This could be a defining day of the whole trip. If it goes well, I'll press on. If it goes badly, when I reach Bilbao, I'll be on the ferry back to Portsmouth.
To say I'm worried about the hills and the potential weather is an understatement. Been finding out how much climbing Dave is getting from his bike battery - the same system I'm using. There are some positive signs, weather forecast for the next week here is unusually good.
Route for today is all about two hills, one straight out of Hondarribia (GI3440), the other straight after San Sebastian. Together they are about 1000 metres of elevation. Each goes on for around 9km of climbing. I've picked the most minor roads, as I've no idea how busy the Spanish roads are going to be and how much allowance for cyclists there's going to be on anything approaching a normal main road.
Hotel Rio Bidasoa was very swish, easily the poshest so far of the trip. Even got a free upgrade. They must feel sorry for me. I breakfasted with elderly Americans for the first time.
All I can hear are the women moaning to each other about their younger family members. The men appear to have been told to shut up and just eat.
Martin had warned me today is Spain National Day, an important bank holiday and finding places open might be difficult. So I was piling the food in and reaching full on the dial. At that point one of the Americans discovers there's one of those stainless heated serving things that's all covered to keep warm. I imagined it was empty as normally with buffets what you see is what you get. She took the lid off to discover bacon and eggs. This really pissed me off. I've filled myself stupid with muesli and croissants and literally have no spare room. Thought about putting some bacon and eggs in my pockets but decided against it.
You might be surprised as it's such a swanky hotel, but my bike slept with me in my room. First time for that. It was a struggle to get it up the stairs and I was a bit over confident bringing it down in the morning. Almost lost control on the stairs down and could have wiped out half the american party. Would have been half digested bacon and eggs everywhere.
Checked out and went out to pack the bike. It felt just like the tropics. Everywhere was wet, the sky was grey, but it was much warmer than you would expect with what you saw. The birds were singing. OK, it's not raining, this is a good start. With the prospect of a lot of uphill from the start, went for minimum summer gear.
I'm immediately on the first hill coming out of Hondarribia, and it's far steeper than I could have imagined. I see it getting steeper ahead and think right change down into the crawler gear. I'm in trouble, I've been in crawler gear practically from the start. OK go to blue power. It's just one lane wide and going up at about 45 degrees. Blue power is not enough. Can't go to red hyperdrive, this is going on for the next 9 km. Out of the saddle now, which with 3 tons swaying about behind me is not a good idea. I carry on around a few more bends and I'm in serious trouble. I'm close to cardiac arrest. In the past, the professionals in the Tour de France were so drugged to the eyeballs and with no techy heart monitoring etc, they'd be in this situation on a big mountain pass and just stop, fall over and peg out. I'm thinking I'm close to that situation. Looks like the ferry home, but it's going to be a long walk to Bilbao first. I stop, which is such a defeat, but my heart is trying to burst out of my ribs. In Dorset, on a tough hill, if forced to stop I'll recover my heart rate in a few minutes. I think this is going to take all day. There's a bend ahead so I decide to try and get around it. When I do, bugger me, we're going to join a much more significant road with white lines and stuff, which appears to be practically horizontal. I've been on some private lane for access to farm buildings on the mountain side, put there for tractors.
I'm now on the GI3440, back to green and looking to settle in to a steady rhythm - this is going on for the best part of an hour without any respite. There was one stretch where painted on the road are names of cyclists. I roll over Remco. I'm wondering if this was on a stage of this year's Vuelta Espagne, the Spanish equivalent of the tour de france. Remco Evenpoel was the eventual winner. I might have actually cycled over the same bit of tarmac as him. As I'm going on I wonder if I'll come across Richard, but think it unlikely any of you lot would have made the effort with a pot of paint.
After a very, very, very long time I reach the top. The views have been simply stunning. Looking back to Hondarribia and Hendaye and now west along the coast with steep cliffs and crashing waves. 455 metres above sea level. Now comes the descent. I'm doing 50km/hour continuously with brakes on to keep speed down. This is also going on forever. There's one point where we need an emergency stop. A pack of mountain goats in the road. They look at me, see 3 tons of luggage heading for them and scarper rapidly. Not stupid these mountain goats.
At the bottom of the mountain I arrive at Lezo. This is an amazing sight. There's a very narrow slit in the cliff which provides a harbour entrance into an inner harbour, big enough for ships. It doesn't seem possible. I remember now coming in here on the yacht and thinking the entrance was narrow for us. Lezo then connects to Pasaia, which is a beautiful old city. There's people everywhere promenading and I see a coffee stop with tables. I go inside to order and see one of those yoghurt and fresh fruit things in a glass. Got to have one of those and a coffee. I keep saying yoghurt to the woman and she's looking at me blank. We're now doing the I point and she looks somewhere completely different. It takes a long time. I forgot to tell her I'm Irish, not English. She gives me the receipt, it says YOGURT. How much difference can an H make?
I'm outside enjoying my stop and the yogurt and coffee. Then I notice on the next table they have bigger white coffees in glasses - mine's just in a cup. I asked for grandee. How did they get those? What's the Spanish for white coffee in a glass? I spent the next 30 minutes trying to build the courage to ask these Spanish people how they ordered their coffees, but given the problems with the waitress decided I'd consult google later, at least that would be in private.
Back on the road and feeling really good. The sun is out, there's people everywhere enjoying the bank holiday. I've made the first hill and I've still got over half a battery of power left.
Each of these latest places just joins to the next and I now realise I've arrived in Donostia - San Sebastian, the capital of the Basque region and I think one of the most beautiful places I've ever visited. We sailed in here on the trip down on 25th May 2017. It's like an inner bay protected by rocks and cliffs to create a lagoon. There's a stunning beach. It was full of mooring buoys. We radio'ed up for permission to pick a mooring to stay the night and were told we were too early in the season, Not possible until the 1st June. See it's that red ensign Brexit thing again. We had to go on to Getaria to berth and come back to San Sebastian on the bus the following day.
So now I've arrived here on a yacht, a bus and a bicycle. It is just beautiful, but very busy. I decide to keep going. The second hill awaits.
The hill to Lgeldo is nothing like as steep as the first and I never need more than green power. Most of it is an N road, which seems fine. At the top of the hill I can see right down the coast to Getaria, my overnight stop. I'm down to one battery led, but I know I've made it. Before Getaria is a beach and surfing resort called Zarautz. It's 1pm and time for lunch. I cycle down the prom and eye up all the restaurants. Their menus of the day are all slightly different, but I realise what selects the restaurant is whether there's a substantial structure to lean the bike against. If it's not concreted into the ground, it's not man enough for the job.
It's been such a good day I'm in a positive mood about lunch. I'm not going to choose anything involving frites and be adventurous. For the main course I go for bacalou, a salted cod thing, which for me is a complete step into the unknown. I do find 2 bones in it, but resist throwing it back at the waiter. Have an extended sit in the sun and realise this is the best day yet.
Arrived at Getaria and staying in the Hotel Itxas Gain, very quaint Spanish.
I've learnt two key new spanish words. Im basso is the coffee in a glass, probably not spelt anything like that but you get the drift . Caballeros is the gents toilets. Both pretty fundamental to my way of life.
A big change from France is that the restaurants don't start doing dinner until 8.30pm. I'm going to bed near that time. Might be down to two meals a day.
What a great shame going back in history the French didn't conquer Spain. If they had, we'd now have cycle lanes and sensible meal times all the way to the Algarve.
Distance today 55 km. It sounds pathetic, but trust me it was super hard.
Total so far 1338 km.