Sunday, July 24th
Blog-log: kilometres from ‘Go’: 6508.6 (430.9 ridden today)
Location: Camping Collegats, La Pobla de Segur
Judgment Day is about right – the last day of the Tour and a sort of valediction to the whole enterprise! I’d made two decisions during the night: in the evening I decided to ride straight home from the camping at the end of my adventure, rather than ‘explore’ the Los Monegros region, which I knew pretty well already – and having ridden there about half a dozen time in the previous twelve months. Secondly – taken at about 05.00 after having spent an entirely sleepless night in a howling gale, that I was going to call it a day and simply ride home!
The original plan was to spend the day exploring Sierra de Moncayo, just to the south east of Soria. But there were two reasons to leave this: it is fairly close to home and I would be better off doing this as part of a short trip – I also want to do this with off-road tyres fitted and preferably with a buddy I on the trip too. The weather also had one final fling at my trip; the howling gale stopped abruptly at five am, giving me at last a couple of hours sleep, but when I set off late morning, all packed up and determined to ride home it returned with a vengeance as soon as I hit the N 122 towards Zaragoza. This wind is notorious in and around Zaragoza, it’s called the Cierzo and it occurs when a high pressure zone in the Cantabria sea coincided with a low pressure depression in the Mediterranean, the wind being caused by the pressure gradient and exacerbated by the Venturi effect as the valley of the Ebro passes in between the high Pyrenees and the Sistema Ibérico mountain ranges. I need do little more than quote the Spanish language Wikipedia:
Es un viento muy frecuente en el valle, y se puede presentar en cualquier mes del año, aunque es más frecuente en invierno y comienzos de la primavera. En el centro del valle pueden darse ráfagas de 100 km/h. La máxima observada, según los datos disponibles, es de 160 km/h en julio de 1954
“It is a very common wind in the valley, and can occur in any month, but is most common in winter and early spring. In the centre of the valley there may be gusts of 100 km/h. The maximum observed, according to available data, is 160 km/h in July 1954”
I wasn’t expecting the wind right up in the Soria road, but if anything it was worse, perhaps as it also passed in between the Demanda and Moncayo sierras. But it was so strong and was blowing right across my path and I felt I would be blown right over if I slowed down and stopped to take a photo – and how then would I pick the bike up again! – this sensation was made much worse by the fact that the road is elevated high above the verge and only has a narrow margin.
It was bad on the high ground, but much worse as I approached the N232 beyond Tarazona and rode across the very floor of the valley – note that the worst gust of wind had taken place in July – I could quite believe this! But I also knew that once I hit the N232 I was home and dry – and a for bit quicker than I would otherwise be – with the wind at my back. To put this in perspective: I could ride at 120km/h (on the Autovia sections of course!) on just a whiff of throttle. Furthermore, I could ride with the visor open and the relative wind speed made this totally comfortable – as long as my sunglasses kept low flying insect life at bay!
So, bored stiff with the long ride along the long straight road and only having to hang on to the bars I had plenty of time to reflect on my adventures (NB I’ll write full reviews of individual items as and when I get time):
- The bike: I absolutely can’t fault the BMW G650 X-Country as the ideal mount for this tour of Spain. I’ve commented several times in the blog about adventure bikes in general, which make such excellent touring bikes, but in particular for Spanish road conditions: narrow secondary roads, amazing hairpin bends, steep inclines and, it has to be said, as some of the best routes are in appalling condition!
- Riding gear: I got this well right. My SHOEI XR-1100 was just right – light (1.4 kg), with good all round visibility and air venting that really works, just right for the heat. Clothing was RICHA: Adventure jacket and Air Vent trousers. These are hybrid types with removable linings that serve both as insulation and total waterproofing and, in the case of the jacket an additional thermal lining. I needed all of these at various times during the tour – sometimes varying all three possibilities in the same day – and the jacket linings came in handy as a warm fleece for the cold northern evenings that didn’t look too outlandish! The drawback is that I didn’t have fabric liners as the windproof liners get very sticky in humid weather – the lesson is that you have to be ready for anything in Spain.
- Luggage: I went down the soft luggage route partly for financial reasons, but I also use the bike for lots of different kinds of trip, mainly short breaks away, so I find that the flexibility of the soft luggage is really useful; not only can I ‘juggle’ with what bags I take but can also vary the capacity with the strapping. It seems that every hard luggage biker I talk to ends up filling their cases with non-essential clobber more or less just so as to pack things tightly. As for the security issue. I simply used different bags as day bags depending on what I have to keep secure: the Kriega 20l tail pack was especially useful for me to lug the Macbook around with its shoulder strap fitted, and as long as no-one knew that it was in the panniers while I was on the road I reckoned it was a safe as it would be in a set of hard cases.
- The camp kit: I had to plan all of my kit to take into account the various climate zones that I would come across on the tour – and I think on the whole I got it right. Good points: the tunnel tent was a great success despite being a little on the heavy side and more bother to put up and take down, especially when wet. But the benefits far outweighed this – being able to sit in the lobby out of the elements was brilliant – so many long mornings sipping tea in comfort (the chair was worth it too, but I’d like a lighter one!). Bad points: taking an air bed rather than a sleeping mat. Even before I melted it I already found that I was forever sliding off the wretched thing! I quickly toughened up after the ‘disaster’ and now sleep like a babe on my cheap self-inflating mat – about €15 from Decathlon.
- The ‘kitchen’: this deserves a mention of its own. I can’t praise the Trangia stove set enough. I love the simplicity of the meths burner and the ease with which I could find fuel. Its limitations didn’t bother me at all – after all, when camping there’s always some thing to potter with while you’re waiting for the kettle to boil – and there’s the communing with nature, contemplating the meaning of life stuff to keep you amused. As for ‘serious’ cooking – heck, this is a camping holiday after all! On that note my taking a whole load of herbs and spices really was a waste of space – as Mrs The Spanish Biker said all along it would be – ‘nuff said!
- Navigation: OK – there are times I cursed not having a Satnav, especially when I got very lost and had to keep fishing my map out of the case instead of using my notes, that were readily visible. But I still think I found much better roads and routes by carefully plotting from the maps or following my nose, as it were, on the ground when I actually got to a place. I know myself too well not to take the easy option if it’s available and I’ve also known apparently rational, intelligent people follow their Satnavs to the most amazing extremes – discarding their own virtues in the process. So until they invent a Satnav that has a shred of intelligence I’ll happily leave it down towards the bottom of my wish list – if a few places higher up that it was!
- Maps: obviously this is related to navigation, but worth listing apart. I am as happy as ever with the Michelin region series maps. They give a good idea of the lie of the land without confusing things with too much detail. And they are timely and up to date, but having said that I curse the fact that they don’t put the date of publication on the cover, so there’s no way of knowing if you have this year’s edition. Furthermore, it’s not really Michelin’s fault but I found availability highly variable – I wasted half my time in Castilla y León struggling with the 1: 1 000 000 national map of Spain and Portugal (which in itself is an excellent map – especially the ‘High Resistance Paper’ version, which is not only virtually indestructible but you also don’t lose all the key junctions in destroyed creases!). On this note I was gutted to find all the maps I needed on the mapsman site for huge discounts not only on the lost prices but also on the prices I paid for maps at filling stations.
So, the final ‘judgement’ – 6,500.8 kilometres in 27 days. Rain, broiling heat, sun, fog, hail, thunder, freezing nights, breakdowns, pain, discomfort, visiting strange dentists, eating strange foods . . . Was it all worth it? You bet!