The plan – get a lift to Burgos from my brother-in-law and cycle back to Léon. I had two route possibilities – cycle straight back on the ‘National’ road, or head up to the mountains, supposedly just 25km extra according to the routes planned in BikeRouteToaster. I had planed everything and was just looking for the opportunity to execute at some point over my three week vacation. Fortunately (or unfortunately, as the case may be), the opportunity came up on day three – the very day after I’d had a fairly tough 100km training ride. I couldn’t pass up the chance of completing my challenge, despite my weary legs, so I jumped at the opportunity.
First things first, getting to Burgos involved an early start – 06:20am aiming to leave Léon by 7am. The night before was a little late, and I tried to eat as much as possible in preparation, but when staying as a guest it’s a little harder to raid the kitchen…
Dressed and ready to go, we set off in the dark at the back of seven. The journey to Burgos took a couple of hours, and my brother-in-law and I chatted mostly about cycling. We arrived in Burgos, and I got my bike and gear out of José’s boot. He headed off to work on his motorbike, while I started off on my moderately slower means of transport. Just then, when it was too late to do anything about it, I realised the one thing I’d left in José’s car was my sun screen. I’d already slapped plenty on before leaving Léon, but I’d figured I almost certainly need to reapply more later on in the day. Hmmm. Maybe I’ll burn, or maybe the factor 30 will keep me safe – time will tell.
As I was leaving Burgos, my body decided it would be a handy thing to go to the toilet, and we’re not talking about simply nipping behind a tree. Great timing. While riding along, I’m wondering what to do – bushes or services (I was a little concerned about leaving my bike outside a bar or service station). I chose the easiest option – carry on cycling in the mild discomfort!
The next ‘challenge’ happened just a couple of kilometres into my ride. Following the BikeRouteToaster (BRT) route I’d downloaded into my Garmin, I found myself riding along a suburban backstreet that suddenly changed into a bonafide ‘camino’ – an unpaved road. It wasn’t too vicious, and, on checking the map, I could see that it was maybe only 1km long before rejoining the main road, so I followed it cautiously.
After a couple of navigational errors, I found myself in a small village, being directed (by the GPS) up a steep narrow street onto yet another unpaved road – bollox to this, I decided that BRT had decided that caminos were fair game for my route, so I decided to change tact, and let Garmin chose a route for me – selecting one of the larger villages on my original route, and telling Garmin to avoid unpaved roads. Off I went (partially backtracking) with a renewed confidence.
At last, I was on a major road (the N120) with very little traffic (it runs parallel to the Autovia, so hardly anyone uses the smaller road), and I was making pretty decent time – motoring along at around 34kph without putting in very much effort at all – the slight tailwind helped a little! 😉
After about 20kms, there was a decent looking service station, and, as nature had been calling a little longer than was healthy, I decided to see if I could use the facilities. It turned out that the ‘servicios’ were clean, and at the side where I could have my bike pretty much right outside the door – bonus!
I continued on in considerably greater comfort!
Garmin had chosen a route that kept me on the main road a little too long – the BRT route turned north-west a good bit earlier. In hindsight, I wish I’d spotted this fact, but the Garmin display is just too small to see enough detail for these situations. Eventually, I hit the point where I had to decide – ‘short’ route or long route?
Of course, a challenge isn’t a challenge if you don’t take the more challenging path, so, despite the slightly weary legs, I headed north onto the longer, but potentially more interesting route along the base of the mountains.
After three and a half hours in the saddle, I decided it would be a good time to stop for lunch. I had just reached Alar del Rey, and there was a reasonable looking bar right on the corner as the main road bent to the left, and the smaller road into town forked to the right… A sandwich, and a slice of tortilla out on the ‘terraza’ was the order of the day, and I was starting to feel much better. I went back inside to order a coffee, when, looking for my €20 note, I discovered that I had dropped it somewhere (I’d used a fiver for the food, so I had the sum total of 60 cents change in my pocket!). A brief hunt around didn’t turn up the twenty, and asking the folks in the bar proved fruitless. In hindsight, I probably dropped it at my table outside, and I suspect that the bloke clearing the tables and sweeping the floor nabbed it – my table was cleared sharpish while I was back inside the bar… Fecker!
On I pushed, with no money left and just one energy bar to go, I hoped things wouldn’t get too bad…
The scenery was stunning, and the road was wide, smooth, and devoid of traffic. The sun shining, and just a slight breeze – perfect! I spotted an eagle or buzzard of some sort, sitting atop a telegraph pole. A few kilometers later, there it was again – the same one? Over the next few tens of kilometers, I kept seeing the same bird (at least, the same breed!), and I had to keep reminding it that, although I was out of food, I’m not about to keel over and become a bumper meal for you! At least it wasn’t actually circling over my head all the time – that would be somewhat worrisome!
I passed through lots of small villages, some with very pretty ‘plazas’, others far more modest and rustic. Garmin decided to take me off the main road on what turned out to be a small detour, cutting out a large curve in the main road before rejoining the road I’d just left. The detour took me through the centre of Santibáñez de la Peña, past a picturesque plaza with a fountain in the middle – perfect. My bidons were almost empty and this was a perfect spot to eat my last energy bar, text my wife with my latest update, and fill my bidons. It’s curious how good plain old mountain water can taste on a hot, dry, thirst inducing day.
The break felt very good, sitting on a bench, eating the energy bar, hearing nothing but the odd twitter of a bird and the gentle trickling of the fountain. It was hard to take myself away and get back into the saddle. What was supposed to be an audacious bike ride, was turning into a significant test of endurance – there was only one thing to do. Bottles back in cages, bum back on saddle, feet back in the clips, and muscles back to work.
The day had started off very cool, around 11°C, but had warmed steadily and now Garmin was telling me that it was 33°C. I could believe it. The only saving grace was that the air was very dry. Sweat on my arms and legs only appeared when I stopped riding, and the air couldn’t whip away the moisture as fast.
The road I was riding on ran alongside the narrow gauge railway that runs from Léon to Bilbao. Not once did I see a train. At one point, in a remote area, I noticed a train stop – nothing more than a perspex shelter with a timetable on the side. It was in full sunshine, and I wondered how long you’d have to sit there, being baked, before a train would happen along. Cycling to Léon would probably be quicker!
I reached a fairly major town, Guardo, a while later. For some reason, there was a distinct lack of signs showing where the main road through the town goes, but plenty of signs for local destinations. Given the poor quality of the navigation guidance (or possibly the poor ability of the rider to follow the simple instructions!), I made a few wrong turns, and meandered my way through the town. There were plenty of inviting bars with terrazas where I could have happily stopped off for some more fuel, if only I had more then 60 cents to my name. I put the thought of food out of my mind and found my way out of town – a vicious little climb – about 11% but mercifully short was Guardo’s parting shot.
The road from Guardo to Cistierna went through some wild and desolate scenery. To the north was the foot of Los Picos de Europa and I had a spectacular view of its mountains. Despite the views, this was a fairly low point in my ride. I was pretty hungry, and the remote nature of the landscape added to the feeling of isolation – it would have been far better if I was in a group of riders. The only thing to do was to push on, focussing on knocking off those kilometers…
The long, winding descent into Cistierna was more than welcome. Flicking the bike through left, then right handers at 60kph was fantastic – a great morale booster. Then at the roundabout (still carrying a lot of speed) Garmin told me to go straight on (signposted for Riaño), while the road signs said that Léon was down the third exit – I knew I didn’t want to head towards Riaño, that’s way off my route, so I followed the road sign for Léon.
Garmin was very slow in recalculating my route, and it was only after I’d already covered a couple of kilometers that it proudly announced that the distance to my destination had now increased from 60 kilometers to 70! I stopped and checked my route. Sure enough, if I carry on the new road, my route will take me slightly further south of Léon, before turning back north-west. My original route headed south-west straight to my destination, hence the difference.
Tired, hungry, and (probably) getting sunburnt, I decided to backtrack and get back onto my original route. Sure enough, the road to Riaño split off to the north after a couple of kilometers, leaving me to head west on probably the smallest road so far. It even had a sign warning drivers that there are parts of the road with no centre line – as if us Scots need to worry about such things!
My recalculated route dropped back down, but I soon discovered why – the signposted route to Léon followed the river, and is, no doubt, mostly flat or downhill. The shorter route went over the top of a mountain. Halfway into the climb, I started thinking that the extra 10k might not have been such a bad thing, then, looking at the side of the road, I noticed a lifesaver – a bush full of brambles!
With no hesitation, I stopped, got off my bike and started stripping the bush of every ripe berry. I spent about 15 minutes eating berries faster than you’d believe. A couple of cars went past, and the occupants must have wondered what on earth I was doing, but I didn’t care – it was free food!
With all of the berries gone, I felt considerably happier (if not entirely sated), and I finished the climb. The road undulated through some amazing scenery, with tight, twisty descents through some small villages. At one, there was a bar with folks enjoying the summer sun on the terraza, so I stopped to ask for water. The barmaid was happy to oblige, and refilled my bidons. She even put in some ice, something that I thought was a bit pointless given the heat of the day, but the ice certainly made the water a lot cooler for a lot longer than I expect. if only I had some money to buy some food! :-}
A few more lumps and bumps on the road, then I had a speedy descent down to the main road heading south again. The main road followed another river, but now I had a pretty stiff headwind to contend with – I guessed that the thermals rising off the mountains to the north was pulling air in from the south, making my ride that much harder. There was nothing to do other than pedal on and not think too much about that nice cold drink, and big plate of food at the end of my journey.
A few kilometers down the road I spotted a small, fist-sized Swiss roll, still in its wrapper discarded at the side of the road. I stopped to investigate – *that* was how desperate for fuel I had become! Unfortunately, the wrapper had burst, and ants were happily enjoying a feast, but there were two other Swiss rolls close by, wrappers intact. The packaging all looked clean, surely this had been thrown out of a car window today. The best before date was November 2012, so I opened one, and had a sniff – it smelled fine. I had a bite. It tasted great. I stuffed it into my face! The other one lasted about as long. The Swiss rolls were completely loaded with sugar. I decided that if I felt ill later on, then so be it. I weighed up the risks and decided the benefit of the fuel was too great to pass up. I pedaled on with renewed vigour, wondering just how much you could eat for free if you looked hard enough!
Spanish road signs can be confusing. I approached a roundabout, and Garmin told me to take the first exit. The roundabout had signs for Léon pointing down the first exit and the second exit. This, I don’t like. I stopped, check the map, and sure enough, I could go either way, but the ‘Garmin’ way was probably a little shorter.
About 25 kilometers to go, I was nearing the end and my spirits were lifting. There were a few more 6% climbs that went on longer than I would have liked, but the sugar from my free snacks had kicked in and, despite my fatigued muscles, I kicked into a low gear and spun up the climbs – not that I spun terribly fast! The last of the climbs were a real kick in the teeth after such a long day, but the kilometer markers by the side of the road started to tick by surprisingly fast. Soon enough, I found myself reaching civilisation once again with the small suburbs of Léon popping up, and the increasing frequency of roundabouts.
At last I reached the ‘ring-road’ (it rings about a quarter of the city), and Garmin kindly laid out my zig-zag route through the centre of the city back to base. It’s amazing how, nearing the end of a pretty epic ride, you can suddenly feel energised. The street where my in-laws live is short, but steep (~12% gradient) – the steepest street in Léon, and happily used by driving instructors to inflict humiliation on their pupils. If this had been a climb 30km earlier, I’d have dreaded it, but with the finish line at the top, I had a burst of energy and fair powered up the slope to finally stop at my destination. Hungry, thirsty, tired, but alive and satisfied.
The most painful parts of my body? The balls of my feet, and my lips, tongue, and throat – I can only guess that the hot, arid climate was to blame for having a sore gob! Everything else survived remarkably well!
Distance: 254km (well, 253.28km, but I’m calling it 254!)
Cycling time: 8hrs38min
Total Time: 10hrs50min
Avg speed: 29.4kph
Max Speed: 67.3kph
Ave HR: 135bpm (pleased with that!)
Ave Temperature: 26.1°C
Max Temperature: 34°C
Fuel consumption (not enough!):