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 Valencia to Roses

Day 60 - Wild tracks and sad news 

Heading out of the other side of Valencia, I now need to a campsite I have found, but its slow going as I always manage to find those tiny tracks :) On arriving at my campsite, it was closed :(. I'm parked up outside the closed gates, when a lovely couple pulled up on their bikes. They said it's OK, the campsite next door is open :) 

They were staying there. So great, at 5.30pm I was wondering what I was going to do for digs, but all is well. They invited me over for a drink and chat at their caravan, and so I of course graciously accepted. Just under 40km of cycling today, but a really nice day.
 
It is with a heavy heart (due its massive size :) ) That I'm telling you that I'm returning to the U.K. on the 6th October from Barcelona. Ive just had myself a lovely swim in this sea reserve. Not a sole about and just me. You can't fish, scuba, surf, take shells, as its a sea reserve. Its quite beautiful, well at least it was a reserve until I got in it :) Surely nothing can survive that :)

For those of you that don't know; when I was run over by an articulated lorry, I sustained major damage to my spine, needing years of treatment and a lot of medication. I have done extremely well so far, with pain of courses, but nothing like I thought I would be feeling, so that's good of course. My GP always told me that the best thing for my spine would be cycling, as my spine would be supported.

The week before I left the UK I had blood tests and was seen by a specialist at Halton Hospital. He said that my blood was too thick and it was likely due to testosterone I was prescribed after the accident. The testosterone was to help strengthen my bones and joints, and I would be needing it for life. However, the specialist thought that as I still intended to take on this cycle, that I should try to reduce my testosterone by half.

He said my body would likely be producing more testosterone due to the amount of exercise my legs would be getting, as they are the biggest muscle group. He was concerned that even more testosterone wound thicken my blood still further, leading to all sorts of problems, or worse. I reduced it by half the day I set out. I knew I would have to return for more tests to see how things are going, but there was no way I was going to return until I had completed my loop in Spain, which was San Sebastián, Madrid, Valencia, and Barcelona.

And don't even suggest that I could get these follow-on tests here! I can't even ask for cold milk without a universal translator, followed by a blank stare :) The best news is that I get to see the special people I love so much and miss. On top of that, I can purchase winter gear, including the right sleeping bag for the cold weather to come, thermal clothing, waterproofs, and everything I need to get me through winter in the rest of Europe.

I will be back in the UK for at least 10 days and maybe more, but not much more. Then it's back to where I left off in Barcelona, to continue on my journey. I'm way ahead of my original schedule, and I'm loving it. I will be looking for self-storage in Barcelona, to store my bike and the gear I'm keeping until I return. That's it really, other than I'm liking a lot of this coastline right now.

Day 61 - 107km! That's right 107, my best yet. There is life in this old dog ;)


I started out about 20km south of Peniscola, and instead of taking the road route around the huge hill on the reserve, I took to the gravel. There were dozens of mountain bikers going both ways on the only track through, and they looked at me like I was crazy to be carting this monster and all the gear, plus slick tyres and no suspension through this rocky trail for so many km's, but they just don't know me do they :)

After a few hours of butt busting rocks and gravel, I got my first glimpse of Peniscola. On entering the town, which was very pretty, my priority was an ATM, followed by the supermarket. I prefer to make my own sandwiches if I can, at least there is something on them and for a fraction of the price. So ham, lettuce, and a huge breadstick, followed by fruit juice and a coffee.

Then it was up the coast until I reached Parc Natural del Delta de l'Ebre, Tarragona. This place was just rice fields for as far as you could see. At least I think it was rice. My first 2 campsites in this are that I had eyed up beforehand, were the worst I had seen yet. Completely disgusting. The next was shut, so I headed out of this flatland and over to L'Ampolla were I found a great little campsite and beer :) I'm beat. It was mostly flattish after Peniscola, but the wind was in my face and it was a lot of km's, but it's all good.

Day 62 - Boarding pass printed and bike storage sorted too

Day 62 - 48km covered, but that's OK, it was a bit of a pain early on with finding out that Monarch had gone tits up :), pardon the expression, and having to sort out an alternative flight for the same day.

There was talk that people would be brought home by other airlines, and there was also talk that as a single person, I might have to wait until something came up as I would not be seen as priority, so I couldn't chance all that messing around, being herded like cattle and passed about, as I also have storage for my bike to sort out and nowhere to stay, and I also need to get home for reasons I've already mentioned.

So I got straight online on my phone, which was really hard to do as the screen is so small for all that messing, but I managed a booking for the same day and earlier in the morning, and leg room too, so I'm happy about that. I believe flights are selling up or even sold out by now, so I got in there just in time. I feel so sorry for whole families that will be worrying the whole time they are away about how they are going to get home. It's terrible when crap like that happens.

I have managed to get storage too, just enough room for the bike and the bags, so that's good. I have 127km left to go to get to Barcelona, and 3 days of cycling if needed, so I will try to do the 127km over the next 2 days, camp on the second day, then get myself to the storage unit on Thursday, find digs for the night with my bags which will no doubt be easier than with a bike, then leave early the next morning to the airport.

It was a lovely sunny day today and I am at a great campsite called Playa Montroig in Tarragona. More money than usual for a campsite, but a great setup and fabulous beach. They have just printed out my boarding passes too which I have just downloaded. Great.

Peniscola and the wide open rice paddies of Ebro Delta

There are some serious climbs along the coast between Tarragona and Barcelona. There is no hard shoulder, only a barrier one foot from the lane, so really hazardous, but beautiful scenery. There are signs along the way telling traffic to give cyclists 1.5 meters space. The idea is good, but in practice it's more like a few inches with most :)

Ebro Delta, with its hundreds of acres of rice paddies, and flamingos

I'm just loving being on the coast

Day 63 - Just look at this evenings picture!

The things I have to endure on this adventure :)

I cycled 83km today and I'm now only 50km from my storage company. It's actually about 8km north of the city centre, but that's OK, it doesn't matter, less to cycle northward on my return soon.

It's been really hot today - sorry if it's cold and raining near you - and I've drank loads. Places were shut as a protest to the government here.

I'm starting to feel it as I get closer to Barcelona, and after speaking to some great Catalan people today, and they all say the same thing, that they didn't necessarily want to leave, they just feel they have a right to vote. And now the government has used quite hard tactics, more people now want to become independent.

Well that's as political as I'm getting OK :) , I just hope there is no more violence. I've never really seen mainland Spain, other than a cruise ship stop at Bilbao, and you can't get a good picture from such a short stop, having done what I've done with this loop, solo, I've experienced so much. A lot I haven't liked, and a lot I have. Some things I have really loved, and some things I have really hated, and that ends my review :))

I'm undecided at the moment as to whether I should plough into the 50km I have left and get this gear into storage by late afternoon and get a hotel for 2 nights so I can see a bit of Barcelona for a full day on Thursday, or get closer to Madrid and find a campsite, tomorrow night then make a morning call to the storage company on Thursday and just one night of digs in town? Hmm!

Day 64 - Time to kill, launderette time

've decided that with 28km to go to the North side of Barcelona, and it only being 12 lunch time, that I would call into The launderette and get everything other than I've got on, washed and dried. Love these launderettes because they include soap powder which is all done by the machine.

While that's going on I'm going to sort out all my bags, so all I have to do when I drop my bike off at storage later, is take away my 49ltr Rack-Pack, and 1 small front pannier bag as hand luggage.

A lot of the other clothing will be nice and clean waiting for my return. I will then of course have a change of clean clothes tomorrow and the day after for my flight.

I have picked up a good lock for the storage box this morning, so it's just a case of dropping my bike off and finding a hotel for 2 nights in the centre. Or even near the airport as long as there is transport to the city centre.

Barcelona

So I made it to Barcelona, I completed this stage of the cycle and that super tough - for me as a beginner - loop through Spain. From Warrington in Cheshire to Barcelona, took a total of 1695 actual cycling miles - 2728km. I never imagined I would be able to do more than 60km in a day, let alone the 107km best I did. My little legs :) have never stopped hurting, but I have to say that the hardest part is the mental side.

Sure, it hurts to climb hills and cycle all day long, but your mind is constantly active, it doesn't go into autopilot, not with me anyway. There are potholes, nails and sharp objects to look out for as you cycle along, paying attention to what the traffic is doing, pushing yourself hard, the loneliness, the wonders, the concerns, hoping to find a place to sleep, making sure you have enough water, and all the while thinking of loved ones back home.

Yes, as a solo cycle tourer, I would have to say that the physical side is maybe around the 30-40% if that, and the rest is simply mental :) I will shortly return to pick up my bike from the storage unit, then continue up and out of Spain and into the South of France. Onward through Italy, until I get the ferry over to Greece.

Paella: Rather have a Biryani at a fraction of the price

Now I don't like bivalves / molluscs, but I do like crustaceans, and I haven't tried a Paella dish since arriving in Spain, so I thought it would be criminal for me to leave without giving one a go. I just couldn't find anywhere that would cook it for one person. It was only a 2 person dish wherever I went, meaning having to pay for 2 people if I wanted it, but then I found one place that would do it for one person.

After a little research, a Paella rice dish does not have to contain a bucket load of empty seashells to be classed as a true Paella rice dish, and I found out that chicken and chorizo sausage are popular too.

Having cycled through the Paella rice paddies of Valencia, and heard nothing but how wonderful it was, my curiosity had me order a chicken and chorizo Paella. Well, it was ok. It was tasty and I suppose that's what matters right? It was presented well too. 

But to be honest, it was to me, just a rice dish, like you would look at a Chinese special fried rice, and not quite as nice as an Indian biryani. Would I have it again? Yes, as a side dish :) To be fair, I have seen it ordered in one pan for a large table of people, so there looks to be some sort of social thing going on with it, and I can understand that.

My chair, at last!

After over 2 months of cycling and camping, I at last have a chair. After cycling all day, I usually end up sat on the floor, or anything I can find lying around, and sometimes I get lucky and find a campsite with a spare chair and even a table sometimes, but it's very rare.

I didn't leave on my cycle with a chair, as I just didn't know how much stuff I could carry, but I soon realised a chair is an essential bit of kit. While away I called into Decathlon and other stores, but found nothing light enough and small enough that I could easily pack, but I knew that back in the UK I would be able to order everything I needed online and have it delivered within days, and the chair was the first thing I ordered on my return.

I went for the Helinox Chair Zero, weighing in at just 490g (1lb). The joints are all on elastic and just fit together really quickly, and the packed down size is not much bigger than one of my training shoes. I have given it a quick testing and it feels real cosy. How it handles when I get it out on the road I will let you know.
October 19 Update

Arriving back in Barcelona tonight to a wet day I'm told, but sunshine and showers for the next week or two with temperature highs averaging 22c. I'm hoping to make the most of the warmish weather as I work my way around the Mediterranean to Greece before it really turns cold. I know it will be cold in Greece by the time I reach there, but I hope to make it as far south in Greece as I can before it really gets cold.

Once again I haven't a clue how long it will take me to reach anywhere, or even what roads I will end up on from one day to the next, let alone where I will sleep at night, but hey, its an adventure after all.

I have to admit that I'm not a huge fan of solo wild camping yet. Yes its cheap, yes its nice to be able to choose your own spot, but to me its also lonely and boring. I like to be around people if I can, and I also like a nice shower and to be able to charge my gear and wash my clothes. I may grow to love wild camping or at least get used to it one day, but I'm not quite there yet :) I would imagine it could be great fun and really enjoyable with another person or people though.

When I plan the day, in the morning what I usually do is look on Google maps and pick a spot in the direction I want to go, that I think I can reach that day. I look at the terrain, the weather, where I might sleep that night, how I'm feeling, what time I awoke, and so on. Then I totally disregard all that and just start cycling :)

I have pre-booked my ferry from Brindisi in Italy to Patras in Greece for the 15th December. The 15th was just a rough estimate and a target for me to work to, so now I have 56 days to reach Brindisi. Of course, I took out insurance in case I change dates for earlier or later ferry travel, but had to book it because seats were booking up really fast for December.

Day 65 - the bike felt like a tank and feeling sick

A busy day yesterday with getting to Barcelona quite late, a good few hours kip, breakfast, then over to the storage unit to collect my bike and gear for 10am so didn’t get going for a while after that. From there it was a case of making my way slowly out of the city and up the coast a little ways.

Getting on the bike, even from just that few days off, and the bike felt like a tank. It felt heavy, really heavy, and I don’t think it was because of the extra 10kg of gear I brought, but really just because of the short break. I felt a little sickly too within just a few km’s and no idea why, but I decided that for the next few days I would work back into it slowly, I’m in no rush after all.

It was 30km today to my first campsite, as i wanted to rejig all my panniers and get some order back. Tomorrow I have about 50km to do, them 60 the day after that, so I hope to be back on track after that.

The campsite is great for just €9 and has a pool, bar, and free bus to town, and is right near the beach too. I’m in town right now eating stir fried veg, black bean with tofu, and rice noodles, so still doing alright on the veg. In fact I actually liked the tofu which surprised me a lot.

Day 66 - and the campsites are already starting to dry up

Just starting day 3 of my no-animal product health kick, and up to now it’s not so bad, especially when you consider how much meat I usually put away.

I’m not going extreme vegan or anything, I’m still keeping my wardrobe, but I’m going to try to cut out virtually all meat, dairy, fish and egg foods, but not worry about traces of these in my foods. I’m not doing it to save the planet or anything, just to see what effect it has on my health while cycling.

As I entered Lloret de Mar, the first 3 out of 4 sites were closed, which left just one more that I knew of on the other side of town. The gate was open so I was in there, but there was no staff around, just a handful of camper vans. I eventually located a staff member who lived on site who gave me a little plot out the back. 

Only one toilet and one shower working, the pool was shut, and everything else onsite was shut too, and all this for €10 :O! I paid €9 for a great site with everything open yesterday! I passed a few sites that were open 15km’s back, but just couldn’t bring myself to cycle back, as I need to get through a few hills tomorrow.

I think in future and because of the time of year, I will try not to pass up an open campsite if I pass one. As long as it’s at least we’ll past lunch time. Anyway, showered, washing done and on the line, and I’ve taken a little trip down to the beach for tea. I have only just realized that I’m on the Costa Brava! It’s packed out and there are loads of bars and Brits shouting and carrying on like loons. Its feels like home :)

Day 67 - Well I’m back into alright, muddy crappy trails :)

But only for a little while, then it was beaches and beach bars.

I’ve been to so many big towns in Spain where the only access, if you can’t use the motorways, are rat runs next to the motorways or tracks that take forever to traverse.


I only had 60km to do today and have been at it for 7 hours and only now have I settled into a campsite. It is nice though.

I’m just outside Palamos and it’s really quite beautiful here. Since hitting the coast at Valencia and following it up to Palamos, my image of this coastline has been shattered. Its beautiful!
I never pictured it like this, I always had a vision in my mind of endless flat sandy beaches peppered with cheap and tacky bars, but it’s nothing like that. I don’t know what it’s like farther south but it’s great up this way.

Anyway, shower time, washing of clothes, and a cheeky little beer. Oh who am I trying to kid, line them up :)

Day 68 - Asparagus, lettuce and banana sandwich 

Waking up to a nice sunrise, a sunny warm day, and a tinned asparagus, lettuce and banana sandwich. Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it :)
A really nice day today. It was great following such a stunning coastline. Clear waters, white sandy beaches, cliffs and secluded coves. I even fell upon some great cycle paths that pretty much took me the 55km to my campsite. It reminded me of France on the flat gravel paths.

The wind was hard in my face and so a bit of a struggle, but the views were so nice and the weather sunny, that I really didn’t care that much. I’m sat on a wooden deck chair right on the beach, right next to the bar, and 100 meters from my tent.

I try to wash my clothes in the shower with me, and tonight I put all the clothes on the floor under the shower and as I picked each item up to scrub, I noticed that I had put all the clothes I was suppose to change into onto the floor too :) 

Now it was time to leave Spain and head over the hills to France.