Bordeaux to Bilbao 2 — Winter is coming!

Stuck on the Gorbeia mountains, I navigate to Bilbao, and bike to several locations where Game of Thrones was filmed!

Chandrahaas Vadali
Published in
8 min readMay 26


Can you spot me? All the images in this post are by the author.

Cliff hanger

This is a continuation of my bikepacking adventures from Bordeaux to Bilbao. Check out the first part here!

Quick recap — I rode from Bordeaux to San Sebastian on the Vélodyssée and continued my journey into the Basque mountains. On the final leg of the journey, I was stuck in the Gorbeia mountains on a cold and rainy night. My phone died due to the moisture and cold. Here’s what happened next!

Sharing my adventures with strangers

Luckily, I came prepared to tackle the cold. Although I was terribly distressed, I was never in any danger. The next morning, I was waiting for the clouds to disperse to set off in the general direction of Bilbao. As I was hiking my bike through the mud, I was greeted by a striking view of the rugged precipices of Gorbeia. I was above the cloud line with the sun peeking through them from a distance. I almost forgot about the adversities from the previous evening and the ones that lay ahead! Wow. This is spectacular. I’ll be back here someday.

After an hour or so, I reached the trailhead where I came across a father-son duo. I asked them if they could give me broad directions to reach Bilbao by road. The father gave me three towns en route to Bilbao which I tried to remember in a jingle —into Igorre, go to Galdakao, Basauri comes before Bilbao. A quick descent from the park brought me to the highway. From there, I just had to follow the road signs and I biked on the N-240 all the way to Basauri and then Bilbao!

After some 40 km of easy riding, I reached Basauri. I stopped at a tavern to check if there were any phone repair shops nearby. Basauri looked like a big enough town to have one. Once my phone is repaired, everything will go back to normal! As I was struggling to communicate with the bartender, an older gentleman overheard my conversation, approached me, and calmly asked if I needed any help. I explained to him about my phone and that I was looking for a repair shop. He nodded and said he knew a mall where there were a couple of repair shops. He offered to drive me there and it was just 2 km away! He quickly finished his drink — for which I offered to pay but he declined!

I parked the bike at the bar, and left in his car along with his dog to the mall. As we were driving to the mall, he asked about my story and what I was on a bike. I narrated my adventure through the mountains to which he laughed and admitted he could not relate to it but could see why it was exciting. You don’t have to share the same experiences to have empathy for another person. Being kind is a deliberate choice. We had a candid conversation despite the language barrier. At the mall, he waited patiently till my phone was repaired and I even spoke to his wife and daughter on his phone while waiting! I received a blessing when I needed it. I’m fortunate and grateful for these experiences.

I had a huge sigh of relief when my phone was revived at the repair center. However, it was short-lived. Unfortunately, all the data in the phone was wiped out, including personal pictures that were not backed up. That was a severe blow. The pictures from my travels and adventures were all either backed up or on some social media platform. I knew I could get them back. But the silly, stupid pictures of me, my friends, and everyday life for the past 2 years were not backed up or on social media. I had lost them forever. My heart plummeted. I felt like a loser. These are the consequences of my mistakes. I need to accept this, learn my lesson, and move on.

A tale of two evenings

I took some time to restore my phone as much as possible by syncing it with my Gmail account. I booked a hostel in Bilbao and crashed there for the night. I was still terribly disappointed at losing a lot of those dumb pictures. They captured my life more than all the ones I decided to put up on social media.

Nervión river flows through Bilbao into the Atlantic.

At the hostel, I overheard two guys talking about walking across the Basque country. Curious, I asked them if this was a tradition in these parts. Christian, an ex-German soldier, told me about these two pilgrimage routes — Camino del Norte, the Northern Way, and Camino Francés, the French Way. These routes pass through historic cities, gorgeous coastlines, and the rugged Basque mountains! I was amazed to know that pilgrims walk around 40 km every day over a period of 4–5 weeks, covering a total 800–900 km. People are truly amazing! Christian told us he did the French way a couple of years ago and just started his journey on the del Norte from Irun — a city I passed by while crossing the Franco-Spanish border.

As we were exchanging our adventures over the last few days, Christian was excited to introduce me to fellow biker Raimund! He was on his own bike-pilgrimage along the Spanish coast starting from Malaga, through Portugal, and now on to Lyon and then Basel! That evening, Raimund, Christian, and I went to get drinks in the old city. Raimund told us about his epic adventure from Austria all the way to Thailand! WOW! Forget biking, I can’t even name all the countries that are on the way! I was awe-struck hearing Raimund’s stories of Mongolia’s vastness, tangle with Chinese officials and the language barrier, hospitality of the people in Cambodia, and all the friends he made along the way. I want to go around and explore the world like that one day. That evening was filled with joy, laughter, and drinks with my new friends. I couldn’t help but wonder how different the last two evenings had been. Funny how things work out.

I explored the old city on foot — Santiago Cathedral in Bilbao.
Guggenheim Museum houses a wide collection of contemporary art.
The local football team — Athletic Bilbao — plays at San Mames. As an FC Barcelona fan, I know how hard it is to win games here.

Vuelta Vasco

The route I planned to do was officially over. I still had a few vacation days left. Raimund was going to San Sebastian after taking a day off and I was excited to tag along with him! It’ll be fun to ride with company for a change. On our day off, I went on my own to explore Bilbao. As I searched for things to do in Bilbao, I accidentally stumbled upon this Game of Thrones tour! Apparently, a lot of iconic locations in the series were shot in and around Bilbao and the Basque coast! I marked down these places and set off along the Nervión canal, passing through the Guggenheim museum, and a few more pretty, medieval buildings. On the way, I saw a huge banner counting down the time for the start of this year’s Tour de France. The peloton kicks off this year’s Tour from Bilbao!

After being on roads for a while, I went on to hiking trails along Playa de Muriola. Though I couldn’t recollect it then, a key scene from season 7, episode 5 of GoT was shot here. Tyrion Lannister and Ser Davos sneak into King’s Landing through this hidden beach (source).

Single-track riding along the scenic coast.
Parts of season 7 of Game of Thrones were shot along this coastline.
The Basque coast features jagged rock formations known as “flysch”.
Playa de Muriola in Barrika served as the hidden King’s Landing beach.
Butrón castle

Two better than one

The next day, Raimund and I set off early from Bilbao to head back to San Sebastian. His setup was bulkier than mine. After starting on some busy highways, we caught the quieter back roads soon.

I like to ride alone. It gives me time to explore things at my own pace. Although it makes me a bit anxious at times, I enjoy being left alone with my thoughts. Riding with Raimund was fun! We would stop often to admire the beautiful landscape of the Basque mountains. At the first sight of the Atlantic, Raimund took out his drone and we explored the nooks and crannies of the coastline.

Flysch — the sedimentary rock strata made up of alternate layers of hard limestone and sandstone and soft layers of clay and loam (source).
Playa de Itzurun — Dragonstone beach in Game of Thrones (source).

Apart from a minor issue with my rear wheel, which needed me to tighten the spokes ever so often, the whole day was very relaxing and we both chatted away till we reached San Sebastian in the evening. I couldn’t have asked for a better ending for my tour. I enjoy traveling with company too!

The next day, Raimund continued with his long journey towards Basel, while I decided to stay back in San Sebastian for another day and then head back to Paris.

Less alone than you’d think

Those 2 weeks on the road felt much longer as I was inundated with numerous experiences each day. Will I remember the long stretch of false flats on the Plazaola? What about those two horses fighting aggressively on that closed road? I asked Raimund and Christian if they could recollect every little detail from their journeys. Both of them laughed and said they’d love to but can’t really remember every obscure detail. Maybe we don’t have to remember it all. I believe it is important to make meaning out of your experiences. Reflecting on these emotions and experiences can be a challenging yet fulfilling endeavor. The lessons you learn on the way are invaluable.

  1. Have a plan but let serendipity guide you! Plan for the worst to leave yourself open to the best experiences.
  2. When in a pinch, slow down and zoom out. Panicking and tunnel vision are more deadly than the freezing cold.
  3. Be resourceful and improvise. I used an old waistband as a clothesline, tied it to my backpack and dried my clothes on it.
  4. Not everyday is your day. Even with all the planning and resourcefulness, sometimes circumstances get the better of you. It is natural to feel bummed out by this but you can’t wallow in self-pity. You have to go in with the mindset that there will be days where you will have to endure a bit of suffering.
  5. People are inherently kind and helpful. All you have to do is work up the courage to seek help.
11 days, 850 km, and 10,000 m climbing! Screenshot by author from