Fri 31st May
Leaving Barcelona, arriving in San Sebastien.
I’d booked the coach for 7:30 in the morning. I got up early enough after a middle of the night send off from my friend Nick, who’d been kind enough to put me up for more than a week.
There was still a bit of a rush to the bus station in the morning. I made it there on time, boarded the coach and rolled out of Barcelona for San Sebastien, with the bike below.
The coach ride was a very reflective time. I went from being surrounded by familiar faces in a city I loved, to being out on my own again. It was the only time I had to really reflect on what had happened in the last few weeks, what was happening in the next and what I was doing in life with this trip.
Aside from all this the landscape was changing too. The south side of the Pyrenees were bare, sandy coloured and unloved. It looked like the sun had beat down on the ground for so long that everything had died and turned into dust.
I thought about how wild I had become before Barcelona and what that felt like compared to how domesticated I’d become while there. Now I would have to go back to being independent and wild again for the next few weeks until Lausanne in Switzerland, the next big break.
I figured this would be a good point to anchor me back to reality and a normal routine and a period where I could look forward to being off the bike.
To sum up what I mean by being ‘wild’, it’s the sense that you completely independent and out on your own. You can go from one town to another, perhaps 280km apart in a few days without relying on trains, B&Bs or anything you would use to do so in modern life. You have everything you need on the bike and finding the route through the unknown and eating are the only things you need to do.
After a few days of camping, it becomes apparent in your appearance and your actions become snappy and more economic.
You become aware of your appearance in a social sense when you step into a shop or restaurant. Not thinking about your appearance is a rare luxury I realise. No one’s really looking at you on the bike, but it quickly becomes apparent you probably look slightly unhinged after a few days camping. But it doesn’t matter, five minutes, in and out and you’re done. Although some longer stays at McDonalds, (or internet pillaging might be a better title) you feel semi homeless, having to peel yourself off the furniture, sometimes leaving a puddle behind you if it’s been raining.
You become a living embodiment of your situation. People may read it as looking rough, but you are doing something that most people around haven’t or wouldn’t do. You feel like you can take on more things, bigger things, physical challenges I hadn’t had before, that’s what I mean by being wild. But once you have a bed for the night, that feeling simmers away a bit and you become tamer.
I found this was a constant to and fro on the trip and you could only spend a certain amount of time in one mindset, before needing some of the other. Camping had become a part of me, part of the balance
The city was beautiful. I had very high expectations from what I’d heard and despite what I saw, it didn’t quite live up to the hype. I went to the seafront and cycled up and down taking the place in. The was a wetness in the air that gave everything a layer of damp without it raining. It was strange, and I had witnessed a few times already, but now I was by the sea I knew what it was. It wasn’t a pleasant feeling, more a murky, unwelcome one.
I had contacted all the hosts I could find there, hoping to stay a few days, find what was so special and try the food, but no-one replied and I didn’t want to shell out money for a room as I had overspent in Barcelona. As a result, I had about four hours there before I had to leave.
I decided to get a meal somewhere, then get running. I looked up a list of restaurants online and one caught my eye, ‘Roberto’s bar’.
When I got there, all the food was laid out across the bar on plates in a tapas style. The bar was small and more of a café then a restaurant. There were few seats and a couple of locals drinking coffee and watching Top Gear on the t.v and laughing every now and then.
I was surprised that the show appealed to a Spanish audience, although when I thought about it, it was quite a slapstick humour. I was beginning to realise how good some English things were, or how loved they were by others. I liked the thought that parts of my culture could be bottled up and enjoyed elsewhere. As a nation we’re very self-deprecating. You get used to feeling that there’s some kind of plague among us perhaps, like we’re a doomed nation.
This was part of the reason I left, to get away from those stale thoughts and get a fresh perspective. For some reason, seeing Top Gear being enjoyed by these Spanish chaps helped me out of that funk.
The food was incredible. Full of flavour, rich and smothered in olive oil, served on fresh bread. There were about eight different plates, anchovies, omelette, canapés, olives and a host of other local delicacies. Each item cost €1.50 and after I finished the bill came to €9 based on the number of cocktail sticks on my plate.
I was amazed at the quality and price of the food, and sad to had to leave. I headed north-east out of the city, planning on getting into the more rural parts of the area to camp. Time rolled in quickly and I found myself in a spot of bother, having to rush out of an urban environment to find a place for the night. A situation I was getting familiar with.
Having had a week off the bike and boozed regally, I struggled to get the weight of the bike (and me) up the hills, into the mountains, but I did it. Somehow, I did it.
I had no idea where I was going and I didn’t want to head too far in any one direction as I hadn’t decided where to go next exactly, through the French side of the Pyrenees or the Spanish.
I got onto quieter paths and after a bit of climbing, I could see small towns at the bottom of the green valleys below. Looking down from hundreds of feet up. A height I had just achieved, having come from sea level.
A thin rain started to fall, luckily I found a spot that was perfect for the night. Once I was set up, I saw BMW pull up on the road a few hundred metres away. I realised it was just me and him out here on these soggy hills and that the worst could happen if he so desired. I crouched behind my tent. I think he owned the horses in the field nearby, as he watched them and went away.
I got down and convinced myself that I was glad to be on the road again.