If you’re still reading this thing, you’ve probably realised that it’s a lot more ‘Dan’ than ‘went cycling’. This post is probably going to be the worst so far, but I hope to turn things around and maybe actually write some things about the places I am going to as well one day…
After eight straight days on the bike, and nights spent either in dorms with Peregrinos or with Warm Showers hosts I decided I wanted some privacy and splurged on a private room in Salamanca for a few day
I periodically crave privacy, and the simple pleasure of a space to call my own, if only for a night or two. To scatter my shit (figuratively, I mean) wherever I please, as opposed to the obligations inherent in being somebody’s guest, or having to consider the routines and feelings of other people. It’s a weird desire that creeps up on me but I find it so satisfying when it is satiated. I wonder if other people feel the same or if it’s a ‘me’ thing, or an ‘only-child’ thing or an ‘early mid-life-crisis-having, self-indulgent egotist’ thing or what? Whatever, it was E19 well-spent.
But then I know the pendulum will swing and I’ll be itching to move again and glad to be spending the equivalent of a working day pedalling towards an unknown destination. I acknowledged these juvenile mood-swings, whilst at the same time making plans for the far-flung future (July) when I’ll meet friends in France hopefully witness Chris Froome push his wobbly head into the lead of le Tour.
Salamanca itself is an attractive University town and I occupied my time wandering the streets as usual and having a bit of an existential wobble; the kind only middle-class people with two much time on their hands can indulge in. The consequence of which was me drinking alone again in the middle of the day, and then bingeing on sugar as a way to distract myself from my worries. It occurred to me that this could be a tipping point into something more serious and that I’d better address it. Simply thinking about things obviously wasn’t working so I reached out to a friend back home and spilled my guts in an emotional email, which even if he didn’t respond to, at least would serve as a purge. Fortunately he did respond, with generous and insightful comments and wise advice and I’m hugely grateful for his help getting me through that sticky patch. I resolved to set myself some new substance-abuse guidelines for this trip: I’ll only allow myself one beer if I’m drinking alone, and I will revert to a low sugar diet and try to worry less and enjoy more*.
Refreshed and renewed (and E32 lighter after having to buy new brake pads after only 6 weeks cycling) I had a few days to kill before meeting my former housemate (and her friend) in Madrid, so indulged myself by following a huge tailwind to Valladolid for a night and then down to Segovia. In the former I stayed with a Warm Showers host and enjoyed a street performance as part of a free arts festival, and in the latter got drunk (within the rules) with an outgoing and chatty motorcycle tourist who happened to be sharing my hostel. Thanks for the beers, if you’re reading this, Polish-guy-whose-name-I-forgot!
Then it was an arduous day crossing the mountains north of Madrid. Every time I have a big mountain day, the weather seems to turn on me. Once I’d crested the 6000ft peak it started to rain and despite layering up in winter clothes I was shivering with crippled hands within 5 minutes, and the next hour pushed me into tantrum territory until I eventually made it to my next host’s place and was brought down to earth by his much worse condition (I won’t go into it here because it just doesn’t seem right to write about my hosts on a public blog; suffice to say I need to realise that I’ve had an easy life and my concerns are pathetic in comparison to others’).
Suitably chastened, and looking forward to seeing my friend, I left my bike and things at my host’s place and rode the bus the 40km into Madrid and checked into a hostel for a few nights.
What followed was a day and a half of cana, vino tinto, tapas and intense conversation. I was so excited after a couple of months travelling alone, butting up against a language barrier of varying size that I’m afraid I bored and exhausted my friend (and her travelling companion whom I’d only just met) by dominating the conversations and pontificating on such heavy topics as life, death, decisions, failure, relationships, learning, careers, travel, Tai-Jing**, genetics and genitalia. As far as therapy goes though, it was badly needed and almost as valuable as my other friend’s email advice a few days before.
There are inevitably periods of loneliness when travelling solo on a bike, but that wasn’t quite the cause of my malaise; so much of our identity is caught up in our language that I think I felt partially erased after so long without being able to express nuance, or irony or even really a sense of levity. Anyway, I exorcised those demons and exercised my vocal chords and it was an awesome couple of days and I’m hugely grateful to my friend(s) for meeting me and putting up with my prolixity. It was so good, and put me in such a positive mood that I didn’t even worry about the E100 or so I spent mostly on jamon!
The next week or so will take me north east; possibly to Zaragoza and/or Barcelona, before I choose the easiest route I can over the Pyrenees, to France and a Workaway position I’ve had planned for a while. Then it will be on to Lyon and Grenoble to meet more friends and then probably back to the UK for August. I’m thinking about riding around visiting people so you might receive an email or text message from me begging for a couch to crash on, or suggesting we go for a beer. To be forewarned is to be forearmed (with excuses)!
*The actual rules are much more detailed/personal/cringeworthy than this, but they have a good chance of working for me and that’s what counts.