When I was planning this trip back in England I spend many hours trying to pick out routes that avoided main roads. For the most part this has meant we've been on quiet back roads that, if not always the most direct, have taken us through some beautiful and unspoilt places. However when it comes to Spain I really needn't have bothered.
Wherever the Spanish have built a motorway between two towns they have invariably left the old N road behind as a 'Via de Servicio'. These roads are well graded, direct and - best of all - almost completely devoid of traffic. They don't appear on the Michelin road maps of Spain but they are a real boon for the long distance cyclist. Most of our ride through Spain has been on these long, flat, straight roads that follow the course of the new motorways. Even in the heat we've been able to clock up good daily mileages without too much effort. If you're planning a ride in Spain knowing about these service roads will make a huge difference to your trip.
Here's to the open (service) road!
For most of the last three days we've been following the route of the Camino de Santiago. We occasionally head off it onto easier (faster) roads, but it's always there beside us. Following it, mostly on foot, are hundreds of pilgrims. They come in all shapes and sizes, but it is nice to have them there and to be reminded of the fact that we are not the only travellers on this ancient route. There are many added bonuses of their presence too. We meet interesting people. Today we met a bloke, Peter, from Palo Alto California who's been on the road for a year. He rode with us for a while and shared with us his stories of the road.
Added to this, for the past two nights, we've been able to stay in Pilgrim's refuges. We don't have to put up our tents, can get a shower and the opportunity to wash our kit. The one we're in tonight cost just 6 euros per person - far cheaper than most of the campsites we have stayed in. Also there are fairly regular roadside fountains for filling our bottles and the roads a quiet.
And there's free WiFi. This is a cyclist's paradise!
So we've done France. My apologies to those of you who had hoped to be fed with a regular diet of bon mots via the blog and a stream of pictures. A few of problems have arisen that I hadn't fully appreciated the impact of:
- we have been arriving at our campsites pretty late 7-8pm leaving little time to do much else other than administer ourselves and get ready to do it all over again
- the 'Power Monkeys' we have got with us are useful for topping up but are no real substitute for mains electricity, which at many sites we cannot access (hence no phone/laptop)
- WiFi on the campsites is not ubiquitous and where it exists is often pretty pricey
Anyway, we made it and great fun it was too. We have now settled on a rhythm that seems to work for us and for the group's dynamics. Our best days have been ones where:
- We have got up early and knocked out the lion's portion of the day's ride before lunch. Our very best day involved rising at 0500 and leaving at 0630. No matter what we do we can't seem to reduce the hour and a half it takes to strike camp.
- We have avoided the tempatation to have too many stops (even a seemingly harmless coffee stop mid-morning can swallow and hour or more of road time).
- We buy our food in supermarkets and plan ahead - buy breakfast and lunch in camp and take it with us - that way we determine the stops and are not reliant on the appearance of a shop/town.
- Mike rides steadily at the front and I bring up the rear, shouting directions as needed or pulling ahead for tricky bits (I'm the only one with the maps!)
- When we spot one of the kids is struggling (too hot, hungy, about to bonk...) we put that kid right at the front - nothing is more demoralising than seeing stronger riders pull away into the distance.
So all we need to do now is apply that pattern to Spain. I've got a feeling Spain will be a lot, lot harder...!
Two days after the professional cyclists in the Tour de France have their Grand Départ from Yorkshire, we will be having our own. The exicitment is beginning to build, final preparations are being made, kit and equipment is being checked and we're putting the last few tweaks to the route.
In fact the whole route has now been plotted using Garmin Connect and will be downloaded to each one of our two GPS devices. This has been quite a task, but is one that we hope will prove useful in the end. We've plotted a campsite at the end of every night's stop and, once we leave England, are going to use the time-honoured cycle touring strategy of 'just pitching up' and not pre-booking. Booking the whole lot ahead of time would be inviting problems (no room for any slippages/mishaps that knock us of course); equally ringing ahead a day at a time gives campsite owners more of an opportunity to say 'Complet'. I've found over the years that the cycle loving French and Spanish don't turn away tired, dusty cyclists once they know how far they've come...
This little map shows each of our 23 legs as we weave our way south:
One of the perils of being a geography teacher is that you have to face a daily barrage of gags about colouring pencils. If I had a pound for every time someone had asked me whether my colours were sharp, I'd have retired to a little house in the Pyrenees long ago...
I'm a hopeless fundraiser. There's something so embarrassing and un-British about asking people for cash. But having just received an automated e-mail from Just Giving telling me that I'm only likely to get 20% of the money raised after/during the event I thought I'd better cast my inhibitions aside: we need your help....!
Following our East Midlands trip it became apparent that regular daily mileages of +80 miles was a bit ambitious. Cycling in a group it only takes a couple of punctures (or a spell of getting lost!) to make an 80 mile day a desperate race against the clock. I have therefore revised the itinerary to include 3 rest days (highlighted in yellow on this Google sheet).
Following our recent tour of the East Midlands, it became apparent that heavily loaded touring is best done on a bike designed for the purpose. Ruth had been using a hub-geared Airnimal Joey, a serious bike and one that Airnimal claim is capable fully loaded touring, but still not quite the same as a purpose built tourer. Meanwhile Jo was using a GT moutain bike fitted with slicks. This too didn't quite cut the mustard when riding alongside others on purpose-built machines.
This is the chaos that ensues after a few days on the road: