So, not the first day of cycling from the southernmost point of Europe to the northernmost point, but the first day of cycling any kind of distance on a fully loaded bike. It was a straightforward journey along the coast although I when I looked out of the window of my uncle’s apartment this morning I groaned a little. Grey sky and very windy. In the end the heavens never opened and I remained dry and for 95% of the time the wind was working with rather than against me. It did, however, make for some hairy moments as I trundled down the exposed hills in the direction of Gibraltar.
The first day of a cycling tour is always a little strange. You need to get used to riding a bike that has suddenly become at least twice as heavy as it normally is, you need to up the distance from (in my case) the regular commute (although I’m referring to a commute that I haven’t completed since the start of December 2014) and let’s face it, you have to get over the fact that you think you look like a bit of a pillock. Most people out there – perhaps you are one of them – think that long-distance cycling is for the slightly strange. At times I have to agree with them and whenever I have started one of these long rides it does take me more than just a few kilometres to stop being so self-conscious. However today I was slightly surprised just how easily I slipped back into touring cyclist mode. I was comfortable on the bike almost immediately, at no point did I feel that I was over-exerting myself and strangely, I didn’t spend the first few hours thinking I looked like a right Charlie. Clearly I’ve been doing this kind of thing too long.
The coastal road in these parts – I think it’s the A7 – is not made for cycling (imagine a world where that was the case…) but it’s about the only way of travelling along the coastline continuously. I wasn’t particularly looking forward to taking on the busy dual carriageway autovia (which is not a motorway and thus cyclists can use it) and kept an eye out for any opportunity to escape its clutches on ‘service roads’ (the ‘service’ in question being a string of out of town shops). In Estepona itself I was able to cycle along the promenade with the crashing waves of the Mediterranean to my left and in the southern suburbs of the town a wonderful bright blue cycle path allowed me to keep well away from the cars but once that ran out it was back to the autovia. The Puerto de Sottogrande was the next escape. I’d forgotten it was the place I had visited with my uncle and his expat friends a few days ago (there’s a great bar doing 1€ tapas which is strange as it’s quite an exclusive place complete with security guard who opens a barrier to let you into the port area – the bar owner could surely double his prices and still sell tapas like 1€ hot cakes… [Get back to the cycling please Andrew])… But this time I was able to cycle all the way through. The Gibraltar side of the port is actually a nature reserve and for the first time since arriving on the Costa del Sol I felt as though I had arrived in an area where the local authorities had just said ‘no’ to further development. It was rather nice.
The final hour and a half was firstly an at times strenuous climb along the surprisingly green and verdant headland that eventually becomes Gibraltar. Not that you would know that Gibraltar was there if you were just a (rather thick) passing traveler. Signs for the British dependency only appear once the Spanish authorities have worked out that you are only on the road where the sign is located because you are heading in the direction of Gibraltar.
The ‘rock’ is in a rather spectacular setting, more spectacular than I had imagined. I stood for a few minutes looking down and across what remained of Spain from a terraced viewpoint high on the headland trying my utmost not to be blown away. The descent was a little scary; cross winds and a potentially high speed are a bad combination and much time was spent trying to reduce my speed and counter the effect of the wind.
If I hadn’t known that I was nearing Gibraltar, the long line of cars and coaches would surely have been a big clue but I cycled past all the vehicles and within a few minutes I was… crossing the runway of Gibraltar airport. If you think crosswinds on a headland are bad you want to try them in the middle of an airport runway. Pilots have just gone up in my estimation.
So, here I am on British territory. Gibraltar is a curious place but more of that later…