Tag Archives: Spain
6 November, 2014

Monologue of La Mancha

Well, the timing for that certainly worked out well. Did it? I don’t know. On the one hand, if we had to get sick, I’m sure glad it was while were in a comfortable hotel with a private bathroom and not out in the woods camping. Yeah, but to pedal all the way to Madrid and not leave the hotel for two days? That’s not true though, Doug, and you know it. We did go tour the bullring — what a waste of money that was! Hey, look, an empty stadium! Ole! Okay, that sucked, but Kristin thought it would be fun. We did get to see Picasso’s Guernica — damn that was a huge painting — and you did track down a new Garmin. Yeah, that’s right, we didn’t stay in the hotel the entire time. But we didn’t go out for tapas or go to one of the chocolaterias the city is famous for. So what. Oh, good, here comes Kristin.

“How was the climb?

“Awful. I don’t know what’s wrong, I have no energy. I’m still tired from being sick. How long were you waiting?”

“Five minutes or so, not sure. I’m tired too. Just try and hang in there, it’s not that far today.”

Morning descent on a rough road in Andalusia.

Morning descent on a rough road in Andalusia.

That’s a lie and you know it, Doug. She knows it too. We’ve only gone thirty five miles and have already done over three thousand feet of climbing. And this heat is unrelenting. I think these rocks are trying to cook us. And every day in Spain has been the hardest in months. She’s tired and she’s getting demoralized. She said this morning that she’s hit a plateau athletically and is starting to get frustrated that you keep getting stronger. You were waiting a lot longer than five minutes atop that climb, too. Yeah, but it’s best to not tell her that. That was good. Don’t rub it in. She’s right though, I am getting stronger. But there’s no comparison between us athletically. I’m in the best shape of my life. No you’re not. Okay, no I’m not. I was pretty fast in my running days. Yeah, you were. Too bad you didn’t have the mental strength you have now. That was always my weakness. Damn, I feel I can handle anything now. But back then I sucked. I wasn’t strong enough between the ears to handle the pain without pulling the plug. Remember that time you just walked off the track in Boston? Yeah, that was messed up. What a loser. Man, imagine if you could combine your head now with the speed you had when you were 19 or 20? Damn! You still wouldn’t have been elite. No, of course not. You wouldn’t have sniffed a sub-4 mile. No, but maybe a 1:49 in the half? Or a low 14-minute 5k? Yeah, that might have been possible. But a sub-4 mile? No way. Not a chance.

The calm before the storm.

The calm before the Flamenco storm.

Oh great, another hill.

Maybe Kristin is right and we should just go work on a farm for a month or two in Greece this winter. I dunno. I think I’d rather just go back to Pamplona. There was that apartment you saw near Plaza del Castillo. Fully furnished and only five hundred euros a month. Yeah, but what about Turkey? Yeah, Turkey. And the Silk Road cities. Do you even care about that anymore? All you and Kristin talk about is taking time off to live in Spain or work on a farm or taking a cruise ship from Istanbul to Bangkok. What about biking around the world?

There were some steep side-streets in Cazalla de la Sierra, our first white village.

There were some steep side-streets in Cazalla de la Sierra, our first white village.


I don’t know. I’m tired, man. That’s what it is. We’re just tired. We’ve been going for 3 months since getting to Europe and we need some time off. Physically I’m in the best shape ever. No, we’ve already been through that. Not ever. Fine. Best shape since my early twenties. But this whole life on the road thing gets exhausting. People think it’s a damn vacation. Shit, this is harder than any day of our old lives. Yeah it is. But nobody would ever believe it. No, that’s fine. They don’t need to. I don’t care. It’s true though. Get yourself a house and a job and the easiest thing to do is to just wake up every day in that same bed and go to that same office. Yeah, but that’s no fun. No, I guess it isn’t.

Are those oranges? Where have you ever seen cacti growing next to oranges? And olives too? Spain is nuts. Olives and oranges growing in harmony. That’s some serious cats and dogs shit right there. That’s just nonsense.

Seville's Plaza de Espana, also known as  the city of Theed on the planet Naboo in those Star Wars prequels.

Seville’s Plaza de Espana, also known as the city of Theed on the planet Naboo in those Star Wars prequels. So I’m told. I know nothing about Star Wars.

Nonsense. All you do is think nonsense all day. Okay, think about Morocco. You’re going to be in Morocco in a few days. That’s insane! Morocco! You guys rode your bike to Morocco! But what about the oceans? Ugh. What is it with people who always ask about the ocean? You tell them you just rode here from Seattle and it’s always the same thing: ‘Must have had to pedal really fast to stay atop the water.’ Flipping derps. Derps. That’s a funny word.

The tomb of Christopher Columbus, the famed Spanish explorer who looked for India and ended up in the Bahamas.

The tomb of Christopher Columbus, the famed Spanish explorer who looked for India and ended up in the Bahamas.

But seriously, what are we going to do? Winter’s coming. We’re going to head to Tangier for a week and do nothing, that’s what we’re going to do. God, I hope we don’t even leave the apartment. I’m just going to play Hearthstone. Yeah, that will be good. And catch up on your journaling. And get some notes down for that book you’re going to write, don’t forget about that. Yeah, that will be good. A week off the bikes, just chilling out will be fun. And it will be good for you, too! Maybe then you’ll stop talking about renting an apartment in Spain. But I want to do that! Yeah, well, you’re not going to die when this trip is over. You’ve got your whole lives. But what about winter? Who cares about winter. It’s the Mediterranean! How cold can it be? You crossed the Cascades in March and eastern Montana in April! Yeah, that was cold. Did it even get above freezing that week? No, but let’s not think about that. That was damn cold. Italy isn’t going to be that cold. No, and if it is, you’ll hold up someplace and rent an apartment. Or go work on a farm. Or come back to Spain. Shut up about Spain!


“Hey to you too! Nice job on the climb.”

“Thanks. Were you waiting long?”

“Not at all.”

You’re a filthy liar. Yeah, but a good husband.

Seville, as seen from atop the cathedral's massive once-Muslim tower.

The lovely Seville, as seen from atop the cathedral’s massive once-Muslim tower.

Special Thanks: Want to issue a special thanks to Barbara, a loyal reader we met on the Queen Mary 2, who was kind enough to contribute to our tapas fund. Thank you so much for your contribution! And thank you all to everyone who continues to read, like, and comment on our blog and on our Facebook page. Be sure to send us any questions you might have or suggestions.

27 October, 2014

Cycling the Spanish Sierra

“It’s going to be a six day ride to Madrid.”

“I thought you said it was only 400 kilometers. We could do that in four days, three if we had to,” she countered from across the room.

“Well, that’s before I saw this.” I  turned the map while pointing at the road marked LR-333. “Look how squiggly it is! I hope you’re ready to do some climbing.” The look on her face was one I had seen before. Kristin wore a bemused smile that showed a lack of surprise mixed with an obvious nervousness but I could also see a trace of excitement in her eyes. She didn’t quite find it as thrilling as I did, but she’d be up for it, I knew. She trusts me. Or, at the least, trusts me to not want to have to push her bike for her.

We had been in Pamplona for three days and, truthfully, I didn’t want to leave. Ever. We had a comfortable budget hostal just feet from Plaza del Castillo and its wonderful cafes where we consumed our fill of pintxos and vino, often at more than one location per night, and the vibe of the city just suited me. The guidebook erroneously says that arriving outside of the famed San Fermin festival season leaves you feeling like you’re the only one who missed the party. I didn’t want a party: I wanted to spend my days sipping espresso at Cafe Iruna, hammering at the keys of my laptop in the shadow of the Ernest Hemingway statue, strolling the cobbled streets of the historic quarter and soaking in the late autumn sunshine in the city’s immaculate parks. And I did, that is when not looking online for a furnished apartment we could rent. A return trip, perhaps?

Leaving Pamplona through the grapes and approaching the cliffs of Extauri.

Leaving Pamplona through the grapes and approaching the cliffs of Etxauri.

We did leave, begrudgingly, and not to follow the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route as we had once thought we might — a journey across northern Spain to Portugal will have to wait as we’re headed south through the heart of Spain to Morocco. Our exit took us northwest out of Pamplona across Basque country to Etxauri, a massive limestone escarpment featuring over  700 designated rock climbing routes. The detailed climbing information sign, map, and trailheads showed just the sort of commitment to recreation that we look for in a place and had me, again, wondering about a longer stay. A return trip? Definitely.

Climbing Etxauri, a massive escarpment popular among rock climbers.

Climbing Etxauri, a massive escarpment popular among rock climbers.

From Etxauri we continued west (briefly along the Camino de Santiago out of necessity, as it turns out) to Logroño and onward to the wine producing region of La Rioja. And upon filling our goatskin bota with one of the region’s cheaper offerings we left the lower elevations behind and climbed through the canyons of Rio Najerilla along LR-113. And, from there, higher still on that impossible squiggle of a road, LR-333. With dusk approaching early in the shadow of the mountains, we camped in a glorious mix of autumnal hardwoods and pine at 4300 feet (1310 meters) above sea level. A pipe jutting from the bedrock provided fresh spring water, straight from the source.

Winding along Rio Najerilla as we climb into the mountains.

Winding along Rio Najerilla as we climb into the mountains.

It was a cold night, but we’d be warm soon enough. Daybreak brought a two-mile, 750-foot climb to the top of the pass in bright sunshine. The road switchbacked its way up the flanks of the mountain, out of the pine trees and into the heather where a Great Pyrenees (of course) sat in the shade of a boulder, keeping one eye on us and its other on the sheep scattered across the hillside. It was our highest pass since the Rocky Mountains, but wouldn’t even be the highest of the day. The four mile descent was straight and fast, with gentle curves that nary needed any braking. My habit of leading us up the steeper slopes and down the longer flanks held true throughout the week, just the way I like it. It’s better to have the love be long and the heartache be swift.

Kristin nearing the summit of our first major pass in the Spanish Sierra.

Kristin nearing the summit of our first major pass in the Spanish Sierra.

Climbing again, this time past random horses left to wander, caballos de montaña, as the sign said, and upwards to a new high point in our trip: Puerto de Santa Ines at 1753 meters (5,751 feet). The ski lodge at the top of the pass was open, serving up ice cold cerveza for the dozens of basket-carrying mushroom hunters clambering over the hillside. And a couple of cyclists with the best October tans they’ve ever had.

Big mountain descent!

Big mountain descent!

Maybe it was the mile-high altitude. Perhaps it was the two (or was it three?) beers. Or conceivably it was just the joy of being on a bike in the mountains of Spain, but I hoot-and-hollered the whole way down the mountain. Six miles worth of pine forest and mushroom hunters and S-curves and switchbacks flew past as I tucked my head, took the fingers off the brakes, took command of the road, and watched the speedometer inch closer and closer to 50 mph. I didn’t hit it, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. Must be all that weight I lost.

Our route to Madrid opened up onto the wide plains south of the Sistema Ibérico mountain range after that last big descent, but still packed plenty of varying topography. Only now, instead of ski slopes, the lesser summits played home to hilltop towns, castles, and medieval-looking lookout towers, many undoubtedly linked to the time of the Moors. We rolled into Barcones, not even a dot on my map, and found an elderly woman padding up the cobbled street, one hand clutching the neck of a heavy, tattered blue robe. The aforementioned Hemingway might have said she looked peasantly. “Hola senora. ¿Donde esta el agua de la ciudad?” I asked, waving an empty water bottle in my hand and hoping she could direct us to the town’s water pipe. “Aqui, aqui. Mi casa!” She replied, taking the bottle from my hand and motioning for us to follow her. She disappeared into a darkened room behind a heavy beaded curtain, shouting in Spanish at someone inside. She returned with our bottles and promptly took the others we had and filled those too.  We said our thanks and goodbyes and were back on the road, hydrated, dusty, sweaty, and so thrilled to be able, again, to communicate. At least on an elementary level. And therein lies something I never expected. I couldn’t guess how comforting it was to hear that first hola or appreciate how wonderful it would be to hear a cashier tell me a total and, with a couple of seconds to think about it, know that doce y ochenta meant I owed twelve euro and eighty cents. Without having to see the digital tally! Language and communication isn’t something we have to think about much in our normal everyday lives, but man is it a relief after going two months without it. But I digress…

We regretted leaving Atienza, but we were in a camping mood...

We regretted leaving Atienza, but we were in a camping mood…

...and found a great place to camp atop a plateau south of town.

…and found a great place to sleep atop a plateau a few miles south of town.

It’s been a great week of cycling (with over 20,000 feet of elevation gain), and better yet, it’s been great to be back in the wilds, among nature. Though the only noise we might hear these next few nights is the elevator down the hall, I’ll go to sleep remembering the sounds of the past two nights: that of coyotes yipping and barking as they gave chase to the the deer nosing around our tent. Our route from Madrid takes us through more mountains and national parks en route to Seville then onward to the Mediterranean coast.

Special Thanks: What we’re lacking in quality, we’re making up for in quantity while here in Spain. Special thanks to my friend Kevin Axt for clicking the donate button and contributing to our cerveza fund. The great thing about the bars in Spain is that every drink comes with small plates of snacks so, even a fizzy yellow lager can still feel like a meal! And speaking of beer, I want to give my brother-in-law Mike a big congratulations for landing his new gig at Flying Fish Brewery in NJ. Salud!