It was approaching midday and I was blessed with gorgeous weather as I crossed the bridge from France to Spain. My plan was to ride a short distance to San Sebastian and spend the afternoon exploring the beautiful seaside town. Naturally, things didn’t quite go to plan. I ended up taking an unwanted detour that took me up the biggest, steepest hill I had ever cycled. I was very glad that the weather had began to deteriorate so at least I wasn’t climbing in the scorching midday sun.
I realised my mistake after stopping to check directions at the summit of my own personal Mount Everest, and because this was the biggest hill I had cycled up – it would also be the biggest that I would ride down!
I’l be honest and say I enjoyed cycling downhill much more than I did up.
These hills would be a mere warm-up compared to what I would be facing here on out. But the novelty was not lost on me at all.
The weather continued to worsen as I corrected my course and tackled smaller, less brutal inclines towards San Sebastian. I arrived at campsite just west of the town as the first Spanish rain drops touched ground. I was in no particular hurry to pitch my lopsided tent as I was already drenched with sweat. Eventually I was pitched, showered and fed, then I spent the majority of the evening listening to the sound of rain tapping away at the tarpaulin.
The sound of precipitation stayed with me all night and its rhythm kept pace throughout the morning. Between the weather and my unexpectedly stiff legs I decided not to cycle that day. Instead I filled my morning with a long shower, a cooked breakfast, and a cup of tea. By 11:30 the rain had begun to ease off and I took the opportunity to take a cloudy stroll around San Sebastian.
A short bus ride delivered me to the seafront and I walked uphill to Mota Castle to check out the view (my legs did not appreciate the walk).
After a fast waddle back down to sea-level I scoured for a camping store where I might be able to find replacement poles for my irregular shaped tent. That particular mission was unsuccessful but it was a great excuse to thoroughly explore the town.
By 7 PM I had returned to the campgrounds and had opened a bottle of wine as I slouched into my camping chair; affectionately dubbed the ”smug chair” due to the face I pulled whenever I sat in it. I felt superior (comfort-wise) to everyone who camped without one. I cannot recommend them enough.
This day also marks the one month milestone since pedaling off the ferry in northern France. By this point I felt that cycle touring was becoming a part of me. The first tour had me hooked, this second tour was confirming the notion. I enjoy the freedom. I enjoy waking up in a different place everyday, having something new to see and explore. I also enjoy the exercise – every evening feeling that you’ve earned your meal, your downtime and your sleep.
Those Spanish hills were definitely making sure of that. They also made for great viewing.
As the days rolled on my legs had begun to familiarise with the hills. My average pace had slowed but zipping downhill after a strong climb was a tremendous reward.
I was also gifted the inevitable displeasure of my first puncture! I was a little over 1020 miles (1650KM) along my second tour before a small slither of broken glass found its way to my inner tube. In all reality I was astonished I had made it this far without a flat. I swapped the tube for my spare, packed it away to be repaired later and my wheels were turning again within 20 minutes.
My next task would be a tough one. I had approached the ‘Puerto De El Escudo’ mountain pass. A 1011 metre climb that would feature many switch-back turns, some low laying clouds, a sudden drop in temperature and segments so steep that I had to get off and push.
It was a grueling undertaking for someone that only one week ago was used to the flat coastal trails in France. Following an hour of steep inclined ascent the road leveled off and I took a break to freshen up at a spring water outlet at the road side. I was barely a third of the way up, but I was making progress.
As I continued to peddle, push, puff and pant my way up the pass, the temperature and the visibility began to decline.
At first I welcomed to cool air, it was fresh and revitalising. Soon I could barely see what was three metres in front of me and I was getting pretty chilly. I wanted to complete this pass as quickly as possible, but the going was slow.
It was a lengthy three and a half hour ascent but finally the road leveled out for the last time as I passed the summit sign.
From here forwards The visibility increased and the temperature rose until once again I was cycling under a warm, blue Spanish sky.