Travels abroad

Early in July I did a bike ride with many other parents from Alexander's primary school; bikes loaded into a truck and driven down to Bergerac, us flying out to the airport, then riding south at 60-100 miles/day, ending up in San Sebastian, Spain, skirting the pyrenees carefully.

Here's me, at the Atlantic coast, June 2006.


This was the first time I'd been at the French/Spanish border of Hendaye/Irun for 26 years. Then we loaded the bikes onto a train in London, then three days later a train+ferry+overnight train to get to Hendaye station, again getting on our bikes at the Atlantic seaside —this time, August 1990.


As usual, not the combined weight of rider+bike+luggage is constant, even though now the bike is a Ti+Carbon CX machine, and then it was a steel MTB with panniers full of camping equipment and a change of clothes. (*)

Two weeks later, after zig-zagging up the highest roads in the Pyrenees, wobbling in and out of France and Span, we got to the Mediterranean Sea, somewhat the worse for wear.

Return journey: similar, preload the bikes, overnight train to paris, onboard to London, pickup the bikes and then further trains west. 24+ hours, at least.

In 1990, that was a major expedition. I got a credit card for the first time, changed money into FFr and Spanish Pesetas, took some travellers checks to change money as went down. Maps: paper things hooked onto the handlebars. Camera: my first 35mm autofocus Canon compact camera. It had a little self timer, hence the various staged team-selfie pics. The bikes were generations behind what I have now, as were: The lights, the camping kit, much of the clothing. Communications: postcards.

This time, it's not a expedition, it's just a week on the mainland. Money? Euros left over from my June trip to Berlin, topping up at ATMs. Camera? on the phone plus a compact digital camera with proper zoom lens. Maps: Garmin GPS and offline google maps. Communications: phone with free phone and data roaming round Europe. Luggage: cards, a bag full of chargers and miscellaneous electronics. Riders: much, much worse. If I'd had Strava then, today's numbers would be so bad I'd give up in despair.

And now: not a multi-train expedition, a quick holiday from the local airport, followed by a few days in San Sebastian and Bilbao, back home from another direct flight, home in two hours, then driving over to Portsmouth to collect a child: a low effort, low stress day. It took as long to drive to Portsmouth as it did from our Bilbao hotel to our Bristol house.

This was not a trip to foreign lands where money is different, where a passport is needed to be handy as you cross the borders, where things are exotic. We are in Europe now, and have moved on from the neighbouring countries being far, far, away.

Except now: things have changed. The rate of decay of the UKP:EUR exchange rate meant that we had to run to the ATMs, fearing that the rate would be worse if waited 24h. Where today, we could roam freely as part of a continent, the decisions of fellow UK voters means that we're taking a step backwards as a nation.

While that exoticness 26 years ago made for more of a wilder expedition, we have gained so much. Yet now Britain is turning its back on it in exchange for a social and economic fiasco. It's going to be a disaster, and when that happens, the people to blame: the paper proprietors, the politicians who lied —they'll get away with it. The country will suffer, worse of all those people in the forgotten towns who believed the lies. Well: they voted for it —their fault. If need be, I can walk away from the country, over to the continent which I consider myself a full citizen of.

(*) We had a regime of wash the previous day's clothes in the morning, hang to dry on the bike, wear the fresh stuff in the evening and again on the following day's ride. It worked, though on dusty days things got a bit gritty.

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