Moving mountains

Pamplona to Estella

Distance travelled:  47 km (approx., including getting lost)

Word of the day:  impatience

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Half way up and the wind turbines seem still so distant

It is the mountain paths that are our teachers; if I walked through the wake of my bruised past on the Pyrenees, so here, today on this mountain, I begin to reassemble myself, filling the gaps in the jigsaw of my life.  I advertise myself as a person who has tried and failed, been found lacking, and yet this mountain today, whispers another story.

Leaving the hostel at 7 today, we found ourselves quickly on a path with a gradual incline; it was a good start on the bikes as coming out of Pamplona, we cycle through the residential area.  It had some advantages, a cycle path for one and street lights another.

On the way to the summit, the Church at Zariqiegui
On the way to the summit, the Church at Zariqiegui, with a much needed fountain nearby!

But the route gets tough and gets tough quickly; the trail to the summit of the Alto del Perdon offers up challenges to the cyclist.  I am not the fittest or strongest cyclist and the route was loose, rocky and sometimes narrow, with barely enough room for both me and the bike.  I pushed up to the top more than I rode, slipping 1/2 a step back for every one I took forwards.  The summit beckoned to me, though every sinew in my body screamed at me to stop.  Though walkers passed me, rushing by like a line of industrious ants, I took each deliberate step, each revolution of my wheels at my own steady pace, not trying to rush or ‘win’ the race to the top.

Donde se cruza El Camino del Viento Con el de las Estrellas

Where the way of the wind crosses that of the stars
The metal statures installed by the electricity company at the summit of Alto del Perdon
The metal statures installed by the electricity company at the summit of Alto del Perdon

The road of warning

There was a warning on our map for the route down from Alto del Perdon, meaning a steep descent; having had my height phobia kick in yesterday, I wasn’t keen to test it once more so we rolled easily down on the tarmac.  Both the mountain road and the main road were lacking in one thing: cars and we utilised the space and having had such a hard push up the mountain, enjoyed the reward of the descent.

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Just passing through

But tarmac become the focus of the day and I began to feel disappointed, that I was missing out on the pilgrim trail, though there were several other cyclists doing the same thing.  We did stop at Uterga and Muruzabal for a coffee but we bypassed many of the little villages on the route, or simply stomped on through them.

We cycled on through Puenta la Reina, described in the guidebook as one of the most ’emblematic points on the way through Navarre’, just time enough to take snaps of the medieval bridge.  The next sensible thing that we could have done was return once again to the Camino itself but tired and hot, the road seemed too enticing and easier!

The wrong road

Puente la Reina one of the 'most emblematic points on the way through Navarre'
Puente la Reina one of the ‘most emblematic points on the way through Navarre’

Spain has been doing a vast amount of road building in recent years and our map wasn’t quite as up to date as we would have hoped.  At best, it was basic and it had served us well but suddenly a confusion about turns and number of roundabouts confounded us.  Despite my gentle protestations that the 3rd exit on the roundabout was not the one, off my partner went onto a motorway slip road, ignoring the massive sign prohibiting pedestrians, bicycles, tractors, horses etc…I called out in warning but he was off.  I waited at the entrance to the slip road for an age before, I too headed up the road.  Maybe he had found the right way?

Reassuringly, before I reached him on the motorway slip road, before I climbed 200 ft up and up, a highway maintenance vehicle stopped beside him and corrected him of the misconception that this was the way to Estella.

A little clue?

“Look at the map!” he argued with me when he reconvened, “It doesn’t take the road around, it goes straight on.  It must be this old one!”  I protested again, as there was in fact a sign pointing in the direction of Estella that went around to the right, looking like it looped back on itself.

But no, he disagreed and again cycled up the disused road, long abandoned by all but grass snakes; I dragged my heels, my revolutions slow though I climbed up once more further than I wanted before I caught sight of him in the distance waving at me – ‘it’s the wrong way’!

Common sense prevailed at the bottom and he finally asked a passing cyclist for directions.  ‘De la recha!’ (to the right).  I kept the little ‘told you so’ smile to myself and commenced the 3rd climb of the hour in the 30° afternoon, riding skyward once more.

As we entered Estella, we found a Pension…but I wondered whether I was about to star in my own very Gothic nightmare…