19.06.2016 - 26.06.2016
OMG! WTF! FML! There really are not enough acronyms to describe what I just experienced. Everything about this trip preparation was classic Ashley. I will be a broken record of "Mark, you told me so" until the end of time. The first part of preparation involved going out and buying all of the necessities including biking shorts which are tight spandex shorts with a built in diaper, fingerless gloves with padding so your hands don't go numb, and 75 powerbars. Also for some reason I thought nine months of Pilates would be enough preparation, apparently not.
I met up with the rest of the bike trip Sunday evening in our hotel in Vitoria. There were four other riders and our guide. There was a couple from Michigan, an Aussie, and a Brit. We were all various levels of cycling experience ranging from me at zero to the Brit who brought his own custom made carbon fiber bike weighing only 3 kilos and his $1500 pedals which relayed heart rate and speed logistics back to him in real time. I called him Lance.
In seeing what I was up against I chickened out and went with an ebike for backup. Definitely helpful on the hills but weighing over 50 lbs, even going flat felt like towing a trailer. Also the battery was no match for these long rides so I was stuck huffing and puffing this heavy bike up several hills. Ugh.
The rides ranged from 70-110 km per day with three days over 100 km! They were self guided; we were given a map and directions for each ride on the first day. The guide rode along in a van and we saw him at several stops along the way but otherwise we were completely on our own. We could each go at our own pace which was nice. The first three days the couple was nice enough to adopt me and let me tag along but the last three days I ventured off on my own which was exhilarating!
Our first day was from Vitoria to a small town called Estella, 100 km away. We passed through lots of farms, mountains, and vineyards. We also rode through a bunch of tiny Spanish towns with adorable town squares and lots of little cafes. The next day we rode to Pamplona, a slightly larger town where they were preparing for the running of the bulls which is taking place in a couple weeks. I was shocked at how incredibly narrow the street they run down actually is. It's tiny. The following day we rode through the Pyrenees Mountains and into a very tiny town in France called St. Etienne. The Pyrenees were absolutely stunning. Miles and miles of beautiful green mountains with flowers of every color! I specifically remember being in awe of the most fresh aroma of pine I had ever smelled, it made me delirious for a minute. Also along this route we started to see people walking along a pilgrimage route called Camino de Santiago or some refer to it as The Way of St. James. This famous route has many starting points depending on how long you want to walk and ends in Santiago, NW Spain. People start from all over, some even from as far as Poland. Hundreds of thousands of people do this pilgrimage every year, most by foot, carrying heavy bags in incredible heat. Most people start just before the Pyrenees which is just over 800 km! Damn. There is a scallop shell on the ground that marks the trail and lots of food trucks and cafes offer "pilgrim meals" to the walkers at a discount rate.
After stopping for a night in France we came back across the Pyrenees into Spain and stayed for a night in San Sebastián. This city was absolutely gorgeous and I need to come back asap. We went to a restaurant where you serve yourself from an array of tapas splayed along the bar. Best buffet ever. So damn delicious. I think I got approximately 9 plates and a glass of wine for $13 and it was one of the best meals of my trip so far. America needs to think on this.
We then made our way to another adorable town in northern Spain called Leteicio, then rode onto Bilbao which is the largest city on the northern coast of Spain with a beautiful Guggenheim museum on the water.
All in all this bike trip was an amazing experience. It was terrifying and difficult and most of the time I was exhausted or lost or delirious but I'm so happy I did it and alive to tell. It felt so great navigating through these small Spanish towns and through the mountains on my own. Definitely something I want to do again some day with Mark and next time with proper preparation!