Day 2. Route Bilbao-Arreau 307 miles.

We were awoken at an ungodly hour by the dulcet Spanish tones of the announcement system warning us of imminent docking. Well, semi-imminent, Marvin had pressed the '2 hours before docking' button, presumably so as to have plenty of time to apply his makeup or something. Those of us so inclined breakfasted, then when directed to do so gathered on the vehicle deck to disembark. Soon enough we were on foreign soil, or tarmac at least, in a grey and drizzly Bilbao.The bikes lined up in Bibao
Marvin took the lead and we left the port. On the wrong side of the road, which felt a lot less strange than I had expected. We were led unerringly out of Bilbao and once on the N240 stopped for fuel. Another new experience for me, working out which grade of fuel was which, and selecting something other than diesel, then paying in Pesetas. We stopped for lunch in Estella where remarkably sturdy barriers were being erected in the streets and most people were wearing all-white with red scarves. It looked like some form of bull running activity was imminent. Fortunately we finished lunch and got back to the bikes without being hoofed to death. We set off towards the mountains (Passing on the way a pair of Policia Foral chappies sat on their car bonnet wearing enormous bright red berets) and thence through some truly spectacular scenery. One gorge was especially good and despite the excellent road surface I eased off and admired the scenery. The others ahead soon disappeared from view, but I doubt if they saw the enormous eagle flying down the valley below the level of the road. Soon I was riding alone, a group ahead and a group behind and really enjoying myself. I love the Pyrenees, they have for so long been an important border and inhabited, the area abounds with fortifications and purely domestic buildings clinging precariously to rock pinnacles and cliffs. They really are a ludicrously precipious place to live.
Climbing a steep hairpinned pass I found the others stopped for a fag break. (Marvin can't survive more than 50 miles without one it seems) and waited while the remaining group members caught up. All except Jeremy who had stormed off ahead. Fags smoked we set off on our way, only to find Jeremy stopped at the top of the pass, so we paused again amidst a herd of bell-equipped cows bonging dolefully. As we were stopped some low cloud blew in and stopped. Suddenly it was very foggy indeed. Marvin set off in front and we all followed very gingerly. Visibility was 10 feet or so and we were soon drenched. Eventually the road signs started to get French, we were climbing the Col de Pierre St Martin. I wondered if this was where the Gouffre du Pierre St Martin was, the deepest cave in Europe, and the "Attention, Gouffres" signs soon dispelled any doubts in the matter. We picked our way past closed looking ski hotels and a wild and wacky 270 degree bend until suddenly the unmarked tarmac road grew massively in width. With no edge to follow Marvin slowed right down, we were lost in the mist in a featureless sea of tarmac. We later concluded that it was the old border crossing, levelled.
By some fluke Marvin found where the road out left the area and we carried on our miserable progress. At some point I got bored of following and set of in the front, but with a lack of regard for safety in the fog born of having parents living in the Pennines I soon lost the rest, and descended into France alone. In due course (and lots of hairpins later) I finally dropped out of the fog, only to find rain. I was caught by a car so let him past, my timidity on wet hairpins is only surpassed by that of my travelling companions. At the bottom of the pass I stopped to wait for the others. And waited, and waited. About 20 minutes later the occupants of a camper van gesticulated at me, pointing back up the road. Fearing a bad turn of events I set off back up the road, only to find the rest of the group (or 4 of them at least) heading back down the road. The gesture had merely been meant to inform me that they were in a previous lay-by getting changed into wet weather gear.
We five set off and stopped in the first town (probably Arette) outside a cafe for a drink. We seemed to be waiting an awfully long time for the remainder of the party, but only it turned out because they had stopped just back round the corner at a garage. Suitably regrouped we set off again. The road through some woods would have been great in the dry, but in the wet I found it something of a chore. A British registered Landrover nearly came a cropper in a ditch letting us past, and some decidedly sarcastic overtakes were performed. The road then took us back up into the mountains, up a winding pass, and into the fog. Progress once more slowed to a crawl and it soon became clear that we were not going to make the night's planned stop without a great deal more discomfort and misery than we were prepared to endure. In the town of Bourg St Maurice we called it a day. 2 rooms for 4 in the local hotel and we were sorted. It was mentioned that my rear lights were not working and my pannier was wobbly. The former was solved with a new bulb and some fiddling. The latter was more troublesome, a pannier frame mounting screw had vibrated out despite the Locktite. It was easily replaced but the indicator connector plug was smashed. It still worked but the electrical connection was looking decidedly tenuous. After a decent meal some of the party retired to bed, and some to a bar across the square. Promises that the bar would shut when we stopped drinking proved to be not entirely true, the barman got bored at 2:30 and we retired to the hotel to recuperate.

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