Málaga to Santander by bike.... with a detour or two on the way!
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Málaga – Campillos 82Km
It’s raining, that’s not supposed to happen. I’ve just left Málaga airport and I’m cycling the 5km down to the sea in order to take a classic “start” photo. To be fair, it’s only a few, very light drops and it evaporates the moment that it lands but this really wasn’t what I expected at the end of July at the start of a 10ish day, 1,000km cycle ride up to the north coast of Spain.
I should have picked up on the clues a few hours earlier on the plane from Gatwick. As we started our descent there was a weird, yellow-brown light outside of the plane. I suspect that the raindrops are being induced by Saharan dust as much as anything else. It does mean though now, standing on the beach looking out at the Mediterranean Sea that we could be in Clacton. It’s an ugly grey light making the photo-op a real struggle.
It’s a relief to turn back towards the north. I’m keen to get going. It’s now well after 1.00pm and I landed several hours ago. There was the customary anxious wait for the bike box to come through on the conveyor belt but all my disaster concerns were unfounded and the rebuild went without a hitch.
I’d planned the route using RidewithGPS and so far, it’s worked flawlessly. That kind of a sentence has to be followed with a “but” and the problem here is that the service road it’s leading me on has just come to an abrupt end. I reverse my route looking for a way through on the other side of the autovía. Eventually after a fair bit of toing and froing I go back to the original path and 250 metres or so of technical single track get me back on route.
The original plan was to take it easy today, then try to average 100km per day in order to get to Segovia in 6 days. A few days rest there, then 4 days more to get me up to the north coast near Ribadesella to complete the 1,000km “bottom-to-top”. Once there I’m going to meet up with some friends to do a kayak race followed by a day’s ride to the ferry in Santander for the cruise back home.
The clouds have cleared and the temperature has soared. This is much more like the mental picture I’d imagined. I’m glad that I stopped earlier and smothered myself in sunblock. The motorway has come to an end so I’m following the A357 which is a fairly major road but fortunately there’s not much traffic. It’s not desperately steep but it is a grind uphill. While the surrounding countryside isn’t desperately attractive, of note are the wonderful pink flowers at the bottom of the deep arroyo adjacent to the road. It’s a real relief to get to the top and a fast cooling whizz down to Ardales.
Today’s ride was supposed to be short, after 60km I’ve already gone much further that I’d thought but a tactical error on my part means I’d now need to ride back uphill to get to a hotel so I’m continuing on and eventually stop in Campillos after 82km.
Campillos – Castro del Río 106Km
The alarm goes at 5.00am. I’d wanted an early start in order to get as much riding done as possible before it got too unbearably hot in the afternoon. However, it’s still pitch black outside so I go back to bed! Even now, at 7.00am when I get going it’s still dark but it is refreshingly cool. Almost immediately the GPS leads me off-road which comes as a bit of a surprise. After 10km of gravel track I lose confidence and thinking that I’m cleverer then the Garmin head off for some tarmac. It takes several u-turns and considerable extra mileage to resolve that particular piece of arrogance.
At the moment it’s nothing like as steep today and I’m fairly bowling along the road at a good rate. I’m travelling reasonably light with two three-quarter filled Ortleib rear panniers and a small front Arkell bar bag. Around 11kg in total. I’m using my Thorn Raven with a Rohloff hub which isn’t exactly a speed machine but while the combination is undoubtedly heavy the weight isn’t slowing me down too much…. until things head uphill.
It’s a fast downhill to Puente Genil. In some ways the descent to the bridge is bittersweet. I know that it’s going to be uphill the other side, and how! My first use of my lowest gear, steep and cobbles, out of the saddle.
It’s 1.30pm now and hot. I stop for a clara con limón at Espejo and after a study of the route and accommodation options I decide to continue just a bit further on to Castro del Río. The hostal is shut. It doesn’t look too inviting either. Eateries seem few and far between too. Eventually an old guy suggests I try a bar at the north end of town. Good choice, an excellent menu del día of ensalada mixta, lomo and melón. A new man, I seek out an old convent that may have rooms. Another good choice, after a phone call and a 30-minute wait for José to turn up I’m the only guest in what would be better described as an art gallery with bedrooms.
While seeking out the bar at lunchtime I’d spotted a thermometer outside the farmacia: 37degrees. It’s now 6.00pm and I’ve had a bit of a siesta, thinking that things must have now cooled down a bit I go off in search of a beer. The temperature: 44 degrees. It’s no wonder the place is deserted.
Castro del Río – Fuencaliente 105Km
7.10am start. As you’d expect it’s uphill from the river, 30k uphill before any respite! I can’t say that I’m going particularly quickly so I’ve time to take note of my Andaluz surroundings. It’s still pretty barren, mainly olives with a few fields of sunflowers. These though are not the bright yellow tournesols of the Tour de France that I saw on the TV yesterday afternoon, these girasoles are already black and drooping their heads. Most noticeable of all though are the cicadas. They are deafening. I’m on my own but if I’d had anyone to talk to I’d have needed to shout. They really are that loud.
I have a welcome breakfast at 10.00am of coffee, agua con gas and tostada with oil and tomato before a steep descent down to the bridge at Montoro to cross the Guadalquivir which is chocolate brown with a surprising amount of water flowing. A very steep uphill the other side and now I’ve picked up the N420 - or more accurately the service road alongside it. There’s lots of loose gravel and sections of washboard but I suppose it’s safer that the road itself. It’s undoubtedly uphill though and my progress is slow.
I stop in Cardeña for a well-earned clara which is fast becoming my isotonic drink of choice. It comes with a lovely salmorejo tapa, a kind of thick gazpacho. A chat with the barman about the temperature and places I could stop before it gets too outrageously hot lead us both to conclude that Fuencaliente, another 20km further is my best option. The barman exceeds all expectations by kindly filling my water bottles with ice.
Flat, then a bit of downhill before crossing the border between Andalucia and Castilla - la Mancha. It’s then climbing again on the N420. I’m been counting down the kilometre signs and have caught a few glimpses of a village ahead and up to the left. It’s now obvious that Fuencaliente is just off the main road and that there’s a real climb of around 1.5km before I’m in the village proper. Another clara and a study of booking.com reveals that the hotel is, guess what? Back down on the main road.
A tad sweaty I walk into the restaurant of the hotel Sierra Morena and I’m guided to a table away from all the other diners. I don’t care, the menu – gazpacho, jabalí and sandía is sensational. Antonio, the owner, asks me how much further I’m going. He’s clearly glad of the business, I’m even more pleased with the room he’s given me and indeed for the air con, the shower, the swimming pool and the lie down watching Froome and the others on the Tour slipping and sliding on the wet roads in France. No such problem here.
Later that evening back in the restaurant it’s no struggle to down another great meal of roasted vegetables, pastel de pescado and the world’s greatest flan (made with sheep’s milk).
Fuencaliente – Malagón 126Km
It’s an immediate uphill start in the dark the next morning. Into a headwind too. Now, after 30km I’m starting to feel sorry for myself. I’ve got bum ache, I can see another rider a couple of hundred metres ahead, much as I’d like to catch him I’ve no chance into this wind, carrying this weight. I can also see the long drag that I’ve still yet to climb. It’s all therefore an enormous disappointment when I pass the sign marking the puerto or pass. 835 metres above sea level doesn’t seem anything like high enough given how long and hard I’ve been riding. I’d have guessed at over 1,000. A fast descent gives temporary relief but then there’s another climb to the next 922 metre pass. Still some way short of the magic round number.
I’m sticking to the recently re-surfaced N430. A discussion with Antonio last night convinced me that the somewhat complicated off-road route that RidewithGPS had chosen was not the best option in comparison with the super-smooth tarmac I’ve been riding over this morning.
Off the second pass it was a relief to be bowling along downhill but now on the flat, it’s a very long straight road and hard work into the wind. After getting my average speed briefly into the high 19s it’s dropped back to 18. I keep wanting to stop and take a photo of the wonderful low light coming from the east shining through the dried grasses on the roadside. The thought of having to get the bike back up to speed keeps me going.
Daydreaming, I nearly fall off looking into the sun when I catch a glimpse of a giant silhouette of Quixote riding Rocinante. Actually a tree, am I hallucinating? Probably just hungry. It’s a very welcome breakfast that I enjoy in Brazatortas and now I’m riding along a flat section towards Puertollano. I’m hoping that it lives up to its name, for the moment I’m done with climbing.
It’s a pretty miserable town from this direction. Old, derelict factory buildings. One or two have been tarted-up to create council offices in a classic local authority kind of way. I stop to restock with water at a filling station before the GPS leads me onto a weaving off-road route that wiggles either side of the motorway. It’s tiring, rocky, uncomfortable and I’m worried about my tyres.
I’m running Schwalbe Marathon Supremes. I’ve had them for 6 months or so and they’ve been fantastic. Not a single puncture, but they are road tyres. This is not what they were designed for and I’m bloody miles from a bike shop. I’m also worried about the GPS, it’s bleeping every 100 metres or so. Previous (bitter) experience tells me that this eats up the battery. I’ve yet another wiggle ahead. A sharp right hander, almost a u-turn to take me up to the bridge back again over the motorway. I don’t spot the patch of sand and suddenly I’m on my side. My first “off”. Luckily OK apart from a bit of a sore wrist.
I’ve had enough of this track. My bum doesn’t ache any more but then I’m hardly sitting down. I need to ride out of the saddle or the vibration will rattle me to bits. Bleep. Mr Garmin says turn left ahead. Possible sense of humour failure here as the high barbed wire fence and “Finca Privada” sign are both equally unwelcoming. A study of the route seems to indicate an alternative that, phew, brings me back to my now beloved N430, why did I ever leave you? A very good question particularly now that the GPS has died and the Powertraveller that I’d brought for exactly this situation doesn’t want to recharge it. Very, very frustrating.
Using my phone I work out a route to take me through Ciudad Real and 5km further stop for lunch. I’m tired, hot and sweaty but despite this being a Sunday and the restaurant busy I’m given a table slap bang in the middle of the dining room. I plug the GPS into the mains to charge up while I wolf down the guisantes con jamón, atún en salsa de piqillo and melón.
The Garmin still won’t turn on. It’s freezing on the start-up screen. So I stick to the main road and ride on through Poblette – is it me or the miserable waiter or the town? I’ve no incentive to stop any longer than necessary after an expensive fanta limón alternative in the café.
By now I’m looking for somewhere to stay. Fernin Cabballeros offers no joy so it’s on to Malagón and a cheap and cheerful hotel. A cold shower and another stage of the Tour. The GPS is now fully charged but it still won’t turn on until I give it a hard reset which comes to the rescue but at the expense of erasing all my data and settings. The task this evening will be to write out directions por si acaso.
Malagón – Mocejón 100Km
Another 7.00am start and of course it’s uphill, a headwind too. Neither are doing my average any good whatsoever. Last night’s planning had indicated a long off-road section to get around Toledo but I’m sticking to the N401 to Los Yébenes. Is it just because there’s not much else to think about but my bum hurts. I’m not convinced by this saddle. I’d changed the standard Thorn one for a SQLab pressure relieving design. German bums must be different. After the best part of 2.5hrs I stop at the first bar for the usual breakfast. It’s also the usual miserable barman too. I’m sat outside next to 5 old guys arguing about cars at the tops of their voices. It’s depressing thinking that they’ve probably been doing the same kind of thing since they were children.
A right turn takes me east, then north to Manzeneque. It’s here that I pick up the off-road section. Initially there’s relief. A very nice, smooth surface. Another restock of water and I’m whizzing along. Even now with the sections of washboard I’ll take this any day over yesterday’s fist sized rocks.
Wow. This keeps going, I’m in the middle of nowhere and disturb two black kites – they really are enormous birds. I’ve spoken too soon about the surface. It’s going downhill but not in the vertical sense. I’m off and pushing. A couple of tank-slappers have put the willies up me. I’m now treating the patches of sand with much more respect. Oh s**t! Yesterday’s rocks are back. Road tyres, distance from civilisation, let alone a bike shop are all concerns that at least mean I’ve forgotten about the pain in my bum.
Another big surprise, a river crossing! I’m wheeling the bike as it’s almost up to my knees. I think briefly about carrying the bike but I’m not sure that I could pick it up. A bit more sand, a lot more rocks, many 10’s more kilometres later and THANK GOD, tarmac!
On now to Mocejón. I’ve done 100km and it’s not yet 2.00pm. Good progress. I feel that I could continue but I know there’s more off-road to come and a distinct lack of hostales put me off. A welcome clara with mini-hamburger tapa (much better than it sounds) in a bar that reminds me of my mate Bryan’s favourite restaurant in Copenhagen. Some very dishy waitresses, although I suspect that these rubias have had help from a bottle rather than their natural blonde counterparts in Denmark.
I organise a room and then come back for a very garlicky salmorejo, rabo de toro and an arroz con leche. Yummy.
Mocejón - Otero de Herreros 135Km
It’s rolling terrain this morning. A bit of up, a bit of down. It was a good choice last night to stay in Mocejón. They are pretty miserable looking villages that I’m now travelling though. I’m sticking to the road and ignore the GPS until I get to Carranque where I let it lead me off-road to get around the motorway. Bits of sand, bits of pushing but mostly OK before I then pop back onto tarmac and think “now this is a lovely village”. I’m mulling over that this is the first time in 6 days of riding that I’ve thought this as I cross from Castilla – La Mancha into the province of Madrid. Those mulling thoughts continue. I’ve always been much fonder of the northern half of Spain. I re-take navigational control and choose the road to El Alamo where I stop for breakfast at 9.45am. I take the lemon in my agua con gas as a small but indicative sign of civilisation.
Today must be a holiday. There are loads of roadies out. When I started this morning I’d thought it odd that I couldn’t see the mountains ahead that I knew that I’d be crossing north of Madrid. I now realise why – they were too far away! Now, after 80km of riding as well as the towers in central Madrid over my right shoulder I can also see the Sierra ahead.
A brief photo stop, a brief supermarket shop and on another 20km where now the climbing has started in earnest. I’ve just seen my first sign to the Puerto de Guadarrama – 17km. I can’t say that I’m enjoying this road. Yes, it’s steep and yes, it’s hot but there are also lots of trucks and while most try to give me space some don’t.
I stop for a quick rest and scroll across the screens on the Garmin. I come to one and see a 45degree slope indicating the gradient. It clearly isn’t that steep but it does keep going, it’s unrelenting at the slow speed I’m going. BLEEP. A shriek from the GPS indicates that I’m off-route, that I should make a u-turn where possible! A second possible sense of humour failure here. I stop again. It’s a complicated bit of road with several intersections of motorways, bridges, tunnels and my road. A yellow van flashes past me, seeing it reappear further up the hill gives me the confidence to continue.
A roadie comes past, I try to jump on his tail but his carbon racer is a tad lighter than my steel truck and after a brief conversation that we’ve neither of us too far left to the top I let him disappear up the road.
Alto de León, 1,511 metres. I feel intimately acquainted with each and every one. It’s a spectacular look back towards Madrid but the obligatory photo is disappointing. Lots of people, too many cars and an inability to get the right angle. So it’s back on the bike for a fast descent to San Rafael where the Garmin redeems itself by taking me on a great backroads route to the main road towards Segovia.
I love this part of Spain. The mountains to my right, the meseta to my left, the light, the mujer muerta, Segovia itself, the whole landscape all seem to come directly from Tolkein. Initially though I’m aiming for Otero de Herreros where I stop at the pool after 135km for a very, very well earned swim.
The next few days are mainly rest: high points include staying with my friend Raquel; visiting El Escorial with her and her family; an easy 25km roll into Segovia the next evening; staying with my great paddling pal Paco and his wife Mabel; seeing Diana Krall play in Madrid; a Carlos Saura photo-exhibition; Nines’s party and seeing all my other Segovian friends.
Segovia – Valladolid 115Km
Yeehah! It’s good to be going again. I left last night’s party at around 12.30am in order to get some sleep for the now customary 7.00am start. Paco got up as well to see me off and take a photo – black and white and on film – we’re talking old-school here! After an initial climb then off-road following the motorway I’ve stopped to take (digital) photos of the view back to Segovia. There’s a wonderful low, warm, dawn light with two hot air balloons rising up, in line with mountains behind. There’s a golden eagle flying above me. What a place!
After 30km I turn left away from the motorway. This is classic Castilian landscape, warm and yellow with lots of black pine trees. I’m making good progress. The routes not flat but there’s not much up or down just a few sweeping turns to and from the river Eresma.
I stop for a coffee at 10.30am but disaster – no toast. Another 5km, another coffee but second disaster – still no toast. The only thing on offer is a rather disgusting doughnut. Yuk but the sugar does its trick. The Garmin has a tendency to seek out quiet backroads. In town this can lead you through areas that you’d never otherwise see. Through Mudrián is a classic case in point with lots of youngsters spilling out of a warehouse all equally looking more than somewhat worse for wear.
It’s now a gentle rise and I can see another rider ahead, I give chase but then realise that I need to be realistic.
I’m already on the outskirts of Valladolid and I follow the sometimes hilariously badly designed bike lanes towards the centre. It’s not yet 2.00pm but I’ve completed 115km at an average of over 20kmh. How did that happen? Over a couple of claras (with lovely prawns as a tapa) I conclude that there’s no point in getting too far ahead and go in search of a hotel.
Good decision, I’ve been to Valladolid before but previously I’ve just passed through. Wandering around that evening I take loads of photos, there are so many wonderful buildings. A couple of great exhibitions too. One of the Mexican artist Frida Kahlo and another based around the life of Giner, a Spanish educationalist. I never worked out why but there were also original paintings by Dalí and Lorca who previously I’d only known for his plays.
Valladolid – Guardo 145Km
A technical error. I thought breakfast was included in the room rate so had decided on a later start as it wasn’t available until 7.30am. It was a reasonable breakfast but not worth the additional 10euros it cost me! A return to the bike lanes and a wiggle out of Valladolid initially alongside a very pleasant canal. I’m tempted to stop at the Bodega museum but despite my love of Ribera del Duero it’s way too early in the day for me.
Is it the headwind or is it just hard going? It should be easier; it certainly wasn’t a particularly hard day yesterday but this feels hard work even after only 40kms. I can already see the Picos mountains 100km ahead. Even from here they look big! Loads of birds today: eagles; buzzards; kites; sparrow hawks; jays; magpies; storks, both flying overhead and standing in the fields alongside the road as well as lots of smaller species that I can't identify. I’m musing about the countryside. I’d expected long straight roads but these are wiggly – I also muse on the danger of being careful what you wish for.
In Segovia I’d used Paco’s computer to revise the route on RidewithGPS. My earlier experience with the amount of off-road had left me more than a bit wary so I’d gone through it using Streetview in an attempt to ensure that this time it would be mainly tarmac. There were some sections where a dirt road was the only option but I’d done my best to minimise these…. or so I’d thought.
I can’t understand how this has happened. I’ve already done over 10km on this track and it’s still going. Not so many rocks but very narrow and lots of long, dry grass, thistly bushes and thorns. While in Segovia, Paco and I had used his reptile guide to identify a gecko I’d seen. I couldn’t help noticing all the snakes in the guide so as well as worrying about the thorns causing a flat I’m now worried about a real snakebite puncture.
Back to tarmac. One very long straight section on which the bum ache returns, relieved momentarily by the amusement of being overtaken by a beach buggy and memories of building one during a misspent youth. My route then coincides with one of the Caminos de Santiago. The ride has been a much more solitary experience than I’d expected. This though is weird. It’s almost a procession of walkers and riders. Each to their own but this is definitely not to my taste so I’m relieved when I swing off more directly to the north.
I’m off-road again. The map had indicated two virtually parallel routes both marked as the same grade of road. One had a town on it that looked like it would be a reasonable place to stay. One didn’t. Mr GPS had chosen the latter. I’d decided that I’d go for the former. Second technical error. I’ve missed the turn. I’ve been going for miles off-road and I really am in the proverbial middle of nowhere. I now know why there were no towns: this is 40km entirely off-road. I’m knackered. The only option is to keep going and going and going. Rocks, gravel, big rocks, gravel, bigger rocks! Poor bike, poor tyres, poor me!
I’m shagged out now as I limp into Guardo. A couple of claras and a search on booking finds me a hotel just a bit further up the road. The receptionist looks a bit blank when I check in but I assume this is because I’d only made the booking 30 minutes earlier. Third technical error. It’s the wrong hotel but I only discover this later when paying the bill after dinner. I’m querying the amount; it seems more than I’d anticipated. It turned out to be a lot more as I ended up paying for two rooms in two separate hotels!
Guardo – Cangas de Onis 99Km
I checked last night and breakfast is definitely included. I’m all alone in the dining room though, munching my way through the fruit bowl. There then follows much stumbling around on dark staircases trying to get access to the garage where I left the bike – the hotel is deserted. It’s a good job that I paid last night. 8.00am and I’m on the road, uphill past the incredibly ugly power station, past the hotel where I should have stayed. This all reminds me a bit of South Wales. Look up, fantastic views. Look down, well, less so!
I cannot deny a bit of a feeling of trepidation this morning. I’ve only 130km left to the north coast and I’ve booked a hotel in Cangas de Onis about 30km short of that target, so not an enormous mileage. In the way though are the Picos de Europa. I first came here 30 years ago leading groups kayaking and mountaineering. I know that as mountains go these are steep. RidewithGPS shows the steepest uphill remaining at 28%.
At the moment though it’s a fairly gradual climb. It keeps going but the gradient’s OK. I must be higher as actually it’s a bit chilly so when I get to an obvious viewpoint just after the first puerto I stop to put on a gilet. Good choice It’s cold now on the descent especially through the shady sections. I fairly whizz past the lake and along to Riaño. It looks gorgeous in the wonderful morning light with the high, grey mountains surrounded by clear, blue sky. I can see tree tops poking out of the water. I remind myself that there is still some controversy. This is not the original town. That lies below the waters of the artificial lake.
I swing right and the ascending continues but it’s still by no means steep. I’m riding past a field with a huge number of storks; I didn’t realise that they came this far north. There are loads of buzzards too, these sunning themselves on the powerlines.
Ahead, I can see that the road switches to the left as it kicks uphill. I stop at the Ermita del Ponton and snack on some Malagueñan bread biscuits that I’ve still got stashed in one of my panniers. A kilometre further up the road and – what a surprise. I’m at the top of the Puerto – 1,265metres. How did that happen? It’s pretty much downhill all the way now to the sea!
I’m flying downhill. I’m pleased that there’s a bit of a headwind to help control the speed. What I remember most about this road from when I last drove it 10 years ago were fallen rocks littering the tarmac and a fair bit of traffic; neither of which, to be fair, are in evidence so far this morning. The other reason for wanting to go slowly is the fantastic views. What a road! What a place! This is why I fell in love with Spain all those decades ago.
I stop for coffee at 12.30pm. I stop for photos, trying to capture the desfiladero, the gorge that the road is wiggling and wriggling through. By the river I stop again for photos of some of the rapids. I can’t believe that I used to shin around the cliffs on the far bank. My climbing, bravery or stupidity levels must have been different.
I’ve mixed feelings. I know that the journey to the north coast is nearly over. Far from wanting it to end I want to keep going. There’s pleasure though. I’m back on familiar territory. It’s great to be back to haunts of decades ago. The road has been much quieter that I expected. Actually Cangas is much quieter that I expected when I roll into town at 2.00pm. When I first came here it was a very sleepy little town. Yes, it’s busier but, having a clara looking out across the main square it’s much quieter than I expected for the first week of August.
Lunch at the Mesón del Puente, sitting outside in the shade underneath the roman bridge. Great location, great food – fabada (of course), salmón a la plancha and arroz con leche. Later that evening I take a paseo around the town, discovering bits that I’d not previously found. Off the main drag it’s still very nice. My original plan had been to eat in the restaurant at the Hotel Los Lagos where I used to entertain clients in the evening, retelling stories of derring-do after a day’s paddling on the river. Unfortunately, that restaurant is no more so I content myself with a plate of delicious local cheeses. I have a glass of slightly less local albariño. I know that I should be drinking cider. I remember the waiters here pouring it from height in order to give the cider a bit of fizz and the floor being awash with “overspill”. Today they’re lugging around stainless steel buckets, I’m unconvinced that this is progress.
Cangas de Onis – Caravia 51Km
The next morning, I look out of the hotel window at a grey sky and lots of low cloud. After two weeks of unrelenting sunshine this comes as a shock. I then remind myself of where I am. This is Asturias! There’s no rush this morning, I’ve a 25km roll down to the coast then another 25km west to the campsite where I’m meeting up with my canoeing pals. They’re bringing my tent and won’t get there until this evening.
So I lounge about for a bit, there’s 3 days until the race. I’d thought that I’d need a bit of a rest but actually I feel remarkably fresh. Eventually packed up and back on the bike it’s a fast hour to Ribadesella. I cannot deny that there’s a smile on my face as I position the bike for a “made it” photo overlooking the beach. I’ve been riding alongside the river that we’ll be racing down on Saturday. Unfortunately, on the wrong side of the road to get much of a view.
I have a celebratory café solo sitting on the paseo maritimo looking out at the families and surfistas enjoying the sun, the waves, the sunny beach. The mountains behind me are still shrouded in cloud. I was lucky yesterday to have ridden through the Picos under a completely clear sky. The beach is busy but far from packed. Nevertheless, it feels strange to have so many people around me after what has turned out to be a much more solitary experience than I’d expected.
I’m feeling restless after an hour so ride on towards the campsite. The GPS leads me out of Ribadesella. Remember that 28%? I think that I’ve just found it! This is steeper than anything that I rode yesterday. Fortunately, it’s short-lived and I roll back down towards Playa de Vega where in a previous lifetime I’d brought groups kayak surfing. Hilariously now I’m off and pushing, even on my mountain bike this would be a challenge. I’ve crossed the entirety of Spain and apart from a couple of bits of sand this is the first time wheeling the bike! I make a mental note to check the route back towards the ferry.
The race – El Descenso del Sella. One of the most fun kayak races that I’ve done. 1,000 competitors 10s of thousands of spectators, mass Le Mans start and despite starting right at the back and an early capsize we finish in the top third. Not bad given that I’ve not raced seriously for 15 years!
Caravia – Viveda 117Km
The day after the race I’m back on the bike heading for Santander. The ferry isn’t until the next day but just in case I want to get within 30km so I’ve around 110km to do today. My experience off-road a few days ago means that I’m ignoring the GPS and sticking with the road into Ribadesella. A bit of up and down but infinitely easier on tarmac.
Ribadesella is “en fiestas” and is a bit of a scene of devastation with lots of bleary eyed youngsters standing by their cars clearly having spent the last few hours dossing on the back seat. I keep going and almost immediately out of the town I can hear chatting behind me. After a while I look back and catch a glimpse of two roadies. They’re not going very fast as it takes them a while to catch me. When they do it makes for a very pleasant chat with Guillermo and Pilar from Zaragoza who are on holiday in the region. It was still when I started but now there’s a fair headwind so company and the drafting opportunity that it provides is also welcome. They’re both wearing jerseys from Quebrantahuesos, a renowned sportive in the Pyrenees…. maybe that should be next on the to do list.
We fairly whizz into Llanes where they’re somewhat surprised by my familiarity with the town and that I’m able to lead them to the nearest bar where we stop for a coffee. We then part our separate ways: they’re heading back to Ribadesella while I have a dawdle around Llanes, a lovely little fishing village or at least it was when I first visited 30 years ago. It’s still lovely but the tourists have discovered it too, so less quiet today. I pick up the local paper and discover that we came 9th yesterday in the “old boy” class.
I’m on very familiar territory now continuing east on the N634. I’ve just been caught by Pepé and we discuss how much more pleasant this road is now with the advent of the new motorway. It’s a bit of a scar on an impressive landscape but I wouldn’t otherwise want to have been riding this road when it was choc a bloc with trucks. Pepé is keen to hear of my adventure and my opinion of the changing face of Spain during the ride north. He’s chuffed that I enthuse about Asturias and the spectacular proximity of mountains and sea.
We part company in Unquerra and it’s now a bit of an uphill grind to San Vicente de la Barquera and then again onto Comillas. I’ve passed through Comillas previously but somehow I’ve missed the fantastic clifftop seminario and the gorgeous cobbled streets. Well worth a return visit.
If I’m honest I’m now pretty knackered, maybe keeping up with the roadies has taken it out of me or maybe it’s the very, very rolling nature of this coastal route with every bit as much total climbing as the earlier mountain days. So in Cobreces it’s another sweaty entrance to a restaurant for Sunday lunch and probably the best menu yet: cocido montañes, merluza en salsa verde (cooked to perfection) and a rather disappointingly small piece of melón. Great cup of coffee though.
Slow going now. The combination of feeling tired, full stomach and headwind are all taking their toll. Having heard so much about it I’d been quite looking forward to riding through Santillana del Mar but the road bypasses the centre and I’m too exhausted to entertain any unnecessary detour.
I’d booked a room in Viveda. I hadn’t realised quite how far out of town this was and it took more than a few wrong turnings and extra kilometres to find. You get what you pay for and this hotel was cheap… perhaps enough said.
Viveda – Santander 23Km
So, last day and a short one. 30km into Santander. The main road that I’ve driven hundreds of times is flat. The sting in the tail is that this route takes me a tad inland and over a surprisingly steep climb. RidewithGPS redeems itself though with a very quiet, back roads route into Santander. Over a last breakfast of coffee and tortilla I reflect on the journey. 5 and ½ days from Málaga to Segovia. Just over 3 days riding then to the north coast at Caravia and a final day and a bit to Santander. All interspersed with a concert, a party, a kayak race, wine and great food. I want to keep going.