims they have met on the walk. If found arms wide, they rush to each other hugging with tears streaming while huge smiles crease their faces.  Then it exhales, and the pilgrims are sent on their way. Some hold strong not wanting to leave just yet. 

Another inhale and new Pilgrim’s enter some forming groups hugging and laughing while reliving their travels.  Some drop their backpacks to the ground, falling to their knee’s tears streaming as they glaze at the Cathedral.  Many sit alone or lie down using backpacks as pillows deep staring at the Cathedral in contemplation.  Some stand with backpacks above their heads, their faces beam with wide smiles as pictures are taken. Those who have ridden bicycles raise them high over their heads yelling triumphally. There is no such thing as race, gender, or nationality in this place.  Yes, some wave their countries flags, but no offense is taken. Another exhale, and the process begins again over and over, hour after hour, day after day, year after year.  The Pilgrims arriving here today, as in the past, may feel a deep loss at the end. Their Camion is over, or so it feels.

It is time to return to their families, friends, and maybe jobs. Albergues with communal meals filled with laughter and new friends will only be memories. The ability to walk slowly in contemplation not having to rush hither and yond slowly fade as day to day life returns.  Sitting outside a café on the side of the road enjoying Café Con Leche while wishing those waking by Bueno Camino will bring a smile to your face and the thought of returning. As a Pilgrim, you may have traveled at least 500 miles on foot, bicycle, and sometimes other means with nothing but their backpack. Upon returning home, one may look around at all the accumulated stuff in their lives and wonder why?  Walking the Camino change some for a short time, others permanently. 

Bueno Camino







Friday, May 31, 2019

England - Part VII

England – Part VII

Friday, May 29, 2009
The Barge Inn to Newbury

Today I rode the canal in a new direction. Some are familiar because Mark and I rode it in the opposite direction only a week ago. Once I pass Wilcot, it is all new. However, the path gets old, really fast. It is becoming very narrow and at times crumbling into the canal with only inches of slanted dirt to ride on. The scenery, however, s quite beautiful dense forest filled with mystery. Miles of field slop up to meet the blue horizon with puffs of white clouds slowly appearing here and there. Each field seems to be a different color green, some are dark plowed earth, others a swaying yellow carpet of flowers. Canal boats decorated with multitudes of designs and colors are either docked or floating along. As each pass, we say “Good morning” with a smile and a wave.

I’m passing a boat that is just heading out and wave as I ride by. I stop to adjust something then catch up to them, we wave and laugh, this happens three more times, it is an unspoken joke between us now. A lock stops the fun as I ride on with no such inconvenience. Looking at the canal something is off, the water seems lower, and the sloping, muddy bottom is being revealed. Some had joked about me falling in, which he said: “would not be much of a problem since the canals are not deep.” Now I could see this was really true, and my fear of falling in and going 40ft straight down was something my mind had created with no bases. However, the slippery mud and slop of the sides could still be very dangerous.

A man approaches and tells me someone has left both locks open up ahead, causing this part of the canal to empty and the part below to flood. “Not good going for a push bike.” He tells me. Great I think, he tells me there is a road that goes around to the next lock, and all will be good from there. The trail actually takes me to one of two 1800s pumping stations that move the water back up to be used again. Each as two beam steam beam engines, still working, built in the 1800s. Two or three days a week the engines are powered up to pump water to the top of the canal, but not today. I ask one of the caretakers how far the next lock is to get me back on the towpath. He points down to where I’ll need to go and cross over the canal to get to the towpath. He fails to tell me that part of crossing over means walking across railroad tracks.

Now I had to do this once before, and it is a bit nerve-racking. When you reach the gate, there is a red and green light, no yellow, to tell you if it’s safe to pass. There is also a phone which you use to call someone somewhere who’ll let you know if a train is imminent. Now you have to quickly open a gate roll on to the tracks and while on them open another gate to get off. Trains doing anything for 80 to 100 miles an hour don’t give you a heck of a lot of time to do this. O.K. safely on the other side I find that the towpath has been blocked so now I have to go back across the tracks again. How much fun can one person have! Finally, back on the towpath and riding, there is a realization that I’m not going to make my goal, not even close. The ride, which is not over yet, has been draining emotionally and physically.

The towpath ends at a tunnel leaving me looking up a very steep hill with steps in it. There is no way I’m going to get my fully loaded bike up to the top I’ll have to unload my panniers carry each set up the hill then carry the bike up.  As I'm pondering this problem, an angel appears. From around the bend at the top of the hill comes a giant walking toward me, followed by his wife. We talk for a bit about an abandoned rail line he is looking for, and she says, “How you going to get up there?” After explaining my idea of dragging everything up the stairs, she turns to her husband and says, “Help him carry it up. NO?” He agrees. Now this fellow looks like he could carry me and the bike up the hill.  Up seventeen steps we go, I’ve got the light front end; he’s got the heavy rear. I thank him profusely he says, “Not to worry” and is gone.

Prior to this, I had picked up a hitchhiker that was a snail I later named Larry. Now Larry really didn’t have his thumb out for a ride. Stopping to allow some towpath walkers by I spotted Larry on a leaf, picked him up and put him on my handlebar bag. Nothing happened for a while, then he stuck his head out and started to explore. He was wandering about while I road down the path and for a while, it looked as if he were studying the map atop my handlebar bag. Then he made this really long stretch, there was more of him then I thought, and moved down the side of the bag. I stopped to take his picture, and he looks, obligingly, into the camera. I had forgotten about Larry pondering the hill but looked for him once the giant and I reached the top. He was gone probably brushed off by the plants on the narrow path up. So long, Larry, it was good to meet you.

On and on riding for 6 hours, Hungerford is finial reached. No campgrounds, no Pubs, no inns should I ride on to Newbury another hour away or? After 7 hours, I’ve ridden 52 Kilometers and have no place to stay. I have scoped out several places I could set up my tent alongside the canal. After picking up some food for the morning, I head back to a Lock where I’ll set up camp for the evening hoping I don’t get chased. It is really half a camp there is only room for the bare necessities. I'm set up on a small strip of land between the towpath and the water. My tent, rain fly, are not fully set up, and I'm only using my sleeping pad, and blanket. It is quite cool sleeping next to the canal, so I finally have to use my sleeping bag to get warmer.  My bike is locked to a tree on the other side of the towpath.

Saturday, May 30, 2009
Newbury to Oxford

I’m up and packed by 5am heading into town to see about getting some directions to Oxford. I'm thinking nothing’s going to be open until 7 or 9.  I pop into the information office and am told that the shops will not open until 10a. There is a town map which shows Oxford Road or A34 not far from where I am so I figure if it heads north, it will take me to Oxford. Since waiting until 10am is a waste of good riding time, I’m off to follow the Oxford Road. This is a really hilly country, with the hills, packed quite tightly together. The road manages to steer clear of a 4 lane highway which at times pretends it is going to connect to but does not. However, after time it does connect I am now bravely walking my bike along hoping the A34 will again return to a sedate country road.

After about a mile I figure this is not going to happen anytime soon. The whizzing by of Lories, cars, and buses very close to are getting a bit nervous, and I think if I stay on this road, I’ll have to walk to Oxford. As I'm walking/pushing I come across a “By Way” sign that points along a dirt road which seems much more appealing than the highway. Heading off on a dirt road between green fields, having no idea where I’ll end up. There are deep ruts in the road which make it almost impossible to ride, so it is a combination of riding and walking. The “By Way” is intersected by a “Walk Way” heading north and south. The rules are you can ride a bike on a “By Way,” but you cannot ride or walk a bike on a “Walk Way.”

I’m not quite sure who’ll catch me out here, but you never know so I continue on. The “By Way” comes to a road which is heading north, off I ride. It is now 9 am, and I’ve been riding for about three hours, and my odometer tells me I’ve ridden 21 kilometers. Oxford is supposed to be 19 Kilometers north of Newbury I'm thinking this is going to be a long day. The road which was heading north is now heading east and back toward the highway making me nervous. Being up higher on the hill I can see the path that took me west below, now I’m parallel to it and heading East, might as well have stayed on the highway. There is a wide spot in the road, so I stop to cook up some breakfast with my new cook set. I’m off again and do eventually ending up back at the highway which I have no intention of getting on again.

There is a road heading west which will take me to Wantage that I vaguely remember from a map as being south of Oxford so off I go heading north again. Outside of Farnborough, I ask a lady leading a beautiful horse the way to Oxford. “Go up to Farnborough, at the top of the hill, then down into Wantage.” Up and up and up I go when she said up she meant up. Up here is not necessarily really high, but it does mean steep as in 12 to 18-degree inclines. I finally reach Farnborough and follow the sign to Wantage. Now when she said down she meant down, I'm doing 28 to 38 kilometers an hour coming down this hill. Wahoo!!!  Not necessary a safe speed on a loaded bike. Upon reaching Wantage, I see a sign telling me that Oxford is only 17 kilometers away. Checking looking at my odometer I find I’ve already ridden 30 kilometers. I’m told to take the A338, which I’m on, straight into Oxford, but stay off the A420.

I do ride on the A420, well walk as close to the side as I can get because it is much shorter the using the A338. It is now 3 pm, and a sign shows me that I’m 4 kilometers from Oxford. Finally riding into Oxford 10 hours and 50 kilometers later at an average speed of 8 Kilometer per hour leaves me exhausted. I know where I am and recognize that the street I'm on will take me right to YHA where I'll stay. My butt is just a bit sore, and I have no reserves left for dilly-dallying around looking for a campground that I might be able to remember from two years ago.

Dinner will be at a restaurant called The Jam, which I hope was still in business from my last visit. They offer tasty meals, low prices, and allow you to use their free WiFi as long as you wish. I Skype Mark and chat for a while talking about the twists and turns in everyday life. I attempt to reach my daughter but have no luck, so send her and my son an email. Then check Facebook, answer some emails, then create a map of my travels for my blog. My body is slowly regaining its energy, and I’ve been wondering why I push myself to make such long, arduous ride. There will be no answer tonight unless some message comes to me in my dreams.

Sunday, May 31, 2009
Oxford

Today is a day of rest, no bike riding, nothing more strenuous then putting some food in my mouth. To that end, I buy a ticket on a city tour bus riding it enough times to be able to repeat the tour speech by heart. I did get off once to take a nap, then back on for a couple of more rides. The bus was a Double Decker, so I ride in the upper deck taking in the sights whiles listening to the guides point out things of interest. There is a cool breeze, warm sun, blue skies with puffs of white cloud floating by makes for a very lazy day. I do not quite understand why most of the cars have the windows closed to such a beautiful day. Yet the bikers abound pedaling briskly along seemingly oblivious to the cars and buses within inches of them. There are pole boat, and canoes on the river Thames, along with sunbathers on the green grassy slopes. The outdoor cafe tables are all full of people chatting, laughing, eating, and drinking in no rush to be anywhere.

Dinner is at The Jam again for yet another fresh lamb burger and some incredible crispy fries. Online again to answer emails, one of which is from Roy, who I met on the train last Sunday. He has tracked down my grandfather’s and grandmother’s birth records along with several other relatives. It looks as if he has gotten the date my grandfather died spot on but is off on my grandmothers. I’ll write to him tomorrow to see if he can dig up some more, how very nice of him to do this for a stranger. After dinner, I check in at the rail station to see about a ticket to my next destination, which will be Delamere.

At the Y, while doing laundry, I chat with Hanna, who works the front desk. She is from the Czech Republic working in the UK. We have a friendly chat about traveling and then needs to tell me she is well balance after I tell her I teach Psychology. Before turning in, I chat with a gentleman in the same dorm room as me. He is here from Buffalo NY and thinking of moving to the west coast. I’ve not decided if I’ll move on tomorrow so I’ll sleep on it.

This in and of itself is no great thing.  However, as I was walking to the loo, I chuckled to myself as I had just left my jacket, hat, and rutsack on the seat.  WOW!  I was thinking back the first few years traveling here when I’d make sure that everything I owned stayed attached to me at all times.  The same thing goes for restaurants,  hostels, and campgrounds.  An aside: the train which left Salisbury and is heading to Waterloo station in London is slowly by surley filling up with passangers.  It is currently 10 am, and one would think by this time there would be less people.  Back to the change in myself in regards to Stuff.

There were times that as I travel, I’d not worry much about some stuff.  Like the year I lost my cellphone within the first couple of days in England.  Oh well, I thought as I contacted the provider and had it shut down.  From that year on, I rarely use my phone depending on my computer and SKYPE.  An aside: some trains in Europe have traveling food carts that are pushed from one end of the train to the other.  Ailes, therefore, must be kept clear.  The fellow who just sat down next to has a humongous suitcase in the aisle, making it imposable for the food cart to get by.  In the past, my bike and I have had encounters with food cards attempting to make its rounds.

I sure most have played with one of those sliding hand puzzles where you move pieces around within a case attempting to solve it.  Well, my bike, I, the food cart, and the food cart attendant at times have been those pieces.  Jocking around in a confined space so he could get by.  Some of the food cart attnedants and I have had a good laugh and others have been a bit sour about our encounter. O.K. back to the theme!  Take my bike that lives over here and for the first five years was left at the train station when I returned home.  It became quite a popular conversation bit as people wanted to know if my bike was at the station when I returned; which it was.  I’d be asked, “What will you do if it’s not there?”  “Buy another.”

I have walked on the Camino de Santiago several times, managing only to lose what I wanted too.  Going from sitting in a restaurant and packing everything with me each time I when to the bathroom has changed to leaving it lying on the table an hoping it will be there upon my return.  Or when I’m going to take a shower with my backpack in tow to leaving it where ever. Of course, if there are places to lock my stuff up I use it but went there aren’t.  I used to make sure my bike was securely locked to some immovable object with a minimum of three locking devices to coming out of a store and finding I had completely forgotten to lock it up.  I find it interesting that practicing letting go of stuff that is misplaced or stolen is much easier when your willing to let go of their supposed importance in your life.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Heros


Just a thought my Dad and Uncle Red were 20, Uncle Ken was 24.  Uncle Ken was in the second wave to hit the beach in Iwo Jima pulling a radio trailer through the water on to the beach under fire. Red walked to Germany risking his life daily getting up close and personal with German soldiers. That's how he got the German Knife that used to hang on the wall in the basement in Wyandanch. Dad's adventure was a bit more then the paper indicates. I walked the two-foot wide catwalk while in the air over AZ that went over the bomb bay doors. It was pretty scary with the doors closed. 
When Dad was fixing control cable the doors were open and he had one foot pushed against the catwalk railing and the other pushed against a fuselage beam which had rounded corners and was maybe 3 inches wide. No safety harness or parachute just in case. The pilots had to keep their hands off the flight controls while Dad pulled the shot-up control wire together and U bolted it. If one of the pilots had moved the flight controls it would have pulled Dad off balance. The temperature at ten thousand feet is around 23 degrees. Do you remember the underwear Dad had with all the hoses running through them? They were all kids and they all enlisted because they believed it was the right thing to do! We have a family of heroes! Afterthought, Grandpa Cooke was 19 and a medic dragging the wounded off the killing fields of Flanders in WW I.J

Sunday, May 19, 2019

What is a Pilgrimage? Getting there! (Part 1)



The above is a question I need to work on as it will be the subject of my second class for The Psychology of a Pilgrimage study abroad program for the summer of 2020.

But first, a little background.

Thinking back to when I might have first heard of Pilgrimage and I’m guessing it would have been in some movie or maybe school.  I certainly did not send me off on a quest to experience such a phenomenon.  I am sure that tales of King Arthur, the Green Knight or the Crusades may have caught my attention at some point but again nothing to send me trekking off down unfamiliar roads just because.  I’ve often thought that putting 40 or 50 pounds on my back and traipsing up and down mountains to be rather ridiculous.  Nor have I ever been big on hiking great distances.  Mucking about in the wood or down a trail for a couple of hours was my limit.

So, a pilgrimage of any kind was on my list of something I saw myself doing for any reason until my friend Gary told me he was heading off to Spain to hike the Camino.  I first heard of the Camion de Santiago by reading the Shirley MacLaine book The Camion: A Spiritual Journey in 2001.  I remember thinking this was an interesting book until the flying saucers arrived along with extraterrestrial beings. I chalked the book and Camion up to New Age airy-fairy stuff.  Fast forward to 2005, and my friend Gary tells me he is going to Spain to hike the Camion.  I kidded him about looking for flying saucers, and I shook my head in disbelief.  He is to be gone for almost three months, and I’m worried I’ll not see him again.  However, he finally returns, and I find him to be a changed person.

We met for coffee to talk about his travels.  It was hard for me to put my finger on it, but he was calmer, more self-assured, with a spiritual presence about him I’d not experienced before.  He had turned in to a wiser person someone I could turn to for help with difficult life problems.  I waited as months past to see if the old scattered Gary would return.  At times he did, but for the most part, he was a renewed person.  I pondered this and from time to time thought about taking this walk. After dealing with Cancer in 2005, I began traveling to England in 2006 to fulfill a dream I’d had since seeing a picture of my Dad riding a bike down country lanes with his buddies while stationed in England during WW II. That photo was the impetus for my travels.

 I’d return from my travels and meet up with Gary for dinner or coffee, which inevitably led to his encouraging me to walk the Camino.  By 2010 I’d followed the trail of King Arthur, been to France looking for Lancelot, rode through Wells searching for Merlyn, found a family in Liverpool and Austria, and spent a good deal of time riding about Europe with my friend Mark.  I remember sitting on my bike thinking about where to go next, and of course, this Camion thing came to mind for my 2011 travels.  However, 2011 rolled around, finding Mark and I riding around southeast England.  Destiny came knocking upon my return from an unexpected source.

A friend of mine came into my office and says, “I’m going to be fifty next year, and I want to walk the Camino.  My boyfriend does not want to do it. Will you go with me?”  Without giving it much thought, I say “Yes”, and we begin to plan our adventure. May 2012 found us in Paris where we would begin our pilgrimages.    

In the summer of 2012, I find myself on a pilgrimage from Paris to Santiago de Compostela with my friend Lisa. We were on a Pilgrimage which consisted of riding a bike through parts France and Spain, hiking, getting separated and reunited by chance, many wonderful conversations, drinking lots of wine, laughing our butts off, great food, crying, more laughing, meeting new people, and a reunion only found in movies. It turned out to be a trip of a lifetime which created an inseparable bond between us.

Friday, May 17, 2019

My Bike

 The pictures are of the second bike I purchased in England. If I remember correctly I purchased it from Stonehenge Cycle in 2010 and is a duplicate of the bike I have at home.  I just picked it up from Hayball's Cycle shop where it lives when I'm not in England.  This is how it looks when I drop it off and head home.

Tomorrow I'll add the rear panniers and head out to the campgrounds in Hudsons Field I think.  I have almost a week before the Festival starts so I might just go on a ride for a week. We'll see tomorrow.

The opening the panniers on the front is like receiving a gift every year because I don't remember what I left in them.  The trunk has a blanket which my friend Gary calls a poncho liner.  It is where I carry my non-perishable food when I ride; well some perishable also.  One bag will contain my house and bedroom, one my kitchen, one for dirty clothes and other sundries, and the last will be a pantry for more food, wine, etc...