Andy's Travel Updates "The real thing is not reaching, the real thing is the journey, the very travelling. If you are too bothered about the goal you will miss the journey, and the journey is life - the goal can only be death."

Spain by bicycle

SPAIN | Friday, 25 June 2010 | Views [192]

After only 5kms of cycling I already felt I had accomplished plenty: I had cycled in 2 countries, got lost twice, gone the wrong way down a one way street and had cycled across an airport runway. Not a bad start! Shorty afterwards, a local saw me looking lost and directed me to a bike bath from where things were much more settled.

Three weeks later I had my first misadventure (unless you count my misadventure in pursuit of a hamburger that took me two hours, cost €30 and almost left me stranded without accomodation, which is another story entirely). On a quiet road north of Madrid I had my first flat and discovered my bike pump was broken. So I had to walk. I could not leave the bags on my bike because the weight would damage the rim with the flat tire, so I used my belt to tie the bags together and carry over my shoulder as I walked (in the rain) to the nearest town... where a helpful local lent me a bike pump. I even got a sticker on my bike from one of the local kids who stood watching me change the tire.

Other than that minor incident it has so far been a brilliant trip. The Spanish people are always very pleased to have a visitor in their little towns and are interested to hear what I am doing. They are eager to help and give me suggestions on where to ride and what to see.

The weather has brought a few good challenges. In the first two weeks it was warm - up to 37 (which is not unbearable for an Australian). The first very warm day I was climbing to a summit above the tree line (meaning there was no shade) when I saw an ambulance and a dozen motorcyclists standing around. They stopped me and asked to borrow my water - one of the motorcyclists was dehydrated, lying on the road under the shade of the ambulance. He seemed to get better after drinking some water. But it did leave me pondering various oddities, such as: why didn't the ambulance have water?

After the heat it was cold, very suddenly. Just 2 days after cycling in 36 degree heat I was on a summit where it was 6. Climbing up to this summit I finally overtook another cyclist. Sure he may have been on a mountain bike and at times swerving wildly in a way that indicated he didn't entirely know what he was doing and sure, maybe it took me the whole 8km climb to pass him, but at least I was no longer THE slowest thing on the road. I saw him again on the way down the other side, he was walking and pushing his bike so I asked if he was alright. He said 'I am like an icecream': the windchill was really something.

Then the rain came, for almost a week. There were even flood warnings. Actually it wasn't unpleasant cycling in the rain. Except on one particular day when it was both cold and raining. My hands were numb and every bump on he road (it was a bumpy road) was painful. The same day I had run out of cash (due to hotels that didn't accept cards and there being no ATMs) which was an added worry and was also out of food. Mentally it was tough. In various attempts to lift my spirits I tried singing, smiling and laughing, none of which worked. What did help was pedalling fast enough that my legs warmed me up while riding the brakes to prevent a wind chill. And yes I needed to buy new brake pads the next day.

Lastly the weather was windy. I had a tough day riding into a head/cross wind but still managed my first 100km day (it happened to be exact: I arrived 30 metres short so cycled a few extra metres to bring up the 100kms). Then I had only 80kms left to France, the forecast for the next few days was ideal and I felt like nothing could stand between me and France. But the next day the wind was fierce. When I was off the bike there were gusts strong enough to push me off balance and when I was on the bike it pushed me to within an inch of the edge of the road and into the middle of the lane. After this happened a 
couple of times I decided to stop before I had an accident or was arrested for what must have looked like drink-driving a bicycle. I sat in a park for a couple of hours hoping it would die down and in disbelief that the wind was stopping me from cycling.

The next day the gusts were gone and the weather was absolutely perfect for my first climb up the Pyrenees. There were wonderful views but I was enjoying the ride too much to stop for a photo. I held a steady (slow) 10km/hour for a one hour climb (without a break) to the Puerto de Larrau (10kms at about 6%). I was almost disapointed when the climb ended (and cycled down a little way to take a photo and cycle back up) but then I realised I had just climbed the Pyrenees and I had just cycled across Spain!

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