Yesterday was another extremely tough day. Straight out of Leitza into a long winding climb up to 2500ft, my legs were still feeling the pinch from the last trip and it was hard going. More uber fit local cyclists buzzed by, checking up on me and reassuring the descent wasn’t too far.
I cleared the first big climb in two hours and by the time I glided downhill into the town of Lekunberri, I was ready for another go. I passed through the town and headed out on the Baraibar road towards Iribas, took a sharp left and began climbing again towards the hamlet of Alli where I stopped and ate the rest of my cured ham and free cheese (still chuffed… I love a freebie).
The roads began to climb again. Straighter and steadier but challenging nonetheless, especially with the sun beating down. It was very hot.
The terrain had changed quite significantly now and, although still climbing high, things looked less mountainous, as cliffs, rock and trees had given way to fields, farms and livestock.
I stopped in a tiny hamlet called Oderitz where I was immediately bitten by something that caused a big blood blister to pop up on my arm. There were literally five houses in Oderitz, but inside one I spied a beer pump and took it for a bar. As I approached two dogs ran out and went for me, teeth bared, snapping at my heels as I legged it down the street, leaving my bike and luggage behind me.
The landlady came out and called off the dogs who shuffled under the tables outside and lay there growling. I gave them a wide-berth and went inside.
I made small talk with the old woman, showed her my bite, and she disappeared off only to reappear with disinfectant to clean up the growing blood blister. She patched me up and sent me on my way with a restocked water supply.
People in the north of Spain have proved to be incredibly kind and generous. Even in the most rural parts, the hardest faced, toughest looking folk will go out if their way to help you and make sure you’re ok. When I explain what I’m doing, there is an instant understanding, no ‘why?’, just a quiet respect and a desire to help. From the local cyclists and vehicles slowing down to check up on me, to the people always happy to give directions and the tiny rural bars letting you fill up with water. There’s no questioning my motivation, because why wouldn’t you travel across northern Spain? It’s a beautiful place.
As I packed up, the dogs seemed to be revving up for a second attack, emitting low howls that reverberated round the hills (terrifying), so I got out of there sharpish, half-packed, pedalling off not nearly quick enough uphill.
The next part was hard, it was extremely hot now and still climbing up into the hills. I had to stop in every rare bit of shade I could grab and was trying to stop myself from guzzling down all of my water stash.
Eventually, the descent began, through the hamlet of Madotz, up a small climb and round a corner to one of the most spectacular views I’ve seen yet. Spain laid out in front of me for miles at an altitude of 2700 ft. The last few of the northern mountains laid out ahead.
The incredible descent lasted for 12 minutes. 12 minutes of pure 30mph+, downhill joy. I grinned all the way to the bottom. I managed to video the whole thing by fixing my iPhone to my handlebars, I’ll try and upload it today.
I arrived in the town of Irurtzun, which quite frankly didn’t have a lot going on, and was a bit scally. Filled up my water supplies for the third time that day, ate, and moved on.
Leaving Irurtzun, I realised how knackered I was, and to cut a long, painful story short, the last 20k into Pamplona was hell. Gentle climbs I would have laughed at early were now hard as nails, it was roasting, water was decreasing fast and I bombed about three times. Everytime I saw a patch of shaded grass I just wanted to throw myself down and pass out.
After fighting tooth and nail with my ailing body, for about two hours, I made it into Pamplona, battered but hanging on. It took ages to get into the centre, and when I did it was heaving as a big market festival was taking place.
I looked around for a pension for an hour or so, started to worry a bit as everywhere was full. Eventually I found a place; bit squalid, holes in the walls and a smell fixed between fly spray and fags. I didn’t care, the owner was friendly enough and knew an impressive array of English swearwords!
Wandered around last night in a daze, crashed out then moved to another, nicer pension today. Going to check out a restaraunt from Rick Steins Spain doc tonight and tomorrow I’m heading south to Olite.
Thanks for the texts and words of support, I’m not kidding when I say it really helps. When you’re at the end of your energy and you get a text from one of your mates, it means A LOT. Can’t reply at the moment for some reason, but I am getting, and greatly appreciating them.