I’ve hit a few milestones over the last few days, which make progress seem a little more real than just a continuous stream of ’95km, 350 metres of climbing’. Some of these were intentional, some not, but as I roast in the midday sun in Pamplona, they do give me a little confidence that this trip might be doable.
Let’s see… I’ve hit country number three (including the UK), entering Spain yesterday. I’ve hit the 1000km mark in terms of distance, and I’ve endured my first day with over 2000 vertical metres of climbing (crossing the Pyrenees). And, entirely accidentally, my first 100 mile day. Not too bad, then.
On the other hand, there are a few issues. An annoying rattle on the bike (or in the bags) which I can’t trace, problems with routinely getting enough water (saved by roadside springs yesterday), and a nagging feeling that I’m spending too much money. Still, must be all sortable, I guess.
I flew through the rest of France due to an improbable tailwind and some magnificent cycleways (and, let’s face it, it was flat). An example of a magnificent cycleway can be seen below. Something the UK and Spain could both learn from, I feel. The UK seems to be under the impression that a decent cycleway consists of some paint on the road, while the Spanish don’t really seem to have any (though, to be fair, I’ve only seen a few km of Spain)…
Though I kind of knew the Pyrenees were going to be a big test, I was able to forget about them for a few days, and put in an accidental 100 mile day while outstandingly failing to find a campsite. I’ve no intention that 100 mile days become the norm, but it’s nice to know you can if you want to.
After eight days in France, I was feeling confident that my French had improved sufficiently to pass for a local. An illusion shattered as I rolled into Bayonne. I stopped in the town centre to check my map, and was immediately interrupted by an Australian voice asking if I needed any help. In English, naturally. I looked up to see a tandem, with a fairly typical Aussie bloke (tats, shades, three-quarter-length shorts, goatee) on the front. And an oriental (maybe Chinese?) lady in a floral summer dress and floppy straw hat on the back. After establishing that I was heading south, I then got verbal directions for the next 30 miles. In 30 seconds. None of which I managed to memorise. Oh, well… I have no idea whether these two just hang around the town centre waiting for cyclists to arrive, or what, but it was a nice (if slightly bizarre) welcome to a lovely looking town. But I couldn’t dally; the mountains awaited.
Yesterday was the day. I’d pre-planned roughly where to cross the Pyrenees, spotting a nice low(ish) pass at 600-and-odd metres. My valiant (smashed but pluckily soldiering on) iPhone guided me there, and I ticked off my first ‘mountain’ pass! Pamplona was only another 60km or so. It was all too, erm, Pyreneeasy. Sorry.
Unfortunately, relying entirely on the phone meant that I missed the fact that my intended road into Pamplona became a semi-motorway from which bikes were outlawed. Never mind, I’d take the old road; must run pretty parallel… Some hours later, trekking up a second, 700m-plus hill, I was not a happy bunny. Over 2000 metres climb in a day is for the racing snakes of the Tour de France, with their lightweight carbon-fibre bikes and back-up cars. Not really for an elderly gent lugging 40kg of bike and bags. Let’s just say it was a long, long day.
Still, I made it to Pamplona. It’s a lovely town, and Spain seems to be half the price of France. And I tumbled into a lovely quiet hostel for another rest day. More clothes washed, but I don’t think you need the pictures this time. And for the record, the red underpants in the last post were nothing to do with me…
So, nothing to worry about between here and Madrid except the heat (30c by eleven in the morning today), and finding my way over or around another set of mountains. Bigger than the Pyrenees. Much bigger. Ouch…
By the way, I’ve finally added a map and some stats (everyone loves stats!) to the Progress page, for your delectation and delight.