Thursday, 15 March 2012

The road to Zaragoza

I spent a few days in Urbanization Camposol just North of Mazarron meeting up with Dave for a good look around the area but was keep to head to the Hondon Valley region about 30 minutes inland from Alicante. So on Wednesday morning I took a leisurely ride up to Alicante and based myself at the Campanile Hotel just on the outskirts of the city and just on the edge of the "Red Light District" I found to my shock later in the week when walking back from the centre with J but the less said about that the better.

Having had a good scout around before J flew out to join me on the Friday afternoon I had ridden up to Alicante Castle. The views from the top are absolutely breathtaking in every direction and well worth the trip up to the top. Just one note of warning mind, the old cobbled roads inside the castle are like glass to ride on and not very forgiving so take it steady if you venture into the tourist car park. There is a bike parking area just through the gate on the right which is watched over by the locally based police who just happened to take great interest in my sat nav which I'd forgotten to turn off!
I picked J up from Alicante Airport on the Friday early afternoon. Once settled into the Campanile Hotel we headed into the city on foot and enjoyed a great tapas, even if we did have to return three of the five dishes to be re-heated (Ping n Ding at its best)!
The local area is made up of a mix of local Fincas set in orange and lemon groves surrounded by mile upon mile of fields full of the sweet smelling fruit trees There is a mix of small localised villages with supermarket which we would describe as corner shops at best, cafe bars, and the odd gift shop adorn the pedestrian areas in the village centres. I preferred visiting the smaller villages like Hondon de Los Frailes with its fantastic village centre walk way. The atmosphere  is so laid back and easy going with everyone chatting away in a mixture of European languages. The people were friendly, polite and very helpful when it came to being served. There is also a large British population in and around the area who all gather each morning for "Bacon Butties" at a British owned cafe, home from home no less. It suited us down to the ground.
I found this style of living was in stark contrast to the highly populated sprawling high rise apartment blocks that make up a lot of the coastal towns where just trying to find a restaurant to eat is a chore. How the Spanish people live stacked so close to each other amazes me especially when they have so much open space that is totally unpopulated. Still they all seem to be at peace with each other and my word can they talk fast. I thought the Germans were speedy but in comparison to the Spanish they are still in second gear whilst their neighbours are in top gear, it's great to listen to but in very short bursts.
The Royal British Legion Poppy cable tied to my crash bars got a lot of attention from the locals. I was asked on a couple of occasions by passing youths in their cars

"What is the flower for?"
Explaining that it was to support of the work the Royal British Legion does to help our armed forces veterans all fell on deaf ears sadly. Hey Ho, something to work on in the future no doubt. I must admit though I did get a little annoyed when I came out of the services after calling in for breakfast one morning to find a local youth knelt at the side of my bike. As soon as he spotted me approaching he jumped into the open door of the car parked at the side of him and sped away. When I gave Mr. T a once over I notices my "visitor" had pulled the cable ties out and had been attempting to pull my poppy off, the Muppet only needed to ask and I would have given it to him!
Quick as a flash we were packing our bags and checking out. I took J on the back with her luggage on her knee to Alicante Airport for J's return flight home. Something I would not dream of doing in the UK, strange how you come over all local once you've spent a little time engrossing yourself in the culture. It was 9.30am Sunday morning as we said a fond farewells for the second time in a week. At least this time it was only going to be until tomorrow evening. A last wave goodbye from the entrance to the airport building, of cause after signing my SS1600Km start witness paperwork,  and I was on my lonesome once again. It's a strange feeling to be alone now as we spend every waking hour in each other company since I gave up work to help care for Lilie Rose. My God I realised right there and then that just how much I was missing Lilie Rose and Ben and a crushing feeling of loneliness just washed over me, I could have cried, so much for being a "roughty toughty ex-squaddie". "Get a Grip Raymondo, get a grip lad, you'll see them all tomorrow"........
I'd already planned and up loaded my homeward route taking great care to circumnavigate Valencia once more. The plan was simple, I was just going to ride straight home via the shortest route I could see that I had not already ridden in the past. This meant riding back up the coast road a short way and then just past Valencia, hang a left and ride straight up to Los Santos then onwards higher still up to Zaragoza. The roads looked amazing on MapSource with twists and turns all the way for almost 300 kilometres. 
Once up on the Plato it was a case of cutting straight across Spain and then dropping down into San Sebastian one of my favourite locations on the French Spanish boarder. Then it was the long haul straight up through France past Bordeaux past Le Mans and keeping to the left of  Paris then  finally up to Calais docks. 1824 kilometres and a nice SS1600KM a good  18 hour ride, all things being equal that is! I had also remembered to upload the route in two parts first being from the airport to just south of Bordeaux, 1001Km or 622 miles followed by part two from Bordeaux to Calais an further 876Km or 545 miles.

First fuel and start receipt was on the AP-7 almost overlooking the infamous holiday resort of Benidorm. Start receipt in wallet with mileage on the back and location saved into the Garmin as P1 I was on my way. Following the same coast road I had travelled down the week before up past Javea, Denia then onwards up the coast passing Gandia heading towards the dreaded Valencia. Yet again I totally missed the ring road around Valencia but at 10.15am on a Sunday morning there was next to nothing on the roads so I sailed straight through give or  take 50 sets of lights and at least 10 roundabouts of varying sizes and shapes. Bliss!
Hanging a left just before Sanguto onto the N225 I headed North West onto the N234 towards Zaragosa, what a road. This section of road is biker heaven, not a toll in sight which made such a difference. Smooth long curves with a very undulating surface which made for some spirited riding and as the temperature was a very comfortable 20 degrees I was having a ball. Not one bit of heated clothing or grips switched on.
There seemed to be plenty of service stations until it came time for me to go to the loo and fill up, nothing, not a one. Typical I was now full to capacity and every bump felt like an ear wash. Nearly bursting in the distance I spotted the sign "Petrol 10Km" Great that's all I need so I opened Mr. T up a little and we headed over what felt like the top of the world, for mile after mile until the sign indicated 1Km to services. Off I turned down to the roundabout third right and off up the hill bouncing on the very uneven surface of the mountain road. It was no good I could not wait so I pulled into a country lane, standing on the pegs  I bounced my way down the track come path for about 50 meters then stopped switching the motor off with the side stand, bike still in gear and "Jogged" manically whilst tearing at layer after layer of bloody underwear...... "Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhgggggggg" I'm sure they heard me back on the motorway but I was well past caring. Giving my waterproofs a good brush off I re-adjusted my "undies" and had a drink of water from the 1.5 litre bottle of water in my top-box, out of one end in at the other!
Heading back to the road I realised I was on the track to an outcrop area and by the time I got back to the mountain road Mr. T was white with dust. Heading further up the hill I arrived at a quaint typical Spanish Service station where the attendant "almost" filled Mr. T up...
"No, he will take 3 more litres"
"Full, Ok!"
"No, 2 and a half more litres"
"Full, Ok!"
"NO, 2 more litres............. Oh forget it! Thank You!"
"You pay now" he said pointing to the door.
"Sometimes I really hate that damned filler cap insert...........!
Sandwich in hand I pulled to the side of the  forecourt and stuffed my face with a cheese and ham butty, another good glug of water and a mars bar. Fed and watered I was off to Zaragoza.
Riding over the top of the world as it felt I got to thinking about John, Phil and Michael who, amongst others had completed the Iron Butt Rally in the USA last year. 11,000 miles in 11 days and mentally took my cap off to them. Here I was feeling as low as a snakes belly when in all honesty I should have been buzzing but when you have no one to share your experiences with it's sometimes hard to see how lucky you really are. I could not believe I was bloody missing Big Lad, shit now I must have been feeling sorry for myself as I know for a fact if we had ridden the last 3,000 km together we would have had at least 3 major rows and 1 bust up followed by the proverbial 100 km silence............. still it would have been great to have my best mate with me all the same.
Zaragoza 10Km the sign read, I was getting ready for another loo break so was happy to see the sign, even 300km of twists and turns gets a bit tedious after a while.
"In 300 meters take exit 276b on right on to the Z40" Mr's Garmin
Right, fecking right, how can I turn fecking right, there's a bloody barrier in the way, SHIT!"
One thing that really gets on my nerves is being told to turn off the motorway to then realise the road layout has been totally changed. No use I had to follow the path I was on being instructed in no uncertain terms to....
"At the next junction turn right, TURN RIGHT, Take the fourth exit!"
Why does it not just say it as it is, "Go around the roundabout and go back you prat! you missed your turning"
The Spanish do have a great infrastructure of road, rail and airports, proof of which was all around me but they also have an annoying habit of building filter lanes and not telling anyone they've done it, especially my little "Garmin helper".
Heading back the way I came I realised what a massive sprawling city Zaragoza is with so much construction going on I wondered what on earth kept the population alive as it felt like it was stuck on top of a mountain in the exact middle of nowhere. However a quick look at Wikipedia tells another story and all the major cities of Spain are within a 300 km radius, Bilbao, Madrid, Barcelona and my favourite city Valencia.
Still when I made exactly the same mistake again at the next junction and watched the motorway I wanted to be on go underneath me I could not have given two hoots where the hell Zaragoza was. I was starting to get really hacked off big time......... so much for lane assist hey!
Once heading west on the AP-68 I pulled over to go to the loo and fill up. Big mistake, big, big mistake. Met by a burnt out car, closed facilities, another car with no wheels and every window smashed I was not a happy teddy at all. Pulling further through this scene from a war move I found the services some half a kilometre further on. "Splash and dash" sprang to mind. I filled up, popped in the loo and was on my way within 6 minutes.......... gone!
"BANG" what the hell was that I thought as I pulled hard first left then right  on the bars.
Again "BANG" the force was so ferocious I thought someone was hitting me from behind either that or the tyre had gone. "This is not good" as for the third time I swerved from one side of the dual carriage way to the other. "What the hell is going on" I screamed, then I realised it was the gaps in the bushes at the side of the motorway. Thank the Lord I was only travelling at 90kpm or I would have been off.
The side winds where horrendous. I slowed to 50kpm and waited for the next smack at the side of the head and sure enough it came, over and over again, I was struggling to go in a straight line with the bike over at an unbelievable angle. "This is not good, not good at all" I screamed, not that anyone could hear me as I'd not seen another car in over an hour. I rode like this for a further hour and a quarter. My shoulders set solid, my wrists were aching. Eventually as unexpectedly as the winds came I fund they subsided, or did they? No actually I was heading straight into this ferocious wind that was blowing straight off the sea and straight over the mountains. I then entered a sea of windmill generators that just went on and on as far as the eye could see.
It was right then that I realised why I had not come across and tolls. No one used the dammed road that's why.
Eventually I turned off the AP-68 onto the AP-15 the past Pampolona and eventually left the wind behind as I headed through the mountains towards San Sebastian and the border crossing at Behobia.
Now this is where the toll's really started to get on my nerves, heading through tunnel after tunnel is great stopping every 3 to 5 kilometres to pay, 50 cents, 95 cents 1 Euro, 90 cents drives me mad. Slow down, glove off, high vis open, jacket open, liner open, wallet out, pay, re-dress, repeat, again and again. What is it with stupid boarder tolls. just charge what you normally charge and have one either side the boarder job done!
Manc Rider be warned on your Tour de Spain later next month, those side winds and tolls need watching out for!
Once I had followed the three detours through and around San Sebastian as the main motorway is closed for re routing I was just happy to pick up my first sign for Bordeaux.
Northwards and back to Calais I rode stopping quite a few times to pay the toll's. As the sun set the temperature dropped back towards the 8 degrees I had been used to. Luckily I had brought Ben's dual portable controller for my Gerbings jacket liner and so plugged in and started to warm through nicely once more.
Now the only issue I had riding through France was the tiredness and by 2.00am I was shattered once again. I think I may have been pushing myself a little hard or the wind had taken it out of me more than I realised but after a refuel up near Le Mans I pulled up in front of the services walked over to a bench. lay down on the seat and fell fast asleep for about 35 minutes. When I woke I could hardly lift my head up then realised I still had my helmet on. No wonder my ears were so warm. Searching my pockets as I walked back to my bike I could not find my key............ "Bloody hell, here we go!" I thought then for some reason realised I'd done what I tend to do quite often I'd left the bloody thing in the ignition................ Luck does not come into it, thank you who ever is looking after me, you are my angel x .
Once back at Calais I asked if I could get the first ferry available and was sent straight to lane 592 and was loaded with the truckers. I was the only bike on the ferry and not a sole in sight till I got upstairs the ferry was rammed to the gunnels with children, 1,000's of them everywhere. Food, no chance, coffee, no chance there were queues on queues.  I got in line in one of the cafes I had not come across before only to be told it was for freight drivers only when I got to the front to be served. I wondered why everyone seemed to be overweight and speaking eastern European! Thanks for that!
I accosted the first English speaking group of adults I could find to sign my end of ride receipt only to have some very well spoken German gentleman ask me the ins and outs of why I need the form signing. My explanation must have been a good on as he signed my form without further ado.  
So to sum up the ride back I must say it took it out of me both physically and mentally. Weighing myself at home that evening I had lost 6lb's and 4 oz in the 7 days I was away. I had ridden 1877 KM in 22 hours having stopped a further three times during the night for loo and rest breaks. The SS1600Km was done and other than the horrendous fog through which I had to ride from Ruen all the way north to Calais I was heading home.
Over the course of the trip I logged up a nice 5,262 kilometres bringing my riding total for 2012 to well over 7,000 miles. I told you 2012 was going to be a great year for riding...... and yes Mr. T is booked in for his 12,000 mile service all be it a little over, sorry Keith won't happen again!

Alicante Castle

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