01/10/2018 Simon ‘Wardy’ Ward is nomadonanomad
When I think back to my first few days cycle touring in the UK and remember the distances I was covering and the aches and pains suffered, I can’t believe how much further, and more easily, I can go now. However, a huge amount depends on the quality of the surface I’m riding on. It really does make a massive difference.
I set out, when stepping off the ferry in Roscoff, to follow the Eurovelo 1 cycle route, the section that goes through France, Spain and then into Portugal. When I landed, and eventually found the signs for the route, my early impression was that it was very easy to follow, and I was confident I would be able to get all the way to Portugal without major dramas. Or was that wishful thinking?
It appears, certainly in my opinion, that the signage in cities is pretty crappy, and you are really left to your own devices. In France though, with my reasonable French I was able to ask folks for directions but it quickly becomes apparent that not many have heard of Eurovelo. The French section, it transpired, is named ‘Le Velodyssee’ and even that is not well known.
In some areas the Eurovelo is paired with other routes and the signs can change to a different route without explanation. You have to guess or work it out. As I travelled further south in France it just got worse and worse and after getting lost a few times I decided to just follow the roads which are very smooth to ride on and more direct than the Eurovelo which can be pretty rough and also tends to meander all over the place. The downside, I had been told, was it was more dangerous on the roads.
Not at all. The roads are extremely well surfaced. Also, for 40% of any given part of a route there will be a dedicated cycle track separate from the road. For another 40% of the time one has a smooth and wide shoulder to ride on. For the remaining 20% of the time you have to ride on the road but the French drivers show great courtesy towards cyclists, giving a wide berth when passing and there isn’t a lot of traffic anyway.
Using the roads meant I was making far quicker progress which was important to me as I wanted to go south as quickly as possible as there was a definite an Autumnal chill in the air at night and in the early mornings. One day I managed well over 100 kms, including a stop to do a bag of laundry. I will work out the exact distance at some point as a point of interest for myself to compare to the 60 km days that nearly killed me early on.
Two days after this monster ride, and I probably was close to 100 kms the following day as well, I came across the signs for the Eurovelo again and went and made the big mistake of giving them another chance by following them. What transpired was the worst day of my life and I typed a blog post the next day which I ended up not posting as it was just a massive rant by way of venting my feelings. The ‘route’ ended up taking me along a track which caused me pain and suffering in the extreme as well as two punctures to the bike and a complete meltdown in the middle of nowhere!
I learned two lessons from this experience. If the track turns to deep sand just turn around and go back. (I’ve never been one for taking a backward step, but I have to learn) Secondly, even though I had given up on the day and checked into a hotel, I will never again try to repair the bike when I’m tired and incredibly, blood vessel bursting, angry. That just made matters worse and cost me more money in the long run. That was one lesson I did remember and it stood me in good stead some days later, to be told in another episode.
The delays caused meant that instead of crossing from France into Spain on day 18, it happened four days later, but I did make it eventually. My first thought was about how good would the signage be and how would I cope given that my rudimentary Spanish had all but deserted me. The signage for the route initially seemed to be fine but my inability to string two words together really became embarrassing. I just couldn’t get my brain away from French, and again Lao language was continuing to get in the way.
The first day went well and I set off on the second morning with a list of villages to follow on the Eurovelo. Very quickly that morning I found myself with the option to go through a car park or follow a track that just had a ‘regular’ blue bicycle sign. Nothing to do with Eurovelo and no other signs at all. So, I went with the bicycle route. 5 kms later, 4 and a half of them pushing up a particularly steep and very badly surfaced hill for over a hour, and I meet a Spanish mountain biker. It was obvious that he, as a mountain biker, was in the right place, and I, as a cycle tourist, wasn’t.
In my schoolboy Spanish, he had not a word of English, I asked if I was going the right way to find houses, a hotel or maybe even a café. When he laughed I knew I should have gone through the car park! Now it’s easy to think that to turn around and cruise down the hill shouldn’t be such a big problem, but the surface was so bad, and it was so steep that the decent, although not hard on the legs, was particularly tough on the nerves, with 20 minutes of firmly clenched buttocks before I arrived at the aforementioned car park and got back to following roads, not Euro bloody velo.
An hour later I see a sign saying ‘Eugi’, 27 kms and it’s perfect. I check on the iPad and it’s where I want to go and as it’s only 2.00pm. I will get there in good time even though it’s a little uphill following a small stream. Wrong! Very quickly the road became very steep and I wondered how long it would go on for. A couple who were out for a walk caught me up while I was having a rest from pushing the bike and told me I had another 5-6 kms of pushing before the road started going downhill. Bloody marvellous!
I soldier on thinking I will make it, but it quickly transpires that, again, I’ve bitten off more than I can chew. Along the side of the road there are some very nice places to wild camp and I start to prepare myself for that eventuality. No worries. This is the Pyrenees of course, and there are bears and wolves here, but I’m not worried for myself. Woe betide any bear or wolf who stumbles across me and tries to give me a hard time because I was in an absolutely foul mood and would have been more of a match for any of the buggers!
Any problems that the bears and wolves may have had were saved by the appearance of Bilson, an absolute star of a young man, only 20, and from Brazil originally, who was on his way to Pamplona in his Seat Leon which he was proud to tell me he had only purchased 3 days earlier. Despite the fact that the car was very small he was determined to help me and after I had removed all the bags from the racks and was trying to find the special tool to split the bike in half he had manhandled it into the back of the car without batting an eyelid. All I had to do was chuck the bags in the back, bungy cord the hatchback down, and we were off. Bears and wolves saved!
Next day a fantastic 28 km downhill cruise into Pamplona where I’m hoping to change a bunch of US Dollars into Euros. I had tried to change them in France but the Post Offices, the only places where it was possible, were always closed, surprise, surprise. In Pamplona I quickly get the idea that no-one wants US Dollars and I lay the blame firmly at the door of Donny bloody Trump, a total bloody prick if ever there was one!
Whilst in Pamplona I’m invited to take part in the Pamplona Bull Running festival. It doesn’t happen for a few months though, and I can’t wait that long so I politely decline. I do, however, enter the Bull Shitting festival. My entry is accepted and I’m quickly installed as the second favourite for the title behind Juan ‘talko loado bollocko’ Fernandez, the 8 time champion and local favourite. I decide that to defeat this icon of folklore would be a bad idea and set off again.
Anyway, the battery is running out on the laptop, and I’m just trying to catch up on the last couple of weeks while having an enforced rest in Medina de Rioseco. Another story of bad luck crossed with incompetence, but some more learning, which I shall type as and when I get the chance.
As always, thanks for reading this far and may your God go with you.
Simon ‘Wardy’ Ward.