Bilbao, Spain: Yesterday I crossed the 1,000-km threshold and made it to Northern Spain. Now that I have two weeks of touring experience behind me, this is how I spent my 11th day on the road — and most days — as the itinerant cyclist.
6:45am: Wakey wakey. Watch the BBC as I pack and get ready.
7:15am: My son and Patrick call. There’s no better way to start the day than to hear the words, “Hi Dada.” I speak with my son, who is in Mandarin immersion in Taiwan, at least once a day and we video skype whenever possible.
7:30am: Buffet breakfast in the hotel restaurant. I want fast and easy this morning. For most breakfasts this week I have gone to a local cafe-bar to get some combination of croissant, Spanish omelette with potato, and cafe au lait.
8:20: I finally hit the road. It takes some time to check out, schlep all my stuff from the room, and load up the bike. I am getting much more efficient at this than when I started. Within the first few kilometers I feel in my bones this is going to be a great day, and within an hour I have to delayer as the sun’s warmth radiates. The ride this morning is on a series of country roads through La Rioja, with a few farming villages here and there. Just beautiful.
11:30am: Stop at a bar-cafe for a ham-and-cheese on baguette and a coke in the town of Espejo. Three amigos were already finishing a glass of wine as I enter the bar. They drive away in separate cars.
1:30am: Finish the ascent of Puerta Orduna at ~ 900 meters. It was a tough, hot but exhilarating climb up. Met a Spanish cyclist coming the other way who needs some water. I am carrying extra, and share. Stop for photo opportunity near the top, chatting with a motorcyclist. We joke how the downhill will workout my biceps. Somewhere near the peak I actually crossed the 1,000-km mark on this trip, and I ring my bell a few times to celebrate. They say the first thousand is the hardest. The downhill was awesome.
3:30pm: On the outskirts of Bilbao, I realize the road signs I am following lead to the highway. Uh oh. I exit and stop near a garbage dump, waving down a very helpful family about how to get to Bilbao without the highway. They tell me to go through the nearby town, after which there’s a secondary road that will take me to Bilbao, about 25 km away. I follow their advice and the road signs. The traffic gets busier as I confront a fierce headwind — luckily I am descending, not climbing. By 4:00 pm traffic is very, very heavy and fast-moving and this is about as much fun as going to the dentist. No, I take that back. At least you can sometimes get Novocaine from the dentist. I remind myself how great the morning was. Everything balances out.
4:30pm: I am in Bilbao’s city limits and follow the signage to the Guggenheim Museum, and then realize the road goes through a tunnel where bicycles are prohibited. Another uh oh moment. I then take a pedestrian walkway over the river to downtown Bilbao. Bilbao is a drab, ugly city. The Guggenheim in the center of town stuns because it is so out-of-place. Once downtown I use my Garmin GPS, which is working again, to navigate to my hotel. Garmin eventually gets the job done.
5:10pm: Check-into hotel after 129-km, 939 meters of climbing, and 3,255 (only!) calories burned. Catch up on some email, do some forward-planing internet research, and have lengthy calls with Taipei and Los Angeles.
8:00pm: Famished. I head to a restaurant, and then to another, to learn the kitchens don’t open until 9pm. I can’t wait that long, so have tapas from three different establishments. The tapas are good, but I hoped for something more substantial and warm. Stupidly, get lost making my way back to the hotel, spending an hour meandering through Bilbao.
11pm: Wheels up and lights out.
Today (Saturday, June 18) is a rest day, or more accurately, museum day. I have made the pilgrimage to Bilbao to visit that cathedral to modern art, the Guggenheim. After a week of 800-year old churches, I welcome a dose of contemporary art. I was
prepared to dislike the Guggenheim. A great museum experience should challenge and stimulate, and the Guggenheim does that, inside and out. It’s an architecturally stunning venue, and the multimedia exhibitions — for which the space is well-suited — are mostly provocative and inventive; some are weird; and some are over my head and I just don’t get. I am also amused as what passes for modern art. Mr Tomato Head? Damien Hirst putting cow parts in formaldehyde in jars? Really? The painting collection is average and rotates between all the Guggenheims, but I really absorbed and enjoyed the multimedia works in two visits today and am glad I made the 130-km effort to get here.
Tomorrow I go to San Sebastian, completing my journey across Spain.
Day 13 summary (Friday, June 17): Santo Domingo de la Calzada – Bilbao, Spain. Day 14: planned rest day in Bilbao.
Day 13 distance: 128.77
Day 13 ascent: 939 meters
Distance: 1,057 km
Climbing: 7,814 meters
Rest days: 3
Police interactions: 1