Shar’s Report: On the Camino!! Day 1–Bilbao to Castro.

Starting a bike tour, any group activity-focused tour, is always cause for trepidation.  How big will the group be, will we find compatible riders, and a good mix of personalities?  Will the operator have their act together or will it be a disorganized mess?  What will the food and accommodations really be like?

Breakfast was included in the pre-trip hotel stay in Bilbao; as we ate our Spanish fare (cheeses, Iberian and other preserved meats, “huevos y patata tortilla” (basically a quiche thick with potatoes without a crust), we wondered if other riders were in the room as well (“that gal in the bike jersey is probably part of the group…”).  Finally, the suspense was over; we met the other members of the tour.

We were delighted to find that it is a small group, 7 of us, with 2 guides, one of whom is the tour operator, Geoff.  He is originally from England and, with his wife, Maggi (from Canada), they have relocated to the mountains outside of Granada, sharing their biking passion with others through a variety of tours.

Danny, the other guide is a native Spaniard, residing in Granada. He brings a love of biking and experience of guiding through his tourism background.

Kira is not only from the US, but from Portland Oregon, making us a contingent of 3 from the Northwest.  Kim and Marc, are from Sydney, as is Laurie, bringing a definite “down under” flavor, which is accented by Shakila, who hails from Aukland, New Zealand.

This makes for an all-English speaking group but Danni and Geoff are there to interpret as needed, and Kira gets a strong “honorable mention” as an ardent student of the language, with our lack providing her with many opportunities to practice her skills.  Kim and Marc are intrepid travelers and carry themselves well through all the basics, language-wise…the rest of us get by and ask for help as needed!

Day 1: We transferred (i.e. rode in the van, bikes atop) to an area just outside Bilbao, where we were to start our first day.  Geoff oriented us to the day’s ride, as well as to the overall journey we would be on for the next 9 days.  In this prep-talk came my first BIG SURPRISE— our route and method of passage QUALIFIES us as “PILGRIMS” on the Camino del Santiago route!  I knew we would be paralleling the famous Camino, but had not realized we would be considered part of this special group of journeyers.  To many of you who know me, you can imagine how this added depth to embarking.

Camino “passports” in hand (for the collection of “stamps” to verify our passage over the route), we headed to our first night in Castro.  The day included a significant climb, in fact two, which we learned would be typical of our biking routes.  This challenged us greatly, much sweat was poured in reaching the top, especially on the second hill, though in this report I make my first great confession of my pilgrimage (which I have shared with a few of you).

Realizing that this trip would be coming at the end of six months of increasing knee and tendon injuries for me,  and the fact that we would be unable to “train” up for this ride–coming to it from 7 weeks on a boat– I agreed to it, understanding that I might be riding in the support van quite a bit.  Then Peter said “Hey, they have e-bikes!”…

So here I am, in this amazing country, able to “ride” up hills that would otherwise slay me.  I am THRILLED at having this option!

Now (in my defense), its NOT like a scooter where you turn a key and off you go–you do have to actually turn the pedals and, depending on the level of assist you choose, there can be a fair amount of work involved.  I have set a goal for myself  of having a battery last all day, which goes well with the goal of building up my muscles and stamina.  So far, I haven’t even used 1/2 the battery each day except once; when I used about half, then Danni put a fresh one in before I started up the last big hill.  

There is a down-side: the bike is so heavy that, even with the assist, I struggle to keep up with the group on the flats (and God-forbid I should ever take a fall with it!!)

Also, the battery will last hours/all day on low assist, but only about 45 minutes on high! (options are low-medium-high).  As a rule, I keep the motor off whenever going downhill, and I rarely have more that the lowest level of assist, but OMG when we get on a really steep hill and everyone else is in super-low gear, I cruise past them even with low assist.  On moderate hills, the better climbers (that’s YOU Kira, and Marc) will stay in the front but I will generally keep up.  On gentle long slopes, I fall behind… but can use the battery I “saved up” to catch up if I get too far behind.

Bottom line: The e-bike has MADE the trip for me!.

I hope to hop on a regular bike starting mid-way through the trip–maybe allowing others to experience the ease of it!

We ended our first day with a last long uphill and sweeping downhill into the beach town of Castro. 

You see Castro in the distance. The picture below shows the cathedral and a bit of the small boat harbor. The wide paseo (tiled boardwalk) made for great people watching as we strolled into town for an appetizer of the anchovies that this area is so famous for.

While there is more I could say, I will say this: Cycling Country (ie Geoff and Maggi) have planned an ideal balance of you pay/we pay when it comes to meals.  This was our first hosted dinner, and it was a very nice affair, lots of opportunity for genial/convivial relationship with each other in a setting of very good food and drink.  Well Done, CC!!

Goodness, this writing has become quite long!  I was going to go on and cover days 2 & 3 in this report, AND try to include some of the cultural bits including Camino tidbits but you are all probably ready for a break, so I will work with Peter to add some photos and make a separate entry/ies for days 2 & 3 (they might go well together–we’ll have to see how long-winded I get!)

One things we know for sure, Geoff/ Cycling Country get two thumbs up so far!!

We are now in day 4, just getting ready to publish day 1 of the bike trip.  That’s how it’s going, as Peter says in his report.  We will try to keep notes but may continue to be late with posting.  Trust that the stories will all be told, eventually, that we are well and continuing to have a great trip, thinking of you all along the way.  Buen Camino!

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