If I could walk 3,500 miles…
I’d be knackered. I was knackered on the last few days of our holiday and that’s riding a bike, never mind walking. There, that’s the confession out the way.
I’m home now, and it’s great being back in my own bed. Not waking up in the middle of the night and having to work out where the hell I am and… where is the bloody toilet? Is there a step? Where’s the light switch? Do the floor boards squeak? Can I remember where the loo roll is if I don’t want to put on the light so I don’t wake a slumbering Ed? That’s the disadvantage of staying somewhere different every night. Bar one, where we stayed for two nights because my ankle was all swollen up!
It wasn’t a holiday for the feint hearted, that’s for sure. Ed asked why I was so tired. The heat, the technical (fabulous) roads, a heavy bike and a lot more miles than either of us bargained for. The concentration required riding abroad is obviously a big step up from riding at home. More of that later!
Leaving Solsona, we headed to Catalonia. This picture is a bit of an oops.
Not only were we blocking the road (not an issue; bugger all traffic) but guess what way we went. Yes, we turned right! We booked into a Parador for the night in Arties, a big old building, very traditional but not as nice as some of the sweet little guesthouses that we had stayed in. To get there, we had a summit to climb first. It was foggy and 9 degrees at the top. At the photo stop, all my vents in my jacket and trousers got closed. It was gripple nipping, compared to the 18-20 degree temperatures down below in the valley. What a fantastic road though. I had to steal an internet picture of the fabulous road.
We found a pub to get wine – important, and luckily they served food all day, which is a rarity in Spain. The locals all eat after 9pm. By this point in the holiday, we wanted to eat at 8 at the latest and be stumbling into bed by 10. No clubbing for us, just trying to recharge our batteries! The village we were in was cute, however, all the really interesting restaurants were closed until July. Maybe the temperature at the top of the mountain was indicative of the summer season not quite starting yet!
The next day, we dipped into France. Funny how you pass over a border and the road changes, the scenery seems to change, the houses are different and in this case, coffee and diet coke increased by a Euro. I speak more French than Spanish, however, kept mixing my languages for the couple of stops that we had. Ed had a brilliant idea of going up to a village in the mountains, just go there and come back…. there was no through road. I was tired, however, it was Monday in France. Anyone that has travelled in France will know it’s a pain in the ass. Everything is closed. It was tempting to just find somewhere to sit and read my book, however, that wasn’t going to happen. So, I ventured forth with Ed and we had a lovely picky lunch at our destination.
Then all we had to do was get back into Spain to meet family friends, Phil (who we stayed with in Eibar) and his mum, Gill, who was over from Scotland for a wee holiday. They were doing some high altitude walking. Good on them. Our destination was Sallent de Gallego, a small mountain village. That was our shit hotel of the holiday. Oh well! I was in the room first, the only good thing was the shower. I commented to Ed as he came in, “I hope you left the cat in the top box”. It was a tight squeeze, my boots spent the night on the window ledge! We had a lovely meal with Phil and Gill and they joined us for breakfast the next day – surprisingly good, considering the room we stayed in!
In the meantime, England apparently got kicked out the footie. So did Spain.
The view when we left the next morning was just stunning.
With only a couple of days left, I made sure that I stopped and took images of views that I might not see again for a while. In the meantime, I had an avocado rear tyre. In fairness, I had a bit of debate about it before I left home. Would it last. Would it not?
It didn’t last. As much as the photo looked as though it would have another 1000 miles on it, it didn’t. We spent a good couple of hours working out where there was a BMW garage that could supply a Bridgestone Battlewing. It was worth it, my front tyre had been replaced recently and as Scots, we grudged paying unnecessarily for a matching one. Grippy?
So, we worked our way back to Bilbao and eventually found the garage, just in time. They close for lunch… or is it a siesta? Both? The tyre was cheap, however, the labour was a ridiculous 40 Euros. Eek. Not to worry, it was done and we spent the afternoon on the way back to the ferry making sure my tyre was bedded in. What a fabulous route Ed chose. After all, Bilbao to Santander isn’t far, however, when you go by the back roads, you can take about 4 hours!!
There was a wee, fabulous break that we had. Looking for a picnic spot, we discovered a spot near a river, with concrete picnic benches, toilets and an area that had been designed for ‘going in for a dip’. It was great. We got changed into our swim gear and went for a dip before we had our fruit, cheese and crisp lunch.
Just to prove I actually went in for a cooling down…. This photo, if there was a speech bubble over it would say, “Would you hurry up, it’s bloody freezing in here!” I have to say though, it was marginally warmer than the mountain top, hotel swimming pool where Ed had to search for his nuts for a couple of hours…. Loved the chance to cool down though and providing facilities was just ace.
Ferry time. We tried to find somewhere to eat before we boarded, however, it was all basically pants, so we went to a wee supermarket and filled what space we had with fruit, asparagus and other snacks for the ferry crossing. We boarded fairly quickly and had a shower. Our cabin wasn’t as posh as our outbound journey, but still had tea & coffee making facilities and a telly. We had an early supper. In the meantime, a poor soul had parked up his caravan on the ship, handed over his bag to his travelling companion and dropped dead on the spot. You can imagine. All boarding ceased until the ambulance, coroner, police checked everything and took the poor soul away. I felt sorry for the families stuck on the dock, however, I’m sure the ferry company looked after them as soon as they got on board. I met the friend of the guy who had died. He was a wee soul, looked totally lost and my regret is not offering a ‘Fi hug’, even though I had only just met him. He sure looked like he needed it. So, if you think someone needs a hug, just do it. It might just be appreciated.
The best rest of the holiday was on the ferry. When we rode south to Portsmouth, we only rode on the motorway from Stirling to Edinburgh and the last stretch to the ferry, everything else was wee roads. Work was full on before we left, so a chill on the ferry was great. The way back apparently was pretty rough during the night. I didn’t notice. I was sound asleep. Out for the count. I had a treat of a massage the next morning. We stuffed our faces with fruit and asparagus. I love asparagus. I don’t love peeing after it though! Stinky. I highly recommend the ferry crossing to anyone that wants to ‘miss out’ riding through France.
So, seeing as I have your attention, what was my opinion of riding in Spain?
A bit like Italy, only not as rude. Solid white lines are just a guide. The locals cut corners and don’t seem to give a stuff that there’s a fully laden bike on the other side of the road. Now, Ed (bless) reckoned that if I was to retire, I could make a fortune teaching people in Spain how to take left hand bends. The only buggerance was, I’d have to learn Spanish. Between you and me, we know THAT’S not going to happen! He had a point, and there were many conversations had about how many riders were taking the left-handers so badly. One morning, heading out from Potes, there were 4 riders who looked like they were attached by a bungee cord. Riding so close together, all in the wrong position for the left hand bend and if one got caught out, then all of them would have toppled like dominoes. Thankfully, we were in the right place and were out of their way as soon as we saw them.
So many riders were just in the wrong position. It was pretty scary at times and I have to say there were a couple of ‘FFS’ moments. Idiots. Now, in fairness, when I observe, it’s the right hand bends that cause issues with most riders. It takes patience and good teaching to persuade the rider to adopt a nearside (choosing the safest and best surface) route round a right hand bend to be not only in the safest place, but to get the best view of the road in front. Not only that, having your machine balanced. If you can imagine tipping your bike over, when you’re in the WRONG place and having to recover from it, it’s hard, and the dangerous instincts can kick in, maybe causing panic braking. You’re unbalancing the bike. It’s all physics, apparently! The best thing to do is learn how to corner properly!
So, going abroad, I find that left hand bends need maximum concentration. You have to be disciplined and seek the best, safest route with the best view. It’s a bit odd, and something you have to consciously have to practice. If you don’t, then you’ll end up under the on coming vehicle. As for roundabouts. Be careful in the south of Spain, they seem to have different rules to the ones they use in the north.
Now, if anyone wants to know why Spain is skint, I have an opinion. It’s been spent on lovely roads. And road signs. Now, at home, we have solid white lines, the highway code states that we can only cross it if entering adjoining premises or a side road. Or, if there is a maintenance vehicle, a stationary vehicle, or a cyclist or horse with rider doing less than 10mph. We get it. In Spain, for every solid white line, there’s a sign:
Then, just for chuckles, there’s the opposite sign, cancelling it. Now, that’s a shit load of signs. The only roads that didn’t have them, were tiny, off the beaten track. There were literally THOUSANDS of them. They had their advantage though. You might not be able to get a view of the road in front, and obviously, I didn’t know the road, however, the best bit was being able to see the cancel sign way in the distance and know that there was a potential overtake on. Thanks, Spain, for spending so much money on signs. It really was ridiculous, albeit, handy at times when the vista maybe didn’t give you a clue.
Generally, the roads were superb. France need to take a lesson from the Spanish, that’s for sure. I admire the Tour de France riders though. The day we went into France, we covered a lot of the peaks that those bonkers cyclists do. At least this time, I didn’t get overtaken going down hill, however, it was a close run thing. Once cyclist was doing in excess of 60mph when I went past him. Total respect.
The advantage of doing twisty, technical roads fully laden with panniers, is when you get home, clean the bike (it was a big effort, poor Smoggy was just mingin’) and head off for a run with no extra baggage, that’s when you truly appreciate the effect of riding abroad. Your riding is smoother, easier and just joyful.
So, it was a great holiday, I learned a lot about myself. Gave myself quite a few slaps across the back of my head, realised that we are human, we need water, we need fuel (not only for the bike) and most importantly, we have to pay attention and adapt to the country that we are riding in. If you haven’t ridden abroad, consider it; it’s great for your confidence, especially when you get home!
3,500 miles. I wish I could say they were ‘miles of smiles’ however, that’s not entirely true. At points I was a combination of tired, grumpy, dehydrated, hungry, pissed off, having ‘are we nearly there yet?’ moments, but all in all, it was another fantastic educational holiday. Oh, my wee Smoggy passed his MOT too, which is ace. Only to be expected – he’s cared for by the lads at Motorrad in Dalkeith very well indeed. He’s needing a service in a wee while. Another one.