Distance: 55 miles
Total Distance: 629 miles
Today I finally reached France!
It was a chilly morning waking up in my field in the heart of the Pyrenees. As I stretched and smelled the air, the fields were shrouded in mist and the grass covered in frost. I had left behind the heat of Spain for sure.
I ascended through a few small empty villages, passing a couple of early morning hikers before turning off the main road onto a smaller paved track, almost too narrow for anything wider than a cow. And there were a lot of those. Climbing through the forest alongside a babbling stream, cows wandered freely up and down the shit-covered road and as I emerged from the forest wild horses ran rampant over the slopes.
I was constantly watching my Garmin ticking down the miles to the border. I could see the pass ahead of me as I sweated up the slope towards it. With a final burst of effort I reached the top and there I was. Straddling the border between Spain and France. I had finally crossed the entirety of Spain, from the Rock of Gibraltar to the peaks of the Pyrenees. The whole of France lay in front of me and the whole of Spain behind. An overwhelming sense of achievement engulfed me and – not for the first time – I felt like I was on top of the world.
From the moment I crossed the border into France at 844 metres, it was all downhill. I was planning to stop at the town of Urt which lies just above sea level on the River Adour. Just a short 49 miles remaining, I could take the rest of the day nice and easy, basking in my accomplishment.
I steeled myself for the long, long downhill and let myself roll slowly downwards, picking up pace as I went. Not even pedaling, just coasting down the winding mountain road, occasionally slowing down and ringing my bell to clear some loitering sheep out of the road.
As I reached civilisation again I passed a farm, by which a friendly-looking dog caught my eye and I slowed down to give it a stroke. But when I had almost slowed to a stop the dog suddenly jumped up and started chasing me, barking viciously and scared the shit out of me. I quickly started pedalling as fast as I could, yet was still chased for far longer than was reasonable for a dog to chase somebody. It was almost a kilometre before it finally left me alone. I think was shouting “Fuck off” at it that did the trick.
I paused in the quiet village of Aldudes to sit on a bench and eat some breakfast and then began a lovely long descent down the Aldudes valley. It was a beautiful morning as I cycled down through this huge gorge with waterfalls cascading down around me into the beautiful sparkling water below me. People were fishing in the river, and I was greeted with a flurry of Bonjour’s from cyclists whizzing down past me (not so many from the cyclists struggling and panting their way up).
Before long I had reached Saint-Étienne-de-Baïgorry, a village I had passed through when crossing the Pyrenees four years ago. It’s amazing to think how much less physically and mentally prepared I was for adventure back then compared to now. Feeling nostalgic, I bought some food and a coffee and sat in the sun reminiscing.
On the outskirts of town some sort of festival was going on with music and food and people dancing, and I had to fight through the crowds to leave. I began cycling through beautiful Basque countryside, the rolling hills peppered with the traditional red and white houses, tiny churches and dilapidated farms.
I had expected the ride from the Spanish border to be one long and easy gentle descent all the way to Urt, but it was anything but. Although I was at a much lower elevation now and the terrain was already very different from the mountains of this morning and yesterday it was still a challenge to navigate the constant steep ups and downs.
Around mid-afternoon I reached Urt where I checked in at the campsite and had a celebratory beer in the sun. I performed some perfunctory bike maintenance and went for a wander round town. It felt so good to stretch my legs properly without having to push the bike. I was still feeling strong and could have gone a lot further today if I’d wished but some friends are joining me here tomorrow and will ride with me for the day.
I’m halfway through my journey now and still feeling good!