Bilbao to Barcelona by Bike

      The Great Organic Bike Ride 2000

Bilbao to Barcelona 6th - 15th May

Yippee-We did it! Where and how do I begin to describe this experience? Be it the mountains, scenery, sights, sounds, smells, food, wine, aching muscles, multi-coloured bruises, fatigue, or the camaraderie displayed between all participants of The Great Organic Bike Ride 2000. This trip will remain engraved in my mind as well as my heart for the rest of my life. It was superb.

Maiden Voyage - trip 1

I returned to the office on Tuesday 16th May 2000 , to a pile of post and an answer phone full of well wishes with everyone bar non asking me if my bum was 'OK', followed by chuckles of I'll be right over with the goose grease if you need it. Obviously good for bums as well as chests! This was coupled with exclamations of 'Bet you never want to see a bike ever again!' Quite the contrary, all I wanted to do was to get on my bike and ride as fast as possible back to those mountains in Spain and here is why…..

Our adventure started from day one with surprise, surprise, delays with the trains, which threatened to keep Sarah, my partner in crime for the week, and I from boarding the ferry. Luckily, with minutes to spare, we arrived at the terminal and we were on our way, beginning with two days aboard on a P&O ferry. Having never travelled with P&O before I was amazed at the services aboard; a swimming pool, cinema, beauty room, shops and restaurants, within which we fed upon three meals a day beautifully prepared with organic produce. My goodness we ate well. With at least three to four courses at each sitting we stocked up in preparation for the energy burst soon to be called upon. Celebrity chef Steve Saunders, also a participant in the GOBR, laid on a fun cookery demonstration during which we collected donations from the audience, all of whom enjoyed munching on organic produce, along with samples of Steve's culinary delights, whilst swigging copious amounts of wine and beer. It was all a lot of fun.

On arrival in Bilbao we were greeted by our support crew, vehicle and bikes. With saddles adjusted, brakes tested and panniers attached it was – 'All aboard, we're off!' and The Great Organic Bike Ride 2000 began with an escort to our first stop, a coffee shop, where we had our second breakfast of the morning. It was here we met our doctor, better known as Doc, Colin, or more fondly, C who, joined us complete with his own trusty steed, a smart looking bike, one which looked slightly more turbo charged than ours. We were to understand why, as during the week, we witnessed his nimble frame flashing past on his many visits to the front and back of the group checking that all was well. This certainly put a new meaning to the phrase, 'doctor on call'.

From the coffee shop we were escorted to a reception held for us at the Guggenheim Museum complete with local Minister, press, radio, television and local newspaper reporters. It was here that we got our first taste of the realisation of just what we were about to embark upon and achieve. The Great Organic Bike Ride was big news in Bilbao, Spain , not quite the Tour de France, but close! Remember more lycra next time chaps!!!   We had an opportunity to look around Bilbao for a couple of hours, which is where we started to soak up the ambience of Spain . Little did we know then how much this adventure was to change our lives as we were all slightly oblivious to the task ahead. Naivety is bliss! During the week we were all to face personal challenges, fatigue, many highs and lows, euphoria of achievement, excitement of success and an inner warmth bought on by the sheer beauty of our surroundings and the people we were to meet along the way. Parma ham in a thick slice of bread, cafe latté half milk, half coffee, smiling waiters, sunshine, tiny streets full of wobbly houses with pretty little verandas covered in flowers, and the laughter of children ringing in our ears, were all part of our introduction to Spain.

Back to our bikes and off to our first nights accommodation, chalets in the woods where we had a great dinner and plenty of wine. A little cycle ride took place for those keen to get a practice run in or should I say (yes me included), those crazy enough to cycle up a precarious track that turned out to be off road territory of a steep nature. As was said, ' It's all up hill from here,' little did we know! Reality Struck –

Oh my! What have we done! Back to the cabin and off to bed in preparation for an early start with twelve hours cycling ahead, eek!!!

I can do it- No I can't- You can do it- Yes I can -No I can't, as the day went by we all had to cope with our own personal ups and downs. The road was long and the mountains high! It was hot and how I

wondered why I had agreed to participate in the first place. This type of challenging thought was to flare up many times throughout the trip, as the thoughts that go through you mind, when pushing yourself physically and mentally, are extreme, you struggle to seek out your hidden abilities and resources and can be amazed at just what you find. The camaraderie that began within the group was truly amazing, support was offered and given between all participants almost immediately, support which continued throughout the trip. As I said, each day came with it's own set of challenges, each destination visited gave a new thrill, the beauty of the scenery was breathtaking, the villages quaint and pretty, the villagers unique in character as they cheered us on our way with smiles and well wishes.   Visits to the markets to buy food became a must, food that here in the UK we only dream of. As you enter the markets your eyes are transfixed by the array of fresh produce, placed with pride on beautifully displayed stalls. We found cakes, bread, fruit, vegetables, meat, fish, nuts and honey in abundance. Our visits were sheer indulgence. The sight, colours, smells and tastes were something else, encompassing an ambience and wealth of lifestyle that us Brits seem to have lost along the way. They are something I hope to see rekindled through our up and coming Farmers Markets. There are many other reasons for my never wishing to forget this trip, one being the Organic Estate, upon which we stayed in a dishevelled mansion of a house that I fondly named the Wee Willy Winky house. Not just a house, but a home suspended in time with no mains electricity or water, a magical place where you go to bed by candlelight and shower in rainwater. It was simply heaven on earth. The whole house came alive with our presence especially during dinner, the hum of our conversation around the enormous dinner table, set for us in the dining hall, was stunning and the atmosphere tremendous. It was interesting to feel that the house almost seemed to sing with us as we all sang around the grand piano. Yes, Yann & Susana, I promise to return one day!

At this stage we had many miles behind us, and many more to go. I won't go into the 75/80 mile, twelve hour days and all of the places we visited, as I am sure you have all studied the map and itinerary. Be it the cycling, villages, towns and cities such as Zaragoza or the monasteries, churches, vineyards, markets, hotels, hostels or cabins there is just too much to cover in this letter. I will always smile when I think of the surge of joy I felt when I sang for everyone in the monastery, and when I recall the fun we all had listening to the Doc play the piano whilst David accompanied him on the guitar. Whenever I face a challenge, I will recall the singing of 'you are my sunshine' as we raced around the mountains, which seemed to make our daunting task all the more possible. I am convinced that without our ability to enjoy ourselves, coupled with the sheer determination to complete the route, we would never have made it. I am delighted to be able to share this rewarding experience with you, a cycle ride that, by no means easy, was an exhilarating journey. A week spent on a bike in Spain for the good of raising money in the name of the 'Soil Association' and 'Organics', as well as for the good of my own soul. I have returned feeling liberated and extremely lucky to have seen, learned, shared and experienced so much. My thanks go to my team - mates who gave their friendship, support and limitless encouragement when needed. Malcolm for his chocolates! Sarah for accompanying me. The Doc for saving my life!! The support team who prepared our route maps and arrived on time with the nosh, but most of all thank you to my best mate for being just that, my best mate! You are all stars that shine very brightly - Well Done- We Did it! My thanks also to all those who so kindly sponsored me enabling me to complete my task, that of raising £2000 for the Soil Association. Thank you for your belief in my ability to complete The Great Organic Bike Ride 2000.      

What have I learned from participating in The Great Organic Bike Ride 2000?

Never again to say I can't –As I now know…. I Really Can Climb Mountains !

With love, light and thanks to all, Susanne

Sponsored By – Esporta Health & Racquets Club - Oxford

©Susanne Austin - May 2000

Posted on Tuesday, May 23, 2006 at 17:23 by Registered CommenterJam | CommentsPost a Comment