I was standing under a doorway, waiting for the rain to pass. I wasn’t sure why I had stopped this time. I was already soaked and I knew the rain would not stop, only get lighter if I got lucky. I dug my hands in my trouser pockets, retreated to the furthest corner of the doorway, and silently let my tears fall.
I was alone in Bilbao, lost and trapped within the boundaries of the city. I could see the hills in the distance surrounding it but I didn’t know how to get there. I didn’t even want to get there. It was grey and raining all the time and the weather forecast persisted in showing the same pattern over and over again for another week at least.
‘I don’t want this,’ I whimpered. I felt like a coward. This was just rain and it would not melt me. I tried telling myself this but my brain would not hear of it. All I could hear was the fear and loneliness coursing through my body. I looked at the bike next to me. It appeared as miserable as me, the leather saddle suffocating under a plastic bag. ‘I know,’ I said, replying to its silent accusation. I was here to pedal around in the country, not wheel my bicycle around a city. I looked at the hills behind the curtain of rain and breathed in the polluted air. I wiped the tears with wet sleeves and stepped into the rain. I needed to get out.
I headed straight for the train station and asked for a train south. ‘You can’t take your bike on the trains,’ the man on the other side of the counter told me. I stared at him, not believing his words. Surely he meant I couldn’t take it at this hour of the morning but would be able to later. ‘Not at all?’ My voice trembled into a plead. ‘Not without a bike bag and taking the front wheel off.’ I looked at him for a second too long but his verdict didn’t change. ‘Okay,’ I finally said, defeated. I had no bag and no idea where to find one.
I walked away and leaned against a railing, watching passengers get on trains. I got my map out, the lines of the roads a blur in front of my eyes. ‘Where do you want to go,’ I heard a woman ask me. I moved my attention to her and saw it was another employee of the station. ‘I don’t know. Anywhere south.’ I just wanted out of the constant rain. ‘You can go to the coach station. They’ll take your bike.’ She smiled reassuringly. ‘Are you sure they’ll take my bike in a coach?’ I couldn’t quite believe her words. ‘Yes, it won’t be a problem.’ I stretched my lips in the shadow of a smile. ‘Thank you.’ My eyes glowed with gratitude. ‘Thank you,’ I repeated and walked out of the station, across town, and into the coach station. There was a line going to Valladolid in half an hour and me and my bike were welcomed on board. So I bought a ticket, strapped the bike in the hull of the coach, climbed on board, and watched as we made our way south, past the mountains of the north.
Snow covered the ground in a thin white layer outside of the window. I was glad to be warm and moving past it. ‘Thank you,’ I whispered to no one in particular before being lulled to sleep by the motor of the coach. A few hours later I was in a new city free of rain and snow. I found a park and settled for the night, comforted by the familiar routine of wild camping on the edges of cities. The following morning I pedalled away towards Zamora and the Via de la Plata (one of the Camino de Santiago), down to Sevilla, west to Portugal, and back north.
I’ve made it as far as Aveiro but this is by no means the end of my journey. Porto is a couple of days ride away and there, a new Camino awaits. Maybe I’ll even make it to Santiago this time. And then… who knows. My dad invited me to his place in France near La Rochelle in June, I want to visit a friend in Nice, and my partner is coming to Lille in July. Realistically I won’t have time to cycle east, west, and north in so short periods of time but I can cycle as much as possible and hops on trains. August will come around and I may land back in the UK but I won’t be going to London. The capital has been kind to me over the last six years but I’ve outgrown it. So what else to do but cycle some more, catch up with friends, and go on walks until September/October when a new life will begin.
Pedalling Portugal has began in March 2016. For more information about this trip, visit this page.