Ride report from Dave Thompson:
During a ride, I write the most amazing blogs, all on my virtual notebook. Unfortunately it’s virtual. 99% of what I think that I should write evaporates. A couple of days after a ride, some of it comes back … but I don’t have time for that so you’ll all have to put up with my disorganized thoughts!
First, the ride.
The route is an out and back. From the town of La Fuliola in the Lleida area to Sahagun on the outskirts of Leon. Normally I’m not a huge fan of an out-and-back, but making a circle would have shortened the reach and wouldn’t have followed the Camino de Santiago so closely. That trail weaves back and forth on my route, sometimes paths in the fields, sometimes a slightly separated shoulder to the road and sometimes on the road. Seeing all the hikers – I’ll call them hikers, not pilgrims – added a measure of interest.
The roads are great, some of the best that I’ve been on for a 1200. There were very few rough spots, very little trash (glass etc.), not heavily trafficked. With the Pyrenees to the north, I guess that these are foothills. Towns were close enough together for services although from 2pm-5pm, finding something open can be a bit dicey. Most towns had natural springs although you have to be on the lookout for those. Great tasting water, i.e., no discernible taste, and safe to drink, they can be lifesavers in this hot climate. Unlike Bulgaria, or Italy, there are no roadside springs; only in the towns.
It’s a flatish ride, but not flat. I don’t remember the total climbing but probably the least in my experience save Florida. The terrain rolls and only once or twice did I see a grade over 5%.
Windmills are everywhere. What does that tell you? You want to be riding with the windmill, not into the headwind. I was lucky that days 1, 3 and 4 were in the right direction. Day 2 was a killer, at times having a hard time working your way downhill!
There are canals everywhere moving river water to farmland. See that overpass … if it’s level on both sides, it’s an aqueduct moving water, not cars. In some areas the farmland on-grade watering is still used but mostly that has fallen into disrepair and pressure pumps send that water over the crops with sprinklers.
During the day, many of the towns look like small concrete structures, unoccupied and unused. You don’t know what’s inside. My hotel 6 km from the start, for instance, built in the 1600s, looks like nothing outside but inside, it’s beautiful. A mixture of huge concrete blocks, brick and stucco, sometimes up to a meter thick to keep out the heat … you don’t hear your neighbors through the walls!
The gps files are setup as 350-250 (turnaround), then 250-350. Many riders seemed to strike for 350 the first day, to the town of Lagrono, with spouses perhaps transporting luggage.
Oh yes, there are no drop bags. There is no food. No sag. Your registration fee of 15 Euros gets you a cue sheet, a brevet card and a ziploc bag. If you complete, it also pays for the RM Homologation. Little hotels in little towns in Spain don’t have 24 hour desks, so you have to be careful that you book something where you’ll land during open hours … or have a spouse :).
Fancesc originally expected around 15 riders. There were 35. That “surplus” enabled him and his co-captain Alex, to follow the route and take some pictures. I had them top up a water bottle once, but that wasn’t what they were doing.
The controls were all open, pick any establishment, other than the 24 hour motel at the turnaround point. You didn’t have to stay there, just have them stamp your card. If you hit a town at a time with nothing open, a photo will do. I took two photos. Every establishment had a stamp. My brevet card looks like a well decorated passport. More often than not, a Repsol gas station served as a control. They were usually well stocked, even with small packages of meat and cheese. They carry some soft-ish drinks, but I mostly had one water bottle full of juice – a thick peach, pomegranate, orange – as opposed to a manufactured concoction. That’s how I got many of my calories.
Sorry Dick & Bob – I know that the juice has lots of carbs but I needed the liquid, not cheese melting in my pockets.
Speaking of melting, it was hotter than Bulgaria, 95F at 9:15 a.m. on the last day. It was cold on the morning of the 3rd day, starting back from Sagahun, but not as cold as it was in Bulgaria that one night.
Without someone to support me, I planned to carry 3 changes of jersey, shorts and socks. I couldn’t carry much in the way of snacks for a four day ride, so I had to live off the land (aka gas station). Had I loaded any more onto my bike, I wouldn’t have been able to lift my leg over to get back on! Luckily I didn’t have long steep climbs to carry that weight.
I planned to stop after 300 km, not the 350 that the gps file implied. With an 8am start, I didn’t expect that I could make a hotel at 350 before the desk closed. As it turned out, I was emailing my 300 km hotel to wait, please wait … I arrived just a few minutes before 10pm, their close time. On the third night, that hotel closed at 9pm … I got there at 8:30.
I had a lot of stop time at overnights — 5.5 hours, 5.5 hours, 7 hours. That last one is probably a record for me.
The one thing that I found about riding another 1200 4 days later is that I wasn’t caught up with sleep. Early in the morning, in the pre-dawn, I was soooo sleepy. There are bus shelters or perhaps they are hiker shelters, mostly glass, sometimes concrete, with a good long bench. 15 minutes of instant sleep did wonders on each of the three days.
For the first time ever, on the last day, I carried extra water, and I mean extra water. 2 full water bottles and a huge 2 liter container of water in my center jersey pocket. I dumped more water on my head and shoulders and drank more juice and water than I’ve ever consumed before. It’s a dry heat, so they say!
Many of the riders spoke bits of English. Most establishments did not. Right on the Camino route, someone would know English, but not off route or at a gas station.
I had three flats. One on the first day on the only stretch of fresh chip seal on the entire route, caused by a very sharp stone. The rest of the route is pavement, not chipseal.
The other two flats, on the last day, were simultaneous front and back, seems that I hit a bunch of thorns on the road shoulder.
Early on the first day, I was the Lanterne Rouge. I caught with a bunch at a lunch spot and ate with them, leaving before. With my early stop on that day, I was again the Lanterne Rouge, seeing very few riders except those on the return, as I got to the turnaround motel. It looked like everyone had come and gone but when I was up and in the bike storage room to get rolling again, two other riders were also getting organized.
Lo and behold, as I rolled through another town, I found a large group of riders stopped at a street corner. I rolled on.
Although it was a push, I kept to my plan of 350 km that day stopping at Tudela, leaving 250 for the last day. It seemed that other riders stopped somewhere before or after because I saw many early on the fourth day. I finished about mid pack. I was nicely on track to finish around 4pm when I had to give in to the heat, stopping at every gas station and bar, topping up water, guzzling some on the spot. I also had the two flats … and finished at 5:10 pm. I had oodles of time as the 90 hour mark was 2am due to the 8am start on Day 1. I had squandered some of the best riding temps of the day being so sleepy and then in the heat of the afternoon, well over 100F, survival was key, not speed.
When I got to the ride end, the two organizers were there to check me in. Francesc La Porta, the “main man”, has apparently completed PBP 11 times? I’ll have to look that one up. Apparently it may be some record shared with a handful of others. He’s not done yet, will be at PBP next year.
I had two huge beers. I was so thirsty. Luckily they don’t do breathalyzer tests on cyclists but don’t ask me to walk a straight line. I could ride straight and I did, right to my hotel Cal Ball. Home away from home, I got cleaned up, had dinner and then sleep!
As usual I enjoyed myself. Different scenery, different food, friendly riders (but not much conversation), adapting my fueling strategy, being totally self sufficient (OK, thanks to Visa).
Is this true Randonneuring – no support? Some would say yes. That adds to the sense of accomplishment … but at times we like being pampered, so onward we go!