Back in the saddle!

Sunset on beach in Puntra Umbria, Spain.

Sunset in Punta Umbria

I had been in Punta Umbria for two full weeks before I finally thought of my bike and realized I didn’t miss it one bit.

It sat untouched while I wandered up and down the beach, turning seashells with my toes and wondering where my passion for travel had gone.

The idea that I could go on but perhaps didn’t want to worried me – a lot.  I knew I wouldn’t feel a failure if I suddenly stopped, if I said “enough” and just walked away from it all. But the thought of restarting my life when everything I own fits on the back of a bicycle was daunting, and probably always will be.

There was nothing to do but wait, take time to relax and let my wants take care of themselves. And, of course, they did.

Spring flowers in Punta Umbria, Spain.

Signs of Spring.

At first all I missed was the simple pleasure of sleeping outside. The temperature drop at midnight, the symphony of insects humming while the frogs keep time, the first rays of sunshine dripping through my canvas – they’re like a drug for me and the coming of a beautiful spring hardly seemed the time to kick the habit.

Then, out of boredom I opened my European road atlas and, as ever, stacked hours upon hours planning imaginary routes for the only dreams I’ve ever made real. There was no turning back. It was time to go.

In short order I’d organized my path to France, even using the street view on Google Maps so I could navigate around major cities without getting hopelessly lost. Why I didn’t think of that months ago is beyond me. I set Tuesday, March 16, as my departure date and spent its eve so excited, so positively tingling with electricity that I hardly slept a wink for fear of missing the morning.

Cycling on the highway to Córdoba, Spain.

To Córdoba: Cacti and sunny sky

The first days on the road were awkward, but they always are. My shorts didn’t feel right, the bike seemed off balance, and shifting was more chore than automatic.  That’s what happens after more than a month off the pavement.

But by the time I reached Sevilla – a short day and a half into the ride – I felt supremely confident in the saddle, as though I belonged nowhere but that tiny space between the road’s white line and . . . everything.

The sights of Andalucia were spectacular, and even when I inched my way up its hills, tongue hanging out and sweat pouring down my face, all I could say when I raised my eyes was wow.

The sunny weather also had a huge impact on my mileage, which was almost double what it was in the dark days of winter. Call it ego (it is), but the kilometers I travel are wound so tightly around my satisfaction that the two can never be separated. So, to cover 130 km on only my fifth day back on the road felt very good indeed.

Cycling in Spain on the road to Albacete.

The road to Albacete

They say you have to be lucky to be good, and I’d be tempting fate if I didn’t acknowledge my fortune thus far.  One day, after pounding over endless hills in the driving rain, I looked up at the settling night and down to sopping feet. For the next hour I searched olive groves, unplowed fields and even rocky slopes for a place to camp, and all I got was muddy.

I’d almost resigned myself to getting a cheap hotel room when, out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a decrepit building at the bottom of a small valley. I skidded down a boggy lane and discovered, to my absolute delight, an abandoned railway station with a roof as airtight as the one over my head right now.

It was amazing. I had the place to myself until the rain subsided, and a pair of discarded high heels, peeking white and strapless from the rubble, were enough to fuel my imagination indefinitely.

Mike on Bike standing on abandoned train station platform near Baeza, Spain.

My cracked-plaster oasis

As I set up camp, I couldn’t help but wonder what the place had been like in its heyday, when grey suits and wound watches leaned over the tracks to watch the train glide into the station, all steam and whistles. I pictured a porter, brass buttons glinting as he hopped onto the open platform to punch tickets for busy men and shoeless women.

But that last train had gone long ago, and now all that was left was me – mostly. On my second day out of the rain, a red Jeep growled up the platform ramp and three olive pickers billowed out in clouds of cigarette smoke.

Mike on Bike with friends in abandoned train station near Baeza, Spain.

New friends near Baeza

At first I thought I was going to get raped and murdered – granted that was a worst case scenario. At the very least, I supposed I was going to get in trouble and be told in rapid-fire Spanish to hit the road.

But much to my surprise, the men were only looking for a way around the muddy road. What’s more, they considered the idea of biking to Spain from Canada absolutely hilarious.

They insisted on a photo, teased me that bikers never get laid, shook my hand and were gone before the mud on their tires even had time to dry.

I suppose that episode best sums of this leg of the trip. Perhaps it’s that I finally have some travel experience, but things that would have ruined my day in the past are now interesting stories or, at worst, annoyances easily remedied by blue skies and friendly faces.

If we all knock on wood together, I might even venture that I’m getting pretty good at this cycle tour thing.

Back on the road and happy to be there. Who could ask for more?


One response to “Back in the saddle!

  1. hey mike

    good to see you’re still on the road…

    i’m in mexico city and considering my future options…i’ve been off my bike for a few weeks now and i’m wondering how it will feel to get back on it… the next stop is puebla to talk to an organisation that works with kids in poor communities about the possibility of a project which might have me ‘off cycle’ for a while…

    otherwise i’m going to try my luck in getting to cuba without resorting to flying… and if not, then it’s south to oaxaca and chiapas and then guatemala and beyond…

    happy travels and exploration…

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