Spain: Criss-crossing the Cordillera Cantábrica, Prt 1

Route: San Martin de Losa – Hierro – Medina de Pomar – Espinosa de los Monteros – Reinosa – Cervera de Pisuerga – Guardo – Boñar

It was sweltering hot the day I left my campsite next to the potato field. Via San Martin de Losa I rode, all via super quiet country roads and tracks, to Quincoces de Yuso. There’s a bakery and a small fruteria where you can buy all the necessary, provided you are willing to wait long, very long. Service is super slow and, untypical, and in both shops, very unfriendly.

Next up was the ‘Ermita de San Pantaleon de Losa’, a small church built on a high rock. I left my bike at a house with some friendly locals and hiked to the top. The Ermita itself was closed, but the views definitely worth the climb.

Route Cordillera Cantabrica 1
First part of my route through the Cordillera Cantabrica.
DSC01419
The ermita is on top of this hill.
DSC01422
Ermita de San Pantaleon de Losa

DSC01427

DSC01424
View from the Ermita

Following provincial road BU-550 along the Rio Jerea, I come at a fork. Right will bring me directly to Medina de Pomar, but I drew my route to the left, via the small settlement of Hierro. Nothing to see there, only the fact that I think it

Continue reading “Spain: Criss-crossing the Cordillera Cantábrica, Prt 1”

Spain: Navarra & Basque Country / Euskadi

Route: Etxalar – San Sebastian – Lekunberri – Vitoria-Gasteiz – Berberana

Waking up in spain the next morning, me, and the hill tops around me are bathing in a sea of clouds. What a sight. It is if I were a couple of thousand meter above sea level, while I’m standing at barely 400 meters asl. I take it very easy in the morning. The last days have been hectic enough, and I intend to take a hotel for one are two nights in Lesaka.

Route Basque Country
The Route I rode in this blog post.
DSC01061
It’s good to be back in Spain, back in the country with the worlds best car drivers. Nowhere else on my travels I found the big majority of the drivers giving you so much space when they pass you, or just waiting patiently behind you when they can’t pass you safely. Often, I’m not even realizing a car is behind me because, contrary to other countries, they don’t speed into you, almost under your rear rack, braking at the last moment, revving the engine…. no, they come slowly, unnoticed. Spain is also one of the few places in Europe where you can spend winter comfortably AND it’s a country with an immense diversity of landscapes.  Downsides… yes, there are a few…. Spaniards are loud.  There are way too many dogs.  You seldom will have a night in your tent without hearing dogs barking, especially in the southern half of the country (but they are almost always behind a fence or on a chain, so not attacking you).  And Spanish kitchen is overrated. You can eat very good here, but the typical ‘menu del dia’ some people are so enthusiastic about is 99% of the times a disappointment. Meat, potatoes, no veggies.  
DSC01064
Back in Spain, where you will always notice this semi-wild horses in the mountains.

DSC01066

DSC01072

DSC01079
France is at the other side of the hills.
DSC01092
Unzipping my tent in the morning, heating water for a coffee. Not a bad view at all.

The downhill over a good track into Etxalar is very steep. This is were the difference between v-brakes and good disc brakes show. I’m torturing my rims. Etxalar is a very neat little town. A tv crew was just making some shots, even of me enterig the village. Who knows I will appear on TVE 🙂
There was a sign outside the tourist info, about Carmen, and an opera, and a girl from

Continue reading “Spain: Navarra & Basque Country / Euskadi”

France: Via Lemovicensis & the Landes

Route: Vézelay – La Charité-Sur-Loire – Nevers – La Châtre – Saint-Léonard-de-Noblat – Périgeux – Bergerac – Léon – Bayonne – Espelette

Route Via Lemovicensis
I thought it might be a good idea to put a map of the route I follow above each post to give a clearer picture where exactly I rode. I’ve edited the last post with a map as well. The bold blue line is always the current post.

Initially, the Via Lemovicensis has two possible varieties: a northern one via Bourges and a southern one via Nevers. Looking at these options, as always, I could not decide which one to take, so, as always, I decide to do a bit of both. I start on the northern section, allowing me to ride to La Charité-Sur-Loire. From here, I can take a hard option, the GR654 towards Nevers, or an easier option along the Loire River. This way, I think I will see the best of the northern and the southern options on the Via Lemovicensis. The off-road tracks I’m following are marvelous, but there’s some pushing to be done. 16% up, towards La Charité even 26% down….
A little stretch of about hundred meter was overgrown with thorns and fallen trees but mostly it was super pleasant

DSC00686
In the collection ‘towns with beautiful names’ (The House of God).

DSC00693

DSC00694
Along the Canal Du Nivernais
DSC00695
Briefly, I cycle again along the Canal Du Nivernais.
DSC00698
And in the collection ‘streets with beautiful names’ (Lost Time Street).
DSC00702
Brilliant views. My track goes over the grassy edge on the right side of the picture.
DSC00707
Hmm, ten pancakes for breakfast. Life is good.

DSC00712

DSC00719

DSC00730
In La Charité-Sur-Loire
DSC00732
The Loire River in La Charité.

After La Charité-Sur-loire, I could ‘ve taken the bike paths along the Loire River towards Continue reading “France: Via Lemovicensis & the Landes”

France: Cycling Along The Via Campaniensis

Route: Marcienne-Au-Pont – Reims – Sézanne – Troyes – Chablis – Vézelay

Some trips start riding away from home, some with a flight and this time with a train ride. I didn’t fancy riding through the built up northern part of Belgium again where it is so hard to find a wild camping spot. So, a train ride to Marcienne-Au-Pont it was. I never heard of the place before, but it happens to be the last train station before the city of Charleroi. A not very appealing city with all the problems of a place in decline. The suburb of Marcienne-Au-Pont did not escape it’s destiny.
A place to leave a.s.a.p.

Route Via Campaniensis
Map of the route I followed in this post from Marcienne-Au-Pont to Vézelay.
DSC00388
Marchienne-Au-Pont, a grubby suburb of Charleroi, Belgium. A place as good as any to start a new adventure.

It was only a kilometer or so the Samber River and the bicycle path alongside it. Some works at the electricity plant forced me of the track and on the first hill after a few kilometer. Much sooner as expected. Months of sedentary life off the bike and in front of a laptop have taken their toll, resulting not only in eleven kg I gained, but also in my condition that has disappeared completely. It’ll take a few months to solve that again.

DSC00390
Bike path along the Samber river.

Descending back to the Samber river, the next hours were easy riding along the bike path and later on the Ravel (old railway lines turned to bike paths). I passed Chimay, where the abbey is famous for making beer and cheese. I read somewhere it can’t be visited, and anyway, on my first day out, I didn’t have ‘time’ for that. The Ravel ends just outside Lompret. I have to tackle some typical steep Ardennes climb before arriving in Couvin where I stop to eat my last Belgian fries for a while. Upon leaving Couvin, a very steep climb leads into the ‘Bois de Petigny’, a forest where I planned to camp. 97 km on day one after that train ride in the morning. Tired, but happy I reached the place.

DSC00398
The bike as it looks loaded up for this trip. No front panniers to allow easier access to narrow trails.
DSC00394
Almost reaching the hills of the Ardennes.

There is a track going right south through the ‘Bois de Petigny’ towards the French border, but it’s private property. I have to descend towards Oignies-En-Thiérache, where I pick up the last part of the ‘Via Monastica’, a hiking trail in the network of Santiago-de-Compostella routes. The track climbes back into the forest, first sandy, than muddy due to the recent rains.

DSC00403
This region was the scenery of heavy fighting in WWII. Even Hitler himself stayed in a bunker near hear for a while. This is an information board about the allied forces. I wonder how they would feel now, knowing they gave their today, for politicians and other complete imbeciles messing up the region, the world a good half century later.
DSC00408
Still in Belgium, along the Via Monastica.
DSC00410
Forest tracks in the Ardennes.

Back on a small asphalt road, I almost missed the non-descript sign marking the Belgian-French border. This is also the end of the ‘Via Monastica’ and the start of the ‘Via Campaniensis’ one of the trails through France towards Santiago-de-Compostella in Spain.

DSC00419

I am not on my way to Santiago, but in my search for a quiet route through France I stumbled on this one, and why reinvent the hot water ?
Still, I invested a lot of time in researching the route, as it is important to be on dirt roads, away from traffic, but also to avoid the places you can’t pass with a bike.

Rocroi (also written Rocroy) is the first French village on the route. A fortified village in the shape of a star. No more easy Ravels, no more smooth Greenways. From now it’s up and down, just as the terrain goes. I exchanged the Belgian for the French Ardennes. The topography is the same.

DSC00433
Rocroi fortifications

A few kilometer outside L’échelle, a village with a beautiful church and the ‘mairie’ in the castle, I already leave the Via Campaniensis for a while and pick up the GR654, the old and now lesser used hiking trail. In Signy-L’abbaye both routes join again and I continue on the Campaniensis.

DSC00443
What a beautiful place name.
DSC00448
Pleasant wild camping evenings in the French countryside.

DSC00451

DSC00453

DSC00463
I will see plenty of different styles and architecture in the churches as I’m heading south. Many will be shared here 🙂

The landscape is slowly flattening a bit and the forested hills of the Ardennes make place for huge agricultural fields with sometimes amazing views but where the wind blows hard in the face.

DSC00474
I’m sure you can imagine what the wind can do to you here, blowing at full force right in your face.
DSC00479
The hundreds of wind mills I see all around are a proof strong winds must be common throughout the year here.

South of Hauteville follows such a stretch. Beautiful riding over good gravel, but that wind…. Camping places are hard to find here, let alone places that are a bit protected from the wind.

Sunday, quite some rain is predicted and I want to take a rest day, so need a good place for two nights. I find it in a small forest on a hill top just outside L’écaille.
The rest day is spent with resting(-) and reading a Poirot novel, ‘Appointment With Death’.

DSC00482

DSC00487
You don’t have to go to Kazachstan, Mongolia or Australia for ‘big skies’.

Riding towards Reims, I am also leaving the French Ardennes and enter a new department: Marne.
Reims, a town of 185.000 people is a royal city. In the past, kings used to be crowned here. I cycle passed the first Champagne houses, passed the Porte de Mars, the Cathédrale Notre-Dame with her 2.300 statues. Ten para-commando’s, walking in pairs are guardening the cathedral against those who like to bring terror to our region. I also paid a visit to the Basilique Saint-Remi, with a statue of Clovis who was Christened in Reims (but that happened at the Cathedral, not here).

DSC00491
Porte de Mars, Reims

DSC00497

DSC00503
Cathédrale Notre-Dame, Reims
DSC00504
Cathédrale Notre-Dame, Reims
DSC00509
Basilique Saint-Remi, Reims
DSC00510
Clovis

After Reims, I started riding through the vineyards that produce the famous champagne. Gradients are steep, 10, 12, 13%.
The village of Hautvillers is very touristic. Car drivers suddenly are aggressive. No time to lose, I guess. There ’s a church with a tomb for Dom Periginon, the man who supposedly fine-tuned the champagne making process. I think the Dom Periginon champagne house is next to it, but it was closed.
I am descending steeply through more vineyards towards the river Marne, and climb just as steep back up. Epernay, the ‘capital’ of the champagne region is to my left. It doesn’t look very inviting from up in the hills, so I don’t visit it. For the first time this trip, I climbed more than a thousand meter in a day, namely 1.001 meter.

DSC00520

I ride through the outskirts of Sézanne, but don’t really visit the city.
There’s some really nice riding following now, first through a forest, later through endless fields with good views all round. The farmers are hard at work harvesting all the grain. I should have stopped here to camp somewhere. I still had some food, but wanted something nicer, so rode into Anglure where I find the first supermarket since quite a while. Problem is, after Anglure, you soon hit the ‘Canal de la Haute Seine’. Probably the easiest riding I will have in the foreseeable future, but also a bad place to find a spot for the night. One side is the canal, the other side commercial forest with impossible ground to pitch a tent. Eventually I find something next to a corn field. Should ‘ve continued riding a bit longer, because I see better options the next day.
I’m reading Peter Sagans book ‘My World’. I don’t think he really wrote it himself. It has some good bits, but most of it is…. well, just not well written.

DSC00540

DSC00551

DSC00558

Troyes, the capital of Aube departement, is an old medieval town. Stunning cathédral, and way, way too many tourists in the small streets. I rode around a bit, looking at the sights, face mask and my bandana over it, than left town.

DSC00562
The Cathedral in Troyes

DSC00566

DSC00568
Typical houses in Troyes.

DSC00570

DSC00572

Bang !!
That strong head wind I had the last days is back again as well.
After Laines-aux-Bois the road climbs towards Montaigu. Good views again towards the surroundings. A nice long ride through the forest follows, where I have to negotiate the bike passed or over dozens of fallen trees. Than, as you finally ride out of the forest, again, a nice view to the surrounding land below you.

DSC00577

DSC00579
Monument aux résistants fusillés, Laines-aux-Bois (Monument to the Resistance fighters shot at Laines-aux-Bois). I passed this statue on the top of a hill, after a steep climb out of the village. The ‘Maquis de Montaigu Monument’ was erected in 1946. This place of memory called “Aux quatre de Montaigu” returns tribute to the Libé-Nord resistance movement during the Second World War.

I make it a short day and stop in the pelgrims gîte of Sommeval. Time to do some more laundry, recharge the things I can’t recharge with my little solar panel (laptop & shaver), make a nice meal and sit in the sun.
I redraw the route for tomorrow a bit. There’s an interesting highlight, a bit away from my original route, that I don’t want to miss.

DSC00592
Early stop in charming Sommeval, where I would spend my only night along the pilgrims route in a gïte. Really enjoyed the place.
DSC00593
Trying to keep a healthy diet (from time to time).

Crossing the ‘Canal de Bourgogone’, and a few hundred meters further on the ‘L’Armançon’ river, I not only left the Aube department and entered Yonne department, I also entered the ‘Bourgogne Franche-Compté’ region.

I’m heading towards the largest cistercian abbey in the world, which stands in the village of Pontigny. I found out about this place only a few days before my departure, and thought it worthwhile to make the detour. I left the Via Campaniensis in Ervy-Le-Chatel and rode via quiet country roads to the abbey. It’s a big thing, but not as big as some cathedrals I saw along the way. Definitely go out and have a look around the back for best views of the building. Inside, it is almost empty.

DSC00597
Look at the little bee just flying into the picture at the right time.

DSC00604

DSC00610

DSC00627
The Cistercian Abbey in Pontigny, the worlds’ largest.

After my visit to the abbey, I rode towards another famous place to pick up my original route again, Chablis. After the famous Champagne places, I am now in the most famous place of the Bourgogne wines. Vineyards on all hills, as far as the eye can see. Steep hills. Leaving town I have multiple hard stretches, up and down about 15%. It’s hard in what is the hottest day so far on this trip.

DSC00630
‘Le Serein’ River, just outside the town of Chablis. Ice cold water to refresh yourself on a hot day.
DSC00634
Steep, very steep climbing and descending through the vineyards.

I camped in the forest a few kilometer after Saint-Cyr-Les-Colons. It opened up to some fields with splendid views the next morning. An initially easy descent, becoming steeper and steeper led me into Cravant, a town that doesn’t seem to like cyclists as virtually every street has a sign specifically warning it s prohibited for bicycles.

DSC00641

From Cravant I had two options to continue to Vézelay. The hard one, following the Via Campaniensis with, looking at the elevations, some more steep climbing, or an easy one for cyclists along the Canal Du Nivernais. Given the very hard work yesterday out of Chablis, I thought I earned a bit of a relaxed day and chose the latter option. Flat riding, picnic tables, the odd village…. a complete different experience then what I had the last days and a nice change. In Châtel-Censoir I left the canal and climbed over the hill towards Vézelay.

DSC00650
Easy cycling along the Canal Du Nivernais, with good scenery.

Around the year 1.000, the relics of Saint (Maria) Magdalena were kept in the towns’ basilica to save them from the hands of the Saracens. In the 16th century, the most important relics were burned after all by the Huguenots (= Protestants). There are splendid views to the Morvan region from the park behind the basilica.

DSC00669
The Sainte Marie-Madeleine Basilica from the 12the century in Roman architecture. It’s already on the list of historical monuments since 1840.

DSC00658

DSC00656

DSC00659

DSC00666
View to the Morvan Region from Vézelay.

This is the end point of the Via Campanienses. Vézelay is also a start point for many ‘pelgrims’ on their way to Santiago de Compostella. There’s a popular route going via Le Puy-En-Velay, but I’ve been there a couple of years ago, so I go west of the Massif Central, following the ‘Via Lemovicensis.
More about that in the next part.

Europe On & Off-Road: The Gear List

I plan to ride a considerable percentage of this trip off-road so I aimed to lighten the gear as much as possible and I wanted to get rid of the front panniers to ease passage on narrow trails.
As it is not a short trip of a few weeks (I hope), I have to be prepared for weather conditions in the range of -5°C upto 40°C. That, combined with the fact that for this longer trips, I like to have a certain level of comfort (i.e. a decent 2p tent, decent stove & pots, clothing…) going real lightweight won’t be possible.

Cycling with a backpack, even light and small, is not an option for me, I learned in the past. It is sweaty and my back really starts to hurt after a while. So all of the below will be packed in two dry bags and two panniers.
One dry bag in the front with sleeping bag, liner bag and pillow.
The dry bag on the rear rack has the tent and mattress. All the rest is in the two panniers. Initially I wanted to squeeze it all in two small (front) Ortlieb panniers. It is possible, but it would leave no space for food and toilet paper, so I will use the normal standard rear Ortlieb panniers, giving me ample space to carry lots of food for stretches where I won’t see a shop for a while (f.e. Cantabrian Mountains and other parts in Spain and Portugal), or for when I want to carry enough food for a rest day wild camping in the mountains or forest.

Obvious ways to spare a few grams would be to leave the footprint of the tent behind, which I don’t want, for obvious protection. Or, I could use my gas stove i.o. the multifuel stove, but I know from experience these gas canisters are not at all easy to find in remoter areas.
I considered leaving the laptop behind but decided against it. It’s an easy back-up with all my maps and routes in case something happens with the gps, and being away so long (hopefully), means there’s all sorts of stuff one has to arrange from time to time.
I think this is the best I could do to make it as light as possible for this kind of trip.

Bicycle:

  • Frame: Santos Travelmaster 2.6 alu, 19inch
  • Wheels: Santos handmade ‘vakantiewiel’ – (rim: Exal) 36 spokes
  • Tires: Schwalbe Smart Sam (2.25” front & 2.1” back)
  • Gears: Rohloff hub (chain rings: front 42, back 20)
  • Breaks: Shimano Deore-XT V-brakes
  • Front Rack: Racktime Topit
  • Rear Rack: Tubus Vega Classic

Bags:

  • 2 Ortlieb back roller classic panniers (20 L each)
  • 2 Sea To Summit River Dry Bags (20 L each)
  • Wild Cat Frame Bag
  • Topeak top tube bag
  • Revelate Design ‘Jerrycan’
  • 2 AcePac Fat Bottle bags
  • Daypack: Sea To Summit Ultra-Sil
  • Various dry bags

Camping / sleeping:

  • Tent: Hilleberg Nallo 2 incl. footprint
  • Mattress: Thermarest Neo Air + pump sack
  • Down Sleeping Bag: Cumulus Panyam 450 (820 gr – 0°C comf.)
  • Liner bag (Cocoon Travel Sheet Egypt Cotton)
  • Pillow: Sea To Summit Aeros Premium


Cooking:

  • Stove: Optimus Nova multifuel expedition stove
  • Fuel bottle: Optimus 1L
  • Windscreen
  • Pot & pan: Optimus
  • Mug: Primus 4 seasons
  • Cutlery
  • Wooden spoon
  • Cutting board
  • 2 lighters
  • 5 x 0,75 ltr + 1 x 1,5 ltr water bottle
  • Water filter: Katadyn Hiker Pro
  • Sponge

Jackets:

  • Rain jacket
  • Down jacket
  • Fleece jacket

Shirts & pants:

  • T-shirts: 2 long + 1 short sleeved shirt
  • 1 Long sleeve merino wool shirt
  • 2 Cycling shorts
  • Rain Pants
  • Thermo underpants
  • Casual pants
  • 1 pair light running shorts
  • Boxer shorts

Hand & head gear :

  • Cycling gloves
  • Warm Gloves:
  • Beanie
  • 2 Buffs
  • cap
  • Head net
  • Helmet

Shoes & socks:

  • Light Gore-Tex hiking shoes
  • 2 pair thin cycling socks
  • Warm socks

Photography & Electronics:

  • Camera: Sony RX100 MII
  • 2 Batteries for camera
  • 3 x 64 gb memory cards
  • Laptop & laptop sleeve
  • External hard drive
  • E-reader
  • Phone
  • Gps
  • Cycle computer
  • Mp3-player
  • Headphones
  • Head Torch
  • AA-battery recharger
  • 2 Power Banks: 10.000 + 20.000 Mah
  • 8 rechargeable AA batteries for gps
  • Small solar panel
  • Various chargers & cables
  • Small distribution plug

Spare Parts:

  • Tube
  • Brake cable
  • Rohloff shifter cables
  • Spare Rohloff ‘easy-set’ & shifter clamp
  • Break pads
  • 1 chain + chain lock
  • 1 rear chain ring (20 t)
  • Spare spokes (front & rear)
  • Cable ties
  • Screws
  • Optimus & Thermarest repair kits

Tools:

  • Multitool
  • Swiss Army knife
  • Small screw driver (flat)
  • Allen keys
  • Spanner nbr 8
  • Small pliers
  • 2 Tyre levers
  • Pump
  • Puncture repair kit
  • Spoke tightener
  • Chain breaker
  • KMC missing link opener & remover
  • Rohloff oil change kit & screws
  • Chain oil
  • Chain brush

Toiletries:

  • Electronic shaver
  • Hair clippers
  • Comb
  • Toothbrush + toothpaste
  • Dental floss
  • Shampoo
  • 2 Washcloths
  • Small towel
  • Sun cream
  • Lipbalm
  • Mosquito repellent
  • Tick remover tool
  • Nail clippers
  • Tweezers
  • earplugs
  • Toilet paper
  • Pocket trowel
  • Plasters
  • Bandage
  • Disinfectant
  • Thermometer
  • Face masks

Miscaleneous:

  • Bicycle lock
  • Sunglasses
  • maps
  • Pen
  • Waterbladder: Ortlieb 10L
  • Wallet
  • Duct tape
  • Passport + ID card
  • Passport pictures
  • Drivers license
  • Debet cards
  • Credit cards
  • Homebanking devices
  • Rope / clothes line
  • 5 clothespins