Bikepacking The Camino De Santiago

I’m standing, staring at an empty luggage carousel in Bordeaux, France. The belt squeaking around in circles, my co-passengers long gone, and a broken language conversation with the singular attendant reveals that our bikes are currently quite lost.

This is the first day of what is to be a three-week bikepacking trip. The plan, two weeks on the Camino de Santiago, a 500-mile dirt path from the French Pyrenees to the Northwestern coast of Spain. Followed by a flight to Ireland to bike rolling green cow-laden hills. My friend and travel partner Fiona and I begin to devise an alternate plan in case the bikes don’t show. Rentals? An expensive shipment of familiar steeds? A different itinerary altogether? We decide on patience, optimism, and a bottle of red wine. It is Bordeaux after all.

We are certainly not in Minnesota anymore...

Two days and many phone calls later, we are delivered two large familiar brown boxes outside our small hotel. It is dusk and there is no space in our 10x10 pension, so we get to building our bikes on the sidewalk downtown. We are excited, laughing, and people stop with curiosity. No longer confined to the city, tomorrow we set out for open country, to a dirt path heading west.

Our hearty steeds...2014 Fargo Ti bikes in special colors...

Leaving the Basque village of St. Jean that morning, we cross the iconic archway and medieval bridge that mark the beginning of the route.  I always love this moment, the first day of a trip, knowing there are many days in the saddle ahead, and that with each new day the future is unwritten.  We are heading to open country, where nature is abstract, and it gets into your soul a sense of beauty. 

We are just a few short blocks out of the village and straight away the road begins to lift in earnest, at first on paved road, then tightening to dirtpack and gravel switchbacks.  This was supposed to be my ‘warm weather vacation’, but climbing we are wearing almost all of the clothes we packed and find ourselves crossing large snowfields lingering from an earlier storm.

Up and over the Col...

The Camino is traditionally a walking ‘pilgrimage’ taking most folks 4 to 6 weeks to complete. We will finish in 1/3 the time and never hurry.  We say hello and occasionally chat with the walkers we pass, and I’m moved by their wherewithal.  These are not all young athletic types, it is mixed bag of ages and abilities, some of them will make it to the end and some will not.  At some point, all will have sore feet, legs, and long expanses of time to think.  We see a few other cyclists as well but the number of travelers is fairly light.  We intentionally chose to ride the Camino very early in the walking season to avoid the crowds seen in mid-late summer.  This also makes finding lodging (hostels) easier each night as  ‘wild camping’ is ‘officially’ not allowed, and walkers are given priority to beds. 

Passing a trekker on trail...

After a long morning of pedaling (and pushing) our rigs, we near the top the Col. Here the clouds open to views back over distant Pyrenean foothills, and forward following the path into Spain.  I’m drawn to this path and the unknown. It has always been where I find clarity, where the world makes sense, and I’m sure to return with something new.

A forested section of the Camino...and a free wine stop along the route...

This post filed under topics: Bikepacking Explore Fargo Kelly Mac Travel

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Kelly MacWilliams

Kelly MacWilliams

Origins: San Francisco Bay Area Location: Minneapolis, MN (Harrison!) Likes: Bikes, Arturo Bandini, large metal sculpture, photography, design, anything jalapeño, denim, albino squirrels, bock beer, and my backyard fire pit. Dislikes: Television and beets.


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Alex | August 29th, 2013

Wow, Hi Kelly!  You guys are really lucky!  I station in China, and the air quality here is so bad…but still I ride alot.  Just want to say, I wish we have air as clean as you guys have over there in the States!  Keep on riding guys :)  I would too if we have air like you guys have over there!

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Arie Liefhebber | September 5th, 2013

Hello Kelly,

We had a small talk at the Salsa boot in Friedrichshafen last weekend and i want you to know thad I orderd a Fargo 2 today.

Thanks for your advice.

Best regards,

Arie Liefhebber

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Kelly Mac | September 5th, 2013

Hello Arie!

Nice! Congrats on the new rig.  I look forward to hearing where you end up on your new steed during future January trips.  Keep us posted!

Kelly Mac

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ken hari | September 19th, 2013

I bought a fargo 2 don’t know why;but its a great bike love every min on it’
seems to have soul ;and gets me further;with the 29 wheels
this is on the bucket list for me and the fargo

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Logan | September 23rd, 2013

Nice Post! Curious what OR bag you are using as a handlebar bag?? Looks like a nice setup…

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Chipps | September 26th, 2013

Nice story Kelly,
I rode (on my Fargo) across the Pyrenees and back a couple of years ago. I was on the road though, so it’d be good to compare notes some time.

Kid Riemer

Kid Riemer | October 1st, 2013

Logan - I believe Kelly and Fiona were both using the Lateral Dry Bag from Outdoor Research. -Kid.

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Kelly | October 10th, 2013


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john | October 24th, 2013

Where’s the rest of the story?

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marisa | November 20th, 2013

i want! your adventure make me jealous! And how much money to spend your adventure? Actually you must cost for hotel, eat, and everything and get the cheap deals to all?

WoW! It’s great!!!

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Arie Liefhebber | December 5th, 2013

Hello Kelly Mac, bike is ready! First real trip is Turkey (March), Lycianway. 90% offroad, up to 2000m high and 500km in 5 day’s. Pictures will follow .


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the Banks | December 5th, 2013

Loved reading about your trip.  I see the green frame Fargo is a small one.  Did you ever feel you sacrificed control by using 29er vs 26 inch wheels?

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Kelly Mac | December 9th, 2013

Hey Arie - The Fargo looks stellar, especially like your tape and saddle choices.  We look forward to the photos from your trip!

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Kelly Mac | December 9th, 2013

Marisa - The greatest cost was the flight from the US, but once on the Camino, the cost was quite minimal.  On average we spent between 15-35 euro a day.  Hostels were quite inexpensive along the route (5 to 15 Euro a day can be found) and a nice bottle of Rioja just €3…you can’t go wrong.

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Kelly Mac | December 9th, 2013

The Banks - I converted to 29er years ago so this is my normal, but for Fiona, this trip marked her first time on a 29er.  Quite honestly we saw a lot of bikes (some quite crazy contraptions) along the route and after finishing the trip, we both agreed this was the IDEAL rig for the Camino given the variety of the trail and the mix terrain.  I felt in full control rolling steep, rocky, and technical sections, even with the extra weight from loaded packs.

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Oliver | January 23rd, 2014

Lovely writing! Thanks for this lovely post! Brought back some really good memories indeed. I cycled the Camino as well a few years ago, leaving at the my parent’s garage and sitting on the rocks in Fisterra “at the world’s end” about one month and more than 3000 km later… Impressive bikes I must admit, so certainly suitable for staying “on the path” all the time! I was doing more road cycling to be honest, so not sure if this counts as well as cycling the Camino or only as “alongside”... :)

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Kelly Mac | January 23rd, 2014

Sounds like an excellent trip.  Think it’s about time for me to start planning my next.

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Oliver | January 24th, 2014

Thanks Kelly, it was marvellous experience indeed! And your “New Year’s resolution” sounds great, think I need to do the same… ;)

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Locke | May 30th, 2014

This is fantastic. I would love some information about the maps and resources you used to plan these routes, as I’m looking to do something similar next summer, eventually linking up to the Via Alpina. Any information on following mostly dirt in Spain and France would be awesome.
Hit me up at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) with any info you might want to share!

Happy wandering,

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Terry | August 1st, 2014

I walked the Camino from Vezelay near Dijon and can confirm walkers get beds before cyclists. Cyclists often have to wait several hours after the walkers, before getting to the showers, kitchen (if there is one) etc. which struck me as tough. Ponferada Swiss run refugio give beautiful wooden beds to walkers, while cyclists had to kip in the stuffy hot basement. That said, it’s a wonderful experience, and though I’m a cycling nut, I’m still glad I had the time to do so and walked every step.

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