During the Covid-19 pandemic, I’ve found myself dreaming of bikepacking adventures more than ever. I struggled without being able to spontaneously look at a map, pack my bags and head out to explore. I found in addition to planning future adventures (which I knew probably would never materialise during the pandemic), it was time to look back at past trips. One of the most memorable trips was bikepacking up through Spain in 2019.
After what felt like a long wet and cold British winter, I wanted to head on an adventure somewhere a little warmer. After a bit of blog reading and Instagram swiping, I decided to book just over a week off work and pedal up through Spain. The plan was to follow parts of Via de la Plata, one of the many Camino Santiago routes, starting in Seville and heading north up through the east of Spain, before turning towards Bilbao and the coast.
It was my first trip with bikepacking bags, having ditched my old panniers. To say it was a challenge fitting everything in would be an understatement. Once I had arrived in Seville (and accidentally getting lost in a top security defence HQ), I had to stop and spend 10 minutes repacking my bags every time I wanted to get anything out!
Although I had planned to camp the whole trip, I slowly came to the realisation that I hadn’t brought enough warm clothing and sleep kit for that. The first night was pretty comfortable, despite camping in a ditch on the side of a main road, but the coldest night was in a campsite I found which was actually open. I was the only one there, and I’m pretty sure everyone else had decided the five-star hotel overlooking the site was a better choice.
The next morning was icy cold, waking up to find my tent covered in glistening frost. As it was still February, the sunrise was after 8 am, meaning it took most of the morning to regain the feeling in my extremities again (despite waving my arms around to the confusion of passing drivers). As the trip progressed and I headed into the colder north, I ended up staying in cheap hostels to avoid being kept awake all night by the plummeting temperatures.
I was riding my Norco Search, an adventure road bike with chunky 32 mm slicks. With these I stuck mostly to paved roads, but knew a bit of gravel wouldn’t be an issue. As it was still in the off-season, the roads were all pleasantly quiet and most of them were a joy to ride. I was just happy to be riding all day, and on such a range of roads, terrain and landscapes.
There was some time pressure on this trip, as I had to be back in Bristol to get back to work. Originally, I calculated that if I cycled around 150 kilometres per day, I would finish the 1,400 kilometre trip in around nine days and arrive on time. I quite enjoyed the challenge though, each day finding I could travel a little further than I planned. It also meant the longer I was on the bike, the warmer I would be, especially in the morning and evenings.
The further through the trip I rode, the more energised I felt. It gave me the mental boost that was much needed at the time, fed by the ever-changing landscape and dramatic views. From a bleak British winter, it was a complete contrast, with the blossom out, plump oranges hanging on the trees and full sun all day long.
As I was riding through Salamanca, I zoomed out the map and realised how close I was to the Portuguese border. Feeling it was a shame to miss out on exploring another country, I took a 100 kilometre diversion to the border of Portugal. It was definitely worth the extra distance to pass through the picturesque rural smallholdings and small olive groves.
When I was Burgos and nearing my destination, I felt I needed one last challenge. Even though I had three days left to get to Bilbao, I had it set in my mind I could do it in just one. It was around 240 kilometres, further than I’d ever cycled before. Leaving hours before the sun was up, I headed up over the final mountain pass of the route and began making my way towards the coast. It was one of my favourite days on my bike, feeling the kilometres disappear with each pedal stroke. The long descents certainly helped too!
Arriving in Bilbao I had a bittersweet feeling. On the one hand, I was relieved I had made it on time and had loved every second of the journey getting there. But after days cycling in solitude by myself, the bright lights and hustle and bustle of the city felt strange. The city was crowded with tour groups, all snapping photos of the same attractions.
Looking back, ending in a busy city made me more appreciative of all the wonderful rural and quiet villages and nature reserves I travelled through. With the current pandemic, it has furthered my appreciation of all the adventures I was able to go on, something I used to take for granted.
Threads of Adventure
Like many during the lockdown, I’ve spent a countless number of hours dreaming of future adventures. I used this inspiration to launch Threads of Adventure, hand printing bikepacking, cycling and hiking t-shirts. Hopefully people can wear them to get inspired and reminded of all the possible adventures and places they can explore, when we can safely again! They are all organic cotton, hand-printed and come in plastic-free packaging.
Last modified: 27th January 2021