Day Seventy Nine: Eduardo’s Road To Fitness

Way back when salt shakers only had one hole and it was only pepper pots that had multiple holes, I took it upon myself to cycle from one sleepy village in Spain to another sleepy village in Portugal. I can’t remember why, other than it seemed like a good idea at the time.

My wife and I had been forced to delay our departure.  A huge storm had decided to lash the Spanish coast.  Instead of setting off into torrential rain I sat on a sofa with a guy from Belgium and drank the best part of a bottle of whisky.  I don’t remember the storm at all. I don’t remember much at all to be honest.

I do remember setting off the next day under bright blue skies.  It was warm.  I cycled through my hangover, suffering quietly, not daring to complain about the pace being set by my wife, who was out for the kill.  At the top of a long climb, late in the day we came across a hotel.  It was a natural place to stop for the night. I was only too happy to hear my other half suggest we rest up. I was in a bit of a state. Dehydrated from the outset I had never made up any ground on the effects of the previous days drinking.  Day one of our trip, as far as I was concerned, was a day of silent, terrible suffering.  Never would I drink a bottle of whisky the day before a big cycle ride.  An easy rule to remember and one I have kept to this day.

Back to this hotel then.  It was quite nice.  Brightly lit, with a spacious foyer.  There was an air of newness about it.  I could hear someone wielding a power drill in a room nearby.  People busy were hammering things.  A chap with a cigarette bent in half, the lit end dangerously close to his proud moustache, was attaching a cured ham weighing at least 25KG to a thin metal railing above the front desk.  An accident waiting to happen I thought.  My wife enquired about a room at ‘Ham Hotel’.

Whilst my wife talked to the guy behind the reception desk I watched the man with the bent cigarette try to tie the huge ham with a piece of string to an impossibly frail pipe that ran along the length of the ceiling above the desk. It appeared that he was setting a booby trap for the night clerk.

It turned out that we could not stay in the new hotel as it was not completed and was not yet accepting guests.  This was not fantastic news.  We were both tired and had mentally switched out of cycling mode and were looking forward to a hot shower and a comfortable bed.  All was not lost however.  We were told to follow an old guy who would take us to the ‘old hotel’.  Hmmm….

We set off down an unlit, disused road that ran behind the new hotel.  It was the ‘old road’.  It turned out that the road we had been on was newly built and since traffic was no longer travelling down the old road, they built a new hotel nearby and had closed the old hotel.  It was this old, now empty hotel that we’d be staying in.

To say it looked a bit creepy would be a vast understatement.  It made the house at Amityville look positively welcoming.  My wife went a little bit quiet.  She asked the man who had shown us there is it was OK.  He sensed our trepidation and said “Oh yes, its safe, all the electricity is working and the showers have running water, you’ll be fine.”  Superb.  To me that was like saying we’d be staying with Freddie Kruger but that he’d already killed three other cycle tourists today and was a bit tired and would be having an early night, so we’d be fine and he wouldn’t bother us. Yeah right.

The man forced open a door into a dimly lit entrance hall.  The only light came from his car headlights; they cast strange shadows on the walls and made the stuffed animals mounted on the walls look even creepier than they would have been in broad daylight.  My wife was putting on a brave face.  So was I but my hands were sweating.

We climbed a flight of old stairs made from dark wood, I tried to make out the details carved into the banisters but could not.  We were led down a narrow corridor and shown the shower-room.  It was small and had just three showers inside.  No baths.  Two or three doors down was our tiny bedroom.  It smelt musty.  The man told us that there was no breakfast and that we could cycle down the road in the morning to a petrol station about ten kilometres away to eat.

He left us and walked off just a little bit too quickly for my liking. We heard him walk back down the stairs to the entrance hall.  We then heard him lock us in.  This of course did not go down too well.  I made a few light-hearted jokes to settle my wife’s nerves and decided to test out the showers.

After a shower that lasted about eleven seconds – I had visions of something coming into the shower and doing what always happens in horror movies – I returned to our bedroom.  Fortunately both of us were shattered and we quickly fell asleep.

During the night we heard doors banging and some truly weird sounds.  However the days cycling had taken its toll and we were too tired to react.  It did however serve as a catalyst for us to get out of the place quickly in the morning.  As we left, I looked back at the hotel and thought it looked just as creepy in broad daylight as during the night.

Breakfast was something we always looked forward to whilst cycle touring and that morning was no exception.  We found the petrol station as described to us the night before and sat down at a table to eat.  I ordered Spanish style ham with eggs.  The eggs were fresh, their yolks a lovely bright orange.

Sitting in the middle of the table was a metal tray holding a saltshaker, a peppershaker, a glass olive oil dispenser and a matching glass vinegar dispenser.  I went for the salt and discovered that instead of a single hole, as was the norm back then, it had the same number of holes in the top as the pepper pot.  How strange.

I have since figured out why in Spain this is the case.  You see the Spanish like to add all manner of condiments to their food.  If it is in a condiment tray it gets added.  So for this reason it makes little difference to them which is the salt and which is the pepper.  They always add both.  You could put a glass dispenser with a mixture of dried anchovies and fruit loops and they’d add it to their food.

So what on earth has this got to do with my road to fitness? As is often the case, it is of course Food.  I was thinking about how little in the way of carbohydrates they serve up at a big meal here in Catalunya.  Sure you can get a Paella but generally its lots of meat or lots of fish, or as is very common, both.  The same goes for breakfast, often all that the locals have is two or three cups of coffee, a whisky chaser, or some other firewater and off they go.  Muesli? Nope.  Cornflakes? Nope.  They might have a sandwich or a mini roll stuffed with cured sausage but on the whole they do not seem to eat too much in the morning.

For anyone that plans to sit on a bike for three or four hours, you have to have a decent meal at breakfast.  I know some folks that subscribe to the ‘Russian old school style training’ whereby you skip breakfast and hammer yourself silly on the bike for half the day eating nothing at all, but in general for longer rides that doesn’t work too well.  All is does is stress your system -in my experience that is. So the trick is to eat a decent breakfast and to make sure you are hydrated. Oh and of course, do not on any account drink a bottle of whisky the night before unless of course you plan to stay in a haunted hotel the next night.  In which case go straight ahead.  You’ll sleep through all the door banging without any problem!

Day Seventy Eight: Eduardo’s Road To Fitness

I stood at the top of the mountain looking at the view.  In front of me was the start of a trail.  One that I had never cycled down before.  I had no idea where the trail ended, nor which side of the mountain I would exit from.  It looked good though, judging by the tire tracks, it was used by motorbikes.  So far whenever I’ve followed motorcycle tracks up here in the mountains, the trails have turned out to be fantastic.  I clipped in, took one last look at the view and set off.

The first few minutes of the trail was comprised of soft sand that looked like it had been taken from a beach in the Maldives. The sand had been built up into large soft berms in the bends.  These were fun, letting the bike run wide and high up in the berms, and feeling the slingshot effect as you are whipped out of the corner. it was a fast, smooth and flowing descent so far.

I began to follow a fresh set of tire tracks, the rider’s lines were excellent and were proving to be the best route through the obstacles that were beginning to present themselves.  The size of the rocks began to increase, from grapefruit to bowling ball and on up to sofa sized. The trail was getting very, very technical.

I was now at the limit of my technical ability, the number of drop offs were coming fast and thick. Riding the trail blind (ie. not knowing what to expect) I put my faith in following the tire trail left by the motorcycle.I was talking to myself, not aloud of course for that would be insane. Quietly, in my head, commenting upon the terrain as I flicked the bike left and right, choosing a path through the rocks, gullies and crumbling sandstone.

As the terrain became increasingly difficult I began to wonder what sort of off-road machine had left the tracks.  I now know that it was a trials bike, as opposed to an enduro machine.  I know this because of the route that the mystery biker took over a series of large boulders.  I could see the marks left by his bash plate as he had manoeuvred over several VW Beetle sized obstacles.  One section of bolders were challenging enough just to climb over with my mountain bike on my shoulder.  In a word, it was incredible what terrain this mystery motorcycle was crossing. It was getting a tad ridiculous.

I was now at a bit of a loss.  Clearly just trying to follow the tire tracks set by God riding a trials bike was not wise.  This really hit home when his tire tracks disappeared at the edge of what can only be described as a dried out waterfall.  I cannot, for the life of me think of how he got down.  Me? I climbed down, lowering my bike by the back wheel, holding onto pieces of vegetation to steady myself.  My ride was turning into a bit of an adventure.  It was a lot of fun and I was impressed at what Motorcycle Man was riding through.

All was going swimmingly well until I decided take a sip of water from my CamelBak.  I’d been riding for about 40 minutes and until then had not taken a drink.  It didn’t take long to realise that what I was drinking was mostly Fairy Liquid.  This of course is not good.  Whilst it is superb for cutting through grease on plates after a Sunday Roast, I can assure you it tastes horrendous and does not quench your thirst.  I sat down on a rock that was battle scarred from Mr. Motorcycle Man and laughed.  ‘What a bloody muppet’ I thought to myself.  Out in the middle of nowhere on a trail I’d never been down, one that is only slightly less technical than a hard stage in the Camel Trophy and I’ve got nothing to drink except washing up liquid in my reservoir.  Brilliant.

Luckily for me it was not hot and the trail eventually ended on a section of fire-road that I recognized.  I cut my ride short, pointed the bike downhill and was home in thirty minutes.

I plan to tackle the trail again and think I can take a fork off to the right just before the waterfall section, I believe it will pop me back onto the trail further down which means I won’t have to swing through the trees like Tarzan with my bike on my shoulder.  My CamelBak is now clean and free from Fairy Liquid and I’m ready for a 2 1/2 hour blast.

I wonder if I will bump into the dude on the trials bike? I’d love to see how he gets through the waterfall section.  Madness.

Maybe this is how he did it?

Day Seventy Seven: Eduardo’s Road To Fitness

Marmite. It is of course something you either love or you hate.  There is no in between, you cannot be a fence sitter when it concerns Marmite. People that do not care for it, anounce their dislike with venom.  I remember asking a friend of mine if he fancied a slice of toast with Marmite following a long bike ride.  His reaction would have been the same if I had asked him if he cared to donate a thousand pounds to the “I love Pol Pot and Hitler Fan Club”.  I took his response to mean ‘No’.

For those of you that live in a yurt in Outer Mongolia and have not been exposed to Marmite, it is a thick spread produced with the by-product of beer making, a yeast extract. It has the look of an industrial lubricant and smells like vitamin pills given to women after childbirth. Spread on toast, with butter some say it tastes delicious.  Others would rather lick a camel’s armpit.

Marmite

Marmite

The name Marmite comes from that of a French earthenware or metallic pot, which, presumably was how it was originally prepared.  The modern jars have been shaped so as to resemble the funky original marmite cooking pots.

The company behind Marmite, based in Burton On Trent in England, began production in 1902.  Since then they have capitalised on the binary nature of their product and have promoted the ‘Love it or Hate it’ tag line.  This has been picked up by the media in general and now plenty of other things are likened to Marmite, where a ‘love it or hate it’ divide exists.

Which brings me to the subject of fitness.  Strange you might think.  How on earth is Eduardo going to link Marmite with fitness?  A darn good question.  Here is how I shall do it.

The art to making a Marmite sandwich revolves around moderation.  Get too eager, spread too much on your toast and you’ve just wasted a slice of bread.  Pop it into your mouth and you’re in danger of pickling your insides.  I warn you now.  Eat neat Marmite over an extended period of time and you will turn your eyeballs to dust.  It is salty stuff.

The trick, as anyone that truly loves it will agree, is to allow just a faint hint to caress your palette. Eat it like this and you can eat it daily.  Over do it and you’ll end up abstaining for a week or so until your taste buds recover.

Exercise is the same.  This is especially relevant if you are new to it.  Gym memberships shoot up in January, a product of the Christmas excess, of New Year resolutions and a desire to get fit for ski holidays.  Most people last about six weeks and never return.  They commit the error of spreading their Marmite too thickly, when a small but regular dose would have been more effective.

So a little exercise, in moderation and often, is key.  Don’t start up with an over ambitious training schedule.  Do too much too soon and your body will say ‘No I am sorry I can’t be doing this gym lark”. Be sensible.  Be gentle.  Ease yourself into it.  Improve your diet. Try Marmite combined with a nice (low fat) cheese sandwich.  You might just love it.  Of course you may hate it.  But that’s fine too of course. There’s always Vegemite or Bovril ☺

And Me? Well I love Marmite and like my exercise routine, I try to avoid over-doing it.  I have taken two days off from training following a tough week spent mountain biking in between job hunting and attending interviews.  I plan to do a run tomorrow.  It should be interesting as I have neglected my running shoes in favour of my cycling shoes these past few weeks.

Oh and if anyone knows where to buy Marmite in Barcelona – please let me know.  I’m almost out.

Day Seventy Six: Eduardo’s Road To Fitness

I left the bright sunlit section of trail and entered a dark overgrown area, home of hobbits, elves and tolls, where trees come to life to reach out and grab you by the ankles. The trail was made darker by the fact that due to the sudden contrast, my eyes had not yet adjusted to the gloom. Having been through this section a week ago, I knew it was covered in moss covered rocks that were slippery and dangerous.

I realized that my legs felt wet and whilst negotiating a slow speed rocky area I risked a quick glance down.  My first thought was that I had brushed up against a cactus and had sliced open my shins.  My heart sank at the thought of couple of hours spent with tweezers pulling needles out of my legs. Then it struck me that I felt no discomfort. How odd.  Perhaps it was the adrenalin rush, the endorphin high that was delaying what was to be a mind numbing, glove-chewing, dancing around swearing type of pain.  I held my breath waiting for it to hit me but it never came.

I stopped and pulled over to take a good look.  At first glance it did not look pretty. However upon closer inspection and with a sigh of relief, I discovered the crimson liquid running down my legs was berry juice.  I was covered in pieces of squashed berries. The path I was on ran beneath low hanging branches that were, unbeknownst to me, laden with fruit.  The ripe berries had fallen to the ground and covered the entire track, a soft red blanket that ran along for almost forty metres.

As I had cycled through them, they had flicked up from my front wheel, and now covered everything.  Juice was dripping off my Camelbak straps. My heart-rate monitor was obscured by a chunk that had neatly covered the face of the display.  For a brief moment I was tempted to taste the juice but decided that would be daft.  Who knows what type of berries they were.  They might kill bears, let alone humans.

I carried on cycling, heading towards the highest point of my ride, a large watchtower that sits above a vineyard near the small town of Allela. The vineyard had been carved into the side of a mountain and is responsible for producing white wines.  They are described as being – pale, straw coloured, aromatic and fruity, crisp and very refreshing.

I thought it was rather ironic that I was cycling next to a vineyard whilst covered in mashed berries and wondered what a wandering viticulturist would make of me.

My mind then started to wander, as it often does when I’m riding.  I began to think about wine. About the grapes, the whole wine culture thing.  The sniffing, swirling of glasses and all the little rituals.  I thought of wine in cardboard boxes that cost less than water. And of wine in bottles that cost more than my bike.  Squashed berries.  It all starts with squashed berries, or grapes to be precise.  So maybe this ride was the start of something superb.  Perhaps this trail would mature into part of a loop that I would grow to love, to savour, to swirl around in my head when I’m stuck in a traffic jam longing for a piece of the outdoors.  I did not know the answer to that random thought, however I knew that I could not stop moving because all the berry juice was attracting every insect for miles.  I was the star attraction in the ‘all you can eat berry juice extravaganza’.  It was time to start descending and head home for a hot shower.

I turned off onto a narrow trail that descends for twenty minutes and smiled as my iPod began to play a classic Peter Gabriel track.  I leave you with it.  It had me signing as I cut a line through the rocks and gullies.  Life was good. I was on my very own big dipper.

“You could have a big dipper, going up and down around the bends….”


Day Seventy Five: Eduardo’s Road To Fitness

A strange thing must be happening.  There may well be a tear in the fabric of time, perhaps without telling us, the boys at CERN have fired up the Large Hadron Collider again and have created a mini black hole.  I keep coming across people that appear to have been transported out of one environment and into another.

I was riding way up in the mountains on a trail that was far from any roads, houses or camp sites, indeed from any sort of civilization whatsoever.  It was tranquil. The trail was perfect for mountain biking.  I rounded a bend in the path and came across a young chap wearing casual clothing.  He lacked any form of hiking gear. He was not wearing hiking boots, not even trainers, just a pair of leather shoes.  The sort you would wear to visit grandma.  He was wearing a bright red jersey, held a plastic shopping back in one hand and a magazine of some sort in the other.  He appeared to have been transported as if by magic from a downtown shopping mall to this trail in the middle of nowhere.  It was quite weird. He looked incredibly out of place and yet at the same time looked quite relaxed as he stumbled over the rocks in his brogues.

Yesterday the same thing happened.  A different guy wearing different clothes but once again, totally out of place.  He was an older man this time, he looked like an accountant when it was not casual day at the office.  I am sure that moments earlier he had been waiting in a bus queue not hiking up a trail in the mountains. He looked surprised to see me.  This of course was ironic. For I was dressed as if for a photo shoot with Outside Magazine whilst he was dressed for Starbucks.

I have yet to figure it out what is causing this anomaly.  It is however quite dangerous.  These people are not equipped for traipsing about in the mountains. Within a short space of time the temperature can drop significantly, storms can move in rapidly bringing with them a severe restriction in visibility.  Imagine walking along a narrow path, with a precipitous drop on one side.  Now imaging doing it with your eyes closed in a howling gale.  These people could easily become statistics.

Perhaps the Spanish country parks authority should have a chat with the Ozzies.  Apparently the authorities in Australia are considering restricting access to parts of the outback. This is to curb the number of deaths from those that do not seem to see anything wrong with driving off into the middle of one of the hottest deserts in the world armed with little more than a Violet Crumble and a copy of National Geographic Magazine.

Whilst I patiently wait for my interviews to progress I have managed to whip myself up into a frenzy of riding and have been bitten by the off-road bug.  My poor road bike is sitting on the balcony feeling rather neglected, however all this cross training will serve me well.

Cycling off-road provides for a good form of training, quite apart from improving bike handling skills, it taxes the upper body and helps develop core strength. It is also superb fun.

I am in the process of figuring out a three-hour loop, one that I shall use as part of a structured training plan.  I have hatched a nutty idea to try some marathon mountain bike racing next year.  I have a feeling I will enjoy it, though it is dependant upon my road race calendar.

I leave you with a piece of footage of the King’s Pathway in Spain.  I quite fancy a trip down there to check it out.  I wonder if they guy that shot this footage came across any people that were dressed for Starbucks as opposed to the mountains?

Day Seventy Four: Eduardo’s Road To Fitness

I feel sorry for anyone that has not experienced the unadulterated exhilaration of being out alone a million light years from home on a mountain bike having conquered a Dougie Lampkin like obstacle, risking a ‘Readers Digest’ near death experience, to let out a whoop and a holler as you hold hands with the adrenalin rush and dance a jig inside your head whilst your bike rolls forward down the trail, with you atop it, revelling in the moment.

Am I mad? To outsiders probably too far gone.  “Chuck him some crayons and close the door” They whisper amongst themselves.  But to others, people that ride, that experience the same joys through suffering, through pushing yourself, when all others are tucked up in bed, or watching television, or cleaning the car, raking the lawn. You will understand my madness.

Today was madness personified.  Climbs that required crampons.  Climbs that would have been a challenge for a man sponsored by Rolex.  Passing places with little shrines by the side of the trail, homage to the deceased.  Errant village folk that, through ignorance, took up the challenge of hiking the trail, to fall to the wayside. Flowers, plaques, black and white photos of families of the dead.  All of these things underlined in bold the severity of the route that I was cycling.

I did not die of course, well, unless you include the metaphorical flat lining that went on en route.  It was so very hard.  My willpower was bent in half, almost to breaking point as the trail reared forever skyward.  Rocks, deep gullies, so many obstacles, like those in life, trying to prevent me from reaching my goal.  But reach it I did and now I am tired.  Tired but happy.  About to make an important phone call.  Let’s hope I make it through what amounts to a third interview.  I need a job or I’m going to ride myself into the top echelon of cycling again without really meaning to.

Time for a coffee….

I leave you with some footage of Dougie Lampkin riding through Goodwood house.  Good stuff.

On Wednesday I am riding with the Garmin Chipotle boys and am looking forward to that.  For, like me, they will be able to relate to the buzz, the rush, the high that comes with cycling, the freedom it gives, the smiles it supplies.

Where is that coffee??

Day Seventy Three: Eduardo’s Road To Fitness

I woke up smiling.  I had been immersed in a dream so vivid I had to check to see if my hair was wet.  I’d been swimming with dolphins, head beneath the waves, watching them tear across the water above my head.  The loud clicks and whistles were crisp and clear as the pod swam alongside me in the middle of the bay.

It was warm, the water was as clear as the night sky, I remember marvelling at the bright green trails of phosphorescence as a large bottle nose sliced through the water, obviously enjoying itself. It was almost smiling as it descended towards the sandy bottom.

I was recapping all of this as I began my morning ritual of making coffee.  Dreams are free.  And that is a good thing.  Coffee in hand I sat down in my usual spot on the sofa.  The first glug of coffee is the best.  The aroma hits you as you tip the mug. The heat bathes your face in a humid kiss. I always feel a sense of utter relaxation as the caffeine wends its way into my system.  Delicious.

Typical Strong Spanish Coffee

Typical Strong Spanish Coffee

You are either a coffee drinker or you aren’t.  There is no real in between. Tea-drinkers simply cannot understand coffee drinkers and vice versa.  This is a fact.

Coffee shops here in Barcelona are a bit like churches.  Steeped in tradition, often ritualistic and usually occupied by a diverse congregation of people that worship at the altar of caffeine.

I watched an old chap stir his coffee.  He did it with great intent and care.  It struck me that he believed that the way his coffee was stirred held great significance as to the final taste.  The way he opened his sachet of sugar, tapped it with his fingers before pouring it from a measured height into his cup.  He did it with a degree of reverence.  He was the very definition of a coffee shop goer. He ordered a shot of Anise and moved up the pecking order from ‘regular worshiper’ towards ‘high priest’.  I have noticed that the locals often have either brandy, a whisky or anise with their coffee.  I suppose it gives them an added jolt in the morning.

I needed no such jolt as I finished descending from the highest point in the Parc de la Serralada de Marina.  A furious, dusty trail littered with large rocks, off-camber bends and roller coaster dips and turns.  There are plenty of opportunities to jump the bike off natural ‘kickers’ and to pump the bike through the drops and bomb holes.  It is, for me, a shot of anise with my coffee.

This past week has been a tough one in terms of training, I have spent every day climbing up in the mountains and exploring the trails, often having to turn-around after a few minutes of descending when the trail has ceased exist or has turned into something impassable by bike, only to then climb all the way back up.  I ache.  My shoulder and back muscles are tired.  My triceps and fore-arms are exhausted from all the off-road riding. My shins are battle-scarred from catching errant cactus thorns and long needle like thorns from the many huge succulents that border the trails.  None of this matters for I am addicted to trail riding at the moment and don my mountain bike gear each morning looking forward to the new trails I shall be exploring.

I leave you with an excellent piece of footage from Seasons by the Collective.  If you haven’t seen this MTB DVD, go and get it.  It will inspire you to get outside and ride.