When I look back over 2016, I cannot deny that my trip to the Iberian Peninsula dominates my mind. I spent nearly six months away from home and the memories I created during this time are still vivid, feeling indelible. But 2016 wasn’t just about fulfilling my dream of cycle touring for longer than a week. It was filled with many other outings and experiences.
The plan was to go to Reading and cycle towards Bristol following Sustrans cycle route 4 along the Kennet and Avon canal. I was going to meet up with Pete whom I had last seen in September and we would make a week-end out of it. Only, Pete wasn’t feeling too well and I missed my train to Reading and found myself in Windsor instead. What followed was a very enjoyable winter day ride.
The ferry to France that marked the beginning of my cycling escapade was booked for late February, so my partner and I took the opportunity of left-over annual leave to book some time away. We ended up in Lyme Regis, enjoying long walks by the seaside and on the cliffs, retreating to a cosy B&Bs when night fell.
My journey into the Iberian Peninsula began. Nothing was going according to plan. The weather was colder and wetter than expected, I got sidetracked from the Camino del Norte almost on the first day of it, and I ended up cycling in Spain for almost a month. But it all worked out for the best and those guys are the perfect illustration of it. They invited me for some coffee as I was waiting for the shops to open and we got chatting. They extended their invitation to their home for the night. We took the train to their place only to find out that the wife of one of the guys was not up for it. I ended up in Bilbao after another train ride where I met a man who led me to a hostel, saving me the struggle of finding it in the dark.
I was finally in Portugal, the weather was brightening up, and I was discovering the most beautiful region of Portugal: the Alentejo (I may be extremely biased). I spent my time cycling under the sun, devouring Alentejo bread (that rivals French bread), eating freshly caught fish and amazing sausages accompanied by hand-picked vegetables. All while hopping from dam to dam sleeping by peaceful lakes in the company of other travellers.
In May I discovered the joy of Warmshowers.org, frequently getting kidnapped by my hosts and learning more about the Portuguese way of life. This was also a time when I struggled with the fact that I was on my own and the company of strangers became essential to my well-being. Meeting the family pictured above was a blessing. They had been cycling from Morocco and were heading home (Belgium) via France and the UK. We spent a week cycling together and it undeniably became one of my fondest memory of the year.
I was back in France, cycling long hours of flat straight roads in the Landes region to meet up with my father at the estuary of the Gironde river. It was almost Summer and although the weather wasn’t always up to it, the landscape certainly was with its long, long stretches of forest, immaculate beaches and lakes. It was idyllic. And so was the company of other cycle tourists.
My partner came to France and we spent an unforgettable two weeks travelling between family members and city escapes. There were barbecues on an almost daily basis with beers, wine, and cocktails (and even a bottle of Champagne once). There were long swims and games in the pool. There were football matches and long hikes with my niece and nephew. But most of all there was the sun and long hours shared with my partner, my bicycle gathering dust in a shed at my grandparent’s home.
There is no record of August.
I was back in the UK and finally took the time to go through everything I’d recorded and photographed while away. But I didn’t stay cooped up inside. I made the most of the British summer and cycled to Bristol from London (and back) to be re-united with the Belgian family on wheels. I also made my first friends in Bristol, cycled 100 miles as it if was nothing for the first time, and enjoyed being alive and free for a little while longer before the struggle of house viewings and job hunting began.
I met up with Jonathan and we set off to walk the 1066 Country Walk, reacquainting me with my walking boots and the English countryside. The sun was still shining and I was full of optimism for what lay ahead.
I ended up in Wales sleeping in my tent once more for the #OutdoorBloggers week-end. There were new friends and the crackling of the fires, a long hike up Snowdon and nature all around. I was being reminded of what mattered in life. The strain of modern life and bills had led me to accept a job I barely tolerated. The week-end was all I needed to hand in my resignation.
This was the lowest I had ever been this year. Landlords kept turning us down, job interviews didn’t work out (and the feedback was never helpful), and money was running low. I spent long hours on my longboard, the focus needed to acquire new skills obliterating every thoughts from my mind. But however long I stood on that board, I always needed to come home, to check e-mails, to apply for jobs, to arrange for viewings. But it wasn’t all doom and gloom. My partner took me away for a much needed break in Sussex. We followed Constable’s footsteps and discovered Colchester, making me forget about everything else for a week-end.
Not much outings other than walks and rides on Bristol many footpaths and cycleways. So I will only copy what I wrote a few days earlier on Instagram:
Five carefree months on the road when money was no issue (so little was needed, it could be earned easy enough). Four months struggling to find a job when money was a constant struggle (what with rent and food and transport to interviews). And finally today when I receive the first pay check of my new job (well-earned and much appreciated). This year has seen many ups and downs (literal and metaphorical) and I am grateful to end the year on a positive note. A new life lies ahead of me and to celebrate its beginning I treated myself to churros at the Christmas market. It felt overly indulgent and I savoured every last bit of it.
I hope your year was as good as mine but with less emotional roller-coaster.
Feel free to drop links of your best posts and 2016 retrospective. I’ve missed a lot while away and I’m really enjoying discovering what you’ve been up in the first half of the year.
And finally, as a little thank you if you’ve made it this far into the post, a collage of sounds from this year. This track includes sounds from my trip in the Iberian Peninsula, a little sneak peak of what’s to come in 2017.
Visit SoundCloud for a full description of the track.