Day 104: A trip down memory lane

I shall be cycling in Thailand in the near future.  This has been running through my mind of late.  It has been over ten years since I was last in Asia.  I look forward to the thick aroma of spices, the heat, the hustle and bustle, the constant stream of life and of course, the change of scenery.

Whilst I was cycling yesterday along the coast towards Lloret de Mar, in Catalunya, my mind wandered back to Thailand.  I began to smile as I remembered the last cycling trip in what used to be called Siam many moons ago.  When I went it was of course called Thailand.  My  trip took me from the outskirts of Bangkok up to Chiang Mai.  I was leading a cycling training trip for the Hong Kong national junior triathlon squad.  The plan was simple –  ride from Kanchanaburi up to Chiang Mai.

Kanchanaburi is a busy little town, the capital of the province of the same name.  It sits at the point where two rivers merge to form the mighty Mae Kong River. It was made famous in the movie ‘The Bridge Over The River Kwai’ a film that portrayed the horrific experiences of the prisoners of war that worked on the Burma Railway whilst the country was under Japanese control in 1942.

I had organized a small support van, driven by a short, dumpy man, whose name sounded like ‘Bang My Hat’ or ‘Be Right Back’…or something like that. He was an enthusiastic fellow who kept us in constant supply of bananas and assorted fresh fruit as we cycled.

I was sharing a hotel room with the squad’s coach, a friendly Ironman triathlete who had taken the junior squad under her wing.  We were in a two star hotel in a nameless town, two days from Chiang Mai. We were tired.

We decided a leg massage would be a good idea and called the hotel desk to find out if they could organize one for both of us in our room.

I explained that we only wanted a massage, no bells and whistles.  “Yes, Yes, no problem Meester’ the hotel clerk said, in an excited tone.

We lay back on our beds waiting, wondering what the massage girls would look like.  Would they be stereotypical Thai ‘working girls’? I was a little bit nervous.

After about ten minutes there was a knock at the door.  My room-mate went for the door.  When she got near to it I asked her if she could let me have the prettier girl.  My room-mate grinned at me and slowly opened the door.  I could hear muffled voices, some sort of discussion took place and then two women entered the room.

The first woman appeared to be roughly ninety years old.  Her long grey hair was tied back so tightly the skin on her face appeared to be on the verge of tearing.  Good grief I thought.  Please don’t let her be mine. The second girl was standing out of sight behind her.

The next lady was so short I could hardly see her over the height of the bed.  I wondered if she was on her knees for some reason.  She was not.  On tip toe she stood about 1.2 M in height.  If the fan in the room was on, she would have blown away.  She had a pleasant smile.  I could see both of her teeth.  She came over towards my bed and then began to talk to her living fossil of a colleague.

Our hotel room had two single beds.  I was stretched out on one, looking across at my room mate being pounded by her masseur.  Mean while my ‘girl’ was trying to copy everything the older one was doing.  It soon became obvious that she had never given a massage in her life before. I was in trouble.

After a few minutes, I watched as my room mate was told to sit upright.  The million year old lady lay down and then proceeded to arch her subject’s back with her knees, whilst pulling on each arm.  It looked like some sort of medieval torture process.  I could hear her grunting as she resisted having her spine snapped.

Next it was my turn. At sixty four kilograms, I was not particularly heavy, however my shoes weighed more than my massage girl. She was trying to apply the torture move to me.  She lay on my bed and told me to lean back onto her knees.  I did as I was told.  She then took hold of each of my arms, holding them firmly with each of her hands.  She tried to lift me up off the bed and began to pull on my arms. I was looking up at the paint that was peeling off the ceiling.

She had neither the strength, nor the confidence to successfully complete the maneuver and I began to tip to one side. She tried to correct the position but failed.  I was sent tumbling off the bed, narrowly missing the bedside table on my journey to the cigarette stained carpet.

My massage over.  We paid them and then fell about laughing when they left.  I had carpet burn on my elbow and a bruised hip but it was worth it. It was entertainment, for us, and for them.

I snapped out of my trip down memory lane.  It was time to turn around.  The group that I was cycling with had reached the turn around point in Calella. A small beachfront town about 50KM from my home.

The ride out had been into na annoying headwind and the group were happy to have the resulting tailwind now that we had turned around.

I had not eaten any breakfast and was halfway into a 100KM ride.  My mind turned to food whilst I forced a rock hard PowerBar down my throat.

The night before I had eaten Caracoles – snails in a rich sauce of chorizo and red wine and had followed that with a huge plate of Monk fish, known as ‘Rape’ in Spain.

I made a mental list of the items in my fridge and whilst looking out at the bright winter sunlight reflecting off the sea, I decided upon a Red Thai Curry and began to smile again.  I was looking forward to being back in Thailand.

Details of my route out to Calella, Catalunya, Spain, can be found here:


Day 103: Escape from Barcelona

I may have found a way out of here.  Tuesday, we go” – Clint Eastwood – Escape from Alcatraz.

Luckily for me I did not need to dig my way through a prison wall with a spoon to escape from Barcelona.  I had my bike, my GPS and Google Maps to help me find a suitable escape route.

Barcelona is hemmed in by the sea and by a range of mountains.  They are not alpine in height – most climbs last no more than twenty to thirty minutes.  Crossing over them opens up a vast area to explore.  The other options are to cycle either up (towards France) the coast or down the coast (towards Valencia).  Crossing Barcelona can be easy if you know the best escape routes.  Take the wrong route and you will end up fighting for space on the road with trucks driven by swivel-eyed lunatics, seemingly intent on making you a statistic.

For me, perched up on a steep hillside to the NE of central Barcelona the easiest escape is to climb up over the Collserola and to drop down the other side near Sant Cugat de Valles.  This takes about thirty minutes. This is fine if I feel like stepping out of my door and immediately having to climb.  My apartment sits in the middle of an 18% climb. Thankfully it is short or I would consider moving.

The other escape option for me involves descending to the River Besos. This is a cunning plan. Doing so connects me with a series of cycle paths.  This of course means I avoid the lunatics in trucks and the constant stream of scooters driven by Moto GP wannabees.

At the end of the River Besos, just before it empties into the sea, you arrive next to what is one of the largest  landmarks in Barcelona, or to be more accurate, in the area that borders Sant Adria de Besos with Badalona.  It is a large power station with three tall towers.

From this point you can join a cycle path that runs from the seafront in town, at the Bottom of La Ramblas, near the Passeig de Colon, all the way through Barceloneta, past Port Forum and up the coast towards Mataro.  This is one of my favorite escape routes. For me, it is like being hidden in the back of the prison laundry van and being driven to a private jet loaded with a million unmarked notes, destination  unknown.

Barcelona has almost two hundred kilometers of bike paths.  A link here will take you to a download of a PDF map that shows the entire cycle network.

Link to Map of Barcelona Cycle Paths

My route out of Barcelona took me along the coast for a while, before turning off at Vilassar de Mar in the direction of Argentona. There is nothing particularly compelling about Argentona, unless you have an overwhelming desire to cast your eyes upon a few late gothic churches, one of which was restored by the Catalan architect Josep Puig i Cadafalch.

This was however part of my escape route and served to take me to a pretty climb that take you up and over into the valley of La Roca.

After the fast descent into La Roca, my route took me past lush green fields, towards Montorn de Valles. The place where David Millar launched an attack on his breakaway companions in the 2009 Tour de France.  He rode solo towards the uphill finish on the Montjuic and, despite carnage behind, with many riders crashing on the wet roads, he was caught in sight of the finish.  An epic stage.

My ride was slightly less epic than David’s however, my escape from Barcelona was proving to be a successful one.

As I cycled past the climb where David launched his attack I noticed an old man dragging a sad looking Christmas tree towards a large bin.  It was hard to believe that Christmas had come and gone so quickly.  The sun was shining and the air tasted sweet as I drew in a deep breath.   I concentrated on  settling into a nice rhythm on the bike as I pedaled back home for lunch.

I had been thinking about what to eat and decided to make some grilled fish.  A dish of  Dorado, garlic, coriander, some diced onions, a squeeze of lemon and some fresh parsley. Simple, tasty and a fine reward for my ride. It sure beat Clint Eastwood’s prison food.

Link to my Escape Route :

link to Escape from Alcatraz.

Day 102: BluTack, Barcelona and Duran Duran

I used to tease my sister about her infatuation with the bass guitarist in Duran Duran. She used to practically kneel down in front of the posters attached with BluTack to her bedroom walls, and declare her undying love for him. ‘Him’, whose name I could not remember but whose bass guitar playing was doing its rounds inside my head as I climbed up towards the pass.

What was ‘his’ name? John? Jimmy? James, Jonah? I wracked my oxygen starved brain to recall his name, and when, after a few minutes of running through all male names starting with ‘J’ I still was no closer, I decided I would just ‘Google it’ upon my return home. Meanwhile ‘Rio’ was playing in my head. ‘Moving on the floor now baby, you’re a bird of paradise..’

I started to think about BluTack and how I used to visit my sister’s room whenever I wanted to put up another motorcycle poster in my own room. You see, she used far too much BluTack when she put up a poster. The trick was to use little pieces instead of just mashing a large piece at each corner of a poster, like a big piece of chewing gum. Instead it was better to use small, delicate pieces, perhaps eight of them around the circumference of the poster. She, at the tender age of about minus 13, had not yet grasped this so I used to raid her posters for BluTack. I was doing her posters a service. They looked more elegant after the big wads of BluTack had been removed.

Way back in 1970, a laboratory researcher named Alan Holloway was working for a sealant manufacturer called Ralli Bondite in England. Alan managed to produce a product that, whilst totally useless as a sealant, was great at putting up posters. It was pliable and semi-elastic. It was colored blue when it was released because someone in marketing thought kids would eat it if it was white. Alan Holloway is the BluTack guy.

After about ten minutes I stopped thinking about BluTack and wondered if tackling this climb after a month away from the bike was a great idea. It had felt like a great idea in the morning, when, tucked comfortably under the warm duvet in bed, I imagined myself climbing upwards, with wings, like Marco Pantani, high above Barcelona, the bike and I a single entity. Fast forward ninety minutes and reality was hitting me square in the face. Rain drops. Big fat cold ones. They stung my cheeks. The wind mocked my attempts to climb quickly, buffeting me and whistling as it whipped across my spokes.

I had started my ride next to the Olympic velodrome, just off the Ronda de Dalt, in Barcelona and was climbing up over the Collserola mountain range that looks down upon the city.

A sign beside the road warned of snow. I pedaled on, determined to keep to my ‘plan’ and ride up over the top of the pass, enjoy the descent, ride through the valley into Sant Cugat and then climb back up over the ridgeline of the Collserola near the Tibidabo and drop back down into Barcelona. A nice simple plan. I like simple plans.

As I left the tree cover, the last part of the climb was exposed. Not quite as open as say, Mount Ventoux, but not far off. I began to stare at the road about a metre in front of my front wheel. ‘Get into a rhythm Ed’ I thought. The rain was getting heavier. Sleet began to bounce off the road as I neared the top of the pass. It pinged off my helmet and I began to sing old Duran Duran songs.

Normally at the top of a pass, I would stop, enjoy a Kodak moment and take in the view. Not this time. I zipped up my cycling top, tightened up the strap on my helmet and began the descent.

The roads in this part of Spain are notorious for being greasy when wet. The descent was going to test the Diablo’s handling, and, more importantly the tires. The Hutchinson Atom’s had, on all my rides so far, impressed with their predictable performance.

After about five minutes of descending at about seventy kilometers per hour I began to wish I had taken my thermal jacket with me. It was sitting on my bed at home, and, was probably being enjoyed by Bella, my cheeky Labrador, who, no doubt had pushed the bedroom door open and was now stretched out in bliss upon my jacket.

I smiled at a motorist as he overtook me on a long straight section of road. He looked over at me and plainly thought I was some sort of lunatic. I tucked in behind him but quickly decided to leave a larger gap as we began to approach a sharp left hand bend. I saw him looking in his mirror and I realized he was coming into the bend with too much speed. His brake lights came on when he noticed his error. The little Seat Ibiza skipped on the road as he fought to maintain control. I moved into the empty oncoming lane, in case he wiped out and hit the barriers. I was braking gently to avoid locking up the wheels and going into a slide on the greasy roads.. This ride was getting interesting. The little Seat began to drift wide towards the edge of the road. I had stopped singing Rio in my head by now and was thinking about what was unfolding before me.

The car recovered traction and suddenly began to veer across to the other side of the road. The Seat driver had over corrected and was now in front of me again. The road was straightening out after the bend but there was a lot of standing water on the road. I could hear the water bouncing off the carbon down-tube on my bike as it was flicked off the front tyre. The wide carbon tube was preventing the spray hitting me. Now all I had to do was prevent the out of control car from doing the same.

The Camino de las Yungas road leading from La Paz to Coroico, 56 KM northeast of La Paz in the Yungas region of Bolivia is supposed to be the most dangerous road in the world, however right then, I would have gladly hit a ‘magic transport me’ button and swapped it for the descent to Sant Cugat. Mr. Seat Driver had now tried putting the car in what sounded like first gear. The engine roared and his front wheels locked up. I braked as hard as I dared as I was still exiting a wet corner

Thankfully the car did not crash. It managed to come to a stop at an awkward angle straddling half the road. The driver stalled the engine as I passed slowly in front of him, his car rolled slowly backwards towards the muddy verge. He had the wide-eyed look of a man that had seen his life flash before him. I noticed his right indicator was flashing as I took one last look at him. Another Duran Duran song popped back into my head and I continued my ride.

The descent of the BV-1415 takes you into Cerdanyola de Valles.  I was then taking the BP-1413 to Sant Cugat de Valles. A rather chic little town, full of coffee shops, trendy kids with low slung jeans and parking bays full of large white Audi Q7’s. On the outskirts of the town I came across a small road that led to the Castell de Sant Marçal. Built in the first half of the twelfth century, it looked rather imposing sat on top of a small hill. I decided to investigate.

It was located at the end of a long sliver of a road. Tall trees lined the road, their roots had lifted up sections of the tarmac making it rather bumpy to cycle along. The smell of damp earth and rotting leaves was being carried by a strong wind that roared across the opens fields. I tucked my chin into the collar of my cycling top and continued to cycle up the road.

After about five minutes I came across a man with what looked like a Falcon perched upon his arm. It had some sort of furry animal in its beak and looked intent on devouring it right there and then. I stopped and chatted for a while to Miguel. He told me his bird of prey was three years old and had just caught its first rabbit. Miguel showed me how his hands, his camo jeans, boots and fleece jacket were all stained with blood. I took a quick photo of his bird before heading towards the town.

After avoiding the temptation of a warm coffee shop in Sant Cugat, I turned onto the BP-1417, a climb that leads out of Sant Cugat and heads back up over a pass towards Barcelona.

It was so quiet. The only sound was that of my tires upon the road and my breathing. As I climbed higher my warm breath condensed producing steam that fogged up my glasses. I made a mental note to save up and get some vented Oakleys and did my best to banish yet another 80’s tune from playing on repeat in my head.

The Tibidabo is the highest mountain in the Collserola range, at 512 metres, the climb makes for a good work out on a bike. The name is derived from a passage in the Vulgata version of the Bible, which apparently, is a revised Latin edition that was produced a way back in the 4th Century.

The view alone is worth the effort of cycling up to the summit. From the top, one can take in a lovely panoramic view of Barcelona and the coast line.

The wind was hitting me square in the face when I reached the top but it had brightened up and the sun was warming my back. Below me lay Barcelona and ten minutes of fast descending.

I set off on the descent thinking about food. By the time I had reached the bottom of the climb I had decided upon visiting a local Basque restaurant. I was hungry and was looking forward to a nice meal. The name ‘John Taylor’ popped into my head as Duran Duran launched into Hungry Like A Wolf.  I smiled to myself.  Another great ride and one that I would certainly repeat in the future.

Not much left on my plate after my bike ride.

Eduardo Remedios