National Park Hopping in Spain: Day 1

National Park Hopping in Spain: Day 1

London to Folkestone and Brittany via train and road.

Before I'd even got on the bike, roughly three sneezes in out of five, I was questioning whether skipping the antihistamines was the right decision. It's OK, I reassured myself. The pollen is less potent on the Continent as I figured out how on earth I was going to strap a 70 litre rucksack onto my bike (securely).

My trusty steed for this year's trip is the reliable, pretty and pretty unsuitable machine I call Gix. A 2009 Suzuki GSX-R. It is older, smaller, less comfortable, more vibratey and crucially, much lighter than the brand new Africa Twin I had for last year's adventure across Europe. I have kissed goodbye to luxuries such as USB charging, lockable storage space and well, any sort of storage space really for the agility and cornering speed of the GSXR. I couldn't wait to throw it into some mountain roads and enter the deeply meditatative sportsbike bliss. Yes I was planning to wild camp, but the off roading capabilities of both bikes, in my hands, were similar.

Day 1 would take me from London to Brittany and I was excited. Finally, all the built up anxiety from packing and preparing myself and the bike over the past few weeks was starting to release, slowly. In its place came excitement, eagerness and lungfuls of fresh air.  

Say My Name by Odesza was playing inside my helmet as I eased in to the long ride ahead.

I tucked in, chin to tank and as I settled in to a three figure cruising speed to minimise the drudgery of the A20 (or was it A21?) to Folkestone. My thoughts wandered to You, a Netflix series I had started watching. I'd stayed up the night before to watch the penultimate episode of season 1 which ended with the main character locked in a glass box in a basement. But I'd left it at that and decided sleep was more important than knowing what would happen to Beck that night. I knew the answer anyway because during my casual IMDB browse I had noticed that Beck has far fewer appearences than the other main characters. So the only thing I could really ponder was how she would be killed. Dark, perhaps. But it occupied my mind as we munched motorway miles to Folkestone.

My first pit stop near Calais where I discovered that mask wearing was already mandatory en France.

Riding a bike like the GSXR is a HIIT session for the brain. Not so much on the motorway but once you get on to "proper" roads you interlace high intensity twisty riding with breathers where you just relax a bit and take in the scenery. Going fast and particularly cornering fast requires focus and acceleration whereas the little towns you pass in between offer a chance to relax, comparatively, and switch into scan mode where you are just keeping an eye on the cars in front and the side of the road for objects that may unexpectedly manifest in your path. Once you've calmed down, breathed deeply and returned your heart-rate to near normal, the speed limit starts increasing as the village limits end, and you prepare yourself to overtake the Volvo that has been trundling along in front of you and just like that you're back in the zone for another burst of intensity.

It is quite rare, I thought, for a single activity to be able to give you moments that include both a state of meditative flow as well as spells of assembling thoughts and exploring the tangents along the path.

There wouldn't be much of that today of course. After a little natter with other bikes on the train to Calais, I found myself in France for another spell of relatively mundane riding. Sure the coastline was visible and there were "characterful" little villages along the path I had carefully picked to avoid motorways. But the mountain roads that were calling were still a few days away.

>> Continue to part 2

Tucked in for the evening in Brittany.