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.

The End of Europe

By Stuart Lowe on

I awoke and packed my tent. By 9am I was stood with my bike at the little campsite reception ready for it to open. I was still tired and I knew I needed to get this sorted and away. My head was filled with thoughts that today was when I would finally reach my goal of the past four months. I was trying to ignore the issue of cycling perhaps 180 km to Málaga in time for the flight on Wednesday night.

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Shower block stars

I needed to get my passport back.

A different man opened the reception. This was the daytime receptionist; not the friendly, French-speaking, man of the night before. Daytime man didn't speak any language that I did so communication was hard. He seemed to be wanting me to pay for the camping. We had to go through a pantomime of me trying to point out that he already had my money (my €10 was paperclipped to my paperwork). It turned out that that €10 had been a deposit for the key fob I'd been given to get in and out of the campsite. Eventually he was convinced to keep that as payment (I didn't persist to get the few cents change I was due). As I was about to go he reminded me to hand over the key fob. I was clearly barely functional at this point. I was just glad to be going.

On leaving the campsite compound (every campsite seems to be safe from zombie attack in Spain and Portugal) I was back in the wind.

IT. WAS. SO. WINDY.

This was the edge of Hurricane Ophelia that was currently heading up towards Ireland. I'd been hoping that would mean the wind was from the west but, as always, it wasn't. It gave me a 20-30 mph gusty wind from the east. My last day would be against strong wind.

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Morning riding

A kilometre or two down the road, at Zahara, were two campsites that were clearly open. So much for my worries about a lack of campsites last night. There was a little Coviran supermarket where I stopped for supplies.

I headed along the coast past Trafalgar (yes, that one) to Los Caños de Meca. Here my GPS seemed to suggest there was a coastal path. I went to the start of it. It was sand. Probably passable if you were on a wide-wheeled mountain bike with no luggage but I wasn't. I headed back to the main road. It went up to 135 metres through a Parque Natural before dropping down to Barbate. After stopping at Lidl, I had flat roads for a while. That was good because I was also fighting the wind. On this stretch, the nice looking beach was off limits as it was a military area.

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Faro de Trafalgar

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Downhill towards Barbate

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Barbate

At Zahara de los Atunes my route went inland because the coast road didn't seem to join up south of Atlanterra. Giant wind turbines came into view. They were spread across the landscape ahead of me like an army. They were all facing the same direction - the way I was headed - and were spinning fast for structures of their size. Oh great. The elements were really trying to give me one last obstacle to endure. They were going to make me earn the end.

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Good weather for wind turbines. Not for me. Really dangerous gusts.

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Windy windy windy

Heading north east meant the wind was partially from the side. That meant I had to keep stopping myself being pushed into passing cars. It took a lot of effort. It felt as though the wind was trying to sap every last tiny drop of physical and mental energy from me.

Eventually the road took a 90 degree turn and headed south east. That still had the same problem with being pushed sideways but with the added problem of the wind suddenly stopping every time a vehicle went by. Leaning into wind that suddenly stops is pretty dangerous as you fall towards the vehicle stopping it. Eventually, I had to get off and walk despite it being flat. Here I met Stefan who had cycled from Cologne in Germany. He had been forced to walk too. He wasn't sure if he would reach Tarifa today.

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A sign to my destinations.

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Stefan who had cycled from Cologne.

Closer to Facinas the mountains provided a little sheilding and I was able to get back on my bike. I must have climbed uphill as I now had a pleasant downhill giving me a little break.

Tarifa was approaching. I was close to collapse. I would reach it. I would. But first I'd stop in a supermarket to buy calories.

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Nearly there

There was a sign marking Tarifa. I wasn't quite at the end yet though. Along the sea front I rode. Surfers were enjoying the breaking waves and riding the tubes. I reached the narrow spit that joins Tarifa to the little military island of Isla de Las Palomas. Ignoring the "no vehicles" sign, I rode along it to the end. There was a rather dishevelled sign marking the southernmost point of mainland Europe. I was here.

I had set off 120, long, days ago from Kirkenes. I had endured a summer of snow, freezing rain, hills, rain, midges, bike breakages, rain, exhaustion, and an unreasonable amount of head wind. But I was here.

On one side was the wild water of the Atlantic Ocean. On the other was the Mediterranean Sea. All the emotion of four months of effort welled up. I sat down and cried. I had ridden the Atlantic coast of Europe. It was mine.

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The rather dishevelled sign marking the most southern point of mainland Europe.

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The end of the European part of the Atlantic

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You can't get onto the southernmost point.

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All of mainland Europe behind me.

I found a more sheltered spot and sat down to eat. There was a press conference online about the latest gravitational wave discovery. It was exciting news but I wasn't really taking it in. I'd just cycled the Atlantic coast of Europe.

After a longer rest than normal (hey, I felt it had been earned) I realised I'd have to press on to eat up some of the 180 kilometres I needed to do to get to Málaga. In Tarifa I bought a ridiculous number of postcards then headed uphill and out of town. The road kept going uphill. Argh. At least the wind wasn't as fierce as it had been this morning. The effort felt similar. I looked back. I could just about make out the north coast of Africa through the haze covering the Straits of Gibraltar.

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Beyond was Africa

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Back up into hills as I ride along the Mediterranean (bye bye Atlantic) to Algeciras.

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Africa is just over there somewhere

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A glimpse of Gibraltar through the haze.

I kept riding up. I reached 325m altitude then it was downhill... for a while until the road rose back up to 325m again. This second summit was the last. I could then enjoy a good, long, freewheel down into Algeciras in time for sunset.

In Algeciras I found a Hostal. The man on reception spoke good English which was helpful given how exhausted I was. He asked for my passport. I reached into my handle bar bag and... it wasn't there. Panic filled my body. Where was it? The receptionist, Txema, rang the campsite from last night. They had it. I calmed a little. At least it was somewhere known rather than at the side of the road somewhere in the last 100 km. In the exchange about money and key fobs this morning, I'd somehow forgotten the most important thing I needed. I had worried about this very thing and no it had happened on my 'last' day.

What could be done about my passport? Txema suggested getting a BlaBlacar there and back. Or I could get a bus tomorrow at 8am or 3pm; it wasn't even a direct bus. Both options would take most of the day tomorrow and bring me back to Algeciras which would mean I wouldn't reach my flight in time the day after. I asked if it might be possible to get a courier to pick it up and deliver it to Málaga. That way I could cycle up the coast and meet it there. Txema told the night-shift campsite man that we would do that. He then tried booking online but it seemed that you had to call a number to find out if they could deliver it to their office in Málaga. The phone line was now closed until tomorrow morning. Txema told me he'd call me from home at 10am to let me know. It would all be OK, he assured me. Given my experience on this trip, I wasn't totally convinced but I didn't have the energy to think of anything else. I hadn't had a rest day since Aveiro and that was 10 days ago.

In asking for help from Twitter I found myself spending an hour or so answering questions about it from several different people. Some just wanted to know more about my predicament. I realised that I needed to prioritise on people who could help. Up stepped my friend Thomas Robitaille. He looked up a range of BlaBlacar options for me and started looking at alternative ways to get from the west coast over to Málaga with a bicycle. I could no longer concentrate, or even string a proper sentence together, but Thomas was on the case. Sleep beckoned.