Snowflakes and flu bugs

It seems those Basque-ards to the east have a lock on sunshine in Spain, and the country as a whole has provided more challenges than I ever expected.

Winter bicycle touring near Vilalba in northern Spain.

The road from Vilalba in Spain

First, and always most important for me, has been the weather. I chose the northern coast because it historically goes without snow in the winter. Most kids have never seen it and adults vaguely remember the white stuff from a storm that fell 20 years ago. It was a good plan, but now it’s buried somewhere near Vilalba, under about a foot of powder. There I found myself in the middle of a full-scale blizzard – blinding snow, howling winds and Spanish drivers spinning summer tires to no avail.

Stranger than the surprise storm was the fact that the falling snow inexplicably made me happy. Giddy. It made me feel very much at home in a place where I have trouble using the payphones. The highways were completely empty and the weather wasn’t cold, so once I got started I found it was a perfect time for traveling, provided I cycled in a straight line and crossed my fingers on the hills.

On one of those hills I came upon a German cyclist making a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. His gear was ramshackle, his blue jeans soaked, and he was walking his bike because his feet were frozen. I liked him immediately. We cycled together for three days and partied until 5 a.m. to celebrate his arrival in Santiago. It was a crazy night that I’ll always barely remember.

Cathedral at end of Camino de Santiago de Compostela in Spain.

Santiago de Compostela cathedral

Despite the fun, I never really felt at ease in Santiago. There were too many tourists looking up and too many locals looking down. I had no regrets about continuing south to Pontevedra, but on the way my stomach started doing flip-flops and my forehead was burning up. I thought I was just a bit hungover, but it wasn’t the same feeling at all. After my third mad dash to use the facilities at a coffee shop, it dawned on me that I might have a stomach bug.

And how. I spent the next two days sitting on the can with my head in a bucket, wishing that someone would do the right thing and shoot me. Luckily I’d arranged a CouchSurfing host several days earlier, so at the very least I had a comfortable and warm place to rest between yak attacks.

I look like a twig in the mirror, but after a bit of 7-Up and some toast this morning, I think I feel strong enough to take to the highway once more. I’m less than 60 km from Portugal, so I should be able to cross the border by this evening if all goes well.

This trip certainly isn’t getting any easier, but in a way that was never the point. Starting in Belgium, and now especially in Spain, I’ve stopped considering the trials as either good or bad. They’re temporary and that’s all. Lately I cycle the same whether I’m climbing a hill, facing the wind or dragging my bike through six inches of mud. I don’t know if that means my mind is clear or I’m just a fool, but it sure helps me stack up more kilometers.


2 responses to “Snowflakes and flu bugs

  1. hi mike,
    great great gratitude to you for sharing these experiences and insights. you express yourself with such humour and honesty. thank you thank you thank you for being a deep well of inspiration.
    your discussion of impermanence strikes a chord — i think one of the most practical and revolutionary lessons one can learn… i learned a bit about it during 10 days of silence. you said you could never sit still for 10 days of meditation — looks like you’ve found another way to explore the same learning (and then some)… or maybe it found you, somewhere between Belgian mud and Spanish snow 🙂
    with a warm heart sending uplifting thoughts,

  2. It’s still very much a work in progress, but I’m learning more about patience and inner calm than I ever thought possible. Trouble is, I had such a long way to go, haha. Take care!

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