Distance: 90 miles
Total Distance: 574 miles
My toughest day so far.
I woke up in the trash dump I had fallen asleep in, firmly resolved to change my planned course and escape the busy road. Through a brief map consultation I managed to plot a safer, more scenic-looking route which took a wide detour to the west. It would add a few miles onto my day but one thing I’ve learnt from multiple endurance adventures is that if you’re not having fun, there’s simply no point. It might take longer but at least I wouldn’t be in a constant state of anxiety.
I set off early, partly to avoid the worst of the traffic but also to get away from the slum in which I’d spent the night as quickly as possible. I was passed by a couple of massive lorries – which is no less terrifying every time it happens, you just hunch forward and hope for the best until it roars past – but for the most part the roads were fairly clear.
As I reached the town of Cintruénigo, my route deviated. I would split off from the main road here and take my unplanned detour. But first, coffee. I was starting to really enjoy my morning routine and today I drew it out as long as possible, sitting outside a cafe in the empty town square, watching the early-risers beginning their days. This is the best way to live, travelling across the country, not knowing what each day will bring and not having a thing to worry about. When the only decisions you need to make are when to eat and where to sleep, you know life is pretty good.
As I ended my fleeting visit in another town I will probably never set foot in again, I could see the foothills of the Pyrenees way ahead in the distance. Today I would begin the climb up into the mountains and cross the border into France the next morning. I was beyond excited, not that I had almost crossed the entirety of Spain, but also that I would soon cross the path I took when I walked across the Pyrenees in 2013. My first big adventure, straight out of university, and I was feeling nostalgic already.
I know I banged on yesterday about how bad the wind was but my god, today it was indescribable. And it only got worse as the day went on. I was starting to resign myself to the fact that it probably wouldn’t get any better until I had crossed the Pyrenees and entered the lower altitudes of southwest France. It was so frustrating to be exerting so much effort for so little return. The flattest and smoothest of roads, which I would have raced down previously, now seemed to be a backwards moving treadmill, absorbing all my energy and refusing to let me make any progress. It felt like I was cycling on two flat tyres. With less than 100 miles to the border, Spain wasn’t giving up without a fight.
Speaking of flat tyres, I was glad that my bike was still holding out. It’s fairly new and I hadn’t had a chance to try it out on a multi-day ride until now, but it was certainly doing the job. My one minor annoyance was that the chain was beginning to creak, and I had foolishly forgotten to pack any oil. I’d planned to buy some this afternoon as I knew there was a bike shop in Tafalla, but when I arrived it was closed. As far as I knew there were no bike shops en route for a while so I was going to have to hold out and keep creaking along.
Mid-afternoon, I began to climb up into the foothills and eventually the wind died down as I was sheltered by the peaks. The scenery changed very quickly as I got closer and closer to the French border. I saw my first of many glistening mountain lakes and passed through tunnels drilled right through the mountainside. I skirted the edges of numerous quaint mountain villages the names of which, now entering Basque country, were all unpronounceable and haphazardly punctuated with random Q’s, X’s and Z’s.
As I rose ever higher, the more remote it became and I ended up doing a much longer day than I’d planned. Not because I was struggling to find a place to camp, but because the views were so stunning and I was having so much fun. What a thrill to be back in the Pyrenees four years after my inaugural mountain adventure. I found myself zigzagging upwards through a narrow gorge, the rocky cliff faces looming above and around me, casting a shadow over everything. Through forests, over streams and under the darkening evening sky, with every mile I was riding back through the years on a wave of nostalgia.
I ended up with a good 90-mile day under my belt before I stopped for the night, climbing over a barbed wire fence and camping in a farmer’s field. I’m out of the dry, barren land of Spain now, and I know just how changeable the weather in the mountains can be so for the first time on this journey from Gibraltar to London, I actually had to set up my tent!
This was a seriously tough day, and it feels like I’ve cycled 200 miles. Everything hurts. However it seems pretty tough to complain when I look around me. It’s beautiful up here, high in the mountains less than 10 miles from the French border. Lulled to sleep by the sounds of wind and tinkling cowbells. This is the life. Nothing can go wrong now.