Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Back Home

July 1, 2009
Now that I'm home several people have commented on the fact that I left the blog unfinished. When I got to Vitoria it was the end of riding and in my mind the end of the blog, so here's a quick summary.

Thursday June 25
I took a taxi out to the Aernnova office and visited with some of the people I've worked with. A lot of the group are off to other places, but it was fun to see the few that are still there.
That evening Santi met me after work (his not mine) and we went out for pintxos. Two of the bars are new and one has been remodeled. Thursday is a busy night; the streets and bars were full. It's nice to see that Vitoria is even more dynamic than my last visit in 2007. As usual the pinxtos were fantastic.

Friday June 26
I packed up and rode to the bus station. There wasn't any problem taking the bike on the bus, it only cost 8.5 euros. I got dropped off in Bilbao within a half mile of my hotel. After packing up the bike, I headed out around Bilbao. I spent a day there in 2007 and it's a fun city to walk around. Like Vitoria there has been and still is a lot of new construction. The only thing I knew about before visiting in 2007 was the Guggenheim, but the city is very nice in it's own right.

Saturday June 27
I left the hotel at 6AM for my long trip home. The flights were on time; my luggage and I were deposited at Seatac at 1PM.

It's time to plan the next trip.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


June 24, 2009
It’s fun to be back in Vitoria. I made three week-long trips here in 2007 so I’m already familiar with the city. Vitoria has a nice pedestrian area of the new town and a nice old-town. The pintxos have been really good since Pamplona and this city is no exception. My hotel room has a balcony that fronts a pedestrian street with a dozen bars where we usually bar-hopped for dinner.

view from my balcony at Hotel Dato

The road from Lekietio was nice, but had a fair amount of traffic. I missed a back road because I couldn’t place the signed names on my map. After climbing into the mountains the road dropped down and intersected the main highway between Bilbao and San Sebastian. At the closest I was only 14 miles from Bilbao. It felt strange to be that close to where this trip started. I’ve seen so much that I test myself by trying to name every place where I’ve stayed in the last 25 days.

The route went east to Durango then got really interesting. In five kilometers it gained 500 meters (1640’). It averaged 10% grade with sections of 12%. That’s the same steepness as Alpe d’ Huez in the French Alps. I sure would’ve had a much harder time doing those grades at the beginning of the trip. It’s going to be fun to get on my 16.5 pound road bike after riding a 50+ pound bike for 24 days.

view from the climb

celebration cerveza at the top

Once at the top of the pass it was a quick and easy ride into Vitoria. I went past the industrial park where the Aernnova office is located, so I recognized the roads into town.

Tomorrow I will go to Aernnova. It will be fun to see some of the people I worked with for the past four years. I haven’t seen most of them for almost two years.

Assuming I take the bus to Bilbao it’s time for the statistics.

Distance ridden: 2254 km, 1400 miles
Average speed: 20.8 kph, 12.7 mph
Time on the bike: 108 hours
Total elevation gain: 25,803 m, 84,634 ft
Temp’s while riding: 11-39 C, 51-102 F
Frowns: quickly forgotten
Smiles: too numerous to count, but will be long remembered

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June 23, 2009
I’m getting into this slow and easy lifestyle. Today’s stop is Lekeitio which is only 22 miles along the coast from Zumaia. Let’s see, that’s less than yesterday’s mileage. At this rate I might not make it back to work. Hmmm, that sounds about right.

As opposed to the last couple of mornings, Zumaia is so small there weren’t any problems finding my way out of town. The road went inland for a bit, then back to the coast at Deba. I might have stopped there, but it was only 9 miles and I really needed to do double digit distance. Mutrika is another scenic town which looks like a working fishing village.
Ondarroa mixes a fishing port with a couple of nice beaches. Finally after a grueling day I stopped in Lekeito. The road goes inland from here to Guernika so I decided to stay on the coast and spend another afternoon at the beach.

coast road



Tomorrow I’ll head south through mountains to Vitoria. Hopefully my legs haven’t forgotten how to pedal for an entire day. The weather is still perfect so that should help.

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Monday, June 22, 2009


June 22, 2009
My day has been relaxing, once I was able to get out of San Sebastian. I tried taking a very narrow, very steep road west of the city, but turned back because I was afraid it would dead end. It’s another episode to blame on the map, and ultimately on me.

The coast is very scenic. I stopped for a while in Zarautz before continuing on to Zamaia. I’m only a little over 20 miles down the coast, although I rode further with my trial and error navigation method.


downtown Zumaia

I spent most of the afternoon at the beach just west of town. It’s in a dramatic setting wedged between slate cliffs. The weather couldn’t have been nicer today.

Itzurun beach in Zumaia

looking back at the beach from further down the coast

Tomorrow I’ll continue along the coast, maybe to Bermeo. Wednesday I’ll probably head south to Vitoria.

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San Sebastian

June 21, 2009
I just got back to my hotel after watching the sun set at 9:50PM over the San Sebastian bay. I was here for a day in 2007 and the city is just as beautiful as I remember. The weather is really nice and I have high hopes for the final week.

summer solstice San Sebastian

Getting out of Pamplona was confusing since my map doesn’t show the new freeway. There were lots of cyclists out this morning and several of them gave me directions. I still wasn’t sure since there were large signs warning of road construction and suggesting alternate routes. That might have been okay if the alternate routes were on my map. While still debating what to do, a couple of cyclists came up to me. One of them could speak some English, said they were going my direction for 40 km, and that I could tag along. I could keep up without too much problem on the flats, but had to work hard on the steep climbs because of the extra weight I’m carrying. It was nice to ride with others for a change although we went faster than I would have on my own. After they turned off, I left the highway to follow very small roads through the mountains to San Sebastian. There was a very steep climb, a nice descent, a steep climb, then a descent that ended a few miles outside San Sebastian. Once again I was rescued by a local rider who showed me how to get to the downtown area. My biggest challenge has been to stay off the freeways. My map of this area is: 1) not up to date; and 2) doesn’t have the accuracy that I need in and out of the cities.

3 guys making hay, one on a tractor, the other two with wooden rakes

There are lots of tourists here. Pamplona and San Sebastian are both on the Camino de Santiago so there are lots of backpackers and hikers in town. I notice a few other Americans, but not as many as expected. Since it was Sunday there were probably more locals here than on the weekday. I expect it to be a little calmer tomorrow. Speaking of which, I have a little time cushion and am not sure how far I’ll go tomorrow. I plan on riding the coast until just before Bilbao, then heading south to Vitoria.

La Concha Beach in San Sebastian

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Saturday, June 20, 2009


June 20, 2009
I made the correct decision to stop early yesterday. The wind was still blowing today. It was recorded at 24 mph in Pamplona and definitely much stronger (low 30’s) in the hills south of here. I averaged a whopping 9.7mph over the 25 miles. It took four hours before I was in my hotel. I think I was destined to stop early yesterday, either in a hotel or curled up in the ditch.

There are still a few weeks until the Festival of San Fermin (running of the bulls) but it sounds like they’re getting an early start. A brass band has been marching around the old town all day and just came down the narrow street of my hotel. The hotel clerk warned me that the room fronting the street will be noisy. I’m pretty sure it will be louder than noisy all night.

view from my hotel balcony

The closest I got to the bulls is the big statue of bulls and runners. It could be a corny tourist attraction, but is very interesting. The kids love climbing over it also.

running of the bulls statue

Tomorrow will take me through the mountains to San Sebastian on the coast. The weather forecast is for the winds to calm to about 10mph. After the last two days I’ll believe it when I see it.

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Friday, June 19, 2009

Blown away in Tafalla

June 19, 2009
I got my wish for cooler temperatures today, but at a steep price. There was a little rain (which in itself wasn’t bothersome) but the wind was fierce. No place to run, no place to hide, it had me in the sites of its gun. After 65 miles I threw in the towel, raised the white flag, and cried uncle. It’s only 20 miles to Pamplona which would have been another two hours on the bike. Tomorrow’s weather will tell me if I made the right choice. For now I’m enjoying the air conditioning and a bottle of local Navarra red wine.

I don’t think the wind is unusual since I saw hundreds of windmills today. I took a back-road first thing this morning (which unbeknownst to me climbed almost 1000 feet) up to a ridge where I counted 80 wind turbines.

some of the many wind turbines

much of the land was terraced

This is the best bull shot I've gotten so far.

I had one fun encounter this morning. I was climbing a hill a few miles out of Tudela when a serious looking biker came by me. This guy was standing up, pounding on the pedals, and didn’t even glance at me as he passed. I might not be able to speak Spanish, but I’m completely fluent in the universal language he was speaking with his bike. I dropped a few gears and chased after him. When I started gaining on him I pushed harder and came up on his rear wheel. I decided there were three options: 1) pull up alongside and say halo; 2) go around him; or 3) sit in his draft. He already showed that he wasn’t interested in talking, and I didn’t think I could ride faster than him into the head-wind, so I picked option 3. He played the perfect victim; half glancing behind to see if I was still on his wheel and repeatedly sprinting to try and drop me. We flew along for a couple of miles (including several traffic circles) before he finally put an end to it by diving off on a side street. For those few minutes my legs weren’t tired, the bike wasn’t heavy, and I wasn’t bothered by the wind. I finally had a conversation with a local where we understood each other perfectly.

As to dealing with locals in verbal conversations I’ve finally broken the code. “Hablo espanol un poco” doesn’t really mean “I only speak a little Spanish”. It means: “Please talk as fast as you can and use all the words you know.” It happens time after time, and I just stand there like a deer in the headlights. What I need to do is ask them to slowly repeat themselves, but I always think that if I listen harder I’ll be able to understand. It’s gotten better over three weeks, and I’m now confident that things would be fine after three years.

It’s strange to think about flying home a week from tomorrow. I just got here, and yet I’ve been here for long time. How do you put the genie back in the bottle?

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Thursday, June 18, 2009

Lucky in Borja

June 18, 2009
First things first, I’ll answer to the title. I got to Borja at 5PM after riding 103 miles. I had planned to stop in Tarazona but it’s another 15 miles so I got a room in the local hostal. Within 30 minutes a thunderstorm (that had been lurking behind me all afternoon) let loose. It’s been two hours and there are still huge rain showers, thunder, and lightning. Hence this hostal is perhaps the best place I’ve stayed in three weeks.

a few miles from Borja, the monster looms behind

30 minutes after getting to my room

A 7:30AM start was very pleasant. It was already 70F degrees so there was no suspense that the day was going to be very hot.

My riding partner was ready first thing this morning

The terrain was varied like yesterday, but drier and more open. One difference is that I rode through orchards today. They were harvesting cherries, which have been a real treat when I can find them in the supermarket.
Borja is about 2500’ lower and flatter than Molina. A lot of the day was easier because of the elevation drop, but there were enough climbs (including a bonus pass ten miles from Borja) that I gained 6000’ for the day.
At times I was on some very narrow roads in the middle of nowhere. It became an issue since I was going through water very fast. A couple of well placed villages with town faucets saved the day.

The truck drivers were cautious and courteous but I stepped off the road anyway.

Very well timed village faucet

I couldn't pass this picture up. Isn't this sign a little bit late?

All in all I feel much better today. I took it easy on the hills (like I had any choice in the matter), drank a lot, and ate regularly, including salty snacks.
Pamplona should be about 90 miles tomorrow. If I haven’t used up all my luck it might be a little cooler after this storm. The thunder is still booming in the distance but the rain has stopped. I’m not the only happy camper; my room faces the town park and I don’t think I’ve heard as much birdsong as right now.

It's 8PM. I'm hydrated, have updated the blog, and done my laundry. Now it's off to find a restaurant for food and drink.

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Molina de Aragon

June 18, 2009
Everything worked out better than I expected yesterday after discovering my pump won’t work. Roberto picked me up at the hotel at 9:30 and we got to the sporting goods store just after they opened. He is from Paraguay where he worked as a police officer for 16 years. He speaks a little English, but talked to me almost entirely in Spanish. I’m not sure I totally understand why he came to Spain, but he’s been here for three years. When I offered to buy gas for his car he told me it wasn’t necessary since he’s always worked at helping others. Between his English, my Spanish, and the dictionary we were able to carry on a conversation there and back.

A funny thing happened last night as I was leaving one of the local bars. A group of 6 women were huddled around as one of them opened two bottles of wine. I think they decided to buy the bottles rather than pay for it by the glass. The one with the cork screw looked up and said something to me. I made my usual reply of “hablo espanol un poco” then added “pero vino es vida y agua es para los pescados” (but wine is life and water is for the fish). They laughed then just as I went around the corner I heard one of them say in English “I want to go with him”. She was embarrassed when I looked back around the corner but everyone had a good laugh.

I left Albarracin at noon and am now in Molina de Aragon. I am very tired although I felt good on the bike. It’s hard to manage the physical side of things in the heat. I’m never able to drink enough while on the bike and have to drink (water) like a fish when I get to the hotels. After the day off and with the late start I probably pushed harder than was wise.

Molina de Aragon

The route went through more amazing countryside: Pine and oak forested mountains; hills with green wheat in the valleys; and open dry hillsides. There was also plenty of climbing.

In the mountains

wheat growing in the valleys

Just outside Molina I met a touring cyclist. Florin is from France where he rides his bike every day as a mailman. He left Versailles ten days ago, crossed the Pyrenees, and is headed to Andalucía in southern Spain. He’s suffering from the sun and rides with long pants and long sleeved shirt. He gave me some information tomorrow’s route since I’ll be taking the same small roads. Florin makes the forth touring cyclist I’ve talked with (not including the ones I saw doing the Camino de Santiago). I did see a couple on fully loaded bikes three days ago. We passed on a very steep climb, I was going up and they were heading down. The man didn’t say anything and the woman just said halo. They seemed like they could be Dutch or German and I’m still confused why they would just ride by. I don’t think they had time to notice how bad I smell.

Tomorrow I’ll get an early start and try to make it halfway to Pamplona. It might get interesting since there aren’t that many towns in the next stretch.

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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Adventure begins

June 16, 2009
The word for the day was relaxation.

I climbed up to, and on the town walls. The east wall has been restored. The west wall is in original condition.

East wall, the tower at the top was the first structure, built in the 10th century.

You can walk on the restored east wall.

I took a tour of the town museum and the castle. The guide talked primarily in Spanish, but gave a few words of English for me and the Japanese tourists. It was very interesting and worth
learning more about.

Albarracin with the town wall in the background.

castle tour

Since I had the afternoon free I decided to rotate my tires. I've ridden just under 1000 miles so far with no problems. When I went to pump them up I discovered that the valve end of the pump is gone. It's been a good pump, better than many I've owned. Pumps can be the bane of a cyclists existence. I've been on rides where 2 out of 3 of us had pumps that wouldn't work. Well that's fine when there are three, and that's where the adventure is about to begin.

the culprit

Teruel is a larger town about 20 miles from here. The web shows two bike shops in town. Now I'm going to try to get the hotel staff to call them, see if they have a pump, then decide how and when to get there. I am so lucky that this happened here and not in the boonies, or whatever they're called in Spain.

Roberto works at the hotel. He called the bike shops in Teruel, but they aren't open yet. He checked on the cost of a taxi and found that it would be 80 euros round trip. That's a lot, but would still be much better than taking a bus. He then offered to give me a ride there in the morning. I didn't believe he was telling me that so he wrote it down in Spanish. We're to meet at 9:30 tomorrow morning.

We'll see what happens next,but I'm very hopeful.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Laughing out Loud

June 15, 2009
This was a five star, laugh out loud, serendipitous day. I now realize one of the main factors for a great day is to not be going to a major destination. I’ve really enjoyed seeing all of the cities, but on those days the riding can take a back seat to just getting there in time for sight- seeing. When I started out from Cuenca this morning I thought it would be enough to just spend the night in Albarracin. There was no pressure to get here, or thinking ahead of what I should do when here. Having said that, Albarracin is a great place and I’m going to stay here an extra day.

But beyond the freedom to take all day on the bike, every bit of the 80 miles was great riding. I left Cuenca on a bike trail along the river. The woman at the tourist office had told me that almost all of the traffic would be on another route and I only saw a handful of cars. The only thing I knew about the area around Cuenca are the weird rock formations called “ciudad encantada”. They require admission and are probably a zoo on the weekends, but were fun to see.

Ciudad Encantada

My route was through mountainous terrain all day. Some of it reminded me of Northern Arizona with pines and reddish rock cliffs. No that’s wrong, it reminded me of Spain.

Other parts were through canyons with fast flowing streams and lots of greenery.

I detoured at one point to climb several hundred feet up to a village set on the side of the hill.

I kept looking for signs to Albarracin and was curious why there weren’t any. When I finally got to my turnoff it was a very narrow path with a sign saying that the pavement was bad. The road climbed 1000 feet up and the rough pavement didn’t bother me at 6mph. The first car going my way was surprising since no cars had come by in 1 ½ hours.

It was so steep I almost fell off

There were good winds all day. I expected tailwinds going up the valleys, but it was blowing down the other side also. Just before town I met a touring cyclist headed the other direction. He’s from Madrid and it was fun to talk with him about the area.


Near the end of a perfect ride

Albarracin is built on a rock promontory created by the adjacent river. There isn’t any room for a modern road so it tunnels under the narrowest section of town. The uphill side was protected by a wall that arches high on the hillside above. I’ll climb up to the walls tomorrow.


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Sunday, June 14, 2009


June 14, 2009
I got to Cuenca by 1PM. There were strong headwinds for the first half. I saw windmills on the horizon when I left Tarancon. That usually isn't a good sign. The terrain didn't offer any break from the wind so I just had to keep going and not think about it too much. The second half was better because: it was higher and trees were growing; the wind died down; I was able to get off the freeway onto smaller roads; and I finally found a bar open for coffee. This is my third Sunday and it's more difficult because a lot of places are closed.

My room has air conditioning and wireless. At this stage it almost doesn't matter what else is in the room. The rest of the room is nice though. It's interesting since this is the first room I've had since Bilbao that has any traffic noise. Almost without exception the room have all been dead quiet at night.

There was a religious procession just ending as I got into town. I don't know what it was all about.

Religious Procession

Cuenca's old town is built on a rock promontory. Many of the houses and buildings continue straight up from the cliff sides. I think this is another day trip destination from Madrid. It wasn't very crowded this afternoon.

Cliff edge of the old town

It was bad lighting, but these are the most photographed buildings

Old town main plaza

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Hotter, I think

June 13, 2009
This morning I walked to the train station to see if I could get one to Cuenca. I would’ve had to go to Madrid first, and that seemed too complicated. The bus or a rental car may have been other options, but I didn’t know where the bus station was and didn’t think about trying to rent a car. I did meet a couple of women at the train station who are just setting out on a four month self-supported (no hotels) bike tour. When I asked one of them “donde vas?” I got the same deer in the headlights look that I’m so good at giving. It turned out that they’re from New Orleans and Portland. I envy their free time, but not camping in this heat.

In any case things seem to have worked out since I’m a little over halfway to Cuenca, in a small town: Tarancon. I may have pushed things a little since the one-star hostal I’m staying at seems to be the only game in town. But then again one room is all I need.

After walking to the train station I made sure to be at the Toledo Cathedral at opening time: 10AM. It’s another impressive building, and it’s beyond my comprehension how they could build those massive structures almost 800 years ago. A guided tour seems like the only way to do it justice. I tried to take my time, but in the back of my mind was the fact that it was already very warm and getting hotter.

View of Toledo and the Roman Bridge

Banners are hung above the streets for shade

Setting off at 11AM it was already 91F degrees. I use whatever units are handy and it’s just not as impressive to say that it was 33C. That reminds me that this is the kind of heat I will look back on next winter when I’m commuting in 33F weather, or maybe 0 degrees C.

I very efficiently found the wrong road out of town. It wasn‘t a severe mistake, and only added a few kilometers to my route. In my defense it was one of the rare times when the signs weren’t obvious. Almost all the other times they’ve been very easy to follow.

It was hot today and I made sure to make the most of the heat by riding until 5PM. Most of the road was new blacktop which seemed to be a couple of degrees C warmer than the aged grey roads. My bike computer read 40C (in my shadow) on the new sections and 38C on grey asphalt that looked to be a couple of years old.

More open wheatlands

This evening in Tarancon it has definitely cooled down. The sky is overcast and thunderheads have formed. At 8PM the outside temperature is a cool 82F. I saw something on TV that looked like Toledo may have reached 40C.

With an early start tomorrow I might be able to finish before things heat up. I’m not sure what idiot planned my original itinerary with a 115 mile day from Toledo to Cuenca. It must have been someone that thought a few inches on the map couldn’t amount to much. They were probably sitting in the comfort of their living room and lost sight of what is really practical. In light of this failure I’ll have to double check what other tricks might be in store.

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