Updated: Feb 7, 2019
Creeping past Amadie's room, into the shower and then onto the all important tea-making task, it didn't feel at all as though I was about to kick off the biggest ride of my life in a matter of hours. The reality however was that I had 30 minutes to drink my tea, run through my kit (again) and have what could be the last poo in an actual porcelain toilet for a whole week - and all before the 4.5 hour drive to the west coast and Hendaye.
Mike rocked up with Archie at bang on 7am wearing full cycling kit - he wanted to be ready to go the moment we arrived at the coast!
We necked a coffee and loaded my bike.
It was very misty with a bite in the air as left but the forecast for Hendaye was looking good. 27 degrees, clear and sunny with a slight breeze that would push us west. Perfect!
Mike entertained us with his stories of living and working in the Gambia and, with just one stop for comfort and coffee, we arrived at Hendaye just in time for Pizza. Archie parked up whilst we loaded the bikes with kit and made our final checks. We found a lovely little pizzeria on a side street off the main drag where we noshed down a pizza each and an obligatory beer -who knew when we'd get our next one? I quickly got changed in the smallest toilet cubicle in all of Europe and we walked our heavily laden bikes to beach and a point we would call The Start. My last minute change of panniers meant I had a bit more space than before so nothing had to be lashed to the outside - which was doing wonders for my bikepacking fengshui.
It quickly became apparent just how heavy our bikes were as we both needed Archie to help us lift them down the steps off the promenade and onto the sand. We were in trouble already!
The beach was busy with people enjoying a very warm, sunny Saturday in September and a few sunbathers looked on as Archie took a photo and we struggled to get the bikes back onto the pavement!
After a short goodbye to Archie I fired up the Hammerhead Karoo and we were off and somewhat counterintuitively heading north along the coast for what felt like ages. It was busy on the main road too and after a couple navigational issues out of the way, we were soon headed west with the mountains ahead of us.
We had a couple of climbs to do today, almost like a warm up before the real mountains had to be climbed. We'd be following the classic RAID route for the week with a few adjustments I'd thrown in for 'fun'. Today was one of those 'fun' adjustment days so we'd have an easy little climb up the Col St Ignace at 169m as a little 'amuse bouche", followed by the Col Extondo at 602m for mains and then the Col D'Izpegi for a 690m sweetener.
Ignace was lovely but we were hot and heavy so by the time we reached the foot of Izpegi we had to stop to refill our bottles - particularly since I'd planned on camping at the summit so we'd need water for drinks, dinner and breakfast. Adding a good 1kg of water to a bike before the start of a climb is always demoralising.
The views up the climb were stunning, the gradients very friendly but it wasn't easy with a load. Normally I like to attack a climb so sitting back and spinning it out was going to take some getting used to!
I stopped to take lots of photos and looked back down the climb trying to spot Mike at every switchback. He was happy going at his own pace so it was nice to be able to go at mine too, enjoy the moment and then regroup at the tops to descend together. It was a routine that worked.
I reached the top at 6.30pm to find two large restaurants at the top. It was a great spot for dinner with the views down the valleys on either side.
I had a cheeky idea to grab a couple of beers and just sit on the terrace overlooking the road just as Mike crested the climb so he would see me all relaxed and supping an ice-cold apero! The Gods decided that was a bit mean so both bars had stopped serving by the time I'd finished messing about with photos. Bummer!
Mike appeared about 15 minutes later looking pretty happy but having no idea that we'd just missed a well-earned beer opportunity.....until I told him and then he seemed a little less happy! We both messed about taking photos and discussing the camp options as it was starting to get to crunch-time for setting up in good light.
As the weather was great, I'd thought that we'd camp high - just off the summit where I'd spotted a little area on Google maps the week before. Now, live, and stood at the top of the col, I could see it and it was perfect - even had a view to die for. The only problem we could see was the car that had already parked on it. There wasn't anywhere else private or accessible enough to warrant a high camp so we made the tough decision to head down and see what options presented themselves.
The sun was setting quickly in the valley so we got stuck into the descent which was the first proper one of the day. Everything was behaving nicely on the bike, it felt good at speed and we made it down in super-quick time. We'd been looking for potential camp spots but with no choices and wanting to camp wild, we carried on out the other side of a village until we eventually had to settle on a less than perfect spot up a track about 500m off the main road.
It was now almost 8pm so we wasted no time setting up the Trailstar next to a hedge, diving inside to make dinner, and do some photo and strava admin!
As a first day of an epic ride everything, except our camp spot, had gone to plan but we were both tired, happy and ready for a kip regardless. So much so that we chatted until I fell asleep mid-strava convo! Sorry Mike!