The Lekunberri Hotel has a massive woodpile, and skis hanging on the wall – they obviously get cold Winters. Summers are pretty warm too – It’s not yet July, and its expected to reach 37C here today; possibly warmer near the coast, and certainly a lot more humid. Dunno if I could live here; Perisher Winters, and Brisbane Summers – a bit too extreme for me.
Rosalie rang this morning, just before I was going to get breakfast; we had a good chat – she’s had a weekend in Sydney, and is now planning for new carpets and kitchen floorings. She keeps busy…. I’m constantly amazed that she’s my partner – dunno what she sees in me. In her, I see the woman who completes me…..
I was the only one at breakfast, OJ, coffee, cornflakes and an omelette. The waitress made me a huge cheese roll for my ride, too.
Packed the bike, and made sure I had my lights on the bike; some of the tunnels are very long – one is 2.7 km. The tunnels are supposed to be lit, but you never know. My front light is very bright, with seven tiny LEDs, but has no lens – it’s a “be seen” light, not a “see” one – but its much better than nothing. Down the street, chuck a left onto the Plazaola track, and off we go, North.
The first five km are gently uphill – it’s an old railway line, so it is very gentle. The track is loose gravel over packed dirt; great for walking, but it got very potholed along the way, and the gravel accumulated in odd spots, making the tyres slide. Three tunnels in the first 5 km – the first was a couple of hundred metres, and not lit; the second was a bit longer, and there was a switch on the wall as you entered, which turned the lights on – not brightly; about 10 watts, I reckon. The third was slightly shorter, and not lit at all.
At each, I had to stop on entry; the transition from the full glare of the Spanish sun to the dark of the tunnel virtually blinded me, and I had to wait a few seconds for my eyes to adjust. My front light let me see the tunnel walls, and the floor, but not much else. Slow and steady was the way to go.
At Uitzi someone has bought the old station house, and 500 metres of track, so it’s onto the road, then swing back onto the track, immediately into the 2.7 km tunnel. It’s lit – but not brightly, and in some sections there are four or more dead lights, giving 50 or more metres of almost pitch black. My light proved very helpful. It’s a long way to travel underground, too; the roof leaked in several paces, showering me in cold water, and the leaks caused the floor to get ridged and rutty, and potholed; these were very difficult to see. I didn’t walk, but pedalled very slowly.
On to Leitza; lots and lots of tunnels – which on one hand is great – the trail is pretty much level, and from Leitza is very gently downhill, so pedalling is easy – but the track is narrow, rutted, potholed and gravelly – it’s not a place for making a big mile – especially as it is well used by walkers, who are not impressed to be passed by a bike at 20 kmph – not me; but I saw a couple of younger riders do just that.
I lost count of the tunnels. many were now not lit, or vandals had smashed the switches, or so many bulbs had blown that the lights were useless;
some of the tunnels are so short you can see the light at the other end, but at each I stopped, waited for my eyes to adjust, then proceeded. Slow progress – but hey – fantastic scenery, and the only thing I saw with an engine was a tractor.
This trail is a brilliant piece of engineering. The ore must have been worth a fortune back in the day, as building this line was a major feat; several dozen tunnels, a few bridges, lots of cuttings. The bicycle/walker groups have done an amazing restoration job, too; they have even provided fresh water every few km – a little filtration system at permanent flows down the rock faces.
the first big town since , well, Pamplona; Lekunberri was the last biggish place, and that was tiny – smaller than Bredbo. I’m now into Basque country; Signs are now in Spanish and Basque. Basque has way too many Zs and xs to be pronounceable, but the natives are friendly enough.
The rail line got lost here – absorbed by suburbia. it ends at a steep road, dropping down to a basilica; there is an escalator coming up from it, rather than a pavement – truly 😉
The Plazaola does sort of continue on, and I followed it – on a separate bike path, safely away from traffic – to Urnieta, where I turned left to head for Lasarte-Oria. San Sebastian was straight ahead, but hotels were very expensive (Yes, I can afford them, but it I’m a Yorkshireman at heart – it grates to pay more than a service is worth), and I’ll see heaps of the coast in the next few days. My pub in Lasarte is one-third of the cost of something similar in San Sebastian.
I had to push for two km though – Urnieta is in a valley, and Lasarte is in the next one West – so there was a huge hill to climb; too steep for me.
I left Lekunberri at 9:00 am, and got here at 3:00 pm – yet my garmin shows 3 hours and 48 minutes. The elapsed time was almost 6 hours; not much of it spent stopped, either – every tunnel caused me to lose satellite contact. There was one 2.7 km tunnel, and three or four of 600 metres or more, plus lots around the 200 metre mark – I reckon there’s at least another 7 km of distance not accounted for.
Lasarte is nothing special; just a small town near the coast. It’s handy for the San Sebastian To Bilbao/Santiago motorway, and near an airport, so it’s a route centre – cheap(ish) hotels, not too far from stuff. Walking from the hotel to town earlier I noticed lots of huge blocks of units – all facing due West. Piss poor planning.
Tomorrow I head West – dunno how far I’ll get. The coast road is the one I’ll follow – the N-634. It’s a lot up and down, like the coast road from Tomakin to Bateman’s Bay. I’ll hopefully get halfway to Bilbao.
I’ve had a truly fantastic day’s cycling; possibly the best of the trip to date – though I’ll reflect on that for a while.
I do know it made me open up my bucket list, add the Plazaola, and then cross it off as “done”. It was that good – you had to be there…
See you down the road.