When out on a bike it’s important to keep fed and watered, as Omar Lababedi reminds us in his tale of near collapse ahead of the last mountain
Picture this. I’m a week into this ridiculous adventure. It’s 6 pm and I’ve been on my gorgeous Condor bike since sunrise. We’ve climbed three mountains with one more to go and only have 90 minutes before the sun sets for the day. The majority of the group, 10 out of the total of 13 tourers, is a couple of hours behind and waiting for the van to give them a ride back to camp. Vas, Luke and I are adamant we’re going to cycle the full 1,030km of the Bilbao to Barcelona trip and therefore have no choice but to climb the last mountain of the day - the steepest and highest one - in 90 minutes. For the first time in a week, I start getting that ‘bonking’ feeling.
Bonking happens when you feel your body is shutting down from sheer exhaustion due to lack of food or lack of water, or both. To ‘Bonk’ describes the condition caused by depleted glycogen (sugar) stores which generally results in a sudden loss of energy or fatigue.
I’d been quite good at keeping to the motto “eat before you get hungry, drink before you get thirsty” throughout the trip – not just because I’m a colossal gourmand -- but also for fear of ‘bonking’ on a hill (!). I had seen its effect on numerous cyclists in our group over the last few days and let me just say: it ain’t a pretty sight. First, your face goes completely white and you have to stop. You can barely stand so you sit down on the tarmac. Next, you’re vomiting and that’s it. You’re out for the rest of the day, sometimes for two!
Luckily, I had a spare caffeine gel in my jersey pocket. A condensed shot of sugar. Although it tastes a little metallic and is 100% unnatural, it’s a monumental lifesaver in such situations. One moment I couldn’t keep up with the boys and was genuinely starting to doubt my ability to tackle the final mountain; six minutes later, the caffeine and sugar kicked in and I got my legs back. However, it’s still a struggle as this is the most challenging day of the trip, covering over 140km and climbing over 3,000 metres. Vas, by far the fittest guy on the trip, cycles back to give me a pep talk in his Ali G accent: “Easy gears for the win”, “Keep ‘em spinning”, and my favourite, “You got dis!”
In cycle-speak he was ‘sweeping’ me. Helping with my morale and helping me with the last climb for the day. As taxing as this trip was on our bodies, and as cliché-d as this is going to sound, the real battle you’re fighting on these hills is with your mind. It’s learning to breathe, to stay calm and to adjust. Take a few breaks, eat, drink and pedal. Drop gears on climbs to avoid lactic acid build up. As long as you’ve got food and sugar in your system, you should technically be able to spin all day. And so we cycled, higher and higher, catching panoramic views that no Instagram photo could do justice (believe me I tried).
70 minutes later, we reached the Apex. This is record time for all of us. We jumped off our bikes, danced a quick celebratory dance, sipped our water, and donned our windproof jackets to buckle up for the down hills.
This is what makes cycling such an addictive sport. If you put in the work, you reap the benefits right there and then. No ‘ifs', no ‘buts’. You get to fly down these gorgeous mountain ranges, watching rows and rows of green, grey and brown giants race past your eyes. Every curve you come through brings another jaw-dropping view. Racing down with these guys, who I barely knew before the trip and who have now become nothing short of brothers to me, I couldn’t help but smile as I gripped on to my handlebars for dear life.
We made it to the campsite before sunrise to find out we had cycled so quickly we had managed to beat the van. We still had to put up our tents for the night however. Regardless our extreme high meant that we were able to help others put their tents up too — another thing that comes from a trip like this. The battle is shared, you’re no longer just an individual, you’re in this together and you genuinely look out for one another. You care about these people who have struggled up the mountains by your side all day.
The Bilbao to Barcelona trip with Break the Cycle was so much more than a cycle trip. It taught me about camaraderie, about travelling, cooking, cleaning, camping and living with new faces. I learned about the wonderful people in the various eco villages we travelled to, how they lived off the land and in nature. I learned about cycling, ‘bonking', eating every 45 minutes and not gaining any weight. But most of all, I learned about myself. I learned that I’m capable of doing a lot. With only three weeks of ‘training’ (which included only four big-ish rides) I was able to cycle up the Pyrenees with 14 other lovely people. I’ve learned to stop talking about things and instead to just do them. To be or to do? I’ve chosen to do.
To come on this adventure visit our Bilbao to Barcelona page. We've got a full itinerary available to download if you wanna see where we're going :-) Payment plans available.