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 great passport recovery

By Stuart Lowe on

I woke and saw Txema before he left at 8am. He said everything would be OK and he'd call the hostel at 10am with news. The hour arrived and the phone rang. It turned out I'd have to wait until 3pm to hear if the courier had picked up the passport. That was five hours away so I had an enforced wait. To pass the time I wrote the 30 postcards I'd bought in Tarifa and then visited a post office to post them. I ate. The hours slowly drifted by and my anxiety rose.

Just after 3pm, Txema arrived at the hostel. He didn't look happy. Apparently the campsite had refused to hand over the passport; the daytime receptionist had said they knew nothing about it. The courier option was gone. By this point, so was the bus option as that had gone at 3pm. A taxi would cost €100. Both those options would have brought me back to Algeciras anyway, leaving me 160-180 km to go to Málaga tomorrow.

Things were unravelling.

I called my friend Thomas Robitaille on Skype. I told him I was just about to cycle 100km back the way I'd come and asked if, whilst I was doing that, he could find me options from Cádiz or San Fernando. I apologised for the brevity of my call but I had to be off as time was running out. This was by far my latest start to a day's cycling. The only saving grace was that at least the easterly wind would be helping me today.

I rode back up the 325 metre hill from last night. A couple of kilometres from the top I hit the annoyingly long Spanish roadworks. How I'm supposed to cycle uphill through road works in the short amount of time they allow I have no idea. I was being entirely driven by anger now. I was angry at the campsite. I was angry at the road works. I was angry that the wind had died down after the exhaustion it had caused me yesterday. It was the only emotion left to get the adrenaline pumping.

I rode fast. I rode up between the wind turbine army. I rode through forest fire smoke that was covering the plains. The sun was dropping. I pushed hard. At the sun started to stroke the horizon I reached the campsite. The night receptionist was there. In our broken French I explained that I'd had to cycle 84 km to get my passport. I said the daytime man was a "bad man" but shook the hand of the night receptionist and thanked him for giving me back my passport.

I checked in with Thomas. He'd found me multiple detailed options to get to Málaga tomorrow via San Fernando. It was so nice to have someone working out that stuff.

I jumped back on my bike and found a supermarket in Concil de la Frontera where I tried to fuel myself up. Whilst sat on the ground outside the supermarket stuffing my face, a backpacker came up to chat. She told me that her boyfriend had said a rain storm was due to hit around 8pm. There wasn't much I could do about that. I needed to push on regardless. With waterproofs on and my lights on, I headed off into the dusk.

This was my first time cycling at night on my trip but I had the advantage of having been down these roads two days before in the opposite direction. I remembered the shopping street (although going this way I had a nice bike lane for that part). I remembered the double petrol station. I remembered Chiclana de la Frontera. I remembered my way to the path next to the tram tracks across the salt flats. I finally arrived in San Fernando and tried a few different hostal/hotels before finding one that was affordable. The lady on the reception there was very nice and switched my room to the ground floor when she realised I had a loaded bicycle. She let me take it into the room.

I ate. I got rid of some things I would no longer need. I checked Tom's plan for tomorrow morning. My niece sorted out my online check-in for the flight for me. I could finally rest. Sure there were still things to do tomorrow but they could only be done then so no need to think now. I wasn't capable of thinking about them anyway. The anxiety abated.