Now I know why Durango, Colorado is named Durango
There were lots of bicyclists on the road today, especially in the mountains
I 'cheated' and took the train to Durango, about 20 miles east of Bilbao, and started my ride from there. I could have gone even farther east, but it looked like Durango was in some pretty county and I wanted to see if that country looked like southern western Colorado. It does. I rode about 60 miles of very nice riding today with about half a mile vertical of steep climbing, mostly in two long climbs. I rode for about five and half hours and stopped in to San Sebastian which is the last big city in Basque Spain. France is about 20 km east of here.
If I had really wanted to, I could have been in France tonight, but I've gotten fond of Spain and decided I'd rather spend one more night here. That was not how I felt the last time I rode from Spain to France. Then, coming from riding the east coast of Spain, I couldn't wait to get to France. Although the riding is harder here, it is also much better in this part of Spain than along the Gold Coast south of Barcelona.
I got up about 8:15 and, after cleaning up in the bathroom across the hall. headed out for breakfast at a place I found last night. I had the best breakfast of this tour. I went back, finished packing and walked/rode to the train station that has trains heading east. It was a little confusing finding the right ticket machine, but, when I did, I saw I could go east to ElBar, some ten miles past Durango. I still picked Durango, as I said above, because it looked like the best place to start. Elbar, as it turns out, would have saved me about 800 feet of steep climbing and some very urban riding in the city between the two ridges that separate Zaldbar and Elbar, but also cost me some really nice riding. 10 minutes after I got to the train station, I was on a train to Durango.
The first half a dozen mile of riding was relatively flat, in a very pretty valley with rocky mountains sticking up to the south. The road was busy, but had good shoulders and, since it paralleled na autoroute, the traffic, especially the big truck traffic, was quite variable. Riding was good and I saw numerous local riders as I rode. The easy riding ended, and the interesting riding started, after Zaldbar. The valley ended and N 634 headed up a 7% grade over a ridge. The view back into the Durango valley was very nice and the descent - marked 7% - was fun until it reached the next city. That city is nestled between to ridges and it was a long, very congested ride to get through it. When I did get through it, I Found an even steeper climb - 10% grade I'd say - up the next ridge. Fortunately that climb was only about 100 feet vertical and ended at the first of two, 300 meter long, tunnels through the ridge. After the tunnels, the road went through a narrow canyon which had N-634, A-8, the railroad tracks and a river running through it.
After Elbar, there is a long, mostly gentle descent to the ocean at Deba. Headwinds slowed me down on this section - there were times when I had to pedal pretty hard to maintain 9 mph - but it was still quite enjoyable riding on a nice road following a pretty river gently down to the ocean. I knew I was near the ocean when palm trees appeared! I stopped in Deba, the first town on the ocean, for a light lunch at a cafeteria.
Cafeterias are Spain's fast food places and great for non Spanish speaking tourists since the food - mostly open faced sandwiches and pastries - is on the top of the counter and you can just point at what you want. They aren't as good a food buy as the menu of the day at inexpensive restaurants, but they are quick and pleasant places to eat. I was looking for a restaurant in Deba, but settled for a cafeteria. Then, when I climbed 600+ feet getting out of town, I was glad I hadn't eaten a big meal!
It was a long climb out of Deba. The first three hundred feet of climbing was marked at 7%. Then it dropped back to only 5 or 6% and kept climbing, but heading inland. Finally, it flattened for a while and then headed back down to another town, Zumala. It was a really nice descent with long stretches of curvy road a 20 to 25 mph coasting speed through very pretty country. It flattened out near the ocean and was just pretty riding for most of the way from there to San Sebastian.
About a km after Zamula, N 634 reaches the ocean again and stayed there for quite a while. This time the riding was nearly flat and there was lots of ocean tourist stuff. Very nice riding, with almost no wind. After Zuratz, where I stopped for pastry and cafe snack, the rode heads away from the beach again, but, this time, the climbing is gentle as the road runs along a river valley. Nice!
As N 634 neared Donanista-San Sebastian, riding got less nice. It would not be a good experience for someone not used to riding, often without a shoulder, in very heavy traffic. Then N 643 merges with N 1 and bicycles are kicked off. By this time, it was relief to get off that road, but also confusing to figure out what to do next. I stopped at a service station and asked. He said go on down this road to San Sebastian and you'll find yourself on N 1, legally on the other side of town He said it in Spanish, of course, and drew a diagram. I also asked about a place to stay and he said there were only over priced hotels before you got to the old city. In the old city you could find better prices at pensions. He said that in Spanish too. It is amazing what a person can understand with body language and context!
I did check on prices of some of the hotels. They were either full or 100 E, so I rode on to the old town. There, the first two pensions I tried were full, and the third one was a major rip off. They wanted over 65 E for a tiny room - the size of my hostal cell that I paid 15 E for in Lugo - with no window, no ventilation and no airconditioning! I'd go back to the 4 star hotel for 100 E instead of paying that!
I rode on and found a reasonable - 38 E - pension where the rooms windows open onto a very dank air well, but the room itself, with a tiny, but very functional bathroom, is quite nice. They also let me bring - carry - my bike up to the room which is always a plus. This room is on the first floor, so I only had to deal with one flight of steps. It is half a block from the center of town, so it was fun to go out and walk around after I cleaned up. There is a very nice cathedral less than a block away, as well as all kind of shops and a few places to eat. I got my supper, Spanish cafeteria style, from a bar next to a nice fountain about a block away. I got desert and bread for breakfast from a pastry shop close to the cathedral. Life is good.