Day 15 – Toro to Fermoselle

Toro was a real find. Lovely hotel over looking the Duoro. 

I left about 9.30 for what seemed a quite leisurely ride. It didn’t seem too strenuous and it wasn’t – but I wasn’t fizzing today. That may have been due to the relaxing 5 pints and 2 vino’s that I had over supper. Blame Auntie Barb. 

The drop down from the hotel to the river was a little hairy but I was soon on my way through the different countryside along the Duoro. The Tarmac was crap with every bump vibrating up my spine in a most unpleasant way. Not much to report really apart from the fact that it was all very green in contrast to the last few days which is logical if you remember you geography lessons from school and the proximity to the Duoro. The key change today was the very little wind and it was baking hot rising to 95 about 3pm. I didn’t notice anything after that as I was focussed on getting to Fermoselle. 

The flat land that I thought was the order of the day changed as I passed Zamora to my right. I was about 8k south. I stopped for coffee and a snack at a strange cafe. More like a council workers canteen. They were all in their in their day glow uniforms. Breakfast was the worst thing about the hotel. I’ve come to love “Batata tortillia” for breakfast. It’s great to cycle on.  You can turn those pedals for 2-3 hours on that stuff. It’s basically a thick potato omlett – by thick I’m talking at least half an inch. Thick, stodgy and often a little runny. Wonderful!! But the kitchen in Toro was closed so it was toast. I had my fill of tortillia in the council workers cafe and then off again. 

I was making good progress until i came across the road that looked like a bomb site (see twitter photos) where I had to pick my way through the craters – if I’d have gone in one you’d have not seen me again!! The bike stood the test. 

I took the photo below at the end of that road – storks nesting on the church tower. You see these everywhere. 

 
Progress after that was good but I was too happy to stop and take photos. I had my David Bailey head on. God only knows how they look to you guys – after all I haven’t got my glasses on and it’s too bright to see the screen any way – oh and I’ve lost the glass to the lense to the camera. Not a good mixture! Just looking at it now – you’ll need to look at the metal cross in zoom mode!

Everything after then was baron. Back to golden brown parched field of harvested corn. After another coffee shop and a long straight road the open fields changed to Yorkshire style dry stone walls. This wasn’t too far from home and I over ruled the Garmin to charge the last 13k. I just wanted to be there before the hot part of the day. Mum used to say that the heat of the day was 12 til 2pm – “mad dogs and Englishmen” and all that. No chance – hottest part of the day is definitely 4 til 5. By then I was in a bar watching Le Tour with the owner – communicating via Google Translator. He was pleased that the spaniard won. I was amazed that Geriant Thomas got up. If you’ve not seen it – watch it. 

I can now see Portugal from my hotel which can’t be more than 3 km as the crow flies. Unfortunately I suspect I’ve got to go down about a 1000 ft first – which means a 1000ft climb back up in the morning. 

So it’s off to bed for me – big day ahead but not before I stop on the bridge for a photo, knowing that;

  1. I’m in Portugal
  2. The clock goes back an hour – just for crossing the line

More tomorrow – Vila Nova de Foz Coa here I come!!

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Day 14 – Palencia to Toro

I ended yesterday’s update with the comment that tomorrow is another day and it certainly was very different today. 

I didn’t sleep well at all. Tossing and turning, thinking about today. I couldn’t have another yesterday. I’d redone my routes to avoid the high plateau that had caused the problems yesterday. There were no wind turbines on the lower ground so I concluded that there couldn’t be the same punishing wind. The penalty for stopping low was an extra 20km’s but I decided that it was a price worth paying. I set my alarm early to get a quick get away. The hotel was noisy and Spanish families coming in at all hours kept waking me up. Every time I woke I replayed in my mind the various killer aspects of Saturday and the brutality of “Wind turbine plateau”.

I left about 9.30 in the end and farted about in the city centre finding the start to the route. Having found the start after a tour of the city I headed out of town. All I can remember about the day before was the arid nature of the plains. Miles and miles of corn fields in a various state of been harvested. It’s golden brown for mile after mile. I’d changed one of the hidden settings on the Garmin to avoid ascents and as a consequence it kept me in the lowlands. 

In the lowlands there was much more going on. Remember it’s a Sunday morning. Blokes setting up for some sort of a race in a river, guys fishing in the irrigation ditches, streams and canals. They don’t fish with rods but a round net on a rope. I have no idea what they were trying to catch. There were a few cyclists out that have me confidence that I’d got the right routes which was in contrast to yesterday when I went hours without seeing a soul. 

I was whizzing along at a decent pace so much so that I didn’t stop for almost 3 hours. I pulled off the route and into Meneses de Campos to find a cafe. The place was deserted. I now have a strategy for sniffing out a bar. 

  1. Find a big enough village
  2. Head in the direction of the church – they all have one 
  3. Next to the church tends to be a square 
  4. In the square there is often a bar

As I passed the church i could hear singing which accounted for the deserted nature of the town. 

It worked again. The magic recovery formula is “grande cafe con leche” and “Kas Naranja” – at least that’s what I ask for. I get them to fill up my bottles with most offering “gelli” which I’ve learnt is ice. I asked for a sandwich – non was the reply. It concerned me that it was Sunday and that I wouldn’t get food anywhere. I paid up and walked out. As I did I saw a woman with a loaf – sort of a French stick but Spanish. I walked out and saw a van – either a baker or bread sellers so I went back in the bar and found him. I bought a loaf for 50 cents strapped to the back of my bike and cracked on. 

The terrain had been so flat for about 50 Kms that you could see where you were heading for miles. Unfortunately there aren’t many tarmaced roads amongst these Great Plains so as a consequence, you end up zig zagging through the flat lands from church tower to church tower. I reckon that for two hours I  could see this square thing high up on top of the plateau. It was that square I thought it was an incinerator plant given the square nature of the building. As I got closer I couldn’t have been more wrong. Perched up on high was an ancient castle. When I got to the sign it said “castle S. XII”. I concluded it must have been old – older than the Captain! ( see picture below).

I headed up the hill into some historical land of numerous castles. It literally was like going back in time with only the existence of power/telephone lines reminding you of current existence. I stopped for lunch. Water and the Spanish stick in the middle of nowhere called Castremonte. 

After the castles came what all the turbines were about – some sort of power centre where they all converged. It was quite odd to see if all tracking to this massive single spot. 

The road surfaces were good today. On the high ground yesterday that were like a patchwork quilt of repairs (imagine riding on the side of selfridges in Birmingham – lots of bumps). The killer today was the straightness and heat. I don’t think one road turned for 16km. The heat haze is quite difficult – I’m sure that’s why the cars drive with their lights on. 

Eventually I could see Toro the routing was strange as I approached the N122. A sign said 6km to Toro yet the Garmin said 20km. To be fair it was doing its job and avoiding main roads. I did a quick survey of the traffic whilst deciding what to do. There was nothing on it. I recalled what Jose said about the busy N roads around San Seb. On a Sunday when he rides them, they were empty – so I went for it. 

Toro reminded me of that IKEA area at Walsall. Lots of industrial sheds and nothing else. Toro will be the same I thought. I made my way through town to the hotel. 

“Passport” said the reception. “Bollocks” I thought. “Beer” I said. She pointed me downstairs to a most amazing patio over looking the Duoro and its lush green pastures either side. First impressions can be deceptive. This one certainly got me. 

What a contrasting 2 days! Tomorrow I head to Fermeselle which is within touching distance of the Portuguese border. Let’s hope it’s another day like today – but perhaps not as hot. I’m burnt to a frazzle – and yes – I have been putting cream on!! 

 

Day 13 – Burgos to Palencia

What a day!

The garmins magical mystery tour continues! I looked at the profile last night and Garmin connect made it look down hill so I had a lie in and finally left about 11 am. Big mistake!

Everything started well making tracks out of Butgos along the river – nice and flat. That soon changed and I was climbing up hill again. Nothing too bad but up hill. It was nice and breezy which knocked the heat off the temperature.  Before long I was in the agricultural outskirts of Burgos and climbing. I was a little concerned by the sign warning about ice when if was 85 degrees but hey ho. I just kept peddling! Before long I was at 3000 ft. By comparison scarfell Pyke England’s highest peak is about 3200ft. Far In the distance all I could see was hundreds of wind turbines – the reason for which will become apparent 

It was windy. Really windy and as I progressed it got worse. It made slow going. Really slow. I did about 20 miles in the first 2 hours. The route took me onto the plains of Spain. They just go on for ever – it gives you a real insight into the vast size of Spain. At one point I felt like I was in a western movie. All that was missing was John Wayne, tumble weed and the odd cactus plant. The roads were straight, the hills tough and made all the worse by the strengthening wind. If the wind was this strong at home I wouldn’t have gone out. At times the gusts made me wobble on the bike and I thought I’d go off the road. It was just a slog. Featureless roads, it was bloody hot and quite frankly soul destroying. I just couldn’t make any real progress. 

Small things pick you up – so much so that a simple sign to Portugal reminds you where you are going and why. It was very apparent given the slow going that I’d started too late – but sh** happens and there’s only one person to blame and one person to get you out if it. I’d think about 45 km from home I called in a village to find a taberna. It was all closed. Luckily i saw a guy who filled my bottles and his wife gave me a small bottle of mineral water out of their fridge – typical of all the people that I have met. Kind hearted, good natured with the last miserable shit been seen in Marlborough. All day I was either on or going up and down this plateau. The wind didn’t stop all day – it was a constant headwind that as cyclists will tell you feels like someone has their hand on your chest and is pushing you back. You are so exposed on the plateau there is just no escaping it. Eventually I dropped down View below from plateau

As I came down the valley I had a nightmare – one that Tim who had cycled with me had prepared for – but I hadn’t. Until that point all the dogs that I’d come across had been restrained in someway either by electrical fences that they would cross for fear of getting a shock or were on a simple lead. This time there was a pack of them. After a few seconds I realised that 

  1. None were on chains
  2. They were all chasing me!

Headwind or not – I was off. Like cavendish when he’s bursting to win a sprint finish I was out of there. Tim had some sort of pepper based repellant. I had a left and right foot. 

Eventually with 30k to go I stopped for water, food and coffee. A longer stop than planned as the first bar didn’t do food. Typical scenario unfolded. In sign and body language “what are you doing here? You’ve come from where?  Where are you going – oh and you are mad”

The 2nd bar owned came out to see me as his daughter couldn’t speak English. Nor could he but he’d soon rustled up a club sandwich that had everything in that you could imagine. The lot went – he was great. 30 k or so should have been an hour and 15 – hour and 30 max. But not this 30k. The most brutal finish to a punishing day ever. For the first time I wondered whether I would make it (I’m not counting getting lost). I can’t describe the feelings having realised that I had one killer hill to get up with just 9 km or so to go. I’m not religious and I don’t believe that there is any form of after life. For me, once your gone – your gone. End of. 

Earlier in the week Dad text to say that he’d been to mums grave and told her what I was doing. “She’ll look out for you” was Dads words of reassurance. That’s nice I thought – but j didn’t really believe it. On that last hill all I could hear was “go on Jonathan – go on”. I’m sure it was the salt in the sweat that made my eyes water. A man wouldn’t admit anything else would they? Before long I was up it and enjoying the down hill into Palencia glad that today was over. It was without doubt the toughest of the ride so far – mentally, physically and emotionally. 

In case you were wondering the 4 bottles of Heineken didn’t touch the sides and I went upstairs for a bath. 

You forget little things as you go – but my water bottles haven’t been washed properly for 2 weeks. I thought all the drinks tasted funny with the same tang. I realised what It was today – mould. Luckily today’s hotel is opposite a Decathlon store so I’ve replaced them. I hope the drinks tomorrow taste better and the ride is an altogether better experience. As they say character building stuff. Interestingly, my arse and legs are showing no ill affects. The challenge today was the horrific wind. The forecast tomorrow is better. But im taking no chances – have re routed and will be away early. 

Tomorrow is another day.   

Day 12 – La Puebela de Argazon to Burgos

Last night finished really well considering the disappointment of getting lost. La Puebela was a little village with the hotel in a tiny square. I had a couple of recovery drinks and then headed upstairs to relax. I wrote up yesterday’s story and then when back downstairs to eat. When I walked into the square you’d have thought the whole village was out. It was packed! It later transpired that all they were celebrating was Thursday night. They do it every week apparently. 

I stood at the bar minding my own business when I suddenly realised that the people next to me were speaking English which was surprising as it was a small Spanish village (sorry – Basque village) and earlier that day I couldn’t find any one who did. The lady was in her 60’s the man slightly younger. It transpired that the lady had been in Spain for about 40 years but was originally from Manchester. She’d taught English in Vitoria, met her English husband there and raised her family in La Puebela. Her husband had unfortunately passed away from colon cancer. 

The chap she was with was one of her husbands pupils and was born in London to Spanish parents. He’d returned to Spain and served as a para in the Spanish army before returning to the UK to serve in the British army. We had a fun evening that was a later one than planned. I was up ready to leave at 9 but not before 2 slices of potato tortilla – which is just fantastic. 

After the navigation trouble yesterday i decided to stick with the Garmin. It routed me out of the village, over a really picturesque river and into open agricultural countryside. La Puebela was surrounded by hills but the roads were great, quiet and no cars. I was soon heading up one of the steepest roads that I have ever ridden. The angle of ascent finished of one of the panniers that popped out one of the metal supporting plates. After the steep “up” came the quick descent towards Miranda de Ebro – a big town that I was intending to stop in. I was glad I didn’t. 
I routed through the town and out to the hills at the other side. It went up, up and up again. It seemed to go on for ever. It was desolate – almost desert like. This went on for ages. All that was around was recently harvested fields with combines working In the distance. All the ascents made slow progress. More villages came and went none of which had a taberna. I pressed on – up and down dead straight roads. For the first time on this trip I seriously thought that I would run out of water so took to taking sips rather than the required gulps.  It was hot too – the Garmin showed 98 at one point. The sweat flowed out of me (pissed out of me would be a more accurate description). Eventually I came across a village and managed to get directions from a woman in the street to a bar. At first it looked closed but was open with the typical sole customer

No English was spoken by them both (the owner and customer) but we managed to have a good chat albeit repetitive! They suggested that my route needed to change so I followed their advice and went straight for what seemed like 10 miles. It was like the main image on my website. Me, a straight road, hills in the back ground and nothing else. The owner and his customer kept saying national and velodade or something similar which I understood to be ride the cycle path at the side of the national route. It’s ok and quicker. They kept indicating that it was 30km shorter writing on the bar In the rose Rioja that they were drinking. You’ll be pleased and surprised to hear that I declined their offer of a glass (Previously I’ve never said “no” to a glass of vino). Strangely I was in the Rioja region but saw no vines growing. 

The N120 was quiet initially but the further I travelled the busier if got – with freight. Big rumbling juggernauts every so often that were quite off putting. The lady I the bar last night had warned that the Spanish lorry drivers didn’t like using the toll roads. The Garmin hated my decision to ignore it. It kept telling me to do a u turn. At its worst it wanted to route me 119kms to do the remaining 20k into Burgos. To be fair the Garmin was right. The route was quicker in distance but punishing in terms of climbing. It was a 6% climb for 5km. At its height it was 1150 m which was tough especially with a Spanish lorry up your arse. I daren’t let my hands leave the bars to show them what I thought. Any cyclist reading this for info should not ride the N120. Do the extra miles and be safe. 

I was committed though. Despite what the nice man in the bike shop in Besasain told me there was no alternative on this one so I pushed on to a sensible exit. I kept looking for road kill but there was none. This kept me focused but it occurred to me after that the lorries may have killed all the wild life!! 

I opted for a 18 km quite finish instead of the remaining 11km on the N120. The detour took me through a forest which I concluded must have been the dogging capital of Burgos. Numerous cars of sheepish looking single blokes without dogs. All very odd but before long I was at my hotel. It’s surprising how you get an energy boost when you know you are close to “home” and a rewarding beer. 

Lesson of today is that the Garmin will find safe cycling routes. If it looks too challenging then it’s “user error”. The user should have shortened the distance. 

That said if was a good day finished off by a walk into Burgos. The bars are a buzz with people people drinking and eating pintxos which may now be called tapas as I’m out of the Basque Country now. I have to say that the roads aren’t as good as France but I love the Spanish food and the way they do it – really fantastic. Palencia tomorrow. 75 miles or so. Whatever the Garmin says – I’m doing. A good day following the disappointment of yesterday. 

Day 11 – San Sebastian to La Puebla de Arganzon

I enjoyed my short time in San Seb but got up early to get away. I had a long journey ahead of me which was a journey into the unknown after the ease of cycling through France.

Tim – my companion in France had had trouble during his first day in Spain (or should I say the Basque country). It really feels like a different country and as you’ll see, there is some question as to whether I should now call this the 5 Country Challenge.

Jose who helped me get my legs back in check said that he would ride the first 30k with me. His friend Yolanda (may be Jolanda) also came along. I was so glad of their local knowledge as we pressed out of town towards Tolosa. Yolanda and Jose were used to riding on roads at the weekend like many of us in the UK and we used a variety of roads some of which were very but riding with the two of them gave me confidence on the most busiest of sections that I certainly wouldn’t have ridding without them.

Eventually it was time for them to head back. I am really grateful for what they did – it helped me get out of San Sebastian quickly. I used local knowledge to validate my routes today and local insight to get out of town. Couldn’t have been better. From Tolasa I went to Beasain where I had lunch and what the tour with the locals. I stopped at a bike shop to see if they had any panniers as on eof mine is starting to hear out. I didn’t fancy the ones with pick flowers so I politely declined. They advised me on the way out of town “a beautiful but long climb” – which it was. Segura, Zegama following the GI2637 to Etxegarte. Really enjoyed it and although long and steep in parts in got up it – no trouble. The Garmin was confused all the way up – it cant reconcile local knowledge with it pre-programmed knowledge. After coffee that was adorned with photos of skiing from 1944 which I assumed was around that mountain area  and references to Cavendish and Froome from the locals, I descended and as expected came across the N1 – sort of an A38m (think spaghetti junction into Birmingham). Now the locals know that civil engineers have to watch the pennies and as such don’t often cut new routes through the countryside. Instead they often follow existing paths and as a result there is typically an old road that follows the new fast and busy route. Garmin cant work that logic out – or if it can I don’t know how.

The consequence was that we (the Garmin and I) both got extremely confused. I felt like I was going round in circles. the Garmin wanted me to go 135km’s for a 37km journey. I stopped two local cyclists but the language barrier was such that I just couldn’t make myself understand or be understood (the value of listening in French and Spanish lessons?). Altsasu was the confusing town having already seen signs to Anduaga, Altzaga, Alegia, Anoeta etc. I was screwed. Garmin confused, local help that couldn’t be understood – I just couldn’t work it out. The thought of been stuck in the Spanish wilderness was just too much to chance. I then came across the sign for “estacion” which I followed. Nightmare – it appeared to be a goods yard. I found a guy who sent me to the next “estacion” which only had 4 trains per day in my direction. It was a disaster. The station wasn’t manned and periodically an automated announcement would be made. I turned to Lou for help – we thought the announcement said “the train doesn’t stop here”. I panicked that the station was closed and I was doomed to a night there or worse – contemplating a ride on the N1 – in the dark.

I put my helmet on to leave. I wasn’t sure in what direction – but there were no trains coming or stopping in my mind. Then out of the blue a girl arrived at the station. It transpired she’d lived in Ireland and so spoke good English. She confirmed that he train was definitely coming and what’s more it stopped at my intended destination. Perfect I thought – something was going right. What are the chances of that? Like the good Samaritan. Just perfect.

I hopped on and for 6 euro’s and 40 minutes I’d arrived. I’ve had to sacrifice not cycling the whole way for being sensible – but that was the deal that I agreed. No point being road kill.

I’ve spent the evening re-planning. It will be what it will be tomorrow. Whatever the Garmin says goes! So up early and 90 miles.

Day 10 – taking is easy in Donista 

Last night I had a good walk around the old town of San Sebastián. It’s a complete labyrinth of bars. There is no way that you could have a sip in each and attempt to get home let alone a half in each one. All sell   Pintxos laid out on the bar. At most they are 2 euro’s each plate – you just munch away!

As a consequence of a relaxing night I slept late for the first time but still woke up with aching legs.  Like so many of the people that I’ve met on the trip the manager of the place that I’m staying at went out of her way and found me someone to sort out my tired legs. Jose is what we call a physio but here it’s an osteopath. I went over to see Jose having had breakfast pintxos on the way. 

Jose used to work with one of the Spanish football teams and also the Spanish ice hockey national squad. He knew his stuff and sorted out my legs and shoulders. What a difference a few hours make. Jose advised me on my route for tomorrow and said that he would ride out with me for the first 30km (20 mile or so). 

I then went to a great bike shop to get some electrolyte tablets that help with hydration – an absolute essential down here. The bike shop was called Kili. In addition to selling top end bikes, they also run bike tours of the Basque Country. They also offered advice on how to tackle tomorrow which is a combination of the two routes that I had planned. If I came here again I’d certainly recommend and use them Basque Cycling

I feel much happier as a result. Tim my companion of the last few days in France had an external battery pack the size of a house brick – which was invaluable on the two long days. I invested in a smaller version so that I don’t get stuck in the middle of Spain with no power, a flat phone and a Garmin that has died. I feel happy that I’ll get anywhere now. 

I spent the afternoon in one of the small bars watching coverage of the tour with the owner and the locals. It’s quite funny to hear them jibber away in Spanish with the occasional “Chris Froome” and “Richie Porte” chucked in. They struggled with “Geriant Thomas” be then we often struggle with Welsh. Their body language suggests that Nibali is finished and that Contador will rise like a phoenix from the ashes. We’ll see. 

I’m revising my view of this place. It would be a great city to come for the weekend. 2 weeks on holiday wouldn’t work for me – but we are all different. I thought that while I was here I better do one of the tourist things. There is an old castle high upon a hill that over looks the city with a statue on top of it. I couldn’t make it out from the city what is was so went for a look. The castle is like any other old building to me but the statue of Christ is impressive. 

The view of the city from the top was brilliant –  but in the background were the mountains that lie in my way tomorrow. No wonder Jose is heading back after 30km’s!

Oh – Donista is the Basque name for San Seb

More tomorrow from La Puebla de Argazon. 

Day 9 – Bidart to San Sebastaian

“Cat Whores Juliet” said the lady in reception. It took me a while to realise that this wasn’t a service they were offering but is instead a public holiday over here – Bastille Day. Always a big day on the Tour de France. I haven’t checked but today and tomorrow will be big stages of the tour. Well worth watching those boys blast up the Col’s of the Pyrenees. I did the Tourmalet a few years ago. It took about 3 hours to do and I stopped for coffee twice along the way. Anyway, if you want to read about Bastille day, here’s the info. I’m off to Spain: What to do on Bastille Day

I’d arranged for Tim (by companion of the last few days) “to call for me” as he came through Bidart. Having spoken to Tourist info we decided to go our separate ways at that point. Tim headed for the hills and I hugged the coast to a town called Hendaye and jumped in the ferry. The ferry is a wee boat that takes you over the river to Spain. The route down was ok but slow. The French appeared to be out in force for the public holiday with traffic everywhere in the towns, villages and cities I guess. 

My first impression of the area south of Bayonne and into Spain is that you don’t notice the two different countries The locals are all Basque. To them, that’s the only country that matters. The houses are all white and tend to have Basque red shutters. I now understand why Biaritz rugby play in the red and green that they do. 

From the boat, Garmin took me to Irun which reminded me of any of the worlds war zones that you see on the BBC news. The only difference I could see was that the windows hadn’t been blown out of the buildings!

The route took me up the hills you can see in the following tweet https://twitter.com/1jondear/status/620906315737624576 very tough climb. Had lunch at the top in an old taverna. Some sort of thick frittata. Really nice family owned it. Their family had owned it for 80 years and they’d kept it as it was then – it reminded me of the Mug. I stopped a cyclist as I descended the hills. I reckon the only words of english that he knew was “where you go?”, He then took me to San Sebastián and my poorly selected accommodation. Let’s just say if will be an experience!

Despite all the reports, my first impression of San Seb isn’t great. It’s big – far bigger than I understood it to be. It’s noisy and busy so much so that I fear that I’ll get my stuff pinched should I venture On to the beach and try and find a square foot of sand that isn’t taken. 

I’ve taken residence in a bar by the sea and had my first tapas that was excellent. I’ve spotted an Indian restaurant that may just get a visit later. It’s very much a rest day tomorrow. Replenish the stocks, get my washing done and give the bike the once over for the push into Spain. Job number one is to validate my routes with local cyclists. They have cycle routes down here but it feels a whole different world to my French experience which had been fantastic. “Chapeau” to the French (where would I be without google translator?

Day 8 – Parentis en Born to Bidart

Ok,  so I know these are all out of order but you’ll have to bear with me! The days have been long and the nights short.

I thought these 3 days would be the toughest but I’ll suspend judgement until I’m sitting at AB’s villa being plied with more of Barb’s wine and probably been encouraged to do something else of an equally ridiculous nature!

Anyway today has been fun. You may have seen from the tweets that I met a guy called Tim whilst waiting for the ferry at Royan. He was wearing a Rapha top which is one of my favourite cycling brands and without doubt one of the most comfortable. It’s a premium product but believe me – when you are doing something extreme you realise the value straight away. Rapha manufacture the Team Sky kit (if you don’t know what I’m on a about – turn on the coverage of “Le Tour”, look for Chris Froome and you’ll see. ” you ‘ave the same top” I said with a slight French twang. “Yes mate” he said. It transpired Tim was from Leicestershire and was going to Parentis en Born too so we hooked up. Pure chance.

We compared routes, agreed that we would try my slightly longer – but closer to the coast route and off we set. Our route took us along cycle tracks by the side of a lake and then towards the coast. There no agriculture down here. Its miles and miles of Pine forests that either have cycle routes along quite (ish) roads or the French have simply cut straight lines through the Pines and tarmacked them. They go on for miles. As you ride through, dependant on where you are they are either deserted or used by sports cyclists (then men and women aged over 45 – clad in lycra) or holiday makers on rental bikes. All tend to say “bonjour” as you pass which even after 50 miles of saying the same – you make sure you return the compliment. I didn’t here “aw’right mate” once.

We stopped for lunch right by the sea at Contis Plage which appeared full of surfers like so many of the places down the coast. We kept coming across what looked like the refugee camps of Calais only for Tim to point out that it was Dutch campers enjoying a DIY centre parks. “Yesh” as they would say. We managed to make good speed on these smooth routes where the French have laid the perfect tarmac for cyclists. When you ride a bike you quickly come to realise that not all tarmac is smooth. Some of it has rougher stone that seems to cause the saddle to vibrate right up your arse meaning that you have to stop and reapply the cream. I bet the big lumps are cheaper for our councils to buy it wont encourage people to ditch their cars.

This scenery went on for ages. At some point we thought it would go from Maziman to Bayone – 50 odd miles – but as we got closer to Bayonne we had to go through a number of seaside town which are just a pain in the arse (not because of the tarmac) but because of the navigation. The crickets were screeching in the forests which at times seemed deafening but you become immune to it. Before long we approached the outskirts of Bayonne and abandoned the cycle routes as the lure of the cold beer became too much to resist. Bayonne seems lovely. A city built on the sides of a wide river that seems quite classy. It’s rugby country down here and you can see why many UK players opt for a few years in the sun enjoying a great quality of life. As I’m quite ignorant when it comes to French geography aside from the Alps, I had no idea that Bayonne and Biaritz were such close neighbours (think Birmingham’s proximity to Solihull without Small Heath and Sparkhill in between). We headed for the bar of the hotel that Tim was staying at, downed 2 quick ones before I headed round the coast to Biaritz and on to Bidart. Bidart is about 3-5 miles beyond Biaritz and the Garmin (that’s earned its spurs again) routed me along the sea front at Biaritz. The beach was full at about 7.15pm with people preparing to watch the sunset. It really does look a smart place. Surfers whizz in and out of the traffic with their boards strapped to mopeds (imagine that in the UK?).

I arrived at my hotel at about 7.45. From the room I can see the mountains of the Pyrenees beyond and the coast around to San Sebastian. It will be a lumpy 40 miles tomorrow – like that Suisse Normandy bit on day 3. My legs are getting stronger though – although they are knackered so it should be fun. Despite carrying swimming trunks with me (for the cold water treatment), I’ve not got near to the sea yet so i’m looking forward to having a dip at San Seb.

Whilst enjoying the 2 beers with Tim in Bayonne, it transpires that his route to the Pyrenees brings him through Bidart so we will ride to the Spanish border together and then go in separate directions. I can’t believe that it been 8 days in the saddle (having left a week ago today) and I’m so close to Spain. By the time I write tomorrow, I’ll have completed 2 of the 4 countries. France has been fantastic, we have so much to learn from these guys albeit I recognise they have more space to play with than us.

146 km today

Day 5 – Chateau Gontier to Bresseuire 

I fell asleep before 10 last night my thighs throbbing like a blind coblers thumb. I’m a bit of a light sleeper when I’m not in my own bed. It’s so quiet at home that any noise tends to wake me up.

In hotels you get people entering their rooms at all hours of the night. That’s just the way it works but during the night I was aware of a noise that was like a key going in a lock. It happened again and again. I was awake by now. Then I thought that’s my door. I jumped up and opened my door only to find some French guy trying to get in my room. I speak very little French. I didn’t study it at school; languages bored me so in the lessons that I did attend up to about age 13 – I didn’t pay attention.

It was 1.45 am and I was about to test of the theory that the vast majority of communication is not what you say (the words). c50% is your body language and c35% is the tone of delivery.

‘What the f**k are you doing?’. I yelled. Swaying gently in the zero breeze of the corridor came the response “zorrie”.

“Vous Grand Twat” was all I could come up with before offering the suggestion that he should “go forth and multiply”. All of a sudden I remembered what I was wearing. A Pound Shop eye mask to keep out the light and a single orange ear plug so I can sleep through most night time noise. I offered my advice again and shut the door. Now who is “Le grand twat” I thought I must have looked a picture. it’s a good job that my hotel door was locked.

It’s one of the things that I religiously do after a spooky incident at the Hotel du Vin in Edinburgh.

There’s a similar start to the story. It’s the middle of the night (or so it felt). I was aware that a door had been opened. I rolled over. The next thing I knew was my door opening. Lit by the lights from the corridor outside, a young blonde haired girl walked into my room. Dressed in grey and yellow stripped shorts pyjamas she headed for the bathroom, opened the door, went into the bathroom, used the loo , flushed and left. It was incredulous. I just lay there pretending to be asleep before jumping out of bed to lock the door as she left. I’m reported it next morning and it wasn’t the first time she’d done it. Another guest had reported something similar the night before. After that, I’ve always locked my hotel door.

I was awake for about an our after the visit of “Le grand twat”. I was looking forward to seeing the pillock at breakfast.

Breakfast was much better. Decent choice of eggs and croissants washed down with gallons of coffee. I sat with about 5 French people just adjacent to the reception. Then he appeared!!  He looked sheepish and the manager chatted to him in what appeared to be an inquizative manner. Le Grand Twat looked most uncomfortable and keen to disappear. The French in the restaurant appeared to stop what they were doing and were listening in attentively.

When he left I asked if he was in room 8. With that all the French joined in with a gibberish chorus of disapproval. Tres bien or however you spell it was all I could make out although one did say “we ‘erd you”. I apologised that the queens english was less than perfect. Whether “Tres Bien” was for waking up the Englishman or for my protestations will remain a mystery.

I eventually got moving about 9.30 after one of my fellow diners lent me a pump to do my tyres. I must say that everyone that I have met in France have been really friendly. I wasn’t really on top form but eventually stopped after a slow couple of hours pedalling through more sweet corn fields. As bizarre as this place is I stopped In a deserted village and found the bar.

I walked in  and noticed the pictures of Jim Morrison, Bob Marley, and Jimmy Hendrix on the walls with Ibiza style tunes playing out in the background. It was some sort of hedonistic bar in the middle on no where – no clientele but with the obligatory PNU terminal and racing on the TV. 2 coffees bought me round and I ploughed on. For a while the sweet corn was replaced by cows in the fields but that didn’t last long.

The garmin beeped and said it was full again so I stopped right by the Loire, had lunch, reset it back to the factory settings while I devoured a foot long baguette with more coffee. The next 10 or so miles were lovely along the Loire. It’s sand banks were like a massive sandy beach. There were lots of touring cyclists laden up to the max. It takes me a while to get set in the morning – they must only move about 10 miles a day given the time it must take to pack up. That said it would be a great way to see the Loire.

I left the relative flat of the river cycle route and headed for Bressuire. No sweet corn here. Just miles and miles of vines growing future vintages. The journey to Bressuire went on for ever. It got progressively hot peaking at about 3.30-4pm at about 31 degrees. I was stopping anywhere I could for water – the oddest place was a hairdressers who duly obliged breaking away from their only client to fill my bottles.

The garmin kept beeping and telling me that it was full – which was odd as I’d stripped it and in a moment of pure genius I remembered that I had a micro SD card in my tablet so had put it in (when you are knackered any useful thought counts a genius in my book). I saved the data at that point – but it transpires that it didn’t save – which really pissed me off. I’ve lost 2 segments now. For the rest of the afternoon it was a constant climb up hill to my destination.  All I could think about was what I was going to do with the garmin – Smash it, throw it away buy a new one etc

I got to the hotel at 7.30. Ordered 2 pints which disappeared in about 6 mouthfuls. I lay on my bed stinking (think dead fox again). I then remembered I had to sleep there so showered in the 1960’s bathroom. (It really is a  pit; a clean pit but what do you expect for 38 euros?).

I need to refuel for my 104 miles tomorrow to Royan so I went in search of food. I found a great pizza take away and sat in a square drinking a can of beer while they cooked the tuna pizza. I ate it and wandered down the street to where I’d seen a band setting up. They were fantastic – but before long I was ready for bed.

104 flatter miles tomorrow.