Winter Bike-packing : Barcelona to Cherbourg
OK so it wasn’t warm and at times it was pretty treacherous and soul-destroying but would I do it again?
Yes, if you paid me! ;)
Joking aside, it was well worth the experience.
Seeing all the different towns lit up for Christmas Festivities was rather special and I really learned to appreciate life’s basics like shelter, food and warmth!
My previous bike-packing experiences have been rather tame on the weather front with the worse being a wicked electric storm on a Croatian Island that was thankfully over in minutes, and suffering the effects of de-hydration and not enough sun cream. This was very different with prolonged periods of ‘discomfort’ and a genuine fear of not finding a bus stop if it all became too much. At one point on an open plain when the hailstones came driving in it was a case of literally dumping the bikes at the side of the road and tanking it through a field to the only tree to hunker down and huddle!
Someone must have been watching over me ‘though because just at the bits when the tears came and I whimpered ‘I give up’ I’d be granted some sort of reprieve, like, the wind would drop sufficiently for me to get back on the bike and push it another few metres up the hill.
Our abandoned attempt to cross the causeway at Mont Saint Michel would have made a great comedy sketch but I wasn’t laughing at the time. Actually I did I think, as did the guy that helped me pull my bike up the steps into the bus shelter.
Blue Sky did appear on occasion which prompted the debate, would you rather have a blue sky and a wild headwind or lashing rain and a tailwind?
With only 11 days to make the Cherbourg-Rosslare ferry it was always going to be a case of catching the train for parts of the journey. Unfortunately the weather was such that we trained a little bit more than we’d hoped but we still cycled 700 kilometres on our brand new Decathlon B-Twin £250 (I kid you not; EXCELLENT value I’m glad to report) hybrids loaded with our trusty waterproof panniers. We even washed them once - seemed like an appropriate way to kill time whilst sheltering in a car wash :)
Finding open cafes for food and shelter proved much more challenging than expected and I’m pretty sure that it wasn’t entirely the fault of COVID. The French villages and towns just didn’t seem to have a plethora of places to dry out but when we did come upon them they were ever so welcoming. Towards Normandy we were loathe to let a coffee opportunity pass lest there be none for another 40k of freezing.
Booking.com made budget accommodation fairly easy. Our one attempt at Airbnb turned into Crystal Maze trying to gain entry to an apartment in Nantes with all sorts of instructions to follow, bricks to turn over, codes to decipher and challenges to negotiate before we could tuck us and our bikes away onto the third floor of an apartment building situated NOT in the place advertised. Not good at the end of a day in the saddle! Good old IBIS Budget turned up trumps every time for location, welcome and reliability.
And then of course there was the route - for which we have to thank Komoot (cycle tour route planning ap)
Easy to plan, useful way points, ease of transfer to Wahoo and some interesting little diversions. OK so some were a bit dubious but on the whole it gets a thumbs up!
The long descent in to Cherbourg was a fabulous way to finish, even if the ferry was cancelled due to adverse weather conditions! SO glad to make it in before Storm Barra hit and happy to be safely ensconced in cosy cafe overlooking the port writing this.
My top tips (specifically for winter bike-packing) if any of you ever fancy something similar are:
Take buffs, lots of them! They make excellent ear coverings, snot rags, neck and leg warmers, emergency ties and they dry quickly while you sleep.
Bring a Multiple USB charger for your multiple lights and battery pack and make it part of your routine to plug in as soon as you get in. The LAST thing you want is to be caught out in the dark without a back light and some means of navigating. Two back lights, one on each pannier make you look wider and harder to pass and I personally feel that I’m granted more space as a result
Stay warm and waterproof and you can tackle whatever the weather throws at you
And keep smiling, the blue sky moments make this another of life’s little wonderful experiences to tuck into your memory bank
Thanks for reading :)