While the rest of England was basking in Hurricane Horrid we were enduring the sort of riding that only beautiful weather can provide…mostly.
The target was Seville in Southern Spain for an Iron Butt UK Ride to Eat on Saturday. Kevin suggested we tried a BunBurner Gold ride on our way down and, being a sucker for punishment, I agreed to give it a go. That would be 2500Km (as we were riding in Europe we could do km rides) in 24 hours.
We weren’t exactly prepared. Kevin hadn’t been sleeping well so was tired before we even left home but we decided we’d either fall back to a standard BB2500km (in 36 hours) or abandon the IBA ride attempt altogether and just wander down if he became too tired to ride and we needed to stop for an extended period. We took the Chunnel across to Calais for our usual trick of stopping just the other side prior to a long ride and had a leisurely breakfast. At about 09.45 we left, with the receipt from the hotel as our starting time. It would have been a bit earlier but my French isn’t up to much and trying to get witnesses who don’t really speak much English was rather a challenge.
Our route meandered a bit as the direct route from Calais to Seville wasn’t long enough so we needed receipts from ten petrol stops en route, including the final receipt at journey’s end, to prove where we’d been. The French motorways have a mixture of full-blown services and what I would call ‘services lite’, which are self-service everything – petrol (see below), coffee from machines etc.
The ride down was uneventful – rather expensive as we seemed to hit toll booth after toll booth and the Spanish charge bikes the same as cars – but at least the roads were clear. It was dry for much of the way but it rained enough for me to discover that my old Furygan ‘waterproof’ gloves aren’t and for Kevin to really appreciate the wicking properties of his undergarments as they spread the water from his wet neck protector all over his body!!
There really isn’t much time on this sort of ride for anything but riding but Kevin needed to stop for a couple of short sleeps and we had a quick McDonalds – he really knows how to treat a girl 😉 (and the sandwiches, don’t forget we had to stop for sandwiches because you were hungry – sandwiches AND McDonalds on one BB2500km Gold, you’ve no idea how lucky you are! 🙂 Kevin). We arrived in Seville with about eight minutes to spare, it was close. (the ride has now been verified).
It was still early when we finished our journey but despite that the lovely man on the desk at the Hotel San Pablo in Seville was happy to let us take possession of our room and commented that the hotel was being overrun with bikers. There were loads in the breakfast room apparently. When we investigated they were, of course, Iron Butters and we enjoyed breakfast and a catch-up with the rabble which included Coxy who we were meeting for the first time. He really made my day by saying it was my fault he was there as he had been reading our blog and decided Iron Butt challenges sounded fun.
After a quick shower and a short sleep we met with the others at the appointed meeting place near an interesting bridge. Once everyone was there we grabbed a passing cyclist who was bemused but happy to oblige by taking our photo on everyone’s cameras. Then it was back to the hotel for some catching up before dinner.
We had a very enjoyable evening catching up with old friends, some of whom (Tom and Mona from California) had come a very long way to join us. Everyone was planning something different for their journeys home, some people pairing up, others going it alone. Most people got home in one piece on the bikes they started with but there were several people who ended up getting home courtesy of their breakdown insurance. Never leave home without it!
We had arranged with Paul to travel back with him and set off early’ish into the mist wondering whether we’d need warmer gear. Last time we rode with Paul on a RTE it snowed and the temperature plummeted to -5°C. Luckily the extra clothing was unnecessary as the sun soon burned off the mist and we were treated to a lovely sunny day.
Spain was at its best: sunny but not too hot, long sweeping bends and mountains with vistas that went on and on. The season had turned and most of the crops had been gathered in. It was quite sad to see fields of what had been sunny, upright, proud sunflowers turned into sad, brown, downcast relics. A lot of the fields had been cleared but many remained. I wondered if they left them to let the seeds fall.
Autumn was definitely upon us, even though the temperature was still balmy (to us). Some of the trees were showing off their golden leaves and the contrast against the evergreen background was beautiful. We were reminded of some areas of the States when we passed through some ‘red rocks’ and even the clouds reminded us of some of the interesting formations we had seen.
As we had three whole days to cover the route home we were relaxed and able to stop for coffee and food. We stopped at a little town where there was a row of cafés so were spoilt for choice. We sat outside sipping our drinks and debating where to stop that night. I popped into the café to use their facilities and was treated to the sight of some concrete stalactites hanging from the ceiling. There was also a glass cover over another rock just inside the door, so I left pondering whether they were really concrete or the real deal. I guess I will never know as the waiter’s English was only just up to ‘Three Oranginas please’ (or was it my French was only just up to it?).
By late morning we were nearly out of Spain when we stopped, about 18 miles before France, for another brunch/drink. It was interesting as the lady in the bar spoke French rather than Spanish. It seemed a very friendly place and we were watching the shopkeeper next door fighting with some posters she was trying to put up. I’ve never heard anyone say ‘Oo La La!’ except in comedy films but I did today.
Another lovely sunset as we rode the last 90 miles or so to Lleida where we found a hotel overlooking the river. The lady on the desk warned us that we might not find anywhere open for food, it being Sunday. We were in luck, we found a small bar/café where we all had the biggest burgers I’ve seen in a while.We had another good morning – more blue-sky and sunshine, although it was a bit chilly as we were now up in the mountains.
Soon after the border the landscape softened and we were recognisably back in France with their wide open fields, tree-lined avenues, and town square games of Boules.
We stopped for afternoon refreshments (we really were making the most of our leisurely pace!) but soon afterwards the heavens opened up and we stopped again at a handy McDonalds to don our waterproofs. We had a really horrible ride of about 100 miles with the rain lashing down in the dark – Kevin in front as Paul only had the standard GSA lights which are, shall we say, less than optimal – before we came to Clermont-Ferrand where we stopped for the night in a rather disappointing and expensive Hotel Ibis.
Luckily for us the rain blew over and the next morning it was bright and sunny again. The biker gods were smiling on us.
We rode onwards and upwards through more rural scenery. There were a lot of corn fields and we spotted these containers with what we assumed were thousands of corn heads.
Our first stop of the day was in the delightful village of Châteauneuf-Val-de-Bargis where we parked next to the village pump on which there is a very poignant war memorial to a 16-year old French Resistance fighter.
Opposite the memorial is a small restaurant. We’re not quite sure how we managed it with our French being very poor and their English non-existent but we enjoyed some rather delicious omelette and chips even though it wasn’t on the menu. We continued our journey enjoying the scenery and weather. Further North it got colder. We were expecting it to get windier as well after the hurricane we’d heard so much about but were lucky. It looked like we were going to get soaked at one point but we managed to skirt around the rain clouds. Once it got dark we headed for the motorway to finish the journey to Calais and the Tunnel.
The final part of our journey was accompanied by another glorious sunset. Thanks for organising this Michiel and thanks Paul for your route planning and company on the way back, we had a great time.