There is a funny thing starting to happen as we crossed the border into France. For some reason I felt home and at ease. I started with a weird guard up as we biked through Portugal and Spain until I realized how unnecessary it was. There was no point in this trip where I felt uncomfortable besides biking on a skinny highway with a bus trying to pin me against the metal barrier. We’ve received constant love and thoughts from concerned family and friends, and we are safe, soaking up every day of sun that brightens our day’s ride.
Jumping a bit of Spain’s coastline, I was curious to see how the terrain would differ from Portugal and the Costa da Morte. Of course it was stunning, and I wasn’t surprised when we encountered more, heavier, steeper hills dipping up and down the coast.
The ocean seemed to be more lively, waves popping up everywhere, showing potential for surf but nothing truly amazing revealed itself to us. It became a common conversation as we ride around a corner, catching a glimpse of a small wave peeling around a rocky peak. Without fail, one of us would mention how perfect that wave would be on the right tide, ride wind, right swell, but just not right now...
We made it to the Basque Country, where the food, landscape, and towns are unlike anything I have seen. In every small valley between towering hills is a quaint harbor with a village hanging onto the sides of a cliff. The heart and flow of every Basque village leads down into a river connecting them to sea.
So we push up another hill, reach the top sweaty, out-of-breath and aching, I make those last few pedals watching the sweat drip off my cycling cap as I cruise to a lookout over another breathtaking view. Keagan’s always there, draining that of his water bottle anxious for me to rest up so we can make the decent.
All of the sweat dries off and I drop my hand low leaning into every turn, finally in tune with the weighed down bike. The hour it might take to climb up the hill doesn’t matter when we descend through forests and vineyards ending in a small beautiful Basque town.
In a few days, we would be in France, and I would no longer be useless when ordering a food and beer, or asking for directions and help, but mainly food and beer. That was the main thing on my mind, and as we were outside of Mundaka, I was stoked because we were so close.
Riding through another unique town, there was another hill. Surprise. But this hill was special. Other than being on a very popular and busy rode, it had a sign that read “2.5 km at 10 %” with a illustration of a large steep grade. I saw this at what I thought was the top of another big hill. Keagan had disappeared, already plowing up the mountain. I stopped and drained my last water bottle, ate a biscuit and started the ascent.
I was struggling to keep on the bike but determined as hell to make it. Keeping the bike straight on the thin shoulder hoping cars would go around. A few moments when I wanted to give up, someone would drive by yelling support in a foreign tounge and throwing me a shaka.
All the climbing lead to us meet Unai and Lucas. Lucas is a bike tourer from Poland who is possibly the most interest guy I have ever met. He shared stories of biking in the jungles of Africa with lions, getting malaria 5 times, but not once can you hear any regret in his voice, just the biggest smile and contagiously happy attitude. Unai was his Spanish host who lived 10 kms up the river in Gernika.
We jumped in the harbor, shared some stories, said a farewell to Lucas, and Unai opened up his home again, giving us a warm shower and bed to sleep in. That night defined the hopeful spirit of the trip.
A few hours later as we were sitting a long table with Unai, and 15 of his closest friends, treated to a traditional homemade Basque dinner, Keagan and I eyed each other form across the table, lifted up our beers and laughed.
The next day, Unai and two friends rode with us for 20 miles, showed us his favorite tucked away villages. Took us to a beach after 10 miles hoping for a little bodysurfing session, which was when Unai was hooked with handplanes. He rode keagan’s Enjoy handplane, and it was obvious by the grin on his face that he was stoked.
These surprise meet ups keep us going, and we know that this won’t be the last time that our paths cross.