An Absolute Beginner, no practice, no experience, not even a regular cyclist! I must be crazy :)
Stephen Peel

Stephen Peel

Cycling Around the World

Spain - From Irun to Roses

 

My plan for Spain

 
So here's how the next leg is looking:

I'm going to do a big loop. I arrived in Irun today, and will cycle through San Sebastian tomorrow and on towards Bilbao. I will then head down and inland to Madrid. From Madrid it will be Valencia and I follow the coast through Barcelona before Southern France.
 

My night in Irun relaxing before my big push to Madrid 

So what comes of sharing 3 bottles of wine and a beer with my retired camping neighbour couple last night, and not getting to sleep until midnight. Bags, lines, a little hung over, and not so much energy for a days cycling. But it is only 7am so time to sort myself out :)

Day 34 - and my toughest day yet I think

I set out and got myself over to San Sebastián, and it was such a beautiful place. I got talking to a couple of really great guys who even offered to let me stay at their apartment for the night so we can enjoy the town.

Unfortunately it was early in the day and I had decided earlier that instead of heading in the direction of Bilbao, I would instead head inland and into those huge rolling hills.

I had made my mind up and that was that :) But, this change of direction would come at a cost, physically. Because I haven't felt that drained since I set out. I even had to call in at a lovely families home for water, which gave, chilled :)

I chose a point on the map named Tolosa. This was it, I'm now heading south toward Madrid. Both of my maps - Google and Maps Me - both gave me the same route, which was to travel on a pathway for much of the ride.

After 4km over humps and lumps, and after talking with the locals, this route was now closed due to roadworks. I then tried to work around it, even having to push my bike up the steepest of small roads I had ever seen in my life. I was gutted because this was the first time I'd had to push, but It was almost a loop-the-loop.

After 5 hours of torture trying to head inland on my chosen path, I found myself just 1km from San Sebastián at a petrol station. It was horrific, but, me being me, it was on now! I was determined I would not be beaten back and forced to head to Bilbao. Noooo! I studied my maps and took a huge wide path.

I loaded up with food and drinks in case this was an all-nighter, and I was having it, large :) 7pm and I was arriving in Tolosa, which really isn't all that far from San Sebastián, usually. I had wondered all afternoon where I might sleep that night, because there is no campsites open on this stretch.

I found a hostel on the map and had a new target, but I had no idea if I could get a bed for the night, or if I was going to sleep in a bus shelter or ruin. I mean, I'm no spring chicken and I have never stayed in a hostel before. I was in, and with my own room too, a real bed with a mattress! Hurrah :) I'm now all showered and typing this in a Tapas Bar, with flies buzzing around my head - so no I'm not eating. I truly great day I will remember always. Nice.

Day 35 - and my first official rest day

The day I had off in La Rochelle over my bike, was not a choice really and I was not happy wondering what was happening with the bike. But I had such a good rest in my first hostel last night, which is so clean and tidy, with my own room, and just 20 sobs too, that I decided I would stay another day.

It's a crummy dull and rainy day, so it's time to wash every item of clothing at the launderette across the road, re-organise all my bags, charge absolutely everything, enjoy this little town, some coffees, and some cheap beers at just €2 a pint.

I will be hitting the road again tomorrow, fresh and all organised, because I have no idea whats ahead of me. No internet for my laptop, so I will wander around town today with my phone and upload some images from that.

Day 36 - Dumped gear I didn't want

Day 36 - My full day off was a very good move yesterday. I went through all my bags and things, and removed boxes on things, wrappers, removed things there was just no point in me having, cleared out everything and rearranged the lot.

The result was about 4kg lighter, and a much neater and more streamlined bike. OK, maybe not streamlined, but it looks different. I swing bin liner of rubbish went into the skip, and this morning I felt a huge difference cycling.

I was much faster with less effort, until I stocked up with more water, milk and bananas :). What a difference 4kg made though. I also washed every item of clothing I have, even doing a quick change in the launderette :) All neat and tidy and ready for this day ahead.

I cycled from Tolosa for 35km upwards. No downwards, just up, and it was tiring, with a load of switchbacks taking me right up the last steep part of the day. I was shattered, so the bar right on the top came in handy for that pint :)

Then it was right down the other side to a town called Alsasua – Altsasu. The ride down the other side was good but not great, because the town was at 528m above sea level, so still a little way up.

There are just no campsites coming through the mountains, and not much of anything really other than industry, homes for the people who work in the industries, and mountains.

The river in Tolosa is teaming with huge trout, but sadly nobody fishes for them because there is said to be pollution from the factories all along its length. Sad really, because the scene is lovely.

Anyway, I couldn't find a single spot to wild camp or camp, so I had to book myself into the cheapest hotel I could find. When I get closer to Madrid and on to the coast of Valencia, it will be much easier to get camp sites.

Day 37 - Back to the sleeping bag and a completely different landscape

Tonight I'm back in my tent in my sleeping bag, with only a 7cm blow up mattress separating me from the hard ground :)) Well today I set out in heavy rain. I had at least 60km to do in order to reach a stray campsite I found online last night.

The valley floor for cycling is a little easier than the actual mountains, but still bumpy. There really is no flat ground in these parts. About midday and the rain had eased to showers and a strong headwind, and I called into a garage which just happened to have a cooked chicken, so I packed that for tea.

I have to admit to feeling a little down today. As I pass through these towns in the hills it can be a little depressing and makes me think how spoiled we are in the U.K. I'm talking working class, which is what I am. I see factory after factory as I ride along. In the background there are stunning rolling hills and mountains. Between the hills and factories are rows of blocks of flats, hundreds of them, for all the factory workers.

There seems very little in the way of entertainment. No big cinemas, no clumps of lovely restaurants, not much of anything really. Maybe I'm missing something. Remember I'm comparing what is available to our own working class and not the middle and upper classes. So it made me sad. I've been all over the world, India, Sri Lanka, Manila, and so many other places where people have very little, and yet appear to have everything they need, and it has never made me feel sad like this, depressed even.

Yes, I truly feel spoiled when I think of all I have in the U.K. and the people I have around me. I guess it's just one of those days where I feel a little alone and missing people and things. But hey, I did tell you I wouldn't just be giving you all the good stuff. Warts and all I said :) But I'm fine, all washed, all my washing done and dry, and I'm ready to get that bit farther towards Madrid tomorrow. I'm about 400km from Madrid, so I guess about a week away. Then I'm heading once again to the coast :)

Day 38 - is a very special day

I have now cycled over 1000 miles. 1014 actually, or 1622km. I'm pretty chuffed with that. I'm also pretty chuffed with the fact that I have cycled 95lm (60 miles) today. Yep, my backside is red raw :) bit of an over-share there :)

It started out a sunny and pleasant day, and I hit the road at 9am as usual. At about 1.30, after some rolling hills and a few tracks, I found a great spot for a wild camp.

It was high above most things around, with an amazing 360 view. But, it was a glorious sunny day with a nice breeze, and it just felt wrong not to continue on. After all I had done just 45km at that point.

So I rode on, and on, and on, unable to find another wild camp spot or campsite. It was gone 5pm and I checked out an abandoned piggery. As I walked inside across broken glass and debris, I could still smell the pigs. It was awful. But I noted I had just 29km to the next big town. Could I make it before it went dark, and would my legs hold out. 9km down the road, a sign saying camping. I was so happy about that. I'm all clean, tent up, pizza down my neck, along with a beer too :)

Day 39 - In 70km I must have seen only a dozen cars

It's like the Australian outback where I am right now. I'm 222km from Madrid, coming in from the north. The outback really is the best way to describe it, with a bit of the Wild West thrown in.

I maybe say a handful of people too, and nothing at all was open, and even the little villages had no dogs barking. Come to think of it I don't remember seeing many birds either!

There are no campsites and no hotels that I could find, so tonight I've pitched my tent in a small forest. I have 1ltr milk, 1ltr water, 4 bananas, a small chicken and a bread stick. The food I picked up first thing this morning before setting out.

In my path tomorrow at 66km is a larger town called Aranda de Duero, so it will be full steam ahead until I reach there. If I can't find a camp, it will be a hotel, as I have very little charge on things.


There better not be bears or wolves around these parts :) I've got chicken and I won't be sharing :)

During the day I started hitting my first really long gravel stretches on camino trails. When I was first told about the "wonderful" camino's crisscrossing the country, I was really looking forward to them. 

I had this picture in my mind of tarmac or firm ground, and constantly passing people walking and cycling. Oh no, not on my route through to Madrid, not a sole, and where's the tarmac!!

Day 40 - Satnav's are a pain 

Up nice and early from my wild camp in the woods. First stop the church well for a freshen-up :)
Yesterday my satnav said I had 222km to Madrid, and now after doing 74km today, a fresh calculation to Madrid gives me 170km to go? It does this a lot. If I calculate what could be days of traveling, it gives me a figure, but as I actually do the first day, I think it is more precise.

Still, I'm really looking forward to getting past Madrid and heading for the coast. There is some beautiful countryside between San Sebastián and Madrid, but that's about it for me. It's a place that would be lovely to drive through with pre-arranged hotel stays, but not for being a solo cyclist, or backpacker maybe.

The very limited places to stay and getting to converse with people is really very poor. I chose this route through Madrid to the coast because I wanted to not deviate too far left of my path, wish is East and South, if I can help it. So going around the coastline of Spain and Portugal would not have suited me at all. I knew it would be tough going for a lot of reasons going to Madrid and across, but hey, I'm on a mission :)

So it was a cold day today, bitterly cold actually. But dry mostly. There is a Lidl just down the road from this campsite I'm at, so in the morning I'm going to stock up with things because I might not find a place to stay again tomorrow. Anyway, it's short and sweet because I'm being pestered to death by flies. I must have 50 on me. It's like this around here. It again reminds me of the Australian Outback :)

Time for a quick lunch, and yes I am only joking with the whole chicken on full loaf of bread :), or am I?

Day - 41 And wow what a hard day, especially on my butt :)

I ended up doing 68km of mostly dirt tracks, with the odd bit of road to tease me. Beautiful as cycling along the tracks was, they took it out of me.

It took me until 7.30pm, 10 hours of cycling, to reach my campsite, only to find its bar and restaurant are closed for 4 days!

I thought my last campsite had a dryer and a washer, so I washed everything but a shirt and shorts, only then to find out they were both washing machines.

So I couldn't get my clothes dry for morning, which meant extra dead weight on the bike, and no padded shorts. I was going to ride without the padding, but then thought against it and dried 1 pair of padded shorts under the hand dryer :) it was worth it.

As the campsite had nothing, I set my tent up and cycled back to the town nearby and have had sone lovely hot sandwiches and coffee. Back to the site now as I'm shattered.

Day 42 - Why am I not in Madrid yet? you should try this cycle touring lark :)

Tomorrow night I should be right in the heart of Madrid. It had taken some time to get here from San Sebastián, I agree, but this is the kind of thing that can happen when you don't have a route, other than "I wanna go there".

Others may have mapped this all out prior to leaving home, and if that's their thing then that's cool. But all I know each day is that I'm heading in the direction of Madrid, at the moment :)

When I hit those mountains that rose up out of nowhere, shielding Madrid from the north, like they were the only protection from the Whitewalkers, it was horrific. I didn't even know there were mountains near Madrid. Because I have no route, every day is a surprise. Not always a pleasant one :) Just today I did 10's of km, only to find myself back where I started from that morning, but hey, that's my cock-up.

Not having a set route or schedule means there will be trouble ahead, but it also feels like freedom. This amount of freedom could be terrifying to some, and it even spooks me a little. Today I cycled ( slowly ) through a field of bulls, I went along dirt tracks probably few if any cycle tourers have ever been on, and I ate, drank, and did whatever I wanted, my own way. It's not easy, but it's exactly what I wanted. Now time for that beer.
 
My satnav thought it might be funny to take me through these bulls, big things close up, and yet preferably smaller the farther away you get :))