We are dead tired. Today was the most grueling day we have had since we started. The day started like any other day, with a good breakfast and departure from Cacabelos around 8:30 am, under a cloudy and menacing sky. We were happy going on flat ground, when all of a sudden the road goes up a hill. Rats! We dismounted and pushed up the hill, which is a fairly tiresome thing to do first thing in the morning. Then we reached Villafranca (8 km and an altitude of 500 m), a beautiful mountain village with a Franciscan convent established by Saint Francis himself.
From Villafranca we followed the canyon of the Valcarce River, which is deeply incised unto the mountains. It was a beautiful ride through the trees, but we were going upriver, slowly gaining elevation. We arrived in Las Herrerias (25 km and 650 m altitude) in good cheer, had a good early lunch with cold cuts, and gained the intelligence that following National Route VI was too dangerous and longer than if we took the short, steep, and paved road across the mountains.
Famous last words! Steep does not make justice to the “wall” we were pushing our bikes on. In three kilometers we reached an elevation of 775 m, and another four kilometers would bring us to the lofty altitude of 1,100 in Laguna de Castilla. The slope was brutal (12 to 15%), and I had to push the bike up using the old trick of counting steps. One, two, three . . . 39, 40. Stop. Take five deep breaths. Start again, one, two . . .
We finally made it to Laguna de Castilla, a group of five houses, when it started to rain. The rain was light, but the cold wind drove it into our bones. Adelante! Three more kilometers, with an elevation gain of 200 m to gain O Cebreiro (35 km and 1,300 m altitude), the first town of Galicia. We were now way up in the clouds, blind with fog and rain. Fortunately there was a bar, so we were able to warm up a bit, with coffee for Raúl and warm wine with sugar for me. For a moment we toyed with the idea of calling it a day then and there, but it was only 4 pm and staying would put us hopelessly behind schedule.
So we pressed onward, and within a couple of klicks we had come out of the clouds and were even blessed with some sun. Now we had the chance to admire the beauty of Galicia, a green and blessed country where every hill is draped in emerald green, interrupted only by the brown stone walls erected in time immemorial, which dissect the landscape like veins. The hills are immense, the slopes are infinite, the canyons are deep, and the clouds had lost their menacing air.
But our pain was far from over, because we dropped in elevation, trudged up again for nearly a kilometer, dropped once more, and had to crawl one last time two kilometers of painful slope. I was so glad to have Raúl for my partner in pain, because tired as he was he never lost his good humor and his geologist eyes.
The last part of the day was heavenly. A 15-km down slope, where we were able to fly with the bikes. The downhill was pretty steep (7%), so we flew cautiously, pressing hard on the brakes and hoping they would hold. Finally we made it to Triacastela (55 km and 600 m elevation), where we engaged a small apartment in a pensión, to recover and dry our soggy clothes.