Euro 2020 Part 3: South France to nearly Madrid via near the Pyrenees.

I was up early today, as is usually the case when sleeping outside. I had gone for a swim and bathe yesterday so there was no need to shower that morning, just pack up and set off.

Euro 2020 Part 3: South France to nearly Madrid via near the Pyrenees.

You can also read Part 1 and Part 2

I wandered cautiously into the campsite nearby, filled up my empty bottles of water to save a few euros, loaded up the bike, called up the route I had planned on the Garmin and with that the day had begun.

I was starving having had no breakfast and eaten only a supermarket falafel snack the night before. It was barely 7.30am and the sleepy village of Mimizan hadn't yet opened up for business so I trundled along towards San Sebastien and the French-Spanish border.

Oh, hi there.

As I neared the border, I was humbled by the silhouettes of the Pyrenees emerging in the distance. There's something very grounding about feeling small and insignificant in the face of towering mountains miles away. There's a shit ton more to the universe than our own lives which we can become hyperfocused on in the bubble of everyday life.

As much as I was enjoying talking to the philosopher in my head, something seemed odd. I should have been on twisty roads right in the mountains, not on a motorway looking at them. I figured maybe that was later in the route. Today was a long day - close to 700km to cover so there wasn't too much time to stop and check.

I soon crossed into Spain without much drama, just a sign telling me I was now in EspaƱa and reminders of new speed limits. I stopped for fuel as soon as I got into Spain, which to my delight was cheaper than France. As I continued ploughing across motorways and paying toll after toll, I realised that this was definitely not the route I had planned. The tolls in France were not so bad, several of them at a couple of euros each - discounted for bikes. But the first toll I hit in Spain was almost 15 euros for less than 30 mins of road - and I was paying the same for my motorbike as I would have for a car. That was enough. I pulled over, replanned my route on the fly to avoid motorways and soon after that I was skipping blissfully through the Spanish countryside.

Skipping blissfully through the Spanish countryside.

At first, the roads were nothing special. It was only when I hit the N120 that I started to feel alive again. Having felt my annoyance at the motorway miles that morning, the Garmin decided it would make it up to me by taking us onto a dirt track. I liked the dust trail I was leaving behind and you get a lot more time to appreciate the scenery when you're riding this slow on loose ground.

The landscape was full of beautiful contrasts. There were farms on either side and mountains in the distance. It was overall flat but with a few distinct hills littering the plains. And the ground looked a bit parched but with tufts of deep green grass and vegetation here and there. All in all, not quite the Pyrenean route I had planned, but not bad either.

Many of the cafes and roadside eating spots I had passed by were closed, probably as a consequence of Covid-19 lockdowns and travel restrictions. By this point it was nearly midday and I was riding on an empty stomach. But I had no option other than press on hangrily. I didn't know at the time that I was about to have my best food of the trip so far, in an unassuming little roadside cafe, La Ventana de los Claveles. It was close to 30 degrees now meaning as soon as I got off the bike I had to strip down, open up my boots and ideally find a spot in the shade for me to sit.

I saw a few roadside cafes that appeared to be open. I pull in, found a parking spot in the shade and walked in to peruse the food on offer. I opted for a delicious Spanish omelette and a slice of carrot cake they had on display. Yes. This is what roadside food stops should be like. Efficient, refreshing and delicious.

The day was about to get much better but I couldn't help think about how much of mental impact disappointment has. Missing the mountain roads that I had planned so meticulously before I had left home sucked. I learned that you have to do what you can in the moment. Going back to ride those roads was not an option because I had plans in Southern Spain the next day. However, I had covered so much distance in a short space of time that I now had most of the day to play with on fun roads. I was also reminded how much of an impact music can have on mood. Putting on some good tunes made a lot of the mundane riding refreshing. I guess whenever you're hit with a setback, all you can do is acknowledge any feelings about it and do what you can to change it. And all you can really change is your mindset and your phsyical setting by taking yourself somewhere else. In this case, music helped with the mindset and while there wasn't much I could do to change my phsyical setting, having replanned the route over my lunch break made me feel a lot better about the riding ahead.

Soon after, I was back in the zone with Gix carving up a stretch of the M611 between Rascafria and Soto del Real. I don't what the M stood for, maybe mountain but in general all the "M" roads in my trip were great fun - sweeping bends and tight hairpins, well maintained single lane roads cut into mountains, served up as a feast for one to carve up in 2nd and 3rd gear.

The twists and turns of the M-611 lifted spirits

After a few hours on roads like this, I noticed my rucksack had shuffled forward on the bike which halved my seat space. I couldn't get my bum back enough on the seat to get into a natual position to shift my weight and the bike from side to side for the densely packed turns. I could feel my back aching as I threw myself and the bike into some fantastic technical corners. But it didn't really matter. The pain was only felt fleetingly, the techincal corners provding ample distraction most of the time.

It was now afternoon and temperatures had climbed. Even the air at 80+ mph wasn't enough to cool me down. Nor the bike which was registering 93-94 degree engine temperatures at a cruise. Back home at cruising speeds, Gix rarely topped 85 degrees.

As the evening drew closer, I didn't quite feel like planning that evening which is required for a wild camp. The thought of luxuries like drinking water on tap and perhaps even shower facilities seemed appealing too. So after deliberating, I settled for an actual campsite. Just as well because apparently you can't swim in the lakes within the Parque regional de la Cuenca Alta del Manzanares. I found myself a campsite in the middle of the park and settled in for another, slightly more luxurious night.

>> Continue to Part 4 >>