Tear it up

The planned route I had before I left is no more. I originally was going to head west along the coast of northern Spain but instead I’m heading inland. The weather at the coast wasn’t great and the roads were very busy. Wild camping also seemed hard. I know that once I had passed Santander that would have changed as the area is more sparsely inhabited.

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So I’ve been riding south west from Bilbao first to Burgos and now Valladolid. I had thought about joining the pilgrimage route west at Burgos but just didn’t fancy it. Two days ago if you had asked where I was headed from Valladolid I would have said towards Portugal and Porto. Looking at the weather though there is more rain coming in from the Atlantic to the west so I’m really not keen on that idea either now. Especially as I think I have a cold.

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Maybe I’ll come back one summer and explore the north western corner and Portugese coast. Right now south looks appealing. To Salamanca and then either further south or south-east to Madrid. However who knows I might change my mind again which is the good part of touring by myself with no fixed route.

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Spain is great though. I’m now battling weather and terrain at times but I like the sparse open landscapes. Yesterday’s headwind turned 44 miles into a 6 hour day but that’s life. The people I’ve met have all been welcoming, friendly and keen to show off their country and culture.

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Postscript: At the bottom of the page (on the mobile site definitely) we’ve put a link/button so you can ‘buy me a coffee’ via paypal. It’s an idea unashamedly stolen from Andy Kirkpatrick but if you enjoy reading my writing then why not give me a few quid to help me along the way. Thanks to Jack aka loudribs, king of photoshop for the actual image.

Death goes to the winner

From somewhere I suddenly gained a strange irrational fear. The change of language and surroundings in Spain had made me uncomfortable. To combat this I know I have been using money and technology as a crutch.

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Staying with Jogoba my warmshowers host in Bilbao has been great. It’s let me find some confidence, ask questions about Spain and start to try to grapple with the language. The use of warmshowers though is a way of removing fear. I mentioned before not feeling like I have the confidence to just knock on a door. I shy away from an open interaction with a perfect stranger. Warmshowers gives an instant connection with your host, ‘cycle touring’. It is also a pre-agreed transaction of somewhere to sleep fashioned using technology that keeps you partially hidden and anonymous in asking for help. This eases that fear of the stranger and reduces my anxiety. It puts staying and interacting with a stranger into a safe mental space.

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The other way I have avoided unfamiliar interaction with complete strangers is through money. Tom Allen has talked about this. I stayed in a hostel in San Sebastian the use of currency meaning any interaction with other people was formalised within familiar boundaries and comfortable.

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Last night I wild camped in Spain for the first time. A recommendation on a place to camp from Jogoba eased my nerves despite the fact that being in a different country should not really make much difference. It’s still in a way hiding from strangers though but instead of behind money or technology it is literally hiding. Maybe tonight I’ll knock on a door?

Down on today

Sometimes things aren’t great on tour. Today was such a day. I woke up feeling a bit ‘out of sorts’, I wasn’t looking forward to the day ahead. I listened to the rain on the tent pretty sure it was a shower and delaying getting up until it had passed.

Bags packed and on the bike I set off south, bracing myself for the forecast rain. I reached the first town of the day and the weather was almost pleasant. I bought some pain au chocolat and set off again joining the cycle path on the edge of town.

Once I was away from all buildings and all cover the rain started. One of those rain storms that taunt you by getting heavier even when you think that isn’t possible. My waterproofs were doing the job they are designed for and my head, body, hands and legs were dry and warm.

My weak point is my feet, my boots quickly soak through and waterproof socks still have the hole in the top that your legs go through. I could really do with some gaitors to create a good seal between my waterproof trousers and boots. Within half an hour my feet are wet and starting to get cold.

The bike path I am following takes me towards the coast. This is a mistake. The coast road that it follows is fairly exposed. At times the gusts of wind are so strong I have to get off and walk. It’s still raining. My destination today is deliberately not far but I don’t have anywhere to stay when I reach it. The 20 miles beyond are mostly built up so wild camping would be hard.

After two and a half hours I stop in a cafe in Capbreton. Whilst sat in the cafe the rain stops. I check my phone for messages about a place to stay. None. I look at hostels in the area and cheap hotels. Having finished my coffee I set off again. The rain recommences.

It has been raining for near three hours and I’ve lost the bike path. I just follow the road. My rear tyre is really worn. This isn’t an issue as I have a spare. I was expecting a spate of punctures to prompt me to change it. However instead the sidewall is starting to split and the tyre deforms giving my rear wheel a weird wobble as I ride. I carry on I’ll swap the tyre tonight.

After another ten miles I stop at a supermarket and buy a chocolat bar. I haven’t eaten any lunch yet as I’ve seen no where dry to stop and shelter. I check my phone again and see that I might have a lead on somewhere to stay. I send a text to the number I’ve been given. The rain stops but I still can’t really feel my feet.

I reach the outskirts of Bayonne and stop to check my phone again. No news. It starts to rain again. I’m cold and starting to wonder what the symptoms are for trench foot. I give in and ride to a cheap hotel on an industrial estate. I feel defeated but my feet tingle in the shower as heat seeps back into them. Sometimes you have to give in?

It’s my last night in France until my return journey and I feel I should walk the thirty minutes into the town and explore. The frequent rain showers and warmth of the basic hotel room are not encouraging me to go outside again. Time to dig deep for motivation. 

Not a day goes by

If you want an example of a) French hospitality and b) the touring ‘community’ then the fact that I am typing this on a borrowed laptop in someone’s house whilst they have gone out speaks volumes. The fact that my hosts three children are also here too shows that distrust of strangers isn’t (and shouldn’t be) the norm.
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It’s been an interesting time since Nantes. My first warmshowers host Quentin was great and I spent a really relaxed day off wandering the streets of Nantes. A short hop to the coast and then a couple nights in the tent and my second warmshowers host Damien was also fantastically hospitable. I am not sure what the chances of them both being vegetarian was but it made life very easy.
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Now after another night in the tent and my longest day in the saddle (75 miles). I am at my third host Rachel’s house which she shares with her three children and Ernesto the cat. I am really glad that I’ve been using warmshowers as the weather since Nantes has been pretty terrible with days of rain or very heavy showers. At least in the last couple of days the wind has died down.
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After tonight though it’s probably the tent until I reach the bottom corner of France around Biarritz although both Quentin and Damien advocated knocking on doors for somewhere to pitch it and as a way to meet people. I’m not sure I have the confidence for that yet. I’m not going to ride more long days either. With the weather forecast to be slightly better but still not great I think it’s time to ease back, take my time and admire the view.
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Now I better work out how to broach the vegetarian subject in French when my host returns.

Divine Hammer

So I’m in Nantes! It wasn’t easy but after a few days on the road I feel like I’m back in the swing of things a bit more. The weather hasn’t been great but no major rain storms until last night in Teillay. Luckily I had already put the tent up and could seek shelter.

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It felt good on Friday to eventually be free of the Cherbourg peninsula. Although that was marked by a decent climb into the town of Avranches. The main weather issue has been the persistent strong wind. As I’m heading generally south west it’s been a cross-head wind most days which is tiring to say the least.

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The terrain so far isn’t too severe but far from flat. Rolling hills with some climbs being long enough to need the granny gear. They are almost all completely straight so it’s a mental slog to just keep the pedals turning until the top.

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I like France though, even the plain countryside of fields is a good view and the towns are interesting. I’m also quite pleased with my language skills. In rural towns and villages very few people speak English but that hasn’t stopped me from conversing.

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I had a chat with a couple outside of Annoville who gave me water and coffee. Plus succesfully negotiated with the staff at the Mairie in St-Brice-en-Congles to pitch my tent in the area for campervans. I have found myself talking to myself on the bike though. However now in terrible french!

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So now I’m in Nantes. My warmshowers host won’t be back from the coast until 9:30. So it’s nice to relax for a few hours, sit back and soak it in.

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Although I’d really like to take my cycling gear off and maybe have a wash. ;-)