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Cycling to Santiago

The cliché "A Change is as Good as a Rest” has always struck me as being really stupid. After all, if you sat down all day in a telephone call centre and then went to work as a postman, the change to your daily routine would be quite dramatic and no rest at all. However, I do understand the sentiment behind the cliché and that’s why I am always urging patients to try an alternative kind of holiday to the beach/cruise options.

As many of my patients know, I have just been away for a fortnight’s cycling with my wife and son. We cycled around 700k from Pamplona to Santiago di Compostella and have come back to work not only fitter than ever, but fantastically invigorated. This really was some journey! The cycling was tough as we chose to follow El Camino – the pilgrim’s path – which meant we were cycling on rough trails as well as roads.  I have been cycling for more than 40-years, but one of the days on this trip was the toughest I have ever experienced on a bike.  We had torrential rain and winds so strong that it was impossible to cycle down a very steep mountain!  In fact at one point, we actually had to dismount and take cover because it was simply too dangerous to continue. 

There were thousands of pilgrims walking to Santiago, some of whom had started in France!  They came from an amazing range of countries and ranged from the very young to the elderly, some of whom were clearly struggling with the daily effort.  We also saw whole families walking the trail. Everyone was very polite and friendly and as we rode past, would invariably call “Buen Camino!”. 

We went with a company that arranged to take your luggage between stops so that each night we would arrive at a hotel or “postada” and find our bags already checked in. All we had to do was take a nice hot shower, drink some cold beer and look forward to a hearty meal. Distances each day varied between 50k and 120k (the 120k was actually one of the easiest days as it was flat) and along the way we passed through beautiful countryside and some very stylish Spanish towns including Logrono, Burgos and Leon. I shall be posting some pictures on the Healthier Weight facebook page so you can see the magnificent scenery.  It was, quite simply, unforgettable.

This trip would not have been enjoyable if I hadn’t trained for it before hand.  If you have never cycled much then start by getting yourself a reasonable bike and taking short trips – 5 and then ten miles. Try and find a circuit that you can do so you can ride from home (not always easy in an urban or hilly area) and then try some one day trips and then maybe plan a weekend trip before attempting a cycling holiday. To arrive, late afternoon, at your destination knowing that you have got their entirely due to your own effort, that really makes the food and wine taste good.  So get on your bike and – if you feel up to it – try the Santiago trail yourself! 

Dr David Ashton

14th September 2010

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