Cycling the Atlantic coast of Europe from north to south during the summer of 2017. View the archive, the route so far, or donate to MSF.

Fighting the wind

By Stuart Lowe on

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Crescent moon and Venus in the pre-dawn sky

I woke before dawn. It'd be nice not to have multiple insect bites every day. I'm constantly itchy in new places. It'd also be nice if ants stopped trying to get in my tent and stuff overnight.

After a hard ride against the wind (which picked up overnight) I reached Rota in time for the 10am ferry. Except there wasn't a 10am ferry; it was Sunday. I'd forgotten. So I waited for the 11.25am ferry over to Cádiz. I got a coffee from a nearby cafe. The ticket office opened at 10.45 and it turned out the ferry was replaced by a bus service thanks to the strong winds (presumably due to Hurricane Ophelia). I can't take the bus replacement as that would be cheating. So I decided to miss Cádiz and push on against the wind.

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Windy Rota

The next hour or so after Rota I had a really tough time cycling into strong wind. It was like being in a sand blaster. I hoped this didn't continue all day.

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Cyclist statue. I don't know who this is.

I reached El Puerto de Santa Maria and found that that ferry was running. So I made it to Cádiz after all. It was cheaper too.

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Ferry over to Cádiz

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Cádiz

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Cádiz

In Cádiz I asked the Tourist Information Office for advice on cycling south out of the city. Then I found an open Carrefour Express and had lunch. I gave a homeless man one of the sandwiches I made. He turned out to be from Germany. He fed part of the sandwich to the pigeons. The bread was on the way to stale. I ate mine.

Time was getting on and so must I. Back into the heat and wind to find a mythical, bike-navigable, route south. Why are there so many motorway class roads all over the place? They are annoying.

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Leaving Cádiz next to the railway and motorway

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Looking back towards Cádiz

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Down this little side street

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Found a bike lane hidden between the tram tracks and the motorway

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Salt flats?

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It suddenly felt like another country as I crested a hill.

I hadn't gone 100km today but I had to stop. The next campsite finished its season last night. The next one after that was too far to get to in the gale before dark. The one I'd arrived at had a big closed gate though. I tried calling the number but a man answered it and when I couldn't speak in Spanish he hung up. Drat. What would I do? As I sat on the ground a car pulled up and opened the gate. I thought these people might work here. They didn't. They were campers too. Never mind. I would camp now and pay in the morning.

After putting up my tent and having a shower I discovered the reception was currently open. I handed over my passport and €10. I was official.

Along the beach

By Stuart Lowe on

My alarm went off an hour late because I still hadn't updated my phone.

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Entering the Parque Nacional de Doñana.

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Straight roads (I ignored the bike lane as it was bumpy and the road was better and empty).

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Matalascañas beach

I arrived at Matalascañas in good time. Google maps and various blogs had told me I now needed to head almost to Seville to cross the river before heading back to the coast. So I rode 15km inland to El Rocio. At the Tourist Information Office, a ranger named Sonja told me I could shorten my trip by going back to the coast and going 32 km along the beach. I was dubious. My bike doesn't get along with sand. Would I sink? Sonja said she did it years ago on a racing bike with panniers. She said you had to do it after high tide on the wet sand. We checked the tide times. High tide was 11:50am. The timing seemed perfect. It did mean going 15 km back the way I'd just been and another 15 km back if it looked no good. But, it would shave off perhaps 100 km from the inland detour. I decided to risk it. It might get me to Cadiz today.

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El Rocio

I rode back to Matalasañas and got to the beach. The first 10 km proved to be tough going. I largely had to walk my bike as my wheels kept sinking. After that it became easier. Either because the beach was better or the tide was out more or both.

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Ready to start down the 32 km beach from Matalascañas.

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Looking back up the beach from the halfway point

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Better sand for riding on

I now found myself at the end of the beach. I waved the ferry but it may be unloading. Thankfully some fishermen on ebikes arrived. A few minutes later the ferry set off from Sanlúcar de Barrameda.

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Waiting for the ferry

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Fishermen with ebikes

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All aboard

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Tiled frontage

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Evening bike lane

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Chipiona

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Chipiona beach

Back to Spain

By Stuart Lowe on

David and I were off by 9.15am. We kept a fast pace up for the next couple of hours before stopping to buy (and eat) some jicy oranges from a roadside stand. Then we rode to the border and caught the ferry over the river. I think David was happy to be back in Spain after 12 days. He had cycled 1142 km and the entire coast of Portugal.

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Riding into Vila Real de Santo António

The ferry was reasonable €3.50 (they charge for bicycles) and we saw big jellyfish in the river as we crossed.

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Leaving Portugal.

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Jellyfish in the river

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Ayamonte

Back on Spanish soil we headed on. We were immediately faced with a 20% gradient hill which was tough after a few days of gentle roads. We raced on to Lepe where David was meeting a friend who had driven down to give him a lift home. They were going to have a couple of days break first. We shared beers at a bar in the centre and then said our farewells. It has been really nice to share the last day or so with David. I think he is planning a much longer trip in the future. Perhaps we'll meet again on the road some day.

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Lepe

I lost an hour crossing the border. I prefer to think of it as giving back the hour I was given when entering Portugal. I updated one of my phones but forgot the other.

I was now riding on alone. At the next town I visited a Carrefour and then sat eating food for an hour. Eventually I realised my phone I'd been checking for the time was an hour out and I really needed to move on. Back into the fierce heat I cycled after applying more suncream.

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Love laught

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Arriving in Huelva

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The cycle lane into Huelva

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Imposing statue south of Huelva

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I crossed a bridge that Google maps didn't think I could (but there was no sign banning me) to ride by the port.

I reached the campsite in Mazagón just before sunset as has become the norm in the last week. It was €7 and was really popular. The first spot I tried to pitch my tent was awful. Just under a surface of loose sand was concrete. Tent pegs don't work in those conditions.

Meeting David

By Stuart Lowe on

Whilst sitting in the youth hostel reception I was told off by a Dutchman who was sharing my dormitory for not having said much to him. He generalised to me not being interactive. Who cares that I'd had a couple of conversations, in French, with the French people in the dormitory? Who cares that I have had conversations with almost everyone I've met for the past 115 days? Who cares that I may just want a chance to rest after 11300 km of cycling? Not actively having a conversation with him meant I am some kind of recluse.

I set off late because of expecting a shorter ride as I was going to stay with a friend of a friend before Faro. But I hadn't heard back from them in a few days so I suspected they might be busy with other stuff and I'd be imposing.

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Lagos

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Roads turning into no bike roads is really annoying.

Not long after setting off I met another cyclist going the same way as me; we both got a bit lost in the one way system in Odiáxere. His name was David and he was from Barcelona. He had been cycling EuroVelo 1 along the coast of Portugal. We rode together on the understanding that we could go our separate ways if we felt like it. We went to a Lidl to get food and, comically, bought almost the same things. We sat outside on the ground eating and talking. It is funny how much you find in common with people doing big bike trips. So we rode on together. David passed his 1000 km milestone.

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David crossed his 1000 km mark

A combination of not hearing back, worrying about how far I still had to cycle before my flight, and good company meant I took a decision. I decided to ride onwards with my new friend. We covered a good distance considering the late start. We passed beyond Faro. So, hopefully, I should get beyond Huelva tomorrow. That should keep me ahead of my rough schedule based on not having a proper route.

Tonight David and I visited a supermarket and bought lots of food and some beers. Then headed to a campsite (€4.20).

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Looking towards the most southerly point of mainland Portugal. You needed to take a ferry there and back.

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Arriving at the campsite at sunset

We gorged on pasta, bread, fruit, chocolate salami, and biscuits. We chatted into the night about bike trips, life, running, people and lots more.

It feels so comfortable talking to other people who've ridden by themselves. It was similar with Siri in Scotland and Sander in Norway. There is so much common experience but, also, I think having chosen to ride a long way alone means you share some similar outlooks. A huge part of these bike trips are the people you meet along the way. There is so much warmth, friendship, generosity, and shared humanity. (From all the people you meet, not just those on bikes)

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David, my riding companion for the day

David had a good phrase today: on a bike trip you see the in-between.