Old friend Chris McClean has recently gotten into a new hobby. Combining the free wheeling spirit of a bikepacking expedition with his passion for hunting down secluded surf spots, Chris and some friends (including some of the Finisterre Crew) set out to the North Coast of Spain to see what they could find.
“When the spirits are low, when the day appears dark, when work becomes monotonous, when hope hardly seems worth having, just mount a bicycle and go out for a spin down the road, without thought on anything but the ride you are taking.”
- Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859 – 1930)
There’s a lot to be said for travelling under your own steam. Your own two feet clipped in pushing pedals round and around, eating up the miles. Life packed up in bags, all attached to your bike stripped back, two tee shirts, two pairs of pants, one rain jacket, a stove, a tent, a sleeping bag, a sleeping mat and the all essential bag of coffee - you might carry a stove top expresso maker, an aero press, French press or just just go Indo-style ground straight in the cup but I’m yet to meet a bike tourer/bikepacker that doesn’t start the day with at least one, and the stronger the better.
But the exciting thing about bike-packing trips for me involves a trailer (or rack) towed behind the bike laden with a board and wetsuit. So when the chance came with Cafe du Cycliste, a brand based in Nice with the MD, Remi a keen surfer I jumped at the opportunity.
A crew was hastily assembled - Remi, Sami the friend of a friend from Girona, Oli from deepest darkest London and Amy from almost as SW as you can get on mainland Britain. Our rendezvous was San Vicente de la Barquera just to the east of Asturias on the North Coast of Spain.
Time slows down by bike and not just literally - two punctures within the first 2 kms which gave an excuse to admire the view and open the bag of snacks from the bakery purchased only 10 mins before. We took a twisting route along the coast, half gravel and half tarmac dipping in and out of forests, deserted villages and vineyards. The roads were devoid of cars and people. Riding along at 15kph gives everything a new scope, views last minutes rather than seconds, the breeze welcome on the skin — natures own air con.
You move to avoid insects crossing the road and ride along with butterflies as they cruise beside you. We stopped for lunch beside a river — bread, tapenade, olives, cheese, crisps, biscuits, chocolate and cake. That’s the other thing about riding: you need calories. The body craves sugar and salt so everything is wolfed down, water bottles are refilled and we hit the road again.
The beach has a tiny wave but the ride up and down is another half gravel half road thing, and upon reaching the bottom we realise that camping above the high tide line is impossible so we begin the ride out to re-assess. A short ride and a spot is picked on a lush grassy patch above two islands, no surf but a walkway cut out of the rocks down to the beach for a dip. After pitching tents a local walking his dogs tells us that the police check here overnight and we’ll get moved on, defeated we start to pack down but seeing our deflation the local offers an alternative, a short ride away but hidden from the road and with an even better view.
By the time we’re packed up it's dark and finding the spot proves tricky, the terrain would be tough in daylight but now in the dark we revert to pushing bikes, bike lights clenched between teeth to find the way. A couple of false stops before we think we’ve found it… we scurry over rocks and push our way through 100m of thick grass before we stop atop the cliff with enough space for our bikes and five tents. We soon start chopping and sautéing onions, garlic and ginger and the smells of a delicious sweet potato curry that can’t cook quick enough waft over camp. Everything tastes so good after a day on the bike and this is no different. The company and food makes the disappointment of not finding waves palatable and we now laugh and chat about the day's events.
The next morning a stunning scene awaits us. We’re nestled inside a natural halfpipe with a view over the two islands and seabirds screeching as the sun makes an appearance and bathes us in the morning light. Breakfast is a lovely relaxed affair with fruit, porridge, bread and cheese all washed down with coffee. Dishes are washed in the rock-pools and the road beckons. The decision is made to head back towards San Vicente de la Barquera via gravel tracks to hopefully score an incoming swell that evening.
At times the highway is visible glistening through the hills and forest, but I’d take the infinitely longer gravel track anytime, the dust sticks to the skin but the thought of a fresh ocean dip keeps the legs turning. Cafe’s become respites from the track and a mixture of beers, martinis and coffees are drank. The distance become shorter and we push onwards. The joy of seeing a little wave is palatable within the group. Bikes are ditched and wetsuits donned, the tents can wait.
It’s tiny, 1ft peelers but we jump in happy to wash the dirt and sweat from our skins, waves are caught and a couple of locals rock up, the sand bar gets really good and we wish it was a foot bigger. Night is falling as tired and salty we drag ourselves away and up the beach with tents still to pitch and food still to cook.
In the morning the swell has disappeared, we build a fire and toast bread and chocolate spread, happy last nights surf wasn’t a dream. And that’s the thing with dragging boards about by bike — it is impractical, chasing swells and checking spots, is neigh on impossible to get the best spots, it's slow and it’s hard work but every time I’ve travelled this way I’ve returned with a bigger grin on my face than when I left.
And that is the real reason I can’t wait to plan the next Surf x Cycle trip.