Looking along a long straight road amidst lush green farmland

Home Travel StoriesNorthern Spain 2018

Higher Than I've Ever Been

By Ren Withnell

This campsite is ordinary. The toilets are clean if a little too airy, like several sites in France they're built for hot weather not this morning's cooler temperatures. We're the only campers on site though there are signs of life in a couple of what the Spanish call "bungalows", what I'd called quasi wooden chalets. Ordinary, but I'm happy here and that's what matters.

Sharon looks coy and happy with her new hair straighteners that use power from her battery
Sharon is happy! Notice the hair straighteners and the fringe. 

Outside the small bar come cafe come eatery is a sign. It shows an image of some chips, 2 eggs and a couple of rashers of thin crispy bacon. It looks lovely. €5 too. It looks tempting and lovely. The sign looks like it's been there a while and anyway, will they sell an evening meal at 0900 in the morning?

The lady within is as friendly and enthusiastic as the other people we've met so far, although age softens the overblown arm movements and giddy voice. My Spanish is improving each day and with a little help from her own limited English we can indeed have "Patas con oo-eyva ee ya-mon" for "des-aye-uner". I grab Sharon.

You know how the food in the promotional pictures never looks like the real thing? This does. It looks just like it. It tastes every bit as good as it looks too. Oh my word it is scrumptious. We wash it down with a perfect cup of "negro" tea. That is not a racist slur it means black tea, ordinary tea. Be warned - they have a lot of hippy tea in Spain.

A plate with bacon chips egg and a cup of tea looking very tasty at camping de la demanda
I'm drooling just looking at it. Grrrrr!

There's an extra with this already very nice breakfast. Sun. Warm, bright, beautiful sun. We are dining outside on the porch or veranda. I feel like I'm on holiday. 

Sharon smiles in the glorious sun as she devours he delicious breakfast
Look how happy she is! I'll have to fix that.

Nearby lies a range of mountains, The Sierra De La Demanda allegedly. I don't know what a large family car made in the '80s by Ford is demanding but this is an ideal chance to find out. We kit up and head east. We can see the hills so hopefully they shouldn't be too hard to find. In fact from the book that Sharon's brought with us I already have a destination in mind. 

Hehe! I giggle inside my helmet. We're back on the twisty roads again and it feels brilliant. These are faster longer larger curves although we're still within the speed limit. Mostly. There's also a few longer straights to lift my eyes from the tarmac so I can drink in the views. The ride is a little less intense and that suits me today.

A gentle corner through the verdant green countryside in Northern Spain
Great riding in the countryside.

There's a few miles of really wriggly road which I partake of with gusto before we get into Ezcaray. This is another small and well proportioned town but we don't stop because I actually find the road I'm looking for. The LR415. 

Initially it feels like this road will end soon. It feels like a real back lane, the sort of road that leads to a farmyard and no further. It keeps on going though, and it keeps on getting better too.

A small river runs by the road, nestled between verdant trees and occasional houses. We lose the river as we climb to find steeply angled hills with rocks yet the trees remain, how they grow at this angle is beyond me. We're sauntering, this isn't a playtime road this is a 20kmh slow down and look around road. Peaceful, calming and pretty. I feel as vibrant and alive as the trees basking in the sun.

A narrow lane between tall trees in full leaf and steep hillside covered in a thick forest
You can't rush this road, and would you want to?
The motorcycle next to a wall looking into and up from a steep tree filled valley
I certainly was expecting this! 

Then the road gets all serious. We are gaining altitude and with it comes sharp narrow bends to zig-zag us ever higher. The trees thin out, the rocks are more exposed, there's patches of gravel on the lane and my ears pop. There's a sense of drama now so I'm happy to follow 2 cars struggling up before me. Sharon is doing OK, I monitor her in my mirrors to make sure.

Then all of a sudden we're at the top. The road opens out ahead to a broad swathe of light tan gravel but before we can reach it we must navigate a swathe of different material - snow! The snow reaches the edge of the tarmac in a sludge of mud and ice. It's not too bad, it's just a question of keeping a tight line along the edge.

Sharon walk between the snow and the edge of the road on the mountain top
Just a narrow strip of tarmac between the snow and the edge of the road...and slope.

Hang on a moment. Snow? It's the end of May and there is snow? Well yes, of course we've seen snow on quite a few of the mountain tops but they're mountain tops. This, oh hang on, yeah. Am I on top of a mountain? Well maybe I am?

I'm no mountaineer, I'm not even a keen walker. As a child I went to the top of Snowden once on the train but all I saw was was fog. I have walked up my local hill but that's more of a pimple. My point is being on top of a mountain is not a common experience for me as most roads don't go to the top of mountains. It is very impressive.

Vast mountain range stretches off into the distance seen from Alto Cruz
Oh look! Blimey it's no wonder my ears popped.

We park up and wander around, taking pictures and admiring the view. I get talking to a Spanish cyclist (yes, cyclist, and he's not the only one) who's wedged his bicycle in the snow to hold it upright. For once (just once) my Spanish is just slightly better than his English which makes communication fiddly. His joyful eagerness overcomes this with hand gestures, patience and many queried looks.

I can see the road becomes track, I learn the track would lead us back to Ezcaray. I'd be tempted on the CB500X but I'm not sure Sharon's ready for off roading the Z250SL just yet. I learn we are at 1800 metres. Metres, not feet. This is The Alto Cruz? Google maps agrees with my new friend. I'm reminded the Spanish we have met on this trip have been wonderful.

A compacted gravel track leads away from the camera and into the mountains
Hmmmm, maybe I'll come back and ride this one day?

We head back to the campsite the way we came. Twisting and turning then easing off, up, down, left, right, around, across, over and under. The road back down the mountain, the main road back to the site, the sun and the people. I truly thought the N625 and N621 through The Picos De Europa would make the rest of our trip pale into insignificance, I am being proven wrong.

More mountains stretch away from the camera, sharon is in shot but she looks tiny against the huge scene
Different to the Picos yet equally majestic.

There is but one minor fly in this otherwise pleasing ointment. The extra thick sole on my "one leg is too short" boot is coming asunder. I have done the best I can to ensure the bikes are prepared. We both have spare levers. I have a handful of tools and handy "bits". I've checked the tent. We've got copies of paperwork. We've done a lot of preparation for this trip.

The one thing I did not prepare for was my left boot coming asunder from it's extra thick sole. It's not a disaster. It won't end the trip. It could make life a little more awkward though. I need a solution.

1855 metres. 6086 feet. 510 metres higher than Ben Nevis. The Alto Cruz de la Demanda is probably the highest I've ever been in my life. Wow!

If you'd like to advertise on Bikes And Travels contact ren@bikesandtravels.com

Building Up To EspaƱa In the prologue to their journey Ren can't help but feel that the forthcoming journey might be a costly disaster. Forever the optimist.
Getting Ready For Spain Sharon is determined to be ready, organised and prepared for her forthcoming trip to Spain. However life is even more determined to ruin her plans.
Bodging Daaan Saaaf Ren bears witness to an impossible event. Then there's some last minute bodging to be done.
Motorway Miles And Muses Sharon's derriere proves more than tough enough for the big ride across England. Can she manage to lose them emotional luggage while securing her physical luggage though?
To The Ferry What are the chances of Sharon getting out of bed very early twice in the same week. Well she'd better had otherwise the Muppet's will miss the ferry.
Ocean Blue Sharon's more excited than nervous but this is the first time the Kwakker has been aboard ship. That's if customs let her on board.
Lost Off The Ferry The great adventurer and motorcyclist Ren is proving that he is in fact a useless idiot. He can't ride and he can't find a campsite that is open. Oh what will become of the BAT muppets?
Campsite Conundrum Sharon is having way too much fun while Ren is trying to find a place to sleep. Well someone has to be happy when Ren's such a grump.
Discovering The Picos After a troublesome first day in Spain hopefully Sharon and Ren's luck will improve. Thing is they have a 187km detour to reach their destination. There have been worse detours though.
Heaven's Mirror Putting fear and doubt to bed for a while Sharon enjoys the wondrous ecstasy of nature and the joy of riding a motorcycle through it. Oh and a lot of sharp corners too.
Rain In The Picos Will the rain bring doom and gloom to the already grumpy Ren? Luckily there's enough scenery and interesting things to keep him going.
The Sound Of Silence In spite of a dire weather forecast Sharon's day in Spain is filled with the beauty of nature, fond memories and the creation of great new memories.
Riding to Burgos Is motorcycle touring a non stop stream of excitement, beauty, wonder and exploration? Erm, nope. It's a rather ordinary day on the road to Burgos.
Tin Tin It's both a good and bad day for Sharon as she travels from the delights of the mountains to the grim reality of the city and the rain. At least her hair is looking good.
Higher Than I've Ever Been In spite of the weather forecasts. In spite of no longer being in The Picos. In spite of Ren being a pessimist. In spite of all this it seems Northern Spain has more delights in store.
Magical Kingdom Sharon's having another amazing day riding around Northern Spain. She's on a high, metaphorically and literally.
Boots And Burgos Ren is suffering a footwear malfunction and it's time to go and do that city thing. Can Burgos convert Sharon and Ren into city lovers?
Burgos Bimble Sharon explores the city of Burgos, Spain. Architecture, stone masonry, pilgrims and tempting food. But can a city really endear itself to this country girl?
Lost In Luxury How to turn a fortuitous and splendid day into a nightmare. Just follow Ren and he'll sort the rest out. Still, it could be worse.
Dam Lost Fearing the weather Sharon is braced for a drenching. Thing is the weather isn't really the problem.
Gritty Northern El Bierzo There's time to explore a different part of Northern Spain today. It might not have the beauty of The Picos De Europa it is however a fascinating area.
Blink Of An Eye Sharon has an interesting day poking around north west Spain. There's a something of a shock in store for the evening.
Back To Beauty, Dodgy Caravan It's time for the dynamic muppets to saunter their way back towards the ferry and Ren is in reflective mood. Wonderful scenery, weird accommodation.
The Good, The Bad And The Musty It's a day of confusing emotions for Sharon, but life is for living. Will this evening's accommodation be as luxurious as the previous evening's?
Beautiful Potes While going to a now familiar town is hardly intrepid at least it means Ren is calm, chilled out and not lost. For once.
Head In The Clouds Sharon is calmed by the wonders of Northern Spain's wondrous scenery as she returns to the comforts of Potes.
Sun, Sand, Sea And Santander The weather has improved now it's time for the dynamic muppets to head back to the ferry. Ren is intrigued by stories or walking across Northern Spain, will we see "Walks And Travels" or W.A.T.?
Splish Splash Santander The beauty and grandeur of the The Picos means Sharon does not want to leave, ever. It's back to the city, ready to sail home. Fear not, there's still pleasures to be found.
The Ferry Home It's the dynamic muppet's last day in Spain so it's time to catch the ferry. A mixture of sadness and relief for Ren, but what about the other riders in the queue?
Final Thoughts On Spain Ren crosses the T's and dots the I's on the Spanish trip.

Reader's Comments

Ian Soady said :-
Duct tape will be your friend (but I take it this advice is now too late)......

1855 metres? Nowt. The Col d'Iseran (guesss which country that's in) is 2,764 metres. It's absolutely awe inspiring as it just keeps on going up and up.

The highest I've ever been without being in a plane was the Trail Ridge Road in the Rocky Mountains National Park which crests at over 12,000 feet - 3657 metres. Our rented RV made it fairly easily.....

07/07/2018 11:20:05 UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
Well I've been in a small plane over Blackpool once at about 1500 feet. I've been in a helicopter too but I've no memory of that at all. So I'm reckoning 1855 metres is the pinnacle of my achievements so far!

I know there's much higher places but I've not been to them.
07/07/2018 08:18:39 UTC

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