Rain and Fog

Day 286, Santander, 16.515 km

While talking with the hostel manager before leaving Oviedo (in Spanish please!), I tell her about my intention to go to the Picos de Europa park. She has a little grin, as if to say, “Well, that guy must not have looked at the weather forecast” and says, “I hope you won’t have snow”. I, with brimming confidence, answer, “No, no, I checked, the temperatures won’t go below 8°”. As I’m saying goodbye, she gives me her card and says, “If there is anything, call me, I will do my best to help you”. I’m starting to wonder if I’m not a bit reckless on this one… In the end, I escaped the snow, but not the fog, nor the rain, nor the cold, and this in spite of my competition socks and my luxury gloves. I climbed 3 passes above 1.200m and each time it was the same: fog before, after and during the climb, rain soaking on the way up and freezing wind on the way down. Was it worth it? Yes, a thousand times yes. However, I’ll have to come back to see the part above 1.000m because everything looked like this:

As for the passes, if you have seen one, you have seen them all…

One pass…
… looks exactly…
… like the other.

But let’s get back to our story, or rather to Oviedo. I take leave of my host who seems to be worried about me. But the beginning of the stage proves her wrong: the road goes down, I have a light breeze which pushes me nicely, I cross and recross the Rio Viao, everything is fine! The only little hitch is that I find that my tea has a strange taste. Maybe a bag a little old that I took at the hostel in the morning. I taste it again. I understand. The guy salted his tea. That’s worth a Cooking Nobel Prize! Jay and Bob are laughing… As I arrive in Cangas de Onìs, it starts to rain, and I have a feeling of déjà vu: a nice little town surrounded by mountains, but because of the bad weather it looks just like a sad little town… It reminds me of Interlaken, in Switzerland. The next day I found myself under the snow… Let’s hope that the déjà vu stops in the valley…

Cangas de Onìs
There is not enough rain, it is necessary to turn on the fountains..

I start on the road to the Picos de Europa Park. One of the advantages of the overcast weather is that I do not see too far, and therefore I do not think too much about the size of the mountains that I’ll have to climb. They suddenly come out of the clouds, and then leave just as fast as I go around them. I now follow the Rio Sella, and the road starts to climb slowly.

Stairs on the Rio
The sides of the mountains become more and more vertical

Then I see a sign that says: « desfiladero de Los Beyos ». And it’s from this moment that I forget that it’s raining, that I’m cold, hungry, that my legs hurt or anything else than this landscape that unfolds before my eyes. The sides of the montains are getting tighter, steeper and higher. My neck hurts from having my head raised to the sky. Each turn reveals a new series of sharp peaks that tower over me from all their height, while I pass, tiny, a few hundred meters below. And this goes on for kilometers. Kilometers, speechless, stopping every 100 m to take a picture, repeating again and again: “it’s magnificent”. In the evening, looking at the pictures, I am a little disappointed. I don’t know if it’s the rain or just the bad photographer in me, but I don’t find the overwhelming majesty of these gorges on the pictures… I select the best ones, but you will have to go there in person to fully appreciate…

Then I start the ascent of the first of the three passes, the last big piece of my day. It’s still as beautiful, a little more “open” but still as imposing. And I can see the cloud line getting closer and closer. Then I’m in the middle of it. Moreover my lights don’t work anymore, I take out the yellow jacket and cross my fingers so that the cars potentially passing by don’t arrive too fast. The end of the climb goes well, and it’s when I start to go down that it becomes a bit worrying: slippery road, 3 m of visibility, tight curves, a good slope, fortunately I have good brakes. And I quickly get out of the clouds. The road is moreover almost all straight while arriving at Posada de Valdeón.

We get closer to the clouds
The arrival to Posada de Valdeón

I find myself at a crossroads: Either I take the left, I continue to descend towards the village of Cain, where I think I can find a small place to sleep. But everything meter downhill today has to be climbed back up first thing in the morning tomorrow. Either I take a right, and head for the park exit. Heads or tails. Since I passed through a village called Les Faces (Heads in French) in the morning, I take a left (those who didn’t find the link don’t ask me questions, I’m looking for it too…). And when I start to go downhill, when my brakes start to whistle, to heat up, when it even starts to smell burnt, I wonder if it was really a good idea… But the views that are offered to me quickly convince me of the contrary, and the village of Cain itself, with its 4 houses in its steep valley, at the end of the world, offers me a perfect refuge for a well-deserved night of rest.

The next day, the climb is as expected: horrible. And this time I see the signs: 20%. 13%. Then 20% again. The cars that overtake me are in first gear and you can hear that even with an engine the climb is hard. And the rain which starts to fall after 10 minutes does not arrange the things. But as always, we finally arrive there. Posada de Valdeón again and we continue to climb. As the day before, the top of the mountains is in the clouds, and quickly me too. In the rain and the cold. I pass some points of non-view (I imagine that without the fog it must be worth it, but now…). The descent is quick this time, and I find myself in a green valley, without rain, almost dry even!

I cross a nice village and start the last ascent: the San Glorio pass (the Google description says « 1.609 m high pass between Cantabria and Castilla y León with wide views on the mountain peaks ». See photo above for the wide views. Very funny…). I see out of the corner of my eye a sign on my right and I think I read « Zona de Baños ». Baths Zone? I look into the distance and see that the clouds seem to be moving very fast. But are they really clouds? Could it be steam escaping from a hot spring? I start to fantasize, a hot bath now. The dream. I press the pedals harder and harder. This is going to be great. No sun maybe but a hot spring. After 2 kilometers I have to face reality: it was just a cloud. So instead of a hot bath, I get a cold rain and a little breeze sticking my soaked clothes to my body. Not quite the same thing… I climb, I climb. And I’m cold. Despite my super gloves and my even more super socks. Indeed, water is wet, and even Jean-Michel Merinos’ high-tech socks, when they are wet, they don’t keep my feet warm… At the top of the pass, I take the time to admire the non-view on the surrounding summits and I start the descent. This one is endless. I am cold, so I pedal to warm up. But the road is slippery and the turns are tight so I brake. But I’m cold so I pedal. But I’m going too fast so I brake. And it goes on for a long, long time. When I finally get out of the clouds, I have a beautiful view on the valley and I tell myself for the thousandth time that I will have to come back to see all this under a beautiful sun…

Finally out of the clouds!

To finish, I have to go through the gorges of La Hermida. Magic. Even if with the rain and the wind, I sometimes lose the magic side of it. But a small cave on the road allows me to take a break sheltered from the rain and the wind, to enjoy the end of my tea (not salted this time) still hot and to leave the Park whole and in a good mood.

After a short break in a café in Unquera, I go to San Vicente de la Barquera where I think I can find a small piece of forest for the night. I have nice views over the city, but the forest I spotted after this one turns out to be closer to the public toilets than to the wild camper’s dream place, so I continue. I help a German to unload a door off his truck (he didn’t want to explain me what he was going to do with it…) and he shows me a small gravel path that goes down to the beach. Good choice! But the rain that starts to fall again prevents me from enjoying the view during the meal…

San Vicente de la Barquera
Nice view from the window of my room…

The next day, I don’t have any answer from the hostel to whom I asked if it was possible to arrive before the time indicated on the website (i.e. 5 pm). So I make turns and detours, I take my time as rarely to not arrive too quickly. But under the rain, this strategy has its limits. So I end up taking refuge in a restaurant in Santander. On the terrace though, we are not allowed to eat inside. But the rain calmed down and a good hot soup puts me back in good spirits! Enough to take advantage of the remaining daylight after the shower to go to walk in town and to take advantage even of one of the numerous open terraces to get a cold beer!

View on the Magdalena Palace
The Plaza Porticada

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