A bleak start to a bleak day. Drizzle and a strong head wind greeted us as we packed up and set off, spirits not exactly souring.The track hadn't leveled itself off overnight either so with our head down we pushed hard but progress was painfully slow. After three hours ofhonest effort we had only made a dishonest 25km, in fact only to the campsite we had thought was only 15km away the day before. A few minutes before getting to this milestone we'd seen a herd of horses being driven down the track towards us and it was lucky as the main building we had hoped to shelter in for a while was shut andwe ended up in the recently vacated stables next door. Having been beaten by the wind and rain for three hours we were weary but glad to be out of the weathereven if the smell was far from welcoming. While we were cooking ourselves a hot lunch a Spanish walker turned up and unless we misunderstood told us he was walking across the interior averaging 55 kms a day. More importantly he pointed out a hut about 60 km down our trail which was open. Our interest was tweaked. At the current rate of progress this would be about another seven hours away, but somewhere warm for the night with some hot food thrown in just might see us through.
We left the stable with a stab of regret, our bodies clearly asking our brains why we would want to leave the warm, dry, sheltered conditions when we didn't even need food.In fact the weather had picked up considerably and we soon fell into a rhythm of bike a bit, eat a bit, bike a bit, eat a bit, eat a bit, bike a bit..... Our first fordwas negotiated without too much drama, surely not worthy of dragging a pair of wellington boots for 239km? Nibbles were getting scarce at this point and Steve was even seen inspecting a pile of discarded pistachios shells for any discarded nuts. This was before we discovered Duncan's bottomless pit of day time snacks he kept hidden in his panniers.
Our water was running low so at the next tiny ford I took the opportunity to fill up a water bottle. Besides the stream was a nice flat patch of ground designed to take a couple of tents.This promoted questions about whether we should give up on the hut, still 30km away, and set up for the night. Up to this point we were coming across streams on a regular basisso when Steve declared that he had '10km left in the legs, lets push on to the next stream' this was generally agreed. We didn't find a stream that day. Not for lack of trying either. Another 22 km of poor track and we had been on the move for 11 hours and energy was running low. To add to our misery a front arrived and threw a revitalised wind in our face backed up by another dose of rain.This knocked me back and I began to seriously chill off, with not even the tradition 'pedal harder' approach warming me up much. With a tantalising 6 km short of our hut we put my tent up by the side of the trackand bedded down out of the wind. With all four of us in the more sturdy of the two tents it was a tight squash but with four bikes guying out the tent we were sure it would stand up all night.
With the immediate hardship over we started to take stock of other matters: food and water. This didn't take too long sadly. Our water supplies allowed for a small bowl of couscous and a mouthful of water each to wash it down. We did of course still have almost four litres of spirits in our bags:more vodka than water. Not for the last time on this trip. With a little food inside us and warmth creeping back in we could reflect on the day a little with Steve summing it up succinctly 'this has turned from a cycle touring holiday with the lads to an expedition across Europe's largest desert'. The last laugh of the day came from the warden of the hut who must have heard reports of struggling bikers from the off road vehicles which had passed us. He came out to find us, parked up next to the tent and asked 'you do know there's a hut only 6km down the road?'.At our average pace that was an hour or so away, we weren't tempted. So the English lips stiffened and we assured him we were fine and that we'd see him for breakfast.