I was somewhat disappointed with the border crossing into Spain. I had hoped to at least get a photo of a sign saying “Bienvenidos a EspaÃ±a” or something, but no. I simply rode across a river and found that the street signs, instead of being in Basque and French, were now in Basque and Spanish. So you’ll have to take my word for it that I crossed the border. There’s no photographic evidence.
Jon had told me the night before that there was a great deal of manufacturing industry in the Basque region of Spain and I soon confirmed this. I rode through small industrial towns, past factories and warehouses. These soon morphed into the industrial suburbs and the working port of San Sebastian. Traffic turned heavy as I entered the city. I stumbled across a bike route, but was only able to follow its disjointed track thanks to another cyclist I met who — noticing my perplexed state — offered to guide me into the center of town.
The center and old-town of San Sebastian (Donostia in Basque) is a beautiful, busy place, set alongside two bays lined with beaches. I decided to stay two nights in a relatively inexpensive hotel near the center and spend a day looking around. I’m told San Sebastian has some of the best restaurants around, but unfortunately I struggled with the Spanish eating schedule. The big meal of the day is in the early afternoon, then supper is a lighter affair usually around nine or later in the evening. For a hungry bike tourist, finding that most restaurants would not serve supper prior to 8:30 was frustrating.
I took part of my day off to pick up more maps of Spain and started plotting out my route to Madrid. The next morning I headed out southwest. Unfortunately in my effort to avoid traffic I seemed to pick the steepest possible route out of town. But after an hour or so I found myself on more manageable roads and headed off on a gradual climb up the coastal range via Tolosa.
The landscape was beautiful, rolling hills and mountainsides covered with green pasture land and forest, interrupted by the occasional industrial town or cluster of factories.
Considering that this was my first real climb on the fully loaded bike, I was pretty happy with my progress. Although it got steep as I approached the top of the first range just past Zegama. The top was 650 meters above sea level after which I had a nice ride down to Alsasua. However, the day was getting late and I had hoped to ride on to Urbassa park to camp for the night. By the map this looked like a short ride of perhaps ten miles, but the short ride switchbacks directly up the face of a long escarpment to something over 900 meters. Looking up at the mountain I realized that if I continued I would be doing the second half of the climb in the dark. Luckily as I was looking for other accommodation options I met Ada. I asked her if she knew where I might pitch a tent for the night and she generously suggested her backyard in a town about 3 miles away.
I gratefully accepted her offer and rode off to meet her at her house where I soon met her husband Luis and their sons Yakob and Isaac. Not only did they let me pitch a tent in the back, but offered me a shower, dinner and breakfast as well.
Ada is from the Netherlands and speaks English (as well as Dutch and Spanish) and Luis is from Spain. Their sons go to a Basque school. Another multi-lingual household that left me embarrassed at my reliance on English and a bit of bad French. However we all communicated and the time there was great. The house was a new construction of their own in which the interior and exterior parts of the walls are almost completely separate, providing remarkable insulation such that they can heat the whole building with a single wood stove. Some day I’ll need to go back and play Magic with Yakob. We didn’t have time for it during my brief visit.
The next day made the climb up to Urbassa park under beautiful clear skies. I reached my previous nights intended campsite by mid-morning, and since the weather was so good set up camp and lounged in the sun for the day. With the altitude came a bitterly cold night however and I woke to a tent covered in frost.
I brushed off the frost I could and packed up early then started riding after a cup of coffee at the campground restaurant. The ride was generally flat along the Urbassa plateau, then dropped off down a south escarpment as dramatically steep as the one I’d come up the day before. I rode on that day to LogroÃ±o where I managed to convince a campground manager to let me spend the night although the tent sites were closed for the season.