Gascon Cycling for Myeloma
Pau to Gibraltar, Oct/Nov 2016
Day 1 – Tuesday 25th October 2016 - Pau to St-Jean-Pied-de-Port
110K in 5.2 hours - very happy with the pace considering it was our first day!
The ride was split into three stages:-
1. Pau to Orthez, following the route of the river was obviously flat, meandering and easy but
2. Orthez to Sauveterre-de-Bearn was difficult, climbing well over 300m in a 22Km stage, however
3. Sauveterre to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port was 40Km through lush rolling hills and an absolute joy.
Having said that it was a huge relief to see the town sign but knowing that tomorrow morning will be the toughest climb of the whole trip as we scale the Pyrenees leaving France and spending our first day in Spain.
Day 2 St.-Jean-Pied-de-Port to Sanguesa
After sending Mike off to find a pump for our air mattresses and removing the annoying mudguards from our bikes it was straight into a 30Km climb to the highest point of the pass. We climbed well over 1200 meters in the 3 hours it took us and were proud to leave a Munster rugby flag in memory of Anthony Foley at the summit.
This was Camino Way territory and we found a wonderful hostel for lunch before completing the 70-odd Km to our campsite in Sanguesa. We spent the afternoon travelling down the various river valleys through wonderful, wonderful countryside. Colin said it was his most beautiful day cycling, ever, and that's saying something from a man who has literally cycled the world
Days 3 & 4 Sanguesa to Tudela to Almazan
From Sanguesa we headed south to Ejea planning to stop there. Sanguesa was notable for a huge Smurfit Kappa paper factory. A surprise cycling into town to see one of Ireland's success stories in the middle of nowhere!! Mike scouts ahead for us each day and as we approached Ejea we got the message to keep on to Tudela, only 45k along the Ebro river valley, Tudela is a wonderful place , with no camp site so we had to brave it and book into a hotel!! Lovely spot with friendly people - 3 beds and breakfast - ham eggs the works, for 75 yo yos the lot. And especially great showers, hot and powerful..... Another night of tapas ( can't spell pintchos or whatever they are called here) nice white wine , and here’s the best bit, in Tudela on a Thursday night in the old town you get a tapa and drink, beer red or white wine for the outrageous amount of 2€ - happy days! Although being 3 very serious cycling people we got to bed early….. So after a great breakfast we set off before 9 for Almazan. Getting out of Tudela proved a tad difficult; it was bigger than we thought so ended up doing a few circuits of the town before finding the right exit road!! Again a big climb out up towards Olvega and a col of 1196m with lots of heavy trucks. At this stage I must compliment the Spanish drivers as they are extremely careful when passing us out and to date no complaints. The road surfaces are incredible which has also made the going easier.
It was another tough day at the office - but it beats working any day! Arriving in Almazan Mike had booked us into a Hostel - 3 separate rooms, what a treat! - and the owner also owned the only restaurant in the village so he opened up for us and the menu was a "surprise" and turned out to be wonderful - A plate of salad followed by veal chops, fried eggs and chips washed down with house red. Desert was a choc ice..... Super dinner and just what we needed after tapas two nights running....
So far we have covered 414k in the four days. Being that we were fresh the first two days, Pau to St Jean-Pied-de-Port and then on to Sanguesa were relatively easy compared to the last two days. However we are averaging 19.8kph which, considering the terrain is pretty good going. Bodies are stiff now so Colin reckons today will be a test as the fifth day is when the body decides if it is going to accept that we are not giving up, but there is a long way still to go, and we just must get on with it. The body will adjust - hopefully!
Day 5 Almazan to Siguenza
Early start Saturday with no breakfast on our way out of Almazan. Thankfully Mike found little town serving eggs, ham and compulsory coffees and we felt good enough to carry on to Siguenza making Saturdays stage 110k. It was a day of more long and difficult climbs but glad eventually to leave the very busy C101 after 3 days... The final 40 k to Siguenza displayed a wonderful array of changing tree colours and reminded me of New Hampshire at this time of year, Colin agreed, but Mike thought of Stow-on-the-Wold in the Cotswolds cos he thinks he is posh.... A spectacular sweep down to Siguenza revealed a huge magnificent Moorish fort dominating a lovely town. We struggled to find a decent place to eat but a new pizza place gave us grilled prawns great pizzas and a lovely red!
Day 6 Siguenza to Sacedon
Just 90Km and our slowest day of the trip so far - but news from home is that we raised an amazing 350€ for Myeloma today - incredible! Thank you all so much. It is somehow surreal that away from our little bubble other people are actively supporting us, and it brings us back to earth - Thank you all again!
From Siguenza we headed off down the CM1101 and then the N204 in the direction of Sacedon at the southern end of the Embaise de Entrepenas..... A big climb out of the town ensured that we were quickly warmed up, but we are up on a plateau and getting real kilometers behind us is proving difficult:- you climb 2 or 300 hundred meters and then expect a nice comfortable descent but find you must climb again. For the past few days we have been at an altitude of approx.1000m. Today was puncture day as I managed two on the climb out of Siguenza which delayed us quite a bit. The country-side is like Connemara or the Yorkshire moors but on a bigger scale. Lunch today was on the side of the road at a large truck stop and was soup!! Colin's had every living shell fish in it and some were still alive!! My vegetable soup was equally difficult to describe, but we ate it for fuels sake!! Stayed at a nice campsite in Sacedon and had a meal there. Mike and I had lamb chops - at least 8 each and Colin had half a cow!!! I kid you not... Early night as we have a 7.30 start tomorrow trying to reach Toledo..
Days 7 & 8 Sacedon to Aranjuez to Malagon
Arrived in Aranjuez as we could not make it to Toledo before dark. The hour change and earlier evening darkness has forced us to adjust our plans, but we are still ahead of our planned schedule. All I will say about Aranjuez is - what a city! I had never heard of it ever before, but a must visit city - google it and you will want to go!!
Day 8, 738Km behind us and today we head to Ciudad Real. Again an early start as we wind our way out of the beautiful Aranjuez and again, inevitably, a climb out and up!!!. Today is all about pace as we want to get to Ciudad Real before dark. Colin is relentless on the bike forcing me to go harder than ever!! 63k done before lunch is not bad and a lunch of fried eggs Bacon and chips (again) sets us up for a go at the afternoon. Today is the first day that the wind plays a part. This time of year the wind is usually very strong but we have been lucky so far. We are slowed down by the sometimes headwind but mostly crosswind ... Progress is slow but we still managed 123k today taking us to 861Km overall. Not bad for two old(ish) guys!!!!! We are staying in Malagon tonight in a "quaint" hotel that mission control found for 20 Euros a head.... Wandered up the main street and found a tiny restaurant, we had chicken pieces in batter, sirloin steak, mussels, patatas huveas, + a bacon/tomato/cheese-on-bread apperro... Total 55€ for the 3 of us! Tomorrow we are heading down the N401 to Ciudad Real and in the general direction of Cordoba Hoping to make it to that great city in two and a half days. In case anyone out there wants to know, our average speed on the trip so far is 20.4kph.......
Days 9 & 10 Malagon to Fuencaliente to Cordoba
8.30am start from Malagon after an early night having watched Man City beat Barca in a Spanish bar!! No breakfast at hotel so a quick coffee and off we go, but not long before we found a great cafe serving sausage, bacon and cheese rolls which set us up for a day of superb cycling. Our longest stage to date, 123k over 3 passes and climbing just under 1000m overall. We stopped in Puertollano on the N420 for lunch at a roadside cafe where the only thing available was a soup........ It was mostly a stomach lining of some animal, however not sheep and the tripe I used to love the way Mother made it. Tasted OK but it didn't look great and we certainly benefitted from whatever was in it in the afternoon!! After covering the three passes we had a superb sweep down to Hostel Rural de Marcos just outside Fuencaliente where mission control had us booked and 2 large beers on the ready...... Now we look forward to a "sweep" (as Colin calls it) - his idea of a sweep is 100k plus - to the magnificent Moorish city of Cordoba.. We plan to take a day off and absorb this must visit place. On the list is the Mesquite Palace. Tonight we are 5clicks from Andalucía.....
Day 11 Cordoba to Carmona
Day 12 of our trip and day 11 on our bikes. Woke this morning to rain - lots of it! Leaving Cordoba wasn’t easy, but as soon as we cleared the city limits and lost the protection of the buildings the day turned into our worst yet.... A very strong headwind and torrential showers made the 109k seem more like 209k; it was a miserable on the bike as we were pedaling all the way to Carmona. On one downhill run we managed the same speed as some of our climbs in the Pyrenees -12kph..... due to the strong wind, when we were cycling through towns the lemon trees lining the roads had dropped hundreds of lemons in our path and we had no choice but to cycle over them....
Carmona is a nice old Moorish town set on a big hill, wouldn't you know it! Mike had us booked into a beautiful hostel due to our need for some comfort after the day and two beers on the counter of a pub next door as we struggled into town.... Over 1200k cycled to date with just 230k more to go - hopefully...
Day 12 Carmona to Arcos-de-la-Frontera
Up bright and early today and what a pleasure it was to see a blue sky and less wind. Breakfast of coffee, toast and homemade jam served by our wonderful hosts in “Hostal Commercial” in the old part of Carmona.
Our destination today is Arcos-de-la-Frontera, 113k down the road. Due to the beautiful weather and a helpful wind today proved a pleasant experience - A gentle ride over mostly undulating but manageable hills as we wound our way through this peaceful part of Andalusia and we arrived in Arcos at around 5pm, full of energy and happy to be finishing so fresh. Mike, or Papa Noel as the Spanish children have now named him, once again came up trumps on our accommodation which was good, as his directions left a lot to be desired!
Tomorrow we head for Tarifa and our first view of the straights of Gibraltar... 110 k to there and then only 40k to Gibraltar...... Phew.....
Day 13 Arcos to Tarifa
The penultimate day - What can I say? Could be a sad day as this has been the most surprising and fantastic trip.... Today we head for the coast, Tarifa, and our first view of Mediterranean Sea at the straights of Gibraltar. We leave Arcos after a decent breakfast and an early night. Colin insisted we leave before dawn as he wants to spend time exploring another grand Moorish town. Medina Sidonia is famous as the leader of the Spanish Armada, Duke of Medina Sidonia, 130 ships invading England 1588; Elizabeth 1st was queen and was aided in defeating the mighty Spanish armada by Sir Walter Raleigh, another incredible biking connection. However as the day continued Colin decided to abandon his exploring and so we continued straight on to Tarifa completing 120K in the day.
Our total now is 1444k and before any of you comedians out there ask " did ye get lost our what" we actually did cycle this distance.
Colin Duncan has cycled more miles than you can shake a stick at and boy can he shake a stick!! He has cycled from the eastern shores of the Baltic down through the Balkans and across through southern Europe all the way to Duffort. This past two weeks has been his completion of a mammoth tour around Europe... You will not find a greater map reader than Colin. He surprised me at every turn and twist.... However to say he is pedantic about the correct spelling of every town and city we passed through would be understating it.....
The above blog is my tribute to him and to thank him for getting me so far.....
Day 14 - Tuesday 8th November 2016 Gibraltar!!
Bit of a knees up last night after arriving in Tarifa and reaching the ocean where the Atlantic meets the Med... So, on the bikes for a "short" spin into Gibraltar…… Good breakfast of bacon and eggs set us up for a light, easy, relaxed bike ride…… Nightmare!!!!!! The only road you can take from Tarifa is the motorway, and sometimes 5 lanes of traffic. I will not go into the details for those fainthearted amongst you but suffice to say that I have not been so scared (other more expressive words come to mind right now!!!) since I played my first senior rugby Munster cup match for Sundays Well against Young Munsters, in Limerick way, way back when I was only 17!! Enough said about that little jaunt to Gibraltar.... We arrived at the border crossing at 2pm and headed straight into Burger King as it was closest and open...... And we were still in one piece... For me it was emotional to have cycled so far and to have contributed a little to the memories of John and Glenn and thinking of them on the way, even though I did not have the pleasure of meeting Glenn, if he's a mate of Colin's then he had to have been a good bloke. So thank you all for your wonderful support and sponsorship.
I would like to say a special thank you to Helen for organising me for this trip (and for letting me go after my accident) but the best part was the packets of biscuits and the little surprise bag of chocolates we found. They were perfect for the cycle but I think that Colin ate most of them. Thanks Hell xxx
To Colin for getting me here safely, and guiding me around them there mountains and a big hug and thank you to Papa Noel for your expertise in organising beds and beers!!!! Off now for a well earned beer... Thank you all......
OK just forgot to say that we covered 1496.60 kilometers in total over 14 days of cycling and I feel absolutely fantastic and proud too....