My Six pilgrimages to Spain and France
My husband Eric and I joined the Pamplona to Pyrenees Tour in July 2005.
Our trip was a multitude of heroic pilgrimages:
The Race is not just about Lance, though seeing Lance Armstrong go by was a thrill. It’s about the elderly French farmwife who knitted until the racers came by then told me she wouldn’t miss The Race for anything! It’s about the racers at the very back who struggle heroically on the same routes as the top finishers for distances and at paces that few of us can comprehend. It’s about the water cannon on the sponsor’s parade, called the Caravan, and the swag (goodies) that rain down to incite the crowd. Chocolates, hats, sausages, keychains, pretzels, sailed past, not to, me. Alas! The young girls in charge of throwing seemed to prefer throwing to Eric and our tour leader, Pierre!
I feel as if I’ve been to Cyclist Mecca, just to see The Race. I hummed the “Saints Go Marching By” as famous names rode past. But there were also 5 more heroic pilgrimages on the trip!
My second pilgrimage was the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, as made famous in Hemingway’s novel, “The Sun Also Rises.” We watched from our specially reserved balcony like “Juliets” as 4 of our group joined the hundreds of other runners in a pilgrim’s test of fearlessness and danger. One could nearly taste the adrenalin in the air. One could definitely taste the churros (donuts) and sangria!
My third heroic pilgrimage took place as our route wound its way along a part of the Camino de Santiago, a 14th century pilgrim’s route with walkers and cyclists traveling it today. One could receive dispensations for sins by walking the Camino de Santiago instead of joining in the Crusades. Today, it still is a powerful pilgrimage for many people. There are special, inexpensive hostels and stops where you can receive a stamp for your Camino “passbook.” Eric figured he still had time to accumulate some more sins and join in the ExperiencePlus! tour on the Camino another year.
My fourth pilgrimage took us deep into the mountains of Basque country, spanning parts of Spain and France. Basques consider themselves a persecuted people who learned to live in the rugged areas, such as the Pyrenees. I wished a shopkeeper “Happy Bastille Day”, trying to be a sophisticated traveler, and the clerk countered, “Here we are not really French, we are Basque!! Who cares about that French holiday!” Miguel Indurain, one of the 5 time winners of The Race, grew up deep in Basque country. As a result, the Basques love their cycle team, Euskatel, and there are many who wear orange with black berets to show their support.
The fifth pilgrimage of our trip was the journey that 5 million others made each year as they visit Lourdes, France, the site of our hotel. Lourdes is the second most visited city in France. There, one can find the Grotto of Mary, where a young peasant girl witnessed a visitation by Mary in the 1800’s. The spring in the Grotto is said to have healing powers. Whole parishes in black from all parts of Europe walk down the street to the Grotto, bearing their ill on stretchers and special wheelchairs built more like rickshaws with blue canopies. While the intense souvenir trade outside the Grotto may raise eyebrows, Eric and I found the hope and care inside to give a deep sense of reverence to the atmosphere. Here are people who have come on a final pilgrimage to find peace.
The five heroic pilgrimages combined with my own personal cycling pilgrimage to find meaning and adventure. I completed all 120 kilometers and 3 mountain passes of the toughest cycling day I’ve ever had. It took 12 hours and I still felt proud when I found out the racers did a similar but longer and harder route in about 4 hours.
As usual, we had ringside seats for the Tour and the Bulls, as well as being able to cycle to our hearts’ content, and walk from our hotels to many activities. I loved being part of the Price family enterprise, as daughter Maria Elena was one of our leaders, soon joined by other daughter Monica and cousin Massimo, who were in charge of ExperiencePlus! logistics for The Race. We really felt part of a family.
Here is a link to photos of my 6 pilgrimage trip.
It was a bliss attack and I’m still “blissed out!”