Today was to be another longish ride, but it would see me reach the north coast, and be the end, almost, of my journey, save for Wednesday,when I have a boat to catch, and there is something of an unreal sentiment about it all. I planned to go through the Parque Natural Saja-Besaya into Cantabria to get some scenery and greenery and then roll into Comillas in the seaside sunshine.
Do you see the two steepish climbs early on in the ride ? Quarter and halfway ? They are the two main mountain ranges that run through the park. The morning is clear and though overcast, not too chilly. Spain has been having some freak storms in recent days and though they are not predicted for the north coast, rain is, and I am hoping that I am far enough west to miss it. The clouds are heavy and foreboding but the sun fights it’s way through and my worries lift a little whilst I keep an eye on the grey clouds on the horizon.
I pull into a small local garage for water and provisions and an old man sticks his head out of the shop door whilst I dismount. He mumbles something to his colleague inside. I don’t know what.
Once inside he starts to josh with me, the garage owner grinning. I tell him my line and he grins back. There is a lock on all the product cabinets, which is odd but, you know, there has to be a reason. I am wearing my Euskaltel Euskadi shorts and he points to them and says something. The garage owner laughs. I get, in the end, that they lock everything up, he says, so that their Basque country neighbours can’t come and steal everything. We all have a hearty chortle and I tell them that I just like orange. I thought any discussion concerning Sammy Sanchez would be too much.
Back on the road the first climb really starts and though I pass through some interesting little places, Branosera looks pretty, I feel the need to press on. It’s too early on a long climbing day to start taking pictures. I reach the top of the first climb and because there is no breeze and the cloud cover thick, it is pleasantly warm. The whole region is lush and green with picturesque hamlets waiting for the summer tourist season.
Going down the mountain the other side is a different matter. It is bitterly cold as I freewheel downhill and I seriously think about stopping at the bottom and pulling on a t-shirt underneath my top. But the sun comes out and warms my back and I change my mind. I know I’m just going to get hotter climbing.
I had seen Daisy climb through a roadside fence ahead of me, tempting her calf to follow. Calf had given up too quickly and Daisy, after a few grumps, which must have been cow for “wimp”, turned around and went back down the hillside. All this happens as I claw in the incline at a steady 4 mph.
Around the bend, however, I suddenly have to start doing some thinking. Ahead of me is a big beast I quickly determine is a bull hanging out with a couple of his girlfriends. I approach slowly ( slower) whilst I figure out how to navigate this most unlikely of scenarios for a cyclist. The roadside fence has regular gaps to allow the cattle back and forth and as luck would have it the girlfriends decide to walk along the ledge the other side of the road. Bull follows. (Blokes, eh ?)
This is my chance. You would be amazed at how fast you can overtake a bull after you have already climbed 3000 feet. I pull ahead and toy with the idea of stopping to take a picture. No one will believe me, I thought.
Bull and girls are back on the road behind me, and as I turn to see where he is, my right cleat fails to disengage and I end up on my backside in the roadside mud. Fortunately, not a cowpat. The girls look at me and wander to the green grass the other side of the road. Bull, looks at me , calls me an idiot in Bull, and follows them. Blokes, eh ?
( Later, I discover that I have worn my cleats to shreds. I replaced them for the ride so started with fresh ones. Now there is hardly anything left. They are the worst I have ever ridden with.)
I start my descent, gawping at the amazing scenery, trouble free. I know that from here the main work is done, though there is probably another 30 miles to go. Then I realise that the cloud is coming down the mountain and that I am above it.
I pull on my windcheater, put my lights on, and head on down. Now, visibility is about 20 yards, there are cows and horses wandering on the road, not to mention their frequent droppings, and the temperature quickly drops to about 2 degrees. Descending seems to take forever. I feel a real chill and after a while begin to shiver. Freewheeling is no good when it is cold. I spin my legs to try to keep them warm. The cloud and mist go on and on, and as if it couldn’t get any worse, it started spitting.
The spit soon becomes a full on downpour. The plan now is to stay upright and get there. Nothing else matters.
As I hit the valley floor the rain stops for a while. It’s not as cold and when the rain does return it’s just about ploughing on and getting on with it, avoiding the white lines, making sure I stay on the bike.
Finally, after a couple of hours or more of this, I cruise into Comillas, the rain stops, and I have done it. I stood on the beach in Malaga and now I stand on the beach in Comillas. Mediterranean to the Atlantic.
I have a boat to catch on Wednesday which is 30 more miles of riding but I’m here, dirty, tired and cold. The rain a fitting coda to 3 weeks of sunshine. Now, I hope I have a sea view………..