First of, you may ask the question; why Basque Country? Most people haven't even heard of this place, let alone thought of racing there. To answer this I have to go back to the fall of 2013 in Belgium, specifically the Chainstay in Oudenaarde. One of the other people staying there at the time happened to be the father of a Scottish Junior who had done an exchange program with Beste Alde. He talked about it very favorably and I liked the idea of racing in the mountains with big junior fields so I contacted the coach of the team and things went from there. More specifically you may ask WHY Basque Country, not just why it happened. I'm a climber, I prefer mountainous terrain and really hard races that are very hard to find in the US, especially if you're not a pro. I also knew firsthand from the previous year in Belgium how much racing against European Juniors teaches you. Especially when the fields are 100-200 riders deep. I decided on the time frame of the end of June to the beginning of September, which had me miss US Nationals but do a lot of very high level races like the Tour of Bizkaia, Tour of Pamaplona, and Tour of Wales. The purpose of this trip was to learn how to race in such big fields, learn how to climb better, and grow as a rider and person.
While I was in the Basque Country I lived with a host family. They were my friends, replacement family, and support crew for the summer. When I crashed and got road rash, Begonia (The mother) took care of me with love and I didn't have to cook a single meal while I was there. Josu (the father) drove me to many races and taught me about Basque Country despite his limited knowledge of English. Txomin and Jon (the sons) were great friends and made sure I was included when everyone was rattling off in Basque and I didn't understand what was going on. They are incredibly generous people who welcomed me into their home without reserve. Their house was located in a incredibly scenic spot, right outside the small town of Abadiño which is just outside of Durango. Every morning I woke up to a view of the Pyrenees.
The Community in Abadiño is very tightly knit, most everyone knows everyone. In general throughout Basque Country, there is a lot of Holidays/Parties, or "Fiestas" during the summer months. There was quite a few times where I was unable to go shopping because I forgot there was some Fiesta that day and all the shops were closed. Family, extended family, friends, and Neighbors all gathered for Birthday parties. While I was there I attended Jon's Grandmother's Birthday party. There was a lot of wine snacks, and a cake. What made it different from the US is how many people were there celebrating this woman. A good portion of the veggies at the party were grown in gardens around town. Pretty much everyone with enough space grows their own vegetables.
A lot of the food is vegetables, cured red meats, bread, and sea food. The food was incredible, similar yet different from the food I eat on my own farm. Much to my delight the first meal I had while there was Cured Coppa, one of the specialties of one of the Restaurants we supply. My generous Host Mother cooked me a lot of amazing dishes, one I had a lot was two slices of ham deep fried in butter with melted cheese in between. Yes it's as good as it sounds.
All in all, Basque country is a fantastic place full of amazing people, food, and places. I had the time of my life over there and will remember the experience for the rest of my life.