My take on riding to Spain
Jenny O'Grady | firstname.lastname@example.org | @jonpogrady
My Take On Riding A Motorcycle To Spain.
I passed my motorcycle test 8 months ago. I’ve wanted a motorbike licence for as long as I can remember, but something always seemed to take priority. It takes time, commitment training and quite a lot of money… and there was a part of me that never believed I would actually go for it.
There is usually a catalyst which makes you go for something which has previously only ever been a thought. For me, it was when I made the link between traveling and motorbikes. Traveling the world is something that is massively important to me, it’s the thing that drives me to work harder and earn more money. I have a dream of one day being able to live as a nomad in Mongolia, but until then.. I’ll make do with bursts of traveling for 6 month and holiday breaks.
When I realised people could travel long distance on a motorcycle a rush of amazement flooded in. It seems obvious but unless you are searching for it, you don’t hear a massive amount on people traveling on bikes. Apart from The Long Way Round, or Down or.. Across. So that was it, I was wide eyed and ready to travel on a motorbike. It was just the small case of getting my license now, which I couldn’t afford, shouldn’t be concentrating on as I had just started a new job and it was snowing outside. I got out a credit card and booked in for some training anyway with Mark at 3D Motorcycle Training, in Dec 2015.
I had told myself I had to pass first time because I couldn’t afford to re take the tests and also me and my boyfriend Dave were going to set off riding to Spain in July 2016 – the only month he could take for holiday this year. Dave also has a bike license and has outright told me many times he doesn’t like riding with me clipped on as pillion, so I needed to get a move on as I wasn’t getting a free ride. Lucky I passed and plans for our travels began.
We decided we needed a month away to be able to do all the things we wanted, and take some time going off road. We bought a Lone Rider Tent and started gathering camping equipment! I didn’t want to plan too much or book hotels because needing to get somewhere on a certain day can ruin the freedom of not knowing where you’ll end up that night.
After training for my license, taking my tests and saving up for a bike deposit, I only had a couple of months actually riding before it was time to set off. We had planned to get through France in 3 days and meet my parents (who were also on a bike) for a couple of days in Andorra. I was feeling pretty apprehensive at this point. I had no idea if I was going to be able to ride for hours at a time and didn’t want to be the ‘anchor’.
July came and it was time to get going, I finished work early and arrived at home to see the bikes sitting outside with Dave rushing around, beyond excited. As usual it was torrential rain leaving Leeds, we had the Eurotunnel booked for 23:00 so needed to get a move on. It took us around 5 hours with 2 breaks to get there. To my surprise when we arrived at the tunnel I wasn’t that tired and I started to be less anxious and more excited.
Part #1 – France
We arrived in Calais about midnight and stayed in the first hotel we saw. The next day we aimed for Chartres, just past Paris. Three days was more than enough time to get to Andorra which was around 736 miles away, so we took our time and tried to travel about the same distance each day. Arriving at most places late afternoon so we had time to see a bit of the places we were staying.
From Chartres we went to Pierre-Buffière, and from there we stayed near Foix so we were just over the border from Andorra. By this time I had started to realize the effort of having to live out of panniers, unloading the bike every night and loading again the next day. I didn’t really have a system at this point so I was forgetting to clip certain clips, tie things up and just getting pinged in the face by bungee straps constantly.
Part #2 – Andorra
In Andorra we met my parents and had two nights there, first stop was El Pas de la Casa. It was the most interesting place, not really what I was expecting at all and so different from everywhere else we went. El Pas de la Casa is a ski resort, but not like one I have been to before. It was almost Sci Fi, the whole place looked like something out of Blade Runner. It was a lot of fun looking around the duty free shops but a night there was enough and in the morning we moved onto Andorra la Vella.
The roads from El Pas de la Casa to Andorra la Vella were insane, I haven’t ridden anything like them before and to be honest I don’t think I was really ready for them – best way to learn right? That’s what Dave kept telling me... I had just about got use to riding on the wrong side of the road when the extreme switch backs started, making the turns uphill a lot tighter. The thing that I was sure I was going to fail on in my motorcycle test was the turn in the road, I kept putting my foot down in the practice but managed to get through it ok on the day. I still wasn’t experienced in the tight turn’s department and them being at such a steep angle was scary but I got into the swing of them and actually started having fun. Good job because the whole trip was packed full of intense switch backs.
Part #3 – Spain
We said bye to my parents, they went to the coast and we headed into mainland Spain. This is when we started the off road part of the adventure, going from Andorra to Spain using the Smugglers Trail.
I have a CB500X, and I love it. I know it’s just a bike but I seem to have formed quite an emotional attachment to it after the holiday! I couldn’t afford to kit my bike out with knobbly tires or suspension so I just went easy and let some air out my tyres. The bike went up, round, over everything I asked it to. The Smugglers Trail was harder than I thought it would be, and even included a couple of river crossing. I fell off about 4 times, luckily all at slow speed so it was more of a topple to the side.
After the trail we were exhausted, we found the nearest main road and headed that way. We got the sat nav out – Points of Interest – Campsites. Things went on like this for the next 9 days, doing trails in the days and camping on the evenings. We saved so much money while camping, it was usually about 15-20 Euros per night at the sites. We cooked pasta on our little stove for dinner, and watched films on our tablet for free entertainment. One of the most amazing days was spent in Parque Natural De Las Bardenas Reales, it was like something out of a western film. Made up of gravel/sand tracks with no rules of where you couldn’t ride, it was incredible.
We were quite close to Zaragoza at this point so tried out city life for two nights, it’s a really interesting place but by the second day I was already missing our tent.
We met back up with my parents around Parque Natural del Alto Tajo and had a couple of nights there, it was full of pretty Spanish towns so we slept at one place while there and ventured out on the bikes in the days. Before we knew it we were heading North. From Alto Tajo we made one more stop pre catching the ferry home, a little transitional town called Haro.
We arrived in Bilbao and I might have experienced my first panic attack! We didn’t do enough research before booking the hotel and end ended up right in the centre, we used Booking.com and specified that the hotel needed parking but unfortunately this hotel had slightly exaggerated. When they said there was parking, they meant a few miles away in a public underground car park. The city was full of one way systems, at one point we could see the hotel but couldn’t get to it! Very annoying. We eventually got parked and had to drag all of our luggage to the hotel in the heat of the day. After all of that Bilbao was actually really lovely, we stuck mostly to the old town.
The next day it was time for the ferry, I wasn’t sure about the steep metal ramp we had to ride up to get on, but all went ok. We were on the ferry for around 30 HOURS, which wasn’t actually that bad. We had a stash of films to get through so mostly hid out in our cabin, only ventured out for a walk around outside or to eat!
The ferry got into Portsmouth about 8:30pm – of course it was raining on our arrival. Due to a number of closed roads we didn’t make it back home till 3:00am. It was a long ride back and the holiday depression started setting in. I made it worse by listening to all my favourite holiday tunes in my helmet, why did I do that?
Now I’m home I miss not having a destination to reach every day, and not pitching up somewhere new every night. Going to Spain has confirmed the riding adventures for me and Dave have just begun, we are now formulating a master plan for the trip of a lifetime…
Jenny O’Grady - WeBuyAnyBike.com