We awoke under the gently swaying willow trees in tranquil Casalarreina, had a leisurely breakfast, serviced and quietly disappeared.
We first returned to Haro, parked at their centrally positioned but rather noisy aire and walked into the town to find a launderette. We decided we couldn’t last the full trip without doing a wash – too many muddy, sweaty runs and cycles and we were both nearly out of clean gear. Whilst our clothes were swimming and spinning we walked around Haro centre again, seeing the Basilica we had previously missed and ending up back in the main wine-centred plaza for a last look.
We collected our laundry, returned to Benny and hopped the short distance back into the Basque Country, through beautiful rows of vines, to the village of La Bastida. This was the venue for our upcoming run; our next, and last 10km event on this trip. The Rioja Alavesa Wine Run, a hilly jaunt through steep vineyards and dusty barrel-filled cellars, had caught our attention a while back with its wine fair and quirky inside/outside route.
We had arrived a couple of days early, to allow us to explore the town and to ensure we got parked okay, as the town’s usual aire was to be closed to accommodate the wine festival stalls. We parked instead in a large gravel courtyard behind the primary school, right in the heart of the town, with a clear vista to the view-dominating Church of Nuestra Señora de la Asunción. The weather was bright and clear when we arrived, although it was never warm. The air had a chill and was set to get much worse we were told; dropping to 1 deg overnight and there was talk of heavy rain or even the possibility of snow on race day. Zut alors! That was not what we’d hoped for.
The cold wind shook Benny all evening as we hid away inside, and we awoke several times in the night to the familiar pattering of persistent, plopping rain. We had finally fallen out of favour with the weather gods on this trip – this was going to be a wet, stormy event. We popped out a few times in brief breaks in the deluge to quickly look around the centre, visiting the tourist office and café, the mairie and church. We climbed a small hill behind the church that, in a fortunate twenty minute window, afforded us an expansive view across the landscape framed with otherwise elusive blue skies.
On the morning of the race we awoke, bleary eyed, to early alarms. The sullen sky was a lighter grey, and the constantly tiddling overnight rain had stopped, for now. We ate breakfast then wrapped up warmly for an exploratory walk around the start. Vehicles were now piling into the huge gravel carpark, and our once empty aire was now home to fifteen other motorhomes or campers and perhaps a hundred cars. Everywhere there were people chatting, stretching, warming up, readying themselves for the off. There were three events today – 10km & 20km runs and a 10km walk, allowing all ages and fitness levels to participate and feel a key part of the proceedings.
We returned to Benny, shed warm layers and, nearing the time, returned to the start. Nicky wrapped herself in a bin bag for warmth. It was still only 3 degs, with a chilling wind that stripped the heat from you, so we wanted to stay warm until the race began. We bounced about and ran a few warm-up lengths, never really feeling warm.
Then it began; we gathered at the line and were off on time. The first kilometre rose up through the town, first up to the church plaza and then very steeply up a narrow cobbled path. Here Nicky & I parted company and I pushed on, passing lots of slower runners on the uphill section. The first 4.5km, through beautiful vineyards and rolling countryside, but on torturous gravelled inclines, was a true leg-burning lung-buster. But knowing that from then on the route was mostly downhill was great motivation to keep working.
Surviving the rises, I then dropped down fast, concentrating on balance and letting gravity do the heavy lifting. The views were stunning, but the real threat of a deluge never lifted and I was glad to see the rear of the church grounds appear again on the return journey to town. A few more short but very steep ups and downs on the slippy stones of the hillside streets and a quirky detour through a wine storage facility stacked with thousands of wooden barrels made up the final stretch. Relying on the distance shown on my watch, I was beginning to wind up a sprint finish with an eye to picking off a few runners in front when suddenly the finish line appeared. I surprised myself by finishing in 46 mins, but the route was, according to my watch, only 9.2km so I felt a little disappointed to end with gas in the tank and potentially a few places further back.
The rain began just as I finished, and 2.5 minutes later Nicky arrived so together we ducked under the shelter of the wine festival tent and chatted about our race. We were rewarded with lovely WineRun wine glasses at the finish, along with drinks, cake and fruit. We showered and dressed warmly, then returned to soak up the party atmosphere of the wine fair. Our new glasses could be used to try wines from various suppliers with tents lining the square, and vouchers for one free glass and one free tapas were included in our finisher goodie-bag. This was our first alcohol in eighteen days, and in motorhoming life dry days are like dog years. We sampled all the providers over the course of the afternoon, as prices dropped from €2 a glass to €1.50 to €1 during the course of the afternoon. The guitar band played familiar popular songs and we danced in the crowd as pockets of walkers returned in small, jubilant groups.
We hid from the drizzle under the main tent, sipping wine and enjoyed the musicality of the band. The Awards ceremony for all the race winners, featuring lots of wine as prizes, briefly interrupted the music, then the dancing and celebrations continued for a few more hours. Cars began slowly filtering out of town again and as night fell we were once again alone in our quiet, expansive gravel courtyard with a prime view of the beautifully lit-up church tower.