Showing posts with label Camino. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Camino. Show all posts

Tuesday 7 June 2022

Camino de Santiago 8 - Azofra to Villambistia (Electric wheelchair style)


Today was an easy day of good paths through open fields of mainly mixed cereals. These crops were accompanied by the cheery red poppies that dominated the verges along with the spiky teasels and odd pyramidal orchids

My wheels were proving more than capable for this journey. With the forward and backward movement of the Genny controlled by the your bodies position, distributing the weight and carrying essentials and supplies in a rucksack hooked on the back affects your centre of balance. My load is probably only about 7kg in a 26ltr rucksack with a sleeping bag hanging off the bottom, however I need to adjust the settings my move my seating position forward to counter the weight at the back

Beautiful cool Cathedral at Santo Domingo de la Calzada
The small towns of Ciruena, Santo Domingo de La Calzada, Granon, Viloria de la Rioja, Vilamayor del Rio and Belorado each have their own charm

I was travelling faster then most pilgrims on my wheels. These long easy sections make cruising comfortable and fast. I had started to cover about 40km a day which is a stretch for those on foot who would more commonly cover 20 - 30km a day. I did however meet several young men who claimed to had walked up to 75km in a day  

Many of the taller buildings have nesting cranes on their roofs

I stayed the night in a the tiny municipal Albergue San Roque in Villambistia. This was a lovely stop with friendly staff however I discovered in the morning that my wheelchair had been unplugged at some point in the night leaving me with less than full charge for the day ahead. The general etiquette on the Camino is lights out by 22:00 and vacate the place by 8:00 in the morning. Plugging my wheels back in and hanging about didn't go down to well. I wasn't actually thrown out but I only managed to stay till 8:30 before feeling less than welcome and left hoping I wouldn't run out of steam on the day ahead

Monday 6 June 2022

Camino de Santiago 7 - Logroño to Azofra (Electric wheelchair style)

Four days before leaving for the second week on the Camino, the retractable support legs on my Genny Mobility wheelchair stopped working and stuck down. I would normally attempt this sort of repair myself but with so little time and requiring parts I had no option but to make a trip to the Genny Mobility factory in Switzerland. Getting this sorted meant a 1800 mile drive from St Malo in Brittany, France to Switzerland, before driving onwards to Logroño, Spain in my VW van to commence where I left off last October

Overall my wheels have been fantastically reliable with over 8000 miles on the clock in 6 years of operation. Apart from a few relatively minor issues, most of which were down to the Segway core power unit, Genny has been just great for a wheelchair that I ask so much of

Genny Mobility headquarters are based in Sant'Antonino in the southern, Italian speaking part of Switzerland. It is just up the road from the beautiful Lake Maggiore, where clear warm water is surrounded by tall mountains. Its about 40km west of Lake Como in Italy. After a long drive Genny Mobility were able to make the repairs which were down to the linear actuator which is a device a bit like a hydraulic ram you could see on a digger arm, however powered by 12 volts through a gear drive. Taking it all to pieces myself later I was able to see it was not down to faulty gears but a crack in part of the plastic moulded frame. This was not feasibly repairable without parts. I took the opportunity to have a full service whilst in the workshop   

Lake Maggiore borders both Switzerland and Italy


After a mad onward drive from Switzerland into Italy, the Mediterranean coast of France and into northern Spain I arrived in Logroño early evening giving me opportunity to visit the city, capital of La Rioja region. As with many cities and larger towns, Logroño has a beautiful historic centre complete with the Cathedral of Santa María de la Redonda

Unfortunately most Spanish Cathedrals seem to be accessed by flights of steps
 with generally poor disabled access 
Fantastic street art at a roundabout in Logroño   

With my van securely garaged, I commenced my second week on the Camino with a late 10 o'clock morning start in good weather. Anxious but excited I set off on my wheels with my small rucksack and sleeping bag hanging off the back. Because of the late start I had booked accommodation in Azofra 34km away

Pilgrims decorate the path adjacent to the road with home made crosses

The urban parts of of the Camino are generally less memorable excepting the historic town centres. Exiting Logroño however was through a series of lovely shaded green parks, before crossing a busy road and past a reservoir. the early route was part following the road and part in mixed agricultural land of cereals and vines

Following the yellow arrows of the Camino I passed the small town of Navarrete built on a hill and Nájera

Where a footbridge with steps crossed a stream leaving Nájera I was forced to find an alternative route and found a shallow section where I could wade my wheels without issue

Stream crossings need to be carefully negotiated with 22Ah of lithium batteries to consider
Many path edges and smaller fields in June were awash with poppies and other wild flowers

Lots of the building stone seemed to be pebbles shaped by water despite there being little
obvious water in the surrounding areas

I had made the decision on this section to stay in the smaller towns and villages where possible. I find the villages easier to navigate, they are simpler to shop and eat with a wheelchair but I was also considered the impact Covid over the last couple of years. With increasing urbanisation in the world these villages are probably only here because of the Camino. In Azofra I stayed in the Municipal Albergue which was a small and friendly hostel with a small courtyard water feature. With feet in the cool water I engaged with Camino life meeting Italians and Americans I would encounter again over the next days. How lovely to be back


Sunday 31 October 2021

Camino de Santiago Week 1 summary - Saint-Jean-Pier-de-Port to Logroño (Electric wheelchair style)

Week 1 of the Camino de Santiago was an awesome experience. I travelled about 170km from Saint-Jean-Pier-de-Port in the French Pyrenees to Logroño in northern Spain alone on my 2 wheeled electric wheelchair. It took me 7 days including a mad trip back into France to collect my VW van from a French campground. Starting in beautiful high mountain meadows I watched the scenery change to woodland, mixed arable and vineyards. I met loads of lovely people who were interesting, kind and open and discovered a beautiful historic Spain full of incredible architecture and culture that I didn't know existed

When I started I didn't know that I would be able to go the distance with my wheels, both literally with the battery capacity but also the capability of negotiating this route. It starts by going uphill for about 18km to an altitude of 1430m. This route is closed by law on the Spanish side throughout the winter months as conditions can be treacherous. Although it was a mild autumn day when I was there I encountered terrain I couldn't pass and was helped by some Spanish pilgrims who literally picked up my wheelchair and moved it past the steep rocky bit

Route markers used in many towns

In distance travelled I have probably done about 1/5th of the Camino but in terms of the challenge I am well on the way. My Genny wheelchair coped with difficult terrain and I can't imagine there will be unpassable terrain ahead although I'm sure there will be difficulties. There were bits where I took an alternative route when the going looked extremely difficult or I was advised by fellow pilgrims but in all I feel like I did my stuff

I feel like I have been on this path for many years having only just begun a few weeks back. I will continue to the end and maybe beyond...

- Buen Camino -

* To view all these posts in chronological order please scroll down or click HERE

Wednesday 6 October 2021

Camino de Santiago 4 - Puente la Reina to Estella (Electric wheelchair style)


Many of the small Camino villages like Puente la Reina, have hung on to their formal historic departure gates and are grander than the towns where your exit is through developing urban sprawl. 

Through the gate and over the bridge starts a day of woodland into mixed agricultural landscapes and then vineyards as we approach Rioja. I enjoyed these gently sweeping hills and valleys with small villages like Cirauqui sitting on hilltops  

Hilltop village of Cirauqui

When travelling with a wheelchair there are many small obstacles in your way, even with the capability of my Genny wheelchair. This is an issue in most countries but generally its worse away from the more resourced urban centers in the west. It is easy to rail against the environment planners and builders for their lack of consideration. In the end it is down to the local building by-laws, government standards and the implementation of these mechanisms that make life accessible to those on wheels. With some diversions, my ability to get off and push and the assistance of others, the Camino de Santiago is a viable route for my 2 wheeled Genny Mobility wheelchair. 

There are probably a good proportion of the population right now who are stuck in their homes, unable to wage battle with the physical, practical and often economic difficulties that life with a disability can present. It isn't fair and its a tragic waste of humanity and we all suffer because of it. Our world is designed to work for the able bodied. The chances are that access or other sorts of issues will impact on us all sooner or later. I am very lucky in that my MS has not taken away my capacity and I can still maintain a good life, through work, relationships and activities and I have the means, motivation and ability to take on challenges like the Camino de Santiago  

As we enter the Estella the vineyards increase

Much of the architecture on the Camino is 12th centaury or even earlier. There are many instances of roman roads that still form part of the Camino route
Tourist Information office in Estella

Tuesday 5 October 2021

Camino de Santiago 3 - Pamploma to Puente la Reina (Electric wheelchair style)

 "Where the path of wind crosses with the stars"

After my night back in France I drove my van to Puente la Reina. I wanted to backtrack as far as I could so I took a taxi with my wheelchair to Alto de Perdón which is a prominent ridge about halfway between Pamploma and Puente la Reina. This iconic landmark sculpture by Vincent Galbete, depicts a group of 10 pilgrims in steel on their way to Compostela. the inscription "Donde se cruza el camino del viento con el de las estrellas" translates to "Where the path of wind crosses with the stars"
Photo moment with Francois and Andy

This windy ridge commands spectacular views and is the site of many wind turbines. Its a photo opportunity and everyone lingers here. The descent westwards however was described as steep and rocky so I detoured by road to Uterga, joining the route again and on to Puente la Reina

The church opposite the Alberge showed nest remains from storks
I loved this little town and reconnected with the people I had traveled with from the start. I stayed in the Albergue Padres Reparadores where the host was willing to keep an eye on my van that was to remain parked opposite for a few nights.

I shared food that night with a team that included a Canadian pastor, A bright young Italian whose mother I spoke to, an elderly American with stock market tips and a Frenchman
There always seems to be an ancient bridge leading to the next destination

  * NEXT

Sunday 3 October 2021

Camino de Santiago 2 - Roncesvalles to Pamplona (Electric wheelchair style)

Roncesvalles to Pamplona is normally tackled over 2 day after the demanding first day crossing the mountains. These 2 stages are gentler as they are mostly downhill leaving the southern foothills of the Pyrenees. For me I was conscious of making it back to France to collect my WV van which was sitting in a campsite in Saint-Jean-Pier-de-Port 

I was getting used to the flow of the Camino. Its a bit like a river in that is has its own momentum. People dip in and out in different stages and at different speeds but the course is always forward. This is when you get to meet your fellow pilgrims. Some start early and walk slow others set a faster pace. For me it's a negotiation of obstacles and forward planning

Steps are difficult for me and my wheels. Smaller ones I can descend with a thump, others I need to be off Genny. Sometimes I need another route altogether

It was lovely to be in the calm tranquility of the woodlands as the path meandered forward following the yellow arrows and scallop shell icon of the Camino

Occasionally there are obstacles that need a bit more thought with a wheelchair that weighs 89kg plus luggage. This fallen tree was passed with the assistance of a cyclist. I would have got over it in the end but I was saying yes to help when it was needed 

Most of the path was quiet and easy on my wheels and a pleasure. Living on the small Island of Jersey I don't get to experience large woodlands. I would mostly travel in the company of others but on occasion on my own 

Most pilgrims were stopping in Zubiri, I continued as the weather forecast for the next day was rain and I somehow needed to get back to collect my van. I finally stopped having clocked just shy of 50km on Genny and found an Albergue in the outskirts of Pamploma in a place called Villava where I ate the pilgrims menu that always seemed to include chicken and chips 

True to the forecast the next day it rained. It was a short damp hop into Pamploma through urban streets looking for a way to get back to Saint-Jean-Pier-de-Port. 

Pamploma is meant to be a fine city with loads to do and see. On a damp Sunday in October it was not so inviting. The historic old town would have been great had it not been so wet. I checked out the train station but found the 14:30 direct bus was my best option however they wouldn't guarantee to carry my wheels until the actual driver gave the ok. 

The bus arrived and the driver was delighted to take my wheels in the luggage compartment. It was a 2 hour drive through twisting mountain roads back to France where I spent a night in a damp campsite feeling dejected. I had only been on the Camino for 3 days but I missed it and decided that I would drive to Puente la Reina the next morning leapfrogging to the next stage and track back to align with the cohort I had been journeying with

Friday 1 October 2021

Camino de Santiago 1 - Saint-Jean-Pier-de-Port to Roncesvalles (Electric wheelchair style)

Back in October 2019 I made a blog post about a little mountain town in the French Pyrenees called Saint-Jean-Pier-de-Port just north of the Spanish border. What I was actually doing was checking out the possibility of starting the Camino de Santiago on my wheels. This has been a goal that has sat with me for many years, since long before I used my wheels

Through the Porte d’Espagne, across the bridge to the Rue d’Espagne

The Camino is an ancient pilgrim path across the North of the Iberian Peninsula, starting in the lovely little town of Saint-Jean-Pier-de-Port and finishing 790km away in the holy city of Santiago de Compostela 

The route is the red line at the top of Spain

The start of this pilgrimage crosses the picturesque bridge (photo) before ascending 1430m to the pass and down 650m into Roncesvalles 25 km away and across the Spanish border. This route commences  with a constant climb which is a big challenge for walkers. For me on my wheels it was relatively easy apart from some sections of the ridge at the very top. My challenge was trusting the capability of Genny and myself to take this committing leap

Attempting this crossing is no mean feat for a 2 wheeled battery powered wheelchair carrying everything you need for your journey. In October 2019 with a standard set of Segway batteries I didn't have the confidence to start this adventure. The Guardians at the pilgrim information office told me there was no possible way I should attempt this even by the easier tarmacked road alternative. People had died on this route and I doubt it has ever been attempted solo on an electric 2 wheeled wheelchair. I carried this doubt

Note: Since writing this I have discovered that Roberto Moretti has traveled 350 km of the Camino de Santiago aboard his Genny Mobility wheelchair as detailed HERE and HERE - how cool is that?

I need to say that although I use an electric wheelchair I am still able to walk to some extent and that I can get off and push when required. I am not trying to compare this to anyone else's journey, nor am I trying to promote my undertaking or the wheels I use. My posts have always been about what I am able to do with my wheels that I just wouldn't attempt without them

I left my VW van in a small campsite in Saint-Jean-Pier-de-Port having paid for 2 additional nights. I set off carrying everything I needed for myself and my wheels including some refreshments, sleeping bag, towel, tools, Genny charge cable, passport etc. and what felt like a lot of courage but could have been bravado. I guess this is the spirit of a pilgrimage. With any goal, making the decision is actually a big part of the process and having that made, you're already on the way

Rising views of the French side

Setting off was a great relief and the initial 16 km constant climb was ok for me and I passed a stream of other pilgrims on the route. The views increased in aspect as I climbed. I deviated from the usual walked route in one section where I chose a longer hairpin on tarmac rather than a steeper but rougher off-road section. This was a strategy I would use in several places over the next seven days of my journey

Approaching the pass into Spain the  road  turns to tracks and eventually a single rough footpath which was more challenging on 2 wheels. The hardest part was at the very top of this French side where the steepness and terrain was too hard to ride mounted and even too difficult to guide Genny in rider less mode
Rough terrain approaching the top of the French side  

It is possible after dismounting to put Genny into the Segway rider less balance mode which is designed to be used as a bit of assistance going up ramps etc.. It kind of self drives and you can direct it with a push. I will learn to perfect this technique over the next period but even clearing the worst of the rocks from the path by hand was not enough for me to pass on my own. I was overtaken by many walkers I had previously passed who all offered help. I eventually said yes to a lively pair of Spanish pilgrims who weren't hearing no and picked Genny up, setting it down at the top 

Wheelchair camino - Genny summiting with Spain ahead. Camino de Santiage
Genny fully loaded with rucksack and sleeping bag and Spain ahead

This spirit of kindness was ever present on the Camino and a joy to encounter. Although I was able to manage in most instances there were a number of places I just couldn't negotiate without help. I am fiercely independent however the acceptance of help was humbling and a gift

This wasn't the best way down
Entering Spain the route changes into high mountain woodland and you eventually reach the summit of Lepoeder at 1,430 meters which is the highest point for the day. My batteries were still showing just under half capacity at this point, well beyond the capacity of standard Segway batteries

From here there are two ways down, an incredibly steep rough footpath descending 650m over 4km or a long winding track that does it in about 8km. I took the easy track via a difficult path but soon it was a cruise to the bottom

This long winding track goes on to Roncesvalles at the bottom of the valley where you reach the pilgrim hostel. Unfortunately I dropped my phone and had to retrace my route 2km up hill to the point where thankfully, I found it by the side of the track
Albergue Colegiata in Roncesvalles

The beautiful Albergue Colegiata in Roncesvalles is a big and impressive old complex and sleeps 200 people. It was here that I met the fellow pilgrims I had been encountering all day and had the chance to sit, eat, talk and share a glass with