by Craig Randall
March 19, 2005
The albergue is in a former college dormitory or public school dormitory. There seems to be ample room for all, and bikers and hikers alike were all accommodated the evening we happened by. The sleeping arrangements were a series of alcoves off of a long corridor, with the restroom facilities at the end. Astorga is at about 868m elevation, so gets a little cool in the evening.
Astorga is a crossroads, of sorts. It is the convergence of the Camino Francés and the Vía de la Plata from the south. The city is a treasure. The cathedral was rebuilt in the 18th century, after the Lisbon earthquake damaged half of it, explaining the two-tone façade.
You'll be riding a gentle incline all the way to a little town called Rabanal del Camino. From Rabanal you'll be making the most brutal ascent of the Camino. From here to the Irago summit you’ll ascend 500m in just 8km. The last few kilometers are the toughest. When we left we were in shorts and short sleeves. As we arrived at Cruz de Ferro we had already donned our rain jackets and waterproof pants. The temperature dropped about 10ºC...and the rain returned.
On the way up, you will pass an almost forgotten "pueblo" called Foncebadón. In my reading in preparation for the trip, I learned that the population of this town is either one or two, depending on the day.
At Cruz de Ferro it is tradition to throw the stone you've been carrying since your journey's inception. My rock was a piece of limestone from Valcarlos, on behalf of our Basque family there. Greg's rock was one from his garden back in Minnesota. The stone is to represent some sin or vice that you're doing away with as a result of your spiritual awakening on this pilgrimage. Although I appreciate the symbolism, I was just happy to shed a little more weight, especially after that brutal climb.
The descent from Cruz de Ferro isn't immediate. You first must take a little downhill, then a difficult, but short, upturn. Once you reach that second upswing, you're in for the greatest downhill of the entire Camino. You'll end up going from the top of Cruz de Ferro to Molinaseca at the bottom of the hill, a distance of about 20km, in just under fifteen minutes. We averaged about 65 kph on the downhill. In retrospect, we were a little foolish, as our descent was made in the middle of a torrential downpour, and the road is two lanes total wide at best. The hairpin turns and potential for loose gravel make this a dangerous descent, but exhilarating nonetheless.
From journal The Camino de Santiago - Spain