First half: France

Leaving St Jean Pied de Port in the morning, it was uphill from the start and uphill all the way until Ibañeta, the pass at 1057m.

Three tiresome hours, progressing painstakingly slowly, crawling along the curbside, just keeping the wheels rolling, onwards and upwards.

Three tedious hours trudging along at a pace barely faster than a spritely stroll, cycle computer consistently calling a speed of 4.1mph.

Three taxing hours, sweating profusely from every pore, even though the sun stood no chance of breaking through the cloud that enveloped the hillsides and the mist that shrouded the lone cyclist.

There was an eery silence, save for the occasional passing car or camper-van and the gentle trickle of water flowing over the smoothed rocks in the gulleys and running through the verdant undergrowth elsewhere. No wildlife either; birds, insects, even roadkill!

As the altitude increased, the mist thickened and the air cooled, with each laboured breath the warm exhaled air could be seen momentarily forced out ahead, only to condense in a fine layer of tiny droplets of moisture on the already sodden t-shirt of the same cyclist.

The cross marks the top. Ibaneta, 1057m
The cross marks the top. Ibaneta, 1057m

And then, round just another bend in the road, appeared a giant cross on the horizon. Apart from the cross, it was just grey sky; no more trees, nowhere else upwards for the road to go. At this point came the outburst; not a ‘Mon Dieu’ or ‘Praise the Lord’ which may have been appropriate under the circumstances, since the road followed is the St. James’ Way that many a pilgrim and firm believer has travelled over the millenium; but a less eloquent, but equally unequivocal ‘Thank F… !’.

Half-time interval:

Time to change out of heavy-with-sweat green t-shirt and into lightweight-dry black vest-top, time to have a look around at the scenery (a rather short field of view), make mindless small-talk with a couple of lycra-clad Italian cyclists and eat yet more food.

Second half: Spain

Leaving the ‘summit’ around midday, it was downhill from there and downhill pretty much all the way to Pamplona (a couple of inclines, but these were swiftly and relatively painlessly dealt with).

Rounding yet another bend in the road, the sight of the overpowering church of Roncevalles, reflecting from it’s roof the sun’s rays. Yes, the sun was out, the sky was blue, just dotted with little white fluffy clouds. Looking down on the brighter side came another eloquent, explicit outburst.

There ensued, three thrilling hours, flying with unrelentless speed, free-wheeling along the freeway, applying the brakes to remain right on the edge of control, wheels rolling ever onwards and downwards.

Three terrific hours, leaning left then right round the hairpin bends, taking on the cars and camper-vans for pace, regularly exceeding the sedate speed limit, cycle computer reading speeds up to 40.1mph.

Three tireless, timeless hours, still sweating continuously, but from the warm radiating sun over Spain.

Emerging from the whistling wind were the sound of birds and the occasional cricket. Badger for roadkill too!

As the altitude decreased, the haze thickened and the air warmed, only the speed attained allowed for cooling the burning body and keeping the vest-top black and dry.

And then, in the distance, the welcome sign of Pamplona; busy network of roads, numerous cars and lorries, giant advertisement boards and every other detail a city conjures in the mind.

In Pamplona. In Spain. Exhausted and elated. Nowhere else to go, not today – just find a campsite for a shower, dinner and beer.

Game over

But the season’s just getting started.