Day 110

I decided to stop and see if my brakes were rubbing.  They were not.  This of course was something I already knew and yet, it would have been fantastic had it been the case, for my legs were dead and I was about an hour from home on what was my first long cycle ride for quite some time.

Usually, when choosing a route for a ‘day one’ ride, I tend to make up a new one.  I do this for a couple of reasons.  First of all it means I do not fall into the trap of trying to ride a familiar route at a pace that I remember from days in the past where I was much fitter – for that makes me feel shit.  To avoid this,  I choose a new route. This is a cunning plan. It serves to (a) ensure it is a memorable return to the bike, buoyed by enthusiasm and a desire to explore and (b) that the next time I ride the route, I will be happily moving along at a faster, fitter rate, well if all goes to plan that is.

My plan was a proven one and was sound.  I had however managed to ruin my plan in several ways.  All of which, could easily be described as ‘rookie’ mistakes.  I shall list them below.

  1. riding without money.
  2. riding without sufficient food.
  3. riding without sufficient liquid.
  4. not eating enough for dinner the previous night
  5. not eating enough for breakfast.
  6. not charging my Garmin GPS unit
  7. not checking the map before leaving
  8. not bringing a map
  9. deciding that ¾ bib shorts would be warm enough
  10. not reading the weather forecast.

So there I was, roughly one hour from home and this list was running though my head.  I decided there was only one solution.

Ignore it.

In order to take my mind of the my rapidly numbing feet, my hunger, my thirst and my lack of knowledge of the route, I decided to employ a tactic used to calm myself when I am freediving.

It works like this. It is all about visualization.

Imagine you are trying to hold your breath, sitting on the sofa at home. (do not do it on the metro because people will think you are a freak).

Try it now.  Hold your breath and look at your watch.

At around forty five seconds or so, you’ll start to twitch a bit.  You will be willing the seconds to move faster. If you make it past a minute, as the seconds move towards ninety seconds, you will start to stress.

Now try it this way.

Have a rest after the first test.

Now this time when you hold your breath, close your eyes. Do not look at the watch.

Imagine the house you lived in as a kid.  Try to visualize the layout. Each room. The kitchen. Your bedroom.  The little cupboard with the stickers on it. The bed with the Road Runner cartoon pattern. Your favourite toys. Whatever.

Now think about your high school teacher.  The one you had a crush on.

By this time a minute will easily have passed, without stress.  It works.

Whilst I was thinking about my art teacher and her lovely blue eyes I had missed the turn off for Barcelona and was now happily moving farther and farther away from home.  By the time I had realized my mistake, heading back, into what was now a headwind was not an option.  It meant that as a penalty for thinking about Miss Booth, I now had to climb up over the pass that separated the Valley Orientals, from El Maresme. This was a serious downer.

I began the climb.

It is not a hard climb.  But when you have zero energy it might as well have been Everest. I began to think about food. If only I had some money.

Eureka ! I remembered that I had placed an ‘emergency’ 20 euro note into my saddle bag.  Joy of joys. I was beaming.

I stopped at a  petrol station and filled up.  I started with a Coke.  Some little cakes caught my eye and then an Aquarius (think Gatorade). I finished off with some water for my bottle. Clutching my purchases to my chest I made my way to the counter.  Stopping to stare at a cabinet selling what looked like Christmas themed survival knives (WTF?) and car seat covers with patterns of football teams on them.  Strange.

I was served by an interesting looking guy that seemed to have several hair styles at once upon his head.  He was nodding to a rhythm that only he could hear.  He did not look up from the cash register. He had a tattoo on his neck that looked like a dead bird. I wondered if he had some of the Christmas themed survival knives at home.

“What number” he asked.

I looked at him and said nothing.

After a little while he looked at me and then gazed out at the forecourt. It was empty.

I watched as the realization that I was a cyclist dawned upon him.

I handed over my emergency money and left. Leaving him to listen to the music in his head.

Later that evening, whilst soaking in a hot bath I thought about my ride. It was painful but I enjoyed it.  I decided to plan my next route and made a mental note to avoid my rookie mistakes.

My next ride would take me onto the roads that Juan Antonia Flecha trains on.  I wondered if he ever make rookie mistakes like mine.

Probably not.  But you never know.

Still you do have to get lost if you want to find yourself right?




Day Fifty Two: Eduardo’s Road To Fitness

I was lying on the Dave’s sofa after quite a heavy night out in Girona.  Dave looked a little hung over but was putting on a brave face.  He had an unenviable day of house hold chores ahead of him.  Not great when all you want to do is chill, re-hydrate and try to remember the night before.

I was asked an unusual question.  Had I ever been ‘lost and really scared?.” I racked my brains.  I was linking  ‘lost’ and ‘scared’.  Lost, yes.  Scared, yes.  Lost and scared, no.  I ended up telling a story about a time when I was sea kayaking and my arms stopped working.  I was drifting out to sea with two cramping arms, stuck in a strong current.  That was quite scary but I was not ‘lost’.  I knew where I was.

On my motorcycle ride back from Girona I started thinking of when I had been ‘lost’.  By definition ‘lost’ is :-

having gone astray or missed the way; bewildered as to place, direction, etc.

The most epic case of me being lost occurred quite some years ago on a mountain bike trip in China.  I was living in Hong Kong and had realised that upon my doorstep lay a vast country.  I decided to explore some of it on my bike. And set off into China.

I flew up to Chengdu, the capital city of Sichuan province and decided to cycle towards Tibet.  I was not alone.  I was with two friends of mine.  We all got lost. Lost in the sense that we had no idea what road we were on, no idea if we were headed the correct way and no idea where we would be at the end of it.

The road was beautiful.  It was rugged. It was not paved. Well it was paved, but with rocks the size of filing cabinets. It was steep, but not so steep that it could not be ridden on a mountain bike.  Just steep enough that each night you collapsed into a heap, with your energy levels at zero.

We were climbing up towards the Tibetan plateau.  Heading towards the famous ‘Tibetan Blue Skies’. High altitude stuff.  Five thousand metres up.  A sky that was almost space.  Where you could watch shooting stars in the evening, where local legends told of yeti like creatures that lived way up above the tree line.  A great place for a couple of young travelling mountain bikers.

We had taken a wrong turn.  We had climbed all day, and with every hour that past we realized we had taken the wrong turn.  The road got worse; the average size of the rocks grew larger, from grape fruit sized, to loaf of bread size, to filing cabinet sized.

It was getting dark.  High up in the mountains twilight lasts about fifteen minutes.  The sun drops, behind the high mountain peaks and then, bang, its pitch black.  A soon as the sky becomes red; you realize that you have to find a place to ensconce yourself.  You have very little time.

The sky was pink when we spotted the monastery on top of the hill in the distance.

About a thousand steps led up to the top of the hill.  Ancient steps, worn out by sandaled feet.  Next to the steps was a smooth concrete ramp that followed the steps.  We put our bikes on the ramp and pushed.  It took a good forty minutes to reach the top.  Sweating and aware of the rapidly failing light we were confronted by a male guard.  He looked stern.

In no uncertain terms he told us we had to leave and that we were not welcome.  In response we smiled and shook his hand.  I think I hugged him.  We pulled out a guidebook.  He grabbed it and started trying to stitch together a sentence that said we were not welcome.  We pretended to misunderstand and hugged him, we thanked him profusely.  Just as this was going on, the drawer bridge was lowered and several female monks appeared, smiling.  The guard faltered, then smiled and let us pass.

The monks took charge.  The whisked us onto a patio that over-looked the valley far below.  They made us sit on small wooden stools.  I was lost for words as I looked out over the valley.  Mist was rushing in, covering the lower hills, obliterating the small villages below.  Somewhere in the distance wild dogs began to howl.  It was eerie.

The monks removed our shoes and began to wash our feet in bowls. We were all pretty embarrassed.  We had been cycling for days and our socks were disgusting.

With clean feet, we were ushered into a  large, dimly lit dining room.  A single orange bulb glowed above a massive, circular wooden table. Plate after plate of food was presented to us.  Vegetarian food.  Delicious, full of flavour.  We ate.  As fast as we ate, more plates were delivered. My two friends began to falter.

C’mon guys we have to finish this stuff.” I said, forcing myself to another helping of rice and vegetables.

Eventually we were beaten.  We had done well.  We had eaten almost everything.  I pushed my plate away from me and patted my stomach, shaking my head, showing that I was absolutely stuffed. A monk began to distribute the remains of our food amongst the fifty or sixty other monks watching us. They were still smiling yet we had eaten almost all of their food.

To say we felt bad, would be a bit of an understatement.  We bowed our heads in shame. The monks finished their meal pretty quickly and we were shown to our room. I went to sleep.

At about three in the morning there was a loud knock at the door.  I rose and had a look.

It was a monk.  She was about three feet high. She mimed ‘eating food’ –  Breakfast.  I woke the others and told them it was time to eat. They could not believe it.

Needless to say we did not eat much.  The monks however ate well.  They had a huge breakfast. It was exactly the same food.  We smiled.  We left and went back to bed. We were still embarrased. In the morning we were also still lost but we were having an adventure.  We were certainly not scared and we were certainly full.

Sometimes being ‘lost’ is good.  Unless you are a hungry monk and are entertaining those that are lost.