A short day in the saddle. 19th April.

Another excellent ‘camp’s site, awoke to the sound of bird song. No breakfast today and limited water as I rode the 45km to Miranda. How I thought I would arrive here last night is a mystery. The N232 after Ona took me over rolling hills of arable land. To the south were the snow capped Sierra Cebollera. The road was straight for much of the ride with few villages and those had no facilities. I was working off the energy values of an apple (a big one), a lump of very nice cheese and four yogurts, all eaten last night. Where had all the bars gone? Then I heard a large van driving around sounding it’s horn. People came out to buy food stuffs from this mobile shop. However it was too mobile and had driven off before I could get to it.

Looking south to the Sierra Cebollera at over 2,000m ASL.

The scenery was easy on the eye, not dramatic, just peaceful, blossom on the few trees, cereal crops already a good 150cm tall, oil seed rape adding a splash of yellow and the birds just sung. The N232 combined with the N1. I needed to check that I hadn’t made a mistake. This could have been the M1 in the UK. So many large trucks, probably about 5:1 trucks/cars. Their side wind as they passed ensured I stayed to the right of the hard shoulder. Hot and very hungry having done 30km, I took off into Pancorbo to see what I could find.

I only had a black coffee, a Coke and a packet of crisps (don’t much like crisps), but needs must. Well the Coke and coffee, or caffeine and caffeine entering the blood stream was like an injection of fresh oxygenated blood. I felt as though I’d been at high altitude for weeks and just returned to sea level. The new found energy was appreciated.

Back onto Truck Highway, N1. No photos, as full attention was needed elsewhere. Gone was the serenity of the rolling quiet hills of a couple of hours ago.

A tunnel was approaching. Without question both my rear lights went on, as did the front light and sunglasses off. As I went through the tunnel I have no idea how many lorries were in there, probably eight, but it was deafening. Within 50m of emerging, the hard shoulder vanished. I am so pleased that I bothered to put a rear view mirror on my left handbar. There were several lorries behind me in both of the carriageway. Waving my hand I pointed my intention to come out into the inside lane. This worked well, cos I’m still here! It also attracted the attention of, guess what, yet another police car. As the vehicle drove passed, the officer had his window down, waved and gave the thumbs up to me and said something that even had I understood, would have been lost to the traffic noise. He later circled off the road and passed me a second time, smiling and waving.

Again Anne has kindly booked me a room for tonight. Four nights wild camping makes you smelly and unshaven. Although it hasn’t rained everything is wet and getting muddy due the the morning dew. None the less I gain a lot of satisfaction from this approach.

How to trash a hotel room.

View from hotel room balcony, where the drying tent nearly morphed into a paraglider as the wind took hold of it.

So as I lay on a comfortable bed in a nice eighth floor hotel room in Miranda, (oops, should I rephrase that, no, the opportunity couldn’t be missed. My apologies, should some have been offended, but maybe there is an inward smile with you too). I’m shaved, bathed, tent is dry, washed clothing is drying and I’m off for some food and a beer in town.

I have visited Ciclos Maldonado cycle shop in town. Juan very kindly agreed to clean and lub the bikes gearing that have taken a hammering, particularly in the ice and snow. These long descents are also wearing the break blocks, so thanks Dave, (of Cycle Fast) for the spare set. I’ll fit them in the next week.

I’m now taking some R and R in a town park. Several dogs are being walked – leaving no evidence. Not a single piece of litter and i’ve been here an hour and not heard one swear word. Indeed since Gibraltar I haven’t heard a single swear word. Quite something.

The park has a number of interesting sculptures and obviously the winters are too cold for the trees.

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Bad days are needed. 18th April

Woke up this morning feeling good!

Whilst getting dressed in the usual seesaw style that is necessary in a very small tent, I noticed I had company. Three Tics, not the kind you get from a teacher when you have correctly answered a question, but those little creatures that want to get to know you very well. They don’t see a problem burrowing their heads beneath your epidermis and taking your blood. After all, they in turn give you something.

My meticulous planning hadn’t been so fastidious. No tic remover had been packed, so a pair of scissors were used to good effect and also helped bleed the sites to minimise the chances of the tic ‘gift’ remaining. All sorted- let the day commence.

Usual routine of getting rid of my rubbish, dropped in one of the numerous trolley waste bins in the villages, turn onto the main road and started cycling, up and up. Then the realisation that there was a hefty South East wind, my direction for the day. It blew all day, save for the last two hours. Due to this wind many of the down hill sections had to be worked to maintain double figure speeds.

I stopped at the bottom of a hill, it looked just like a normal hill, the road curled round to the right and out of sight. Sitting outside the cafe before the climb with six traffic police officers and three cars was a strange feeling. Again during the day I saw several police motorcyclists. Must be a good road to drive and ride.

Now the climbing started. Fortunately, to a point, ignorance is bliss, yes I knew there was a hill, but this one was relentless and went through several small villages including San Miguel de Luena and Bollacin, as it gained an altitude of 1,011m in a single go over the Sierra del Escudo. I’m willing to say that on two occasions it was easier to push the bike. Water was dripping from nose, ear lobes and elbows, similar to water cascading off statues planted in village fountains before councils were obliged to save water.

As I continued I noticed heavy smoke. Controlled burning was in progress south of me and soon the atmosphere was thick with the stuff. With lungs heaving for maximum oxygen intake, this involuntary passive smoking was going deep into the bronchial’s.

Finally I reached the top, average speed had been 7 km/hr.

The descent passed Embalse del Ebro, a hard won prize, but none the less an enjoyed one.

Today I applied plenty of sun block, however on each occasion a hill climb resulted in it being washed off. This evening I have scorched cheeks, knees and forearms. Another irritant were the flies, some with the tenacity and persistence of their Australian cousin’s and lastly, I managed to eat something that resulted in a number of rapid unscheduled stops. Normally not convenient, but mainly open surrounding ground and wearing bib cycling shorts, that require the removal of upper clothing, there were times of extreme haste.

Enough of this moaning. It was a hard day, but don’t we need these days to appreciate the good ones. Besides with hindsight, it wasn’t so bad. Something was accomplished under reasonably difficult conditions.

There was the wonderful ride over rolling hills with trees clinging to near vertical cliffs. Blossom on the fruit trees and a variety of raptors both quartering their ground for prey and others rising on the afternoon thermals and there was the beautiful ride down through yet another gorge, with a few road tunnels leading into Ora.

A couple of shots of old Ora.

Tonight’s place of R and R.

Now it is dark, I’m in the tent, fed (sort of), warm and ready for tomorrow.

The aim today was to get to Miranda de Ebro. By the time I arrived in Ora, there wasn’t much left in my legs. So a large meal would have been great, like the meat and pasta followed by tart, that was lunch. The restaurant owner said, “We don’t start cooking till 9pm”. Tonight’s tea was an apple, some cheese and four yogurts. Today’s stats. were over 80km travelled, nearly 2,000m of gained elevation and 3,800 calories ( by Garmin) consumed. Think the reserves are being drawn on. I’ll sleep well tonight.

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From The Med. to The Biscay Bay – now we are underway. 17th April

Awoke after a great night’s sleep, packed up, had breakfast and continued down this beautiful gorged valley. The steep limestone cliffs had kept the morning sun out, so it was cold, buff covering as much of my face as possible. The river was tamer and wider now and getting bigger.

“This river was big, I want you to know.” I was fortunate to have ridden beside it as a raging torrent until it became a placid deep, slow moving river. You could say, the bike and I, ‘Nailed’ it, although it wasn’t the Tyne.

Today was to be a 100km day and a 3,750 calorie day, not that that was replaced. There were two hills of notable elevation. The toughest to mark the end of the day.

There was a sense knowing that the sea would be viewable from the hill that climbed out of Panes. There was San Vicente de la Barquera below. This marked the point at which I’d cycled from the southern tip of Spain to it’s northern shore. The journey to Norway has really started now. San Vicente is a mixture of old fortified buildings on a small hill adjacent to the estuary and rows of modern houses built on the opposite hillside.

The view of San Vicente from the AS114.

Two further views of San Vicente.

Later I passed through the wonderful village of Riocorvo, south of Torrealavega, very picturesque. There were many cyclists around today and two invited me to slipstream them for several miles. By tucking in very close behind a cyclist in front of you, less energy is needed to displace the air and there is a beneficial vortex effect. Whoever they were, thanks. I’ve never heard of two road racers inviting a touring cyclist to ‘jump on the back’. They either felt pity or took longer to catch me than anticipated.

The picturesque village of Riocorvo.

As I headed away from this quaint medieval little hamlet I had a navigational problem. Where was the single width lane that cut the corner to the CA 170. In the end I had to go the long way round. Just before the last and very long climb started up the CA 170, I noticed the remains of that little lane. Not much left of it, as the open cast quarrying had claimed it.

The hill was long and drained my reserves, not steep, just never ending and I hadn’t been able to find quality food during the day. Reaching the top, my usual zest to make haste down, eluded me. I was happy to let gravity do it’s thing. I needed to eat and to find a shop to get breakfast and it was getting late. I rode around two villages but found no shop. Eventually I ate at a bar, chips and salad, the best they could do. Still, I did find a shop and now have breakfast. After a further five miles, with the carrier bag swinging on the handbars, I’ve found a lovely camp spot, near the incredibly named village of Entrambasmestas, again set between a road and river. The tent is pitched on the disused approach to a ford across a fast running river, where I earlier had a very ‘refreshing’ bath.

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Just a wonderful day. 16th April.

rThe rain stopped just before dawn. I was in no rush to get up, finally emerging from the sleeping bag at 8:30, just as a roadworks team arrived to replace rotten timber safety barriers that sometimes prevent vehicles taking a shorter route down the mountain.

I packed up, slipped on the hillside a few times, finally hid my two panniers and tent sack behind a tree and headed off up to the Lago de la Ercina with shoes covered in mud. What a spectacular route. A few taxis’s and coaches were negotiating the tight bends. Later in the day, crowds would arrive. Up and up and round and round, beautiful views everywhere. I said hi to two guys of generous proportion, who replied in English, well sort of, they were from Maryland USA.

The end of the early morning’s temperature inversion.

A temperature problem of a different type.

Just a sample of the views.

High mountain huts.

Finally I arrived at Lago de Enol. This was the point at which there was a second descent before the final climb to the route’s end. Now I really like descents, the faster the better, but going down to have to go back up when you are a ‘tad’ tired, is testing. The espresso and massive chocolate dough ring were much enjoyed at the obligatory cafe next to the massive car park in this wonderful National Park.

The climb’s end.

By this time there were about twenty, mini buses in the car park, with an equal number of walking sticks allocated to each bus. Time to descend. I layered up and took off. Even put the GoPro on to record the twists and bends and having the road in your sight for miles below, as it snaked back down to Covadonga and beyond. A car in front of me realised that they were having to break for many bends in case of upcoming traffic. A bike is a lot narrower, so he kindly let me overtake, ( I think). I didn’t forget to stop and collect my gear from behind the tree. The driver who had allowed me to overtake, shouted what sounded like encouragement, at least he looked happy. I also suspected from the smiles on the roadworkers faces they both knew where the gear had been stowed.

Simple (and effective) living.

Covadonga

Within minutes I was back in the same restaurant as the previous evening, this time the kid was off, so I opted for tuna salad.

Now I have raved about the N630 and sadly our paths have now parted. However another gem has been found. The AS114, equally deserted of traffic, is takes you through some spectacular country with two notable hill climbs and descents. On the second long run down, unbeknown to me until they overtook at the bottom, I had had a police escort, only coincidence, but again the non driver gave the thumbs up sign.

There were also some lovely villages such as Benia de Onis, Poo, (yes, Poo), well to give it it’s full name, Poo de Cabrales and Las Arenas, where I bought my evening meal in a supermarket. After which I headed off to find a camping spot.

Here we go again, last night the area was too steep, wet and wooded, tonight, well there was a spectacular gorge. The road ran to the right of a torrent of a river with massively high limestone cliffs either side. Think Gordale Scar and multiply by a lot. Try as I might I could not find a suitable site to stop and neither did I care. I was heading down the Gargantas gorge and enjoying every second. Eventually the gorge broadened and I found a piece of flat and dry land next to an arched bridge that had the river beneath, again much like an enormous version of The Strid near Bolton Abbey in North Yorshire.

Lower down the gorge. Where it was easier to stop when you are carrying the shopping on the handlebars.

It is nearly dark as I write this. A few ducks have flown down the river. An owl is giving it ‘rock all’. Both relaxing to hear, shame about the dog that must be the size of a horse given it’s deep bark. Wasn’t there a film called, ‘ They shoot horses, don’t they’, perhaps the dog could be mistaken for one.

Tonight’s hotel.

It’s completely dark now, only an owl calling and something down by the river. Think I’ll sleep well tonight.

Tomorrow could see me camping on a beach. Every day ( and night) is so different.

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Started the day with a climb and finished with a climb. 15th April.

edWith a substantual breakfast inside me, I cycled through the deserted Sunday morning streets of Mieres and having past the town square where last night I had seen an excellent display of period dancing all to medieval musical instruments, I turned up the AS111 road.

The road twisted and turned as it climbed. To the right in a deep and narrow valley there were several residential tower blocked other buildings, all dwarfed below, looking just like a model village. The views back to the snow capped mountain that had been yesterdays exercise, looked superb. The AS111 could be known as The Viaduct road. There were many of them and a few road tunnels.

I have finally said farewell to the N360. It had been my vein through Spain, nearly 1,000 km. It has made navigating easy. Today I had expected route finding to be more involved, but it couldn’t have been easier.

The country lanes over the tops via San Julian were a delight and Nava is a vibrant town.

Several kms were done on the N634 before turning off at Romilo for a steep climb and a fast ride down into Cangas de Onis. Cangas is probably the best small town I’ve passed through. It again had a vibrant atmosphere and well maintained buildings without the usual crumbling structures scatter amongst occupied properties. The centre piece is the old bridge.

Having bought some bread and cheese I cycled on. I could do with a large meal. My Garmin was telling me that I’ll consumed 3,500 calories today, but all the restaurants were ‘up market’ and very busy and would frown on a middle aged man in lycra, wanting a table for one. However up the road there was an ideal restaurant, La Palwera. I chose kid and chips. The child didn’t complain too much and I have to say it tasted very succulent. Besides I did throw some cheese cake down after it and only anticipating to ride a few more km, a couple of beers. This meal hit the spot and I headed on up the road for Covadonga.

On either side of the road there were well kept houses, several hotels and more restaurants. Coaches, many of them, past going in the opposite direction. I saw the best example of the many storage barns on stilts.

Note the big dog. There are many, either small ‘lap’ dogs or small ‘bears’, but nought between.

This area has a very different feel about it, more showy, up market, touristy than anywhere since Salamanca.

Now fed and with supplies for breakfast, the aim was to find a place to hide and set up camp. After a look around Covadonga with many other tourists and a chat with three local police officer’s who wanted to know where I’d been, I cycled back down to the roundabout that would take me round the corner and to my campsite.

I headed up this road that led to the Lego de la Ercino, my intended climb for tomorrow. The road was a near constant 10%. However the climb was heavily wooded and very wet, with no suitable flat ground for a tent. Up and up, with a full load on the bike. Eventually I found a place just off the road behind a small field barn. Where an hour ago I was listening to the cow bells, the last of the bird song and some fox’s barking. Now I’m listening to rain that has just turned to hail and it’s extremely loud!

Tomorrow I would like to finish the Lagos de Covadonga climb. This one has a max. gradient of 15% and an elevation gain of 1,135m.

It is deafening in this tent!

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Today embodied the reason why I cycle. 14th April -a sunny day!

With the sun shining on Riosa far below in the valley, I had limited time to seek out what had been my upwards route, as I leaned left and right straightening the tight corners as best I could. It took only minutes to return to La Vega. The winding lane could be seen for miles below, dry and free of traffic, an invitation to hit max speed.

It had been a different tale heading up the Alto del Angliru. This classic has had various cyclists such as Cav, Conta, Wiggo and many others dripping their sweat on the tarmac. Testimony still stands with their names written large and bold on the road surface.

I had to work hard on the final steeper sections. The max. grade is 23.5% and the ave. is over 10%. However the 12.5 km climb is a long one with little let up throughout it’s 1,578m altitude gain. I had ridden from Mieres- a bit of a warm up first, but that too had been all uphill.

These cycle climbing routes are fantastic. They are the real reason I cycle. The pure enjoyment of pushing to a personal physical limit and achieving a goal is indescribable. Then when at the top, there is the descent.

I’m never going to cycle up and down any of the planned climbs on this trip a second time. So beating a PB isn’t the objective, it’s the thrill of a fast descent and it’s addictive. Being on the edge, just safe, but get it wrong and it’s going to hurt badly!

Cycling up hill, it was easy to take in the beauty of the valley. Houses clinging to steep hill sides. The backdrop of high cliffs with snow covered mountains beyond. Cattle and sheep gentle ringing their neck bells.

As I got nearer to the top, two cyclists overtook me, oh to have youth again. Then a car drove passed, all three occupants cheered me on. Then they parked the car on a particularly ‘vertical’ hairpin bend and started taking photos of this puffing, panting, sweating mid aged git. The third person to overtake me was their friend and the driver of the car, his father. His son and I talked in five word sentences as we rode a little together. He was twenty-five years young! And used the climb for training.

All four of us riders, although not cycling together had a rude awakening about one km. from the summit. Snow! well to be precise, an avalanche had covered the road and damaged a section of the protection barriers. The snow contained rocks and was reasonably deep. Too deep to push a cycle and too long to carry one over it. Having put so much effort into the climb, we reluctantly had to admit defeat.

Below are some more photos taken during the climb.

Two typical bends that ensure the lungs stay open!

Keep on going up! Somewhere on that ridge behind the hill in the foreground is the summit of the climb.

A happy chap.

The way back down.

Tomorrow I head east for the first time, aiming to arrive in Cangas de Onis, ready for the second climb the Lagos de Covadonga on Monday.

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The only way is up – followed by an adrenaline charged descent. Friday 13th April.mmmm

As I looked at the burnt roll with processed cheese and ham glued to it, I wondered where all the quality locally grown pork had gone. No self respecting deceased pig had every graced this breakfast bar. However last night’s meal had been a delight. If ever visiting Leon, a meal at the Boccalino guest and restaurant is thoroughly recommended.

The Boccalino restaurant.

It has to be the norm that whatever our careers have been, we still gravitate to that area, even having been retired for some years. So from a Fire Safety prospective last night’s hostel is a multiple fire death scenario waiting to happen. With a single means of escape from all floors with multiple bedrooms, each with their own dead end travel distances and all aiming to get the escapee to a protected staircase. However that staircase had every single door latched open at all levels. So having made your miraculous escape to the ground floor ie not suffocated, you would still have to pass open double doors leading into a bar and the open kitchen (probably the seat of the fire). Strangely, I slept very well. Anyway enough of being pedantic, or not!

The climb out from Leon was refreshing. The sun shone and the cool air brought a smile to my face. Up onto rolling countryside, gradually gaining height to La Robia onto La Pola Gordon and up to the summit point at Puerto de Pajares. It was to be a climbing day.

The snow covered mountains in the distance were today destination. Not cutting through the Tunel de Negron on the AP 66, but on old faithful N630. The few towns such as Villamanin, I passed though were void of life. Earlier with 60 kms to the next town and having only eaten a piece of burnt bread, cheese that had not originated from any animal and ‘not’ pork, fuel levels were insufficient. Opposite the church below, was a brilliant bar, it didn’t look any different from any other, but getting back on the bike after a massive slice of deep cheese and mushroom omelette and a coffee to blow your head off, the hill ahead was a mere mound.

Road tunnels, I can’t readily recall having cycled through any. Near La Pola de Gorden was the first, Lucia at 277m length, followed by La Gotera at 206m. There were around four, plus the one below.

As I approached Busdongo de Arbas the clouds having built rapidly, unzipped a cascade. The routine is now well practised. Phone into waterproof case. Existing jacket off, totally waterproof jacket on. Leggings on. Check that bum bag with cash and cards is secure under jacket. Activate windscreen wipers on sunglasses. Wish I’d changed the high UV lens for nil protection that allows you to see where you are going. Ask again why, in mid April in Spain it rains so heavily and so often. Start laughing- hysterically. Get cycling!

Yesterday was boringly flat, today there is variety. I love the mountains, their beauty, their challenges, just being in amongst them excites me. The train track that runs nearly parallel with the road at times, is protected from avalanches by concrete tunnels that run for thousands of metres. The hills are that steep the cows face uphill to graze, so they don’t have to swallow, gravity does the rest.

The rain continues.

There had been an impressive temperature inversion in the morning, with the clouds hugging the valleys and the snow covered peaks reflecting the sun. Now the whole mountain range was being drenched and the mist was heavy. The photos are at the summit at Puerto de Pajares 1,879m.ASL. What followed, not even the rain could spoil, a long- very long and rapid descent following numerous bends and curves. A real adrenaline rush! Being able to see any upcoming traffic and nothing catching me from behind, I cut the corners. Just the downpour and 20kg of luggage behind my bum kept the speed down. I had a big smile behind my drenched buff that was glued to my face. Down to Malvedo, where the N630 disappeared. My phone was waterproofed away. One minute in this rain would knacker it. The A66 was not for cyclists or horses. A big sign said so! However the AS 242 took me into Mieres.

I had intended to camp tonight, but nothing was dry, even the inside of my skin was soaked. Anne very kindly found two hotels with vacancies, both expensive. I chose the Hotel Mieres del Camino. Most things are now dry, I’ve had a hot bath and this middle aged git feels ready to cycle up the Alto del Angliru tomorrow. With it’s height gain of 1,573m, average gradient of 10% and max. of 23.5%. I really hope the weather plays ball. It is also one of my son-law’s birthday. Scott, have a fantastic day and enjoy your birthday surprise. Have a few Malbec’s on me.

Tomorrow, after the climb my direction of travel will change from north to east. Twelve days of cycling with a rest day in Salamanca, have seen me travel from Gibraltar to Mieres.

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