Shakedown Ride Through Northern Spain

Getting familiar with the 1991 Honda NX250 before the ride to Africa.

riding northern Spain
Enjoying the silence of the landscapes where my Honda NX250 takes me.Guadalupe Araoz

Guadalupe Araoz travels the world by motorcycle. Riding solo on her Honda XR125L she has toured Latin America and North America (you can read about those rides here on her website) and now faces her biggest challenge: riding through Africa on a Honda 250 with a budget of 300 dollars a month and without a Carnet du Passage. She promises to avoid crowded roads, to visit the wildest terrain that Africa has to offer, and camp as much as possible. Can she do it?

Before starting my motorcycle trip through Africa (see Touring Africa: Learning the Basics here), I decided to test my "new" 1991 Honda NX250 through Northern Spain. After finding and repairing multiple mechanical faults and feeling unsafe with the softness of the handlebar, I chose stay positive and move on. After all, surprises like these are part of the adventure, right?

So with the NX250 prepped, it was time to get a feel for it. In order to do that I plotted a 1,500-mile twisty route from the Atlantic coast of Galicia to San Sebastian, in the Basque Country of Spain.

fishing village of Lastres
The fishing village of Lastres falls on the sea like a white curtain.Guadalupe Araoz

The first days were difficult. It was raining heavily and the entrances to the roundabouts were covered with gasoline from trucks, so the bike slid out from under me twice, leaving me bruised. I am accustomed to falling thanks to the dirt roads in Latin America, but to go down on asphalt in such a silly way hits the ego of any motorcyclist.

"When people ask me if it’s hard to travel alone, I answer that it is, but solo travel also has its rewards."

The second day on the highway, I tried to bring the speed to 70 mph which is when I first encountered the wobble so I slowed to 60 mph. Even so, an hour later the handlebar was completely uncontrollable and started to shake from one side to the other. I then tried to downshift to fourth and accelerate all I could to straighten the wheel. I had a truck behind me and the highway was filled with cars driving at high speeds. I managed to control it again, but my adrenaline levels didn’t want to go down. As we say in my country, "I kept my heart in my mouth." If I had fallen there, I would’ve had the truck on top of me in a second.

Asturia Spain ride
The Asturians are willing to give me marine life lessons every time I show curiosity.Guadalupe Araoz

My confidence in the bike went down a lot and I didn’t feel safe anymore. As soon as I could, I changed the weight distribution by lowering the front suspension and hardening the rear mono-shock. It improved a lot, but I still felt like the handlebars were unstable. The bearings were fine, so I had run out of options and had no idea how to fix the problem. I decided to continue the journey by riding carefully. Under these conditions I arrived at the lighthouse of Finisterre, a place regarded by the Romans as the most western point, also known as the end of the world, or the door to hereafter. I didn’t want to cross into either one.

basilica of Covadonga
The famous basilica of Covadonga impressed me even when I am not attracted by churches.Guadalupe Araoz

After traveling through Asia, North America and Latin America, I find it difficult to be astonished easily. I’m used to riding on large tracts of land without a human in sight. People here seem to be everywhere; everywhere except in Somiedo. It’s a natural park in the state of Asturias where the roads were first asphalted barely 20 years ago. It isn’t a very touristy area and its people still speak Asturian better than Spanish. These cattle grazing lands, with their mountains topped with crystalline lakes and inhabited by wild brown bears, take you to areas of absolute solitude. It's been a long time since I felt this free. The loneliness and the introspection that the trip and the motorcycle give you, also create the need for them. When you can’t have your own space you feel that in some way your inner self is appeased and withdrawn. When people ask me if it’s hard to travel alone, I answer that it is, but solo travel also has its rewards. These kinds of landscapes allow you to return to introspection and the joy of being by yourself.

riding to lakes in Spain
This zig-zag route takes you between the deer and views to the lakes.Guadalupe Araoz

I enjoyed the views of Northern Spain, especially the green landscapes, the pristine water coves and the cliffs on the coast that remind me of California. But what I liked more was its people who were always open to a conversation, to answer my questions, or to help with the bike. It’s a small country compared to mine but it has more than 10 languages in active use. Personalities and customs also vary greatly. Spain is a melting pot of cultures.

Spanish vaqueiros
The “vaqueiros” nomadic cattle ranchers used to live here during the summer.Guadalupe Araoz

Last stop: Madrid. On my way to the big city, my bike had a loss of cooling liquid, apparently because the radiator cap couldn’t withstand the pressure. It also lost gasoline due to an old fuel line and, for the tenth time, it was the chain became loose indicating that there was a problem with the adjusting nuts which were slipping. The problem with the handlebar was due to the extra weight of my luggage. Once the fuel tank started to empty and lighten the front, I couldn’t go over 62 mph without the handlebar shaking and it becoming uncontrollable.

No bike is perfect but my NX250 just doesn’t want to give me a break. I hope to start Africa without problems in less than a month. To be a world travelling motorcyclist, it’s necessary to ride with positivity and be prepared to face more challenges, because more will always arise.

lakes of Saliencia
Sometimes you have to leave the bike and walk to reach places that take your breath away, like the lakes of Saliencia.Guadalupe Araoz
1991 Honda NX250
My motorcycle sometimes needs to rest more than I do. Too much heat seems to evaporates the antifreeze liquid.Guadalupe Araoz
Peaks of Europe
Peaks of Europe are cute mountains on the north side of the country. They were called that because they were the first mountains that the sailors saw while reaching the Spainish coast.Guadalupe Araoz

"These kinds of landscapes allow you to return to introspection and the joy of being by yourself."

castle of Butron
In my country we do not have castles but if we did, I always imagined them as the castle of Butron. I had a hard time finding a fairytale castle.Guadalupe Araoz
Gaztelugatxe is an islet with a chapel. To get to the chapel you have to climb more than 240 steps. The views of the bay are well worth the effort.Guadalupe Araoz
Honda NX250 and Guadalupe Araoz
Even with mechanical problems, I'm happy to start the trip again. I will enjoy my Honda NX250 although I would like my next bike be a KTM 390 or a BMW 313.Guadalupe Araoz