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Day 18, Leave Bilbao behind

Wake up and for the first time in this trip I've got muscle aches and stiff legs.


No breakfast in the hotel, so it's a quick pack up and go. Body is wondering what's going on.

Outside there is a slight drizzle. Wasn't expecting this and just adds to the sense that Bilbao is a miserable place, let's get out of it.


The early morning rush hour traffic is bad. There are traffic lights every few metres so progress is slow.


I'm worried I'll be bonking due to no breakfast, so I've got my eyes peeled for something suitable, which largely revolves around something rigid to lean the bike against and be able to eat in sight of it. I see a boulongerie type place. It's a bit pretentious, but what the hell. Normally food buying is all about what's healthy, what's low in calories, none of that now, just need max calories and sugar load. Go for a chocolate dipped brioche thing and a large croissant covered in seeds (well I had to make a sort of healthy effort). Added a cafe con leche grande im basso for a caffeine boost. Ordering all of this was going a lot better than previously as the lady spoke some English and seemed to like me. I'm wondering if a marriage proposal is a bit forward at this stage, and I'm just weighing up the pros and cons when she goes and serves someone else. She'll never know.


Tank filled, I'm back in the traffic. There's not another bike in sight. It's so different to other European cities.


It's 5km before a cycle lane appears, initially just the English type pathetic white paint on a bit of road. I still don't see a single person commuting to work on a bicycle.

So what's my conclusion on Bilbao, it's the worst place of the trip so far.


10km in and there's a transformation. Out of nowhere there's a proper dedicated cycle way and I'm joined by regular cyclists out for a daily cycle. It's clearly recently built, wide, smooth tarmac and has a separate pedestrian lane alongside. I'm also passing quite a few walkers, many with big rucksacks on their backs. Then I start to notice the frequent signs, Via Verde, the Camino yellow shell, and yes, you guessed, the blue square and ring of stars. See, EU funding again.


We're in the same situation as before, in a narrow mountain valley with steep sides, so a main road, motorway and railway line all have to share the limited space. I'm used to suffering traffic noise, but I'm amazed these Camino walkers are putting up with it. Surely it can't be what they thought they signed up for? Must have assumed mountain tracks, peace, just bird song and mountain goats. Instead they've got concrete everywhere and a motorway literally over their heads. For a bird to have any chance of being heard it's going to need a PA system that wouldn't look out of place at Glastonbury. At one point, our cycle track is literally a steel overpass in the sky, on top of a motorway, which is on top of a railway line, which is on top of a road. I guess it's the order they were built. It's like spaghetti junction on steroids.


Other cyclists are going past me regularly in both directions. I'm the slowest out here.


Google was showing the first 20km is one long uphill, so I wondered if I could do it with just leg power. It would also save the battery for what google showed as steeper gradients later on. A guy went past doing nearly twice the speed on a Giant e-gravel bike. Ah, that's the way, battery power. I noticed he had what looked plastic bottle holders, one on each front fork, but much more substantial. Giles - are these the spare battery holders? His were empty so presumably he's just out for a short ride. Another point I go past an old guy walking his dog, coming towards me. As I'm going uphill at this point, and on leg power only, not much faster than walking pace, we've got hours to look at each other. The closer we get I can see he's looking straight at me and his mouth is getting open wider. As we pass, I pick up telepathic communication from him - HJXKZBQKW..... I think this translates as - those thighs aren't going to get you very far.


As the km's have ticked by the countryside and panorama have got better and better, and at 25km, I arrive at the coast, at a small surfing resort, La Arena. Wow, stunning. First thing, there is a seriously cool looking cafe with lots of tables and chairs on the terrace looking over the beach. There are a few bicycles leaning up so it's got to be a stop. Back in France, 25km in would feel like just warmed up, still full from breakfast, so no more than a coffee needed. But that last 25km was hard going, but I made it without any e-power. I'm ready for a re-fuel and have a toasted chicken, egg, salad wonder sandwich to go with the coffee in a glass.

Everyone in the cafe is either a cyclist, walker or surfer.


I restart feeling positive, I think I've left Bilbao behind and found something so much better.

There's a bit of a nav cockup down to google, where it thinks I'm walking the Camino. It wants me to go up this path at 45 degrees, with steps that go on forever. Fortunately I find a lane which takes me to the N634 and guess what - it's empty. Literally the two sides of Bilbao couldn't be more different.


One point now on the N634, there's a big sign warning of 10% gradient. It's a long hill and I'm in crawler gear and green power, but I get into a rhythm and what seems like hours later, reach the summit. I think that was my limit on green. 10% up immediately becomes 10% down. For f**k sake, why can't they build a tunnel?


The coastline continues to stun and I arrive at Castro Urdiales. It's got a really pretty harbour, even a sailing club, but's there's no provision for visiting yachts, which is why I've never seen it before. Now I noticed in the route planning last night it has a Burger King in the centre. Before you all shout, I'm now in desperate need of a hydration overload and from experience, a diet coke, bucket size, with ice does just the job. See, Burger King, perfect.


Bugger me, I can't believe it, it's shut! Have to press on, gasping.


62km in and the last big hill over, I can see Laredo in the distance, all down hill. Message sent to stomach, there's a mega meal coming your way soon.


I arrive in Laredo at 1.45pm. It's seriously hot in the sun, high 20's. All the restaurants doing menus are full with elderly locals who have probably done nothing more energetic than got out of bed. Still, I suppose I can't complain, they're keeping the restaurants open.


I end up in more of a cafe restaurant but it was perfect. Sat in the sun, bike stopping a tree falling over. Litre bottle of chilled water - I drink the whole thing, small beer - I deserved it. Big main dish of chicken fillets, eggs, tomatoes and salad and chips. Followed by two scoops of ice cream and my coffee in a glass. He even poured in the hot milk at the table. This is my kind of place. I'm seriously stuffed and feeling content. Bilbao was the pits, late lunch in Laredo after a stunning coastal ride has completely turned the day around and Spain might not be so bad.


I've also learnt that here km feel like miles. This 80km day here has felt all along the way like a 80 mile day in France or back home.


Another 20 odd km, largely flat, and I arrive at the hotel in a small village. It's really pretty and quaint, very Spanish, fantastic! Owner gives me the keys, bike is in the sitting room leaning against the log burner, he's going out and the place is mine. Even got a balcony so go for the kit wash in the shower and put it out to dry on the balcony. Internet is perfect. If there was a bar, I'd probably have another small beer and get really happy.


Distance today 79 km

Total so far 1508 km

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