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Day 17, To Bilbao, a journey of one road, but two halves

Planned in a much longer ride to Bilbao today to see if I can hack it.

Breakfast outside on the hotel terrace. Wasn't expecting this and only had a teashirt on, but us Irish are a hardy lot so I thought I better tough it out. This was at 8.30am Spanish time, so 7.30 UK time, so only just light as well. Don't think I'd be able to do that in Poole now. A couple of elderly Canadian hotel guests sat down at the next table, but kept going back to their room for more clothes. No backbone. It was really unusual chatting to people in English, almost forgotten how to do it.

Also first hotel doing silver service at breakfast, not used to being waited on, but there is a downside. Can't just keep helping yourself from the buffet. Result - not enough food. Not the ideal day to start with the tank not full.

Generally the hotel was really nice, but one thing let it down, the internet service was rubbish. On this trip, needing to research routes, book hotels, write the blog etc, the internet is essential, a bit like loo paper, without it you're in a mess.

The route is very simple, the N634 all day from start to finish. Literally both hotels are even on the exact road.

First part along coast with stunning views and not much traffic to Deba, where Camino Santiago then veers off.

Road then follows the Deba river, flowing in a narrow valley/gorge for miles. Road, motorway and narrow gauge railway share valley all the way.

First 50 km have all the hills, very scenic, but hard work, trying to save battery. It's only a single lane each way road for this half, but the traffic seems pretty light and considerate to cyclists, which is just as well as there's no special provision for us. Quite often a lorry will stay behind going up a hill because oncoming traffic doesn't give him enough room to overtake. I can hear him behind changing down as he grinds along at my 11km/hour pace. When he does get a chance to overtake it takes him a while to speed up and get past. If he were closer at that point it would be tempting to grab some part and get a shove up the hill. Seen the tour de france riders doing it with their team cars.

All along the route I'm reading the signs in the Basque language. It seems to have hoovered up all the alphabet letters other languages don't want. You know, XZKJHB... That's almost certainly a word in basque. Probably "steep hill". I was thinking if you knew the language, you'd be brilliant at scrabble. Think of those word scores.

There's quite a few cyclists out today. Haven't seen any with panniers doing what I'm doing. They're all on lightweight carbon race bikes, out for a day's riding in team lycra. They do vary in age, but one thing is common, they've all got big thighs. Seen a lot of steep hills I'm thinking.

I'm 30km in, which feels like a lot more, A coffee stop would go down well. Come across a hard core locals and truckers type place. Could be a communication problem here, but I'm getting desperate and there's chairs outside to sit down and rest. I order a coffee in a glass with my new Spanish words - she smiles, and point at a scrambled egg and ham roll. Perhaps I need some sort of laser pointer, as no-one seems to get what I'm pointing at, but we eventually get there. She says something in rapid Spanish, which I imagine was the price, so wave a credit card at her. She shakes her head and makes a noise that I think means she wants money. I see a card machine next to the till so point. No she's not having it. She says the price again, louder and more slowly. Is she English? I then get it. Tres euro. It's such a small amount. This coffee and roll would be over double that in France.

Re-fuelled I press on. From the plan last night, I know the last of the big hills is behind me at 50km. So 20km of toil to go.

It takes me over an hour. I start looking for another cafe stop but the villages and towns are not appealing. Much more industrial, not at all pretty or touristic. The road has become very busy, lots of lorries. More of a fast dual carriageway, than an alpine road. Imagine trying to cycle along the A31 from Ringwood to Southampton in busy traffic. This is not at all enjoyable.

I come in to the Bilbao suburbs, there's lots of traffic, but at least it's not going past at 60mph. The traffic lights are continuous, so I then get a chance to go to the front of the queue. Bit of cycling on the pavement, all that stuff... I arrive at the hotel.

I was very anxious about this booking. It was very cheap. Only 50 euros. Generally hotels have been around 80 euros a night, with breakfast extra. I needn't have worried. It's amazing.

I think it's brand new. The room's massive, it's like I'm the first person to stay in it. The bike even has a home in the cupboard under the stairs. Only thing missing is that there's no breakfast option. So will have to improvise in the morning. But that leaves a lot of budget for breakfast.

Walked into the city centre. Hungry now and need to re-fuel. Red mist comes over and I stuff myself at Starbucks. Now I know you're going to be shocked and probably tutting a bit. But I haven't had what I'd call a decent size latte now for over 17 days, so basically it just had to be done. I went for the bucket size, but decaf, as I want to sleep tonight. I knew you wouldn't be impressed so I then walked to the Gugenheim Museum and sat in the cafe outside, looking cultured, and had an orange and apple and something else I didn't recognise mixed fresh juice thing.

If the second half of the ride today is going to be the norm on this coast, I'll be on the train, or on the ferry home. It was really unpleasant. We'll see if it was just a Bilbao thing.

Distance today 90km

Total so far 1428km


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