What is life? I am sitting next to a fire listening to classical music with a stuffed dear head peering down at me while I eat the local Castillan soup specialty, which probably has some bits of that poor guy floating around in it. I don’t really care because I’m starving and freezing in my sweat soaked riding clothes, and I have no idea what is ahead for the day. Let me start from the beginning of the week, when I went to the main train station and bought a ticket to Valencia on the warm sunny coast and a return ticket from Alicante a few hundred ks south. I told my Valencian friend and he prepared a map for me to follow, and I had four days buzzing with excitement for a big ride. So when I finished uni at 9pm last night, I rushed home and packed my panniers and sat in bed to eat my dinner then fell asleep.
The alarm rang at 6am and all I had to do was climb into my clothes and onto the bike then roll down the hill to the train station, trying to stay half asleep so I could head back to dreamland on the train. I handed over the ticket and the woman said “This is wrong. Where’s your ticket from Madrid to Valencia?”. I woke up immediately and had a proper look at my tickets for the first time, thinking that my Spanish communication earlier in the week had surely secured the journey I wanted. The disaster I was holding in my hand was a ticket from Valencia to Alicante return and had nothing to do with where I physically was in Madrid.
I raced to the ticket office and met with a horrible unhelpful man, and that was enough to make the tears run furiously. I was in a serious state, but thank god there was a man who could translate for me. After lots of rigmarole, he demanded I get my money back, and I found out that the real train to Valencia takes 6 hours and costs three times as much as I was willing to give. I thanked the concerned Spaniard who asked if I had been out the night before and that was why I was so emotional? That made me laugh and I pictured myself eating pizza and salad in bed the night before so I could get maximum sleep time, and I told him that I just really adore riding and was angry at myself for ruining the weekend.
I wheeled through the dark to a café and worked out a new route with the help of the waitor, then caught the Madrid city train to the western outskirts. As the sun rose, I passed the skyscrapers and cranes and hoards of people and the land where money rules, the pointless pleasing and the rush hour to escape into nature for a few days.
Today was insane. I rode 800 vertical metres to arrive at the skiing resort where I was skiing a few weeks ago. I remember sitting on the bus when I was going there and commenting on how crazy it would be to ride along those narrow snow packed roads. I guess I called myself crazy.
Yesterday I made it over the Guadarrama Pass and 60 mountainous kilometres north to Segovia. The ride was beautiful and it only started to rain when I rolled into town and found a hostel in the late afternoon. This morning I chilled for a few hours chatting to a Singaporean couple over herbal tea and crusty bread with oil and balsamic. Best combo ever. I checked the wind direction and after lots of contemplation over the notable lack of hostels in my 100km radius, I decided to go completely against the wind on the most squiggly (I have learnt this means big hills) road I could see so I could be back in my own bed for the night. It’ll be right thought morning Jess in her socks and trackies, it’s just a 40km route and the wind doesn’t feel that strong right. The wind was so strong it made me look like I had flat tires while riding against it, and I could have gone back and slapped morning Jess in the face a few times today. Of course it all turned out wildly brilliantly in the end (and I’m writing this while in my dressing gown, laying in bed freshly showered and moisturised after the skin tearing cold).
The first ten ks was along a bike path, and led to a historical town named La Granja. The heards of tourists made their way across the old cobblestones and a town official told me to get off my bike and walk it next to their precious castle in the kind of tone that meant she wanted to ruin my day.
Get off it.
Ok I understand. I just have one question.
No. You cannot ride it.
Ok Just a tiny question? I said with a big haters gonna hate smile.
Ok, so how do I get to Parada de San Ilfonso?
I finally made her soften and rode off to Parada something something for a café con leche while the owner told me that there was nothing but a serious mountain for the next 15 km.
It feels strange to ride alone with nothing but frost laden trees, trickling creeks, soaring eagles and the occasional car. It makes you feel more alive than when you are with everyone and with access to anything. It makes you feel whole and emotional and back to basics. It makes you feel.
My phone died at 1200m, which Dad would be happy about because I couldn’t listen to music anymore, but I also couldn’t take photos of the unique and spectacular experience. The altitude increased and my breath grew white and cheeks red. Some families parked their cars on the side of the roads to go tobogganing, and I listened to the squeal of kids and the dripping sound of melting snow from the trees as my music.
Here were the squiggles on the map exactly as promised, and I zigzagged up more zigs than I could count while the people in passing cars stared at me from their temperature controlled boxes like I was E.T, so I gave some of them a purple gloved peace sign for fun. My energy was getting low, not just from lack of food, but because being an exchange student doesn’t really go hand in hand with being a picture of health, and I thought back to yesterday when some road cyclists passed me and jokingly said ‘andiamo’, which means hurry up. I think they would be proud of me on this mountain, because I sure was.
‘Come on Jess, this is absolutely amazing’ I said out loud.
The snow had been ploughed to the sides of the road and was about a metre deep most of the way. For an Aussie, that is a lot of pow-pow, and the whole experience was truly foreign. The trees had a dusting of icing sugar powder and everything on the ground except the winding road was blindingly white.
I couldn’t actually stop cycling because the snow made the road too narrow for a safe break. I saw the top and got that fresh surge of energy to push to the Puerto del Navecerrada at 1850m. I had some hot choccy at the top while charging my phone enough for this picture. All of the snow boarders and skiiers were just returning from the slopes for the day.
I started the rewarding ride down, and I didn’t expect my fingers and toes to freeze up so violently. It snowed on me while I shot down the mountain trying to get my numb fingers to work the breaks along the frosty road. My toes were scarily ice-cube like inside my running shoes and single pair of socks and I had a serious flash of myself without fingers and toes all because I packed for a sunny weekend in Valencia and ended up riding to a goddamn ski resort. The white snow was replaced by brown ice and then by some hardcore winds that almost stopped me in my tracks. I found a railway station and jumped on to ride back to Madrid, meeting some mountain bikers that laughed heartily at everything.
With wind burnt cheeks and dirty clothes I headed back home and now I will head out to party like a normal 22 year old girl.