I’ve now pushed through 393.3 miles on my virtual Camino (i.e. treadmill in the basement) thus putting me just past O Cebreiro which is just over the border into Galicia, the last autonomous community before reaching Santiago in just about 100 miles. By “reached”, of course, I mean I’ve done the distance (from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port) along a GPS track of the Camino. I’d love to be doing this for real, but at least I get to “experience” some of what this trek is like, checking out restaurant menus along the way, which is the primary topic of this blog.
And at least I’ve gotten some idea of what the trek looks like. That is, converting treadmill miles into locations and then using Google Street View to “look around” I’s also decided that most of the trek is in pretty boring country, not much different than what is around here. However, since reaching Ponferrada from the East where the way begins to enter the mountains the country has been much prettier. But also, interestingly, it seem that lodging and restaurants are a bit higher quality as well. I deduce that’s because most of the escorted trips along the Camino occur in this area, as only about 100km are required in order to qualify for the compostelana (diploma) and so trekker who want a bit more luxury and a lot less walking start much closer to Santiago. Which, of course, is a “cheat” as getting there (as opposing to being there) is the whole point of the trek.
But here’s another of my trail photos, one of my favorite:
OK, so it’s pretty ordinary looking spot and not at all spectacular. So why is it one of my favorites?
Well, it’s accessible and pleasant walking, that’s why. This is one of many bridges on the Wabash Trail, which goes from the south side of Council Bluffs Iowa to the Missouri border. It’s a Rails-to-Trails recreation project which are sponsored all over the USA.
You see when railroads were first built in the US the land was granted by either the state or the Federal government, often with a provision that if the railroad is abandoned the land reverts back to government (thus public) ownership. Now Iowa is the most intensely farmed state in the USA which means very little land is in its natural condition (and it’s all private, so no access for recreation). So this tiny corridor of “wild” for the Wabash Trail is a real jewel.
Also, though it may just be urban legend, the original trains that used this route burned coal (or even wood) and so burning embers escaped their smokestack. As a result the railroad had a wide buffer of land to avoid setting stuff on fire. Today, given that entire right of way is abandoned woods have reclaimed that area, except for the trail itself.
SO, even though there are farms and houses everywhere along this trail it does a good job of pretending to be wilderness. And all that plant growth creates enough shade that the trail is much cooler for walking than out in the sun (one of the obvious drawbacks of so much of the Camino, exposed to intense sunshine).
This particular photo is where I stopped for a brief rest (that’s my stuff on the bridge). The bridges were for the trains and have been reclaimed and converted for foot and bicycle traffic, which is handy, not having to fork creeks. In addition to the buffer of woods along this trail, often it is cut into the hills so the train had a level grade and that also increases the isolation.
I’ve walked almost all of this trail, although only in intervals, never end-to-end. The problem, compared to the Camino, is there are no accommodations along this trail. Even on a bike it would be hard to cover all of it in a single day and walking is a multi-day trek. While there is so access to food and drink along the trail the only way to walk all of it would be to have someone drive to meet your and take you to some overnight lodging. That kinda defeats the point of it.
This bridge is on the longest stretch I’ve done in one trip, about 15 miles, where I had someone drop me off and then meet me in the town Malvern where we had a pleasant lunch with a couple of craft brews. I wanted to push for 20 miles but my ride wasn’t going to wait for another two hours, so this was the best I could do. Of course one other approach would be to get my ride to haul my bike down to my turnaround spot and so walk one way and bike back, but that’s a lot of trouble. So while I like hiking on this trail: a) having to drive 30 miles to get to it, and, then, b) the logistics are impossible as a long hike is part of the reason the Camino, just from the POV of hiking, is attractive.
When the rails were removed the rock bed under the rails was left and then covered with a crushed limestone aggregate. So actually the walking surface is quite pleasant. The trail is well drained so rarely muddy but it’s much “softer” walking than paved roads would be. Again, with all my StreetView studies of the Camino much of that route is NOT very good walking and certainly walking on streets and dodging cars is not my idea of a good trek.
So while this Wabash Trail may not have the history or significance or the experience of a different country I’m grateful it exists and provides some opportunity to move on foot outside instead always in the basement on a treadmill. Of course, right now it’s buried in snow and it’s nearly 0F outside so I’ve got a month or two before I set foot on this trail again.