The stay with Pierre was a great Basque expierience, getting a taste of both the foods and the warm hospitality that are hallmark of the Basque people. However, I still had a few more miles to travel if I was going to claim a circumnavigation of all that God created, soI left Pierres and I charged on into Spain. The route is simple enough, from Ustaritz you climb almost vertically till you get to the top of the mountain…..then go down the other side……after that it is the same except a taller mountain….you see…eets easy. Thus you are riding thru Pais Basque country on our way to Bilbao, Spain.
My road selection out of the area was perfect, simple narrow roads with virtually no traffic……at least for a little while. For as long as possible I was trying to stay off the coast and away from shore, hopefully till I hit San Sebastian. The hills are huge, the grass still sickeningly green for the time of year, and an abundance of trees in fall color are the crowning touch to a beautiful ride. Down thru little villages I whizz, stopping only if there was a bakery, fromagerie (cheese) and occassionally at the butchers…..otherwise nothing could slow my steed down. Unless ……..its a road side stand selling homemade jams. Can’t actually have too many flavors of jam while cycling…..can you?
Made it to San Sebastian, and should have listened to that little voice in the head that says “quit early jim-bob, or you will pay the price”, confidence tells me that this town aint all that big……I’ll be just fine. Well, I could have had several really great camp sites had I listened to the little voice. Rather than do that, I barreled on into San Sebastian and got thouroughly turned around. The GPS blue dot decided to go on stike twice which initially threw me off my course. Should have listened to Pines advice ” Dad, if ever this blue dot begins to act sort’a funky and unreliable, just turn on all data and get it back to where its supposed to be in proper orientation….and begin again”…..didn’t do that iether. There are miles of bike paths thru the city and I found solice on them more so than the roads. What I found is that they dont nessasarily follow any and all roads……, mistake number two. Third mistake is trying to capture every last ray of sunshine and every last kilometer I can in a day…….I had no pressing need to do iether. Chalk it up to my anxiuos nature.
San Sebastian sits tucked into a atlantic coastline cove, with sun bleached sand as its doormat, a huge Cathedral occupies a prominent piece or realestate right at shores edge. Everything from the glistening sand inland is housing, apartments and people. And its getting dark now very quickly. At this point I already know that I will not be beyond the grasp of city lights and sounds of its nocturnal opera, so I need to start considering how to camp tonight. NO, a motel room is out of the question and budget. I decided quickly that I would have to do the “bum sneak”, making myself as quiet and invisible as you can when fully surrounded. Riding past what I think was a University of some sort, I noticed what appeared to be a stairwell that ran behind a hedge but immediatly infront of a main building. That would work for me and I head over to investigate……nearly perfect, no street lights close by, the stairwell is about 8 feet wide and flat for a section then drops further down…..and, best of all, its a dead end stairwell that leads to a locked basement door. The hedge mentioned, which is also my clothes changing screen, is about 5 foot tall. Cant get any better than this when your in a pinch. My choice was to set up a minimalist urban camp, just my matt and bag on my ground sheet, that way if the Policia did show up it would not be such a major chore packing up. Had a couple of fried sausages and a baguette for supper, desert was dried figs and sweet tea. Got into the bag about 8, read my bible and then some Tom Clancy, shot the yard light out at about 9.30 and went to sleep. Peacefully. Sometime about midnight, the wind came up and I began to feel rain drops. Figured since no one stopped by to complain nor ask what I was doing, it would be safe to set the tent up incase it raIned hard.
The rain never amounted to anything really, although my bag would have gotten pretty wet had I not set up, the morning sky consisted of broken cloud and anxious sunshine. Packed up camp and was gone before any students or staff showed up…..no one would ever know I had spent the night there. From San Sebastian west, my route hugs the old coast road which as it turns out does not really hug the coastline. Every few miles the road veers off inland for a ways to take yet another pitch allowing it to vault over yet another rocky headland on its march up the sun sprinkled Atlantic shore. The headlands, tall, rock strewn eddifices of Gods hand at work, eerily reminiscent too those we summited while plying Italies coast. Once summited, the ashphalt ribbon plunges equally as steep and contorted on a death spiral towards the imposing shoreline far below. Jagged boulders placed as if by giant toddlers, having no rhyme nor reason as to thier placement, except that they are there. Whatever rocky surface isn’t swept clean by wind and salt spray from an angry Atlantic ocean, is left with a heady coating of brilliant green moss, from the rocks edge the shoreline rises like a wall of granite. Imposing and stark against a blue sea and the green that is Spain. The patterns and rythms repeat as if timed by a “Metro-Gome”, every fourth or fifth alcove within the stoney shoreline harbors a sleepy little fishing village repleat with at least one church which was often acts as the head of the town square where all socializing takes place in a quiet Spanish manner.
The twisted bitumen that I traverse, ribbons its way on around a huge Atalantic bay to the seaside viilage of Onadarrua where a traveller can take one of two possible routes available to him. My intention was to ride further west into the Spanish hinterlands and visit a Monestary and a very remote hilltop village, but advice from two other cyclists convinced me that heading north on a more major road would be the better part of prudent. My original route was actually closed in two places where the road had slid away. I wind my way north, along the course of a minor waterway, constantly rising up and away from waters edge and into the tree lined mountains that are its stronghold. You will work hard on a loaded tour bike to attain any of the coastal mountain summits. Roads of 10-15% grades are the norm. Quiet camp one night, had me setup right beside a clear stream, while on another evening I found shelter between two huge boulders allowing me to take refuge from a wind whipped into a frenzy over the cold Atlantic waters and sent in search of ME.
Rays of far off sunshine, tinted red and bright pink, broke thru the envelope of heavy grey cloud that had moored itself over Pais Basque region thru the night. Who would win this battle for occupancy of the sky was as yet unknown too all who looked up at it. Three miles of stiff climbing takes me skyward towards the ancient Basque retreat of Mixtiopien, harbored in an alpine valley that lay infront and below me. Its the award for slogging up thru the climb, my reward would be robbed from me on this morning by a mob of clouds fighting for thier piece of heavens expanse. At this point I have left the seashore far to the north of me, having crossed two main mountain ridges to lay siege upon the valley that will now permit my access to the city of Bilbao without major interruption.
While not exactly flat, it would best be described as gently undulating with just a few stiff climbs right as you approach the city. My steed had a freshly cleaned chain, oiled and running as slick and smooth as a Nascar machine would be inclined, the legs felt strong for being well into the afternoon. The events that transpire, I blame it on the one and only RC-Priest I have met thus far in my entire journey…..keep in mind I have now been to over 100 cathedrals and allowed into no Mosques. However, during this same time I have met and visited with 3 “Sheefs is the way it sounds, yet I think the spelling is Shiek”. A huge cathedral came into view near a vintening region, maybe the first wine region in Spain, La Riolla. I decided I would add it to the list of cathedrals I visited. Locked tight, its a condition that I find many Spanish Churches in, quite different than when in Italy for instance. Just some bums cardboard bedding lay outside the alcoved front doors of the church, and me, thats it. Off to my left, I hear voices and head that direction hoping to maybe find there is another point of entry to see that beauty that it withholds from me at present. 3 men, walking from two vehicles, come thru the parking lot. I try to talk to the first pair as best I can, but they blow me off without any desire to to engage. The third man…….what the heck, he’S THE ACTUAL PRIEST, he is wearing the classic black strait collar shirt with a notch of white at its center, a wool vee neck over that S he is headed into the church. His adress in okay English to me is, more accusatorial than inviting, “What seems to be your problem”? Guess I am caught off guard, or speechless, as I register the manner of delivery and the expression on the face that delivered it. Sorry folks, but I am accustomed to my Pastor backhome, whose face wears a warm smile, his heart beats with a yerning to help. These are attributes of a man who carries the word of God out in deed, these are the attributes of a shepard to his flock……not what seems to be your problem! When my mind finally engages the words and actions of the passing Priest…..my first thought is to hike him strait off the ground with a size 11 right in his rotund butt……..but then how “christian” would that make me…..maybe we upset christians are supposed to keep all kicks below the knee…….what are the rules, anyone know. Instead of expressing the anger and dissappointment I am harboring, I try a different tact. ” I dont actually have a problem, actually, I am quite Blessed. I was however wondering when or if the doors to the Cathedral will be opened today?”…..He is still walking away from me……he waves his hand over his shoulder in more or less a get lost fashion and says……..”maybe one hour….maybe two”. Really, thats it. And you wonder why faith in Europe is sitting at such an abysmal level……could it be the shepards have forgotten how to shepard…..or maybe have lost sight of the lost since they themselves seem to be a little lost from Gods directions. Some of you may read this and take offense, while thats not my intention it may be the result. I make no claim that my observations are scientific by anymeans, they are simply the as it happens circumstance I found myself in. I would ask you this, how the heck can anyone ride thru this much so called christian country, and only meet 1 priest out on the street……..Sorry folks but God did not hide the lost inside the church like some teenage prank, he intends our appointed shepards to leave the safety of the sheepfold and hunt for the lost, guiding them back to the salvation that is our safety. So, take it from this episode that as I leave I am just a tad cranky.
Out onto the road I go, pondering the chain of events that just took place. Only a few miles later and maybe 3 roundabouts later, I think I had better check my GPS to be sure I didnt get messed up. Just as I am putting my phone back in place 8 cyclists go past me, riding in classic paired peloton form….2 by 2 up the road. Thier faces house those smiles that are mostly mocking, and sometimes even a look of discust at those of us who choose a less beautiful but more functional “ROAD TRACTOR” ……( NOTE TO SELF- when I get home, I am painting Agnes in the iconic colors of American farming……John Deere green with yellow deep rimmed wheels ) Fine, be that way I say to myself, while I may not be able to smartly spank a Priest……I can however soundly spank you smug @#%*!’s. I thouroughly jumped old Agnes out onto the pavement, didn’t quite squeal the tires upon entry to to the road but that was only because the pavement was wet. Fell into the drops and put 14000km of leg muscle to work, they were maybe 500 yards out in front of me, but I was closing like a fighter jet on them. My intentions where to simply catchup and ride into thier tiny overly smug peleton…..hard enough to do on a loaded tour bike coming from behind. My arrival was rather shall we say, unexpected, even maybe, unwelcomed……..to darn bad, here I am now deal with it. About the 3rd rider back, a taller fellow, with an all black carbon fiber bike and clever yellow appointments…..he seemed to notice first and was shocked that such a primordial creature as Agnes and I are when teamed up, would have sought refuge in HIS well appointed and groomed peleton. It was obvious that I was not welcome, did not belong, and would not be allowed to stay and taint such a lofty pool of riders.
He did it…….he did it first…….he said something over his shoulder to the man beside and behind him in order. His long muscular “shaved” legs came under tension causing him to levitate from his saddle and gain speed as he left the fold of the peleton. First the one, taunting, daring, throwing down a gloved challenge to the “unsightly” moored in thier midst. Dont hide in our folds, ride to the front or ahead of us if you want our respect. His shaved leg cohorts gave a quick look over thier respective shoulders at me, as they too fled the coop and peeled off ahead. The Priest slapped me, but you guys sure as heck aint. I had 2 gears reserved as of yet unused in my “catch” of the peleton. Lesson one a real road beast does not have to have shaved legs, and lesson 2 never mess with a guy upset after church. I buried myself in the drops and cranks, no standing for me to leave the rest behind as the bike is too heavy for that. Just keep the back flat, the toes down and the hips locked level on the seat frame while you transfer every ounce of energy you can to the whirling cranks. Agnes is loud in flight, like the rush of wind over feathers passing you with all her bags catching the air as she passes you. Within maybe 100 yards I drop the first of three making up the breakaway. He had no chance, being maybe 30, brain stem not even fully developed yet, what chance did he have but that of foolish youthful pride…..he’s gone and licking his wounds with the catching group. Drop a gear, and get the arms buried in those drops, tight, neat and taunt, now pull deeper with each pedal stroke, listen to your breathing and count the 3 beat of in and out, make sure its deep and full like an opera singer. His bike, the 2 man, is a pure model of “tour de france envy” every carbon fiber wieght saving gadget known to man, I know, I own 2 of them back home…..bin there done that. Those shaved legs are whirling, flailing really, as he sees that he is about to be passed, and smartly so by…….”what the heck, how old is that guy…….omg, but this is embarressing…….when I get gome, I am selling this bike and taking up golf”. By the time junior realizes he was just soundly spanked by grand’pa on a fully loaded tour bike…..he cant even see all the bags clearly due to the tears in his eyes. He is now in my past, and just the road warrior lays ahead.
Harboring one gear to my benefit, and a reserve of “I’ll teach you mentality” I find a slip stream of softened air behind him some 30 feet behind and close my approach…….finger is ready for the shift into my last gear……..the ashphalt passes as smooth grey now, no contour, no shape…….just smooth grey………..races are not won by pure muscle alone nor by the fastest car…..skill and cunning come into play…..I slide Agnes out to his left allowing him to see me from the corner of his left eye…….then slide off behind to the right of center and wait for my pounce. You can see his radar at work, his head turns left, anticiparting that I will be sitting there……..he glances and I am not………his back softens in his anticipated victory, his mind assures him that he has dropped the neandrathal on a stinkin loaded tour bike….with his head still alittle higher ( a telltale sign of less tension in the legs )he searches to his left again before claiming his prise……I am not there, nor have I idled my bike so there is no freewheel noise…….I lay off his right shoulder as quiet as “Red October” waiting for the moment to spring the trap layed…….there it is boys, time to fly and give it all, hit the shift lever and grab that last gear, bury those legs as deep as you can and try not to distort the smile you wear as you pass him on the left side…….his misstake, was thinking he had dropped me, then double checking to his right after having checked the left side first. I was passed him, and he jumped onto the cranks now in anger and made the chase a tight one, my 4 length lead would shrink, he would get to my back wheel and give me a thumbs up in appreciation for my courage………….no more than did I get to see his salute than we both hit a tight 5 way round about……I am telling you folks we were flying and the road was literally just smooth grey.
I had no choice but to bail because I had to be sure that I was still headed in the right direction, towards city center Bilbao. My check was quick, and they, and I are headed towards Bilbao. About half mile further on I once again caught thier peleton, I didnt even stop nor slow to allow the jumpers to react, I simply frieght-trained them. they bailed into it and gave chase, our run lasted for some 3 miles, and yes, they made a game approach to the second affair. Leap frogging thier strongest rider to my hind wheel, that tall shaved leg fellow gave me a broad smile and a second thumbs up as he finally rode past without ease but past. The very last rider in the group gave me an equally broad smile and wave, then with hand signals warned me that the big hills lay ahead yet and I should back off and take it easy.
Good advise, I took it to heart. Backed off ol’Agnes enough that the flames on the tires went out and the Holy Smoke cleared……what’d ya think, that I was alone in that race…….what’da’ya think I Pray for. Within maybe 5 miles we drop down off the last row of hills that surround the port city of Bilbao. Thouroughly sweated but rejoiceing in a quiet victory. Praise God for good health, strength and yes even a little old aged foolishness……….I know there is no paramutual betting allowed in heaven……but I am sure they were watching the race play out. Good night and God Bless…….better yet………go be a blessing, from what I hear about the goings on in USA right now, we need Jesus in a large demonstrable way.