Biking Challenges & Guardian Angels
Europe by bike isn’t always easy riding. (Or easy flying. It’s quite a hassle to disassemble your bike and for it snugly into a box at the airport.). It’s made considerably harder when one of your pedals wears through its thread, falling off on a Sunday when no shops are open. But the universe always seems to have a contingency plan and this day was no exception.
My friend Lorre and I decided to ride together from the French Acro Convention into Basque Country. I was headed towards San Sebastián, Lorre further on towards Bilbao. Lorre accidentally left her wallet with a friend who had already driven to Bordeaux so it’s a good thing we were together so she wasn’t stranded without any cash. It became even more fortunate we were together when my pedal fell off as her father graciously scooped us both up in his camper van. The 15km I rode with one functioning pedal to get to the rendezvous point with Lorre’s dad was way more taxing than any hill I’ve ascended. So when Lorre’s dad dropped me off at a campsite in Sauruz I couldn’t have been more thankful, or tired. There are so many great people out there willing to go out of their way to help a stranger. I suggest you become one as well (or continue to be one), it has tremendous power to impact someone’s life if even just for a day!
If Sauruz and San Sebastián are an indication of the rest of Basque Country than it’s safe to say it is exceedingly picturesque. It contains expansive sandy beaches with rolling waves and lush countryside with rolling hills, which are great fun to zoom down on the bike. Climbing the hills is a little less fun, but not as bad as I originally feared as the grades of ascent in the Pyrenes I encountered weren’t too steep.
But gaining altitude hasn’t been the biggest challenge of biking in Spain so far. So what has? The heat. The goddamn scorching summer sun baking the asphalt and my ass along with it! I rode for three days along the eastern coastline from Barcelona to Borriana, covering a little more than 300km to arrive in time for the Arenal Sound music festival.
Over the course of those three days I drank more than 25 liters of water yet only had to pull over to water the grass a few times each day. Yup, that’s a lot of sweat. A whole lot. I was on the shoulder of the highway for some long stretches, (and once to change a flat tire, always carry a spare tube kids!) looking beyond the mirage of the heat waves emanating from the ground hoping for a gas station in the distance to replenish my always diminishing water supply. (If you carry a lot of water you have considerably more weight and have to work harder, sweating more and coincidentally drinking even more.)
It was a welcome respite when my route took me along the boardwalk of different beaches, the sea wind cooling my wet skin. And I was often treated to views of flowers with mountains in the distance, knowing that I would be crossing those same mountains in the next few hours. Flowers and mountains are a great sight. Seeing a sign denoting heavy winds with a mountain looming in the distance…that’s a terrible sight for sore legs. Strap on your man boots son, shit’s about to get real! But what goes up must come down, breezing back towards the beaches.
One day I stopped at a viewpoint for a brief respite from ascending a long hill. I was confronted by two women frantically looking over the cliff´s edge. Two of their friends had gone exploring and were lost, with a precipitous drop causing their imaginations to assume the worst. I climbed for as far as I safely could to try to find the missing girls until the fire department showed up and took over the search. You never know what you´re going to encounter along the paved highway or the old dusty trail.
At night I put up my tent wherever suited me. One night on the outskirts of a beautiful campsite (which I obviously snuck into to take a much needed shower), another in the middle of some rice fields, waking with the sun to get back on the road before the farmers found a smelly hippy in bike shorts lingering about.
After a hard day’s ride you don’t need a nice mattress to sleep like a champion. All you really need is some flat ground, lots of water, and a little help from a stranger every now and then.