Tag: cycling

Basque Country Touring

First sight came after 4 days riding down from the Arachorn Basin, through the forests of Landes

Oh My!

Suddenly there’s a skyline, and after a few intakes of breath, I can’t help but smile; game on.

First taste comes in Bayonne, France. In all the best ways it reminds me of Leith a bit. The road in through the docks and industrial estates, is busy with trucks, but I don’t care. Because it turns out I’m a mountain girl at heart and this road takes me there.

Bayonne has such a good vibe I decide to stay a day. Good choice. I eat one of the best meals of the trip, buy a map for Spain, visit the cathedral, and wander round absent-mindedly.

Bayonne

Bayonne

 

I set of round the coast, because I feel I ought to see Biaritz – I feel ambivalent about it. Then as I head inland the road gets lumpy, and I get reacquainted with my bottom gear.

The border is disappointingly devoid of appropriate signage to lean a bike up against. instead just alot of petrol stations- which don’t have the same photographic narrative. Then it’s over the Puerto de Otxondo (602m) to the Baztan valley.

The next day starts out flat enough, picking it’s way along the valley. It’s Market day in Doneztebe (Santesteban) and the town is busy. There’s garlic and onions piled high, and police direct traffic on the packed streets. Then there’s another climb, the valley twists, narrows and flares, while climbing constantly. The scenery is great, and there’s villages all the way up to the Porte de Usateguieta (695m). From Leitza to Tolosa comes the dowhill, the reward for those hours of climbing.

Saturday in The Basque Country and the bikes are out. There’s boys on hot bikes everywhere, all are imacuatly turned out. There’s no black shorts here – it’s full team kit and it’s way hot.

As I leave Tolosa I’m unsure about if I’m allowed onto the busy dual carriageway of the N1, but there large bunches of cyclists making use of the ample hard shoulder, so I figure I must be. Today’s climb (as recommended by the tourist info office) is from Villabonna to the coast at Zarautz. Traffic is mostly pedal powered, and I’m joined by an international group of three riders near the bottom. They tell me the climb is 7km long, then proceed to chat to me as we climb. I manage to keep pace for a respectable distance, about two thirds of the way, until I wave good bye and stop to take some pics and eat some food.

As I’m coming down I get passed 4 times by a guy in team sky kit doing his hill reps; in my defence I had stopped to take more photos. The red road (on the map) along the coast to Deba wasn’t very busy, and was very scenic.

Deba Beach

Deba, another surf beach

The road from Deba goes up; of course, but then you get an awesome descent into Gernika. (taking the longer sweeping road, rather than the busy short steep descent) Everyone’s heard of Gernika, bombed, then immortalised by Picaso. The town itself isn’t as pretty as many of it’s neighbours. The tourist office tipped me off that the coast road is in bad condition, so bad that it closes tomorrow for maintenance, so if I want to go that way I have to pass today.

In Bermeo I get another example of Basque hospitality, I think I’ve missed they junction, so pull over to check the map. A group of runners clock me and hurdle the barrier into the road to point me in the right direction, proudly extolling the beauty of my route choice. as I carry on round the coast, I’m intercepted by a motorbike who pulls me over for a chat about my bike, and touring in general. my surly is a bike geek magnet, which is fine by me, geeks rule.

The road is indeed in need of repair, but once again it’s soul food scenery. It would be hard to not feel happy riding here.

Gaztelugatxe

It is a very pretty, and pretty hilly coastline

The next day starts well, eucalyptus lines the road, thinning often enough to provide tantalising preludes to the vista that awaits at the top of the climb.

Then it’s off round the coast to Bilbao. I opt to stay in a hostel opposite the Guggenheim, this might be the best view in the city. I’m lucky enough to meet a Brazilian, with fluent Spanish, to hang out with, and it’s nice to be less solitary and have a laugh for a while. We spend a day eating, drinking, doing world class art, and riding trams. The Guggenheim is better than good, and I’m kinda blown away by it.

The road out of Bilbao makes its way through large towns and ports for a good while before you get to leave the urban area. The traffics not to bad though. As I pass under the sign that signals the end of the Basque Country I turn to give a little wave, but I’ve already promised myself I’m going back.

The afternoon’s pretty rough, copious coffee and the buzz of the city have left me sleepless, and it turns out that a handful of Liqueur Chocolates are not the ideal cycling lunch. Then again maybe I’m just coming down from my Basque trip.

The route and practicalities of my journey are here: Appendix , and there’s photos too

Test ickles

an ickle tiny first tour

Testing my bike, and myself with a little mini tour.  After the incessant rain,  a weather window coincided with time off. Finished work mid afternoon and got the bike all loaded up then headed off South.

In an effort to recreate the forthcoming tour as completely as possible I got a ferry. OK so only across Winderemere, but I couldn’t resist the opportunity to catch a ferry.

Windermere Ferry

The Windemere Ferry

 

The back roads to Cartmel, are very back, and not very road. Very cute though with grass down the middle – less cute with a hedge trimmer in full flow (no punctures though – first test passed!).

Cartmel village mostly means Pony club camp to me – so i have a big soft spot for it. I Stayed at the Cartmel Camping and Caravan site – which is right in the middle of the village. The village is pretty posh and very cute.  As I rode in, this sign greeted me -a good omen for me and my steel bike.

Steel Bikes

Good omen

 

Day two dawned with blue skys and a full moon. Time to decamp and head back to the Lakes

View to the Lakes

blue skys, heading home

Headed out to Greenod, picking up a bit of Cycle route 20 throught the Holker Estate, before heading down the east of Coniston Lake – Also time to test out my arty ‘me with bike somewhere pretty shots’ – not bad for a beginner!

Still Waters on Coniston

To pretty not to get the camera out

 

Nearly home and only one last thing, to ensure that all real tour ingredients where simulated fully – Cake.

Cake

In my head there will be lots of cake

 

Destination?

I have a [nother] plan – this one is to take myself and a bike off on a trip for a few months.

The plan was dreamt up in the heat of being newly dumped and hurting real bad.  The thing I most wanted was to be far away, the otherside of the world might just do. I’m not so newly dumped any more, but I”m still planning on going.

I think that i’m probably a tourer at heart.  I may ride a road bike – but i’m never going to be fast -and i love the big long days on the road (see, tourer).  There’s also some soul mending to be done, a restlessness that needs to be put to bed.  The journeys not about fixing me – but maybe more working out what it is that needs fixing.

If that all sounds quite dark – don’t worry it’s not. I’m quite excited by it too. Here’s some thoughts on destination

The other side of the world: New Zealand

It’s an amazing country – I’ve been and want to go back.  In particular i want to see more of the south island.  It’ll be right in terms of seasons – i’d be going for NZ summer.  I’ll also maybe never get a better opportunity to go back than this.

Set off from Home : Europe

This one is edging it slightly at the moment – it’s the one i feel more, but it needs more research.  I have some thoughts about what it might be like -but i need to investigate the reality.  I like the idea of not flying – and of setting off from home (although i don’t really have a home, but i know what i mean).  I like the idea of seeing France, and Spain, and Italy.  The language thing scares me a little – and the weather might not be that good.

 

Arran

Arran

Arran has been on the agenda ever since I got my bike, and with summer rolling by the window of opportunity wasn’t going to be open for too much longer. Finding ourselves with a Saturday that wasn’t already committed, we decided that this was the day for riding round Arran. The weather looked promising – sunshine and clouds, oh and a 22mph westerly…
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The alarm was set for stupidly early, and we arrived at Ardrossan in good time for the 9.40 sailing. Around the car park a scattering of other cyclist could also be seen unloading bikes, donning lycra, and looking at the wind and clouds nervously.

On arrival in Brodick we waited for the cars to unload, and click clacked off the ferry in our not designed for walking in shoes. After looking at the wind we had decided that we should get the headwinds out of the way early, and go anti-clockwise round the island. The first few miles are nice and flat, a gentle warm up. Every time I come to Arran I’m desperate to see seals, and every time I have to make do with being excited about the seal sculpture at Corrie, which I’m sure they put there to keep kids (like me) happy that they got to see some wildlife.

After Sannox the road starts to rise, it was about this time the headwind and the rain also started to exhert themselves. From sea level ‘The Boguillie’ rises to 200m in 5km, with the steepest section rising 100m in just over 1km . It was quite hard. There is then a long decsent down to Lochranza, an ideal place to stop for a break and enjoy views over the castle. There were also deer grazing on the shore while we were there. The road round the north of the Island is mostly flat, staying close to the sea, although there was a head wind.

Mike on bike
Flat roads at the North of Arran

As we turned south the wind seemed to have veered north a bit, meaning a tail wind and we fair flew to Blackwaterfoot, and our planned lunch spot. We ate an excellent, if perhaps too good a, lunch at the Kinloch Hotel.

In my head the south of the Island was flatter and easier – actually it’s pretty lumpy, and some of the hills are fair steep. It is not easier.

Arran Elevation profile
Second half – not easier

Now started the race to make the 16:40 ferry – and maybe regretting the leisurely lunch (it was good though). On every hill our pace dropped and it looked like we weren’t going to make it, then we’d peg it down the hills and it looked on. At Lamlash the 3 miles to Brodick sign gave us hope, which quickly disappeard with a final just a little too cruel hill. Over the top, and I surpressed the fact that I hate going downhill fast and peddled like crazy. We made it to the ferry as the cars were boarding (bikes go on first usually) and joined a group of other late arrivals – all glad not to have to wait until 19:40 to go home.

On the ferry home
Tired, but on our way home

Mountain Top Finish

Inspired by the Giro, we decided to re-create our own mountain top finish. Luckily it’s not just those continental types that build roads over hills, and conveniently locate car parks near the top.

The Ben Lawers Nature Reserve has a car park and visitor center at a handy 430 meters. It’s even handier if you are walking up Ben Lawers or doing the neighboring Tarmachan Ridge.

From the car park it’s downhill, steeply at first, then steadily, all the way to Feranan. Here you leave the A-road and head along the undulating road up Glen Lyon. At the wonderfully named Bridge of Balgie turn left over the river and start heading up. You then have 350m to go up in 5 miles until the road’s high point of 549m. Here there almost certainly won’t be legions of spectators, but it feels pretty good all the same. Then it’s just a short decent back to the car park, avoiding the hikers which wander sheep like all over the road as they return from a day on the hill.
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A stop off at a chippy is almost certainly a good reward.