A total of 68 of 75 registered riders completed the first edition of El Kilometro Cero. A non-competitive event that could be completed on a gravel or mountain bike, it was held from 29th September to 3rd October. Riders took on a 798 kilometre route that spanned from kilometre zero in Puerta del Sol at the centre of Madrid – a point that marks the starting point of 6 national highways – to the finish in St. James' Way, Finisterre, Galicia.
This new event is an unassisted journey through Spain that has been created by the ex-pro cyclist Miguel Silvestre and the adventurer Juanjo Alonso (aka Kapitan Pedales). The organisation of El Kilometro Cero gives participants four route options, all starting at the famed point in Madrid, but finishing in different locations such as Finisterre, Roses, Tarifa and Hondarribia. Our story today centres around the route to Finisterre, which I managed to complete at the end of last year.
From Madrid to the end of the world
The route from Puerta del Sol to the Finisterre lighthouse passes through the main Caminos de Santiago in the Iberian Peninsula. These include the Madrid Way, the Southeast Way, the Silver Way, the French Way and the Winter Way – the last was created to avoid the winter snow of Cebreiro. Finally, after endless ups and downs, the route reaches the westernmost point of the ancient Terra Cognita, the Finisterre lighthouse, where participants can breathe a sigh of relief that they have reached the elusive finish point.
Starting in the heart of Madrid at 6am has its peculiarities. There was little traffic in the city, a few hungover tourists as witnesses and escorts for almost a hundred cyclists, who were ready to set out on their first day of challenging uncertainty. Each one of us had decided ourselves how we would manage the journey ahead. Some had planned four days, riding 200 kilometres per day, resting in hotels and hostels. Others opted for an adventure of long, hard days with little sleep. David Magán and I, my partner in this cycling adventure, chose the latter.
Still under a dark sky, we left Paseo de la Castellana behind and travelled along the fast tracks towards Cercedilla, chatting for hours along the way. We rode over Collado de Fuenfría pass in Sierra de Guadarrama until we hit a long and cold descent to Segovia. Once we reached the entrance of the Castilla y León region, we rode on endless kilometres of flat terrain, including the Eresma greenway. This tested our psychological endurance, with the monotonous terrain putting pressure on our bodies.
In Olmedo, in south of Valladolid, we made our first pit stop. Finding an open supermarket or restaurant proved difficult as the town was in the midst of local festivities. Eventually, what rescued our hungry stomachs was a Spanish omelette in a sandwich. In challenges like the one we were undertaking, each individual reacts differently to the strain. In our case, we tried to eat three main meals each day: breakfast, lunch and dinner. From my experience, I know that my stomach needs some solid meals in between energy bars. But each individual should know their own body.
At the walled town of Ureña, we linked up with the road which would take us Southeast. We had almost covered 300 kilometres by the time we reached Benavente in Zamora, where again we stopped for food. Our dinner was a traditional Spanish plato combinado, which satiated our stomachs and provided the energy to continue.
Something that occupied our thoughts was the route tracker which showed live dots to allow us to see the position of other participants. When we opened it, we saw that Dan Van Meeuwen was in front of us, a Dutchman who works and lives in Girona. Riding a mountain bike, he was almost an hour ahead. But a change of scenery was in sight.
A turning point
In Rabanal del Camino, a small and beautiful enclave in Maragato territory, we slept for an hour and changed our clothes. We also charged our GPS, changed the battery of our headlamp, added sealant to my tubeless tyres and filled our bike-packing bags with everything we needed to continue this long pilgrimage. The organisation had arranged this point of assistance where each rider would have their personal bag waiting for them with the objects they might need at this part of the journey.
After our stop in Rabanal, everything slowed down.
The climb to the Cruz de Fierro and the descent to Ponferrada turned into a freezing nightmare. In El Bierzo we were greeted by biting cold. It was already 9 o'clock in the morning and our empty stomachs were crying out for nourishment. At the gates of Ponferrada we devoured three plates of bread with tomato and ham, two milk coffees and a delicious croissant. At the time, I felt it was one of the best I have ever eaten. Suddenly, everything was rosy again. Our stomachs fed our brains and released hormones, and, almost euphoric, we were looking for more kilometres.
On Galician soil, we descended and went in search of Puente de Domingo Flórez, looking up at enormous amounts of slate piled up at the summit. What followed was relentless ups and downs parallel to the river Sil. When we arrived at O Barco de Valdeorras, it was time to eat again. David had been in discomfort for a few hours now, and was feeling queasy, so we stopped and ate rice with chicken. However, that stop was not enough, and David’s body decided that it could not continue. By then, the Dutchman, Dan Van Meeuwen, had also retired.
So there it began, another journey, another scenario, another approach and another attitude. I was alone. Only me and the route, me and the night, me and my inner demons. At that moment, El Kilometro Cero became more of a spiritual journey than a physical one.
My arrival in Santiago de Compostela turned out to give me a false sense of hope. The road to the ‘end of the world’ was still long and hard. There were still 89 kilometres to go, and almost 2,000 metres of ascent. Fortunately, the stretches of path to Cee were a gift and helped to mitigate the hardness of parts like Alto do Mar de Ovellas.
In Negreira the rain began to fall, fine and soft at first, but turning to become heavy and windy. There were only a few hours left to reach the coast and the end of this intense and wild adventure.
Seeing the streets of Fisterra and overcoming the undulating path to the Cape Fisterra Lighthouse made many thoughts and emotions emerge in me, some which had been stored for months. It was the end of a long process that gave me permission to be someone else. The Camino had surprised me with its extreme hardness and beauty. I had completed the route with more than 12,000 metres of climbing in 2 days 11 hours 13 minutes and 36 seconds, and I finished in first place. But the most important thing is that El Camino truly transformed me into a different person.
Having successfully completed the first edition, the organisers are already preparing the second edition for May 25th 2022. Registrations are now open at elkilometrocero.com.