Day 6 – Guernica to Bilbao

5/16/17 – 25.3km/15.7mi from Gernika to Bilbao, with about 1200m/3937ft total ascent and descent.

After the physical and mental stresses of yesterday, David and I resolved to just take it easy today and keep our minds mentally relaxed. We set out knowing the final destination was Bilbao, a whopping 22 miles away, but the last few miles into the city center are mostly on asphalt and through industrial areas, and not supposed to be very nice. Throw in one more murderous end-of-day 250m climb and we said that if our bodies weren’t doing well, we were ready to stop at Lezama, a small town with an albergue about 4-5 miles out of Bilbao.

We set off early and climbed out of Guernica and into rolling hills, forests, and farms. It was hot and humid today but there was enough shade and cool breeze to make it manageable. Joe eventually caught up to us, and we stopped at a great hostel/snack stop a few miles in at the top of the day’s first climb, and had breakfast with our new friends from Lithuania, Dovilė and Emilija. And then there was a great moment. Our new friend Joe is as much of a talkative charmer as me, but he doesn’t speak any Spanish – yet he continued to try chatting with the elderly lady running that snack stop. In mid-sentence she cut him off, saying exasperatedly, “hablas mucho pero no entiendo!” (You talk a lot but I don’t understand anything!) and anyone nearby who understood just cracked up. You just had to be there, she was really a witty and funny lady with great timing.

We also Tomas, a truly remarkable guy who set off walking from his home nearby Paris in June 2016, walked to Spain, then Santiago, then Gibraltar, then to THE SOUTHERN TIP OF MOROCCO, then began heading ALL THE WAY BACK over the last 10 months – he’ll be home in just under 2 months. He was younger than any of us but shared some wisdom about keeping an open heart and mind, which I found poignant.

The rest of the day was nice but long, and despite an amazing lunch that we hoped would re-energize us, our bodies told us to call it a day at Lezama. Well, when we got there we learned the albergue there only opens in August! So Joe, David, and I hopped a bus into Bilbao. You might call it cheating, but after the brutality of the last 6 days, the ugliness of the remaining few miles, and the fact that we already had done a solid 15.7 miles today, we were OK with it. I was ready to sleep by 9pm after a nice dinner out.