Final stage to Montijo!

I had booked breakfast at the Evora hotel as there was a good choice of bus times to Lisbon throughout the morning, so no hurry. I had a feeling breakfast might not be the best and considered skipping it but after the weakness I experienced yesterday morning I thought anything was better than nothing. And of course there was caffeine on offer. So we set our alarms for 7.20, enough time to wake, splash water on our faces and wander down to breakfast in our half sleep state, in time for the diner opening. Even for half past seven the hotel corridors seemed strangely quiet as we crept along to the stairs and down one floor to the reception and breakfasting area. As we got near the foot of the stairs, we could see the guy who was on reception yesterday. I knew what I didn’t like about him and didn’t need to explain it as Cheryl felt the same; he wasn’t unhelpful just a bit short and offhand, definitely not giving the customer service experience I expected. He was setting out the cutlery on the tables; this and the lack of food smells from the area suggested that things weren’t quite ready. Before we reached the dining area, before we reached the bottom of the stairs we were crudely informed that breakfast wasn’t open until half past seven. I thought we may have been a few minutes early and the receptionist, come waiter was pedantic as well as humourless. I looked at my phone to be sure, it was just after 7.30, so I shouted back in a quizzical voice. Only to be informed “That is Spanish time!”

“Feck!”, I thought. As we walked back to the room my mind started working overtime. Why hadn’t my phone changed to Portuguese time? Not very bloody smart for a smart phone. The iPad hadn’t changed time but I wouldn’t have expected it to as it hadn’t changed all the time we’d been in Spain. Ironically it was now back at the correct time. Cheryl’s watch had stopped in Segovia, a bit inconvenient for her but she had kept wearing it, I’m sure I saw her check it when we were told it was only half six. The bus from Elvas the day before hadn’t left 15 minutes before it was meant to, Cheryl was just at the bus station so damn early that she had caught the earlier one without realising. When we went back to the hotel for a 2 pm check-in yesterday, Mr Charming actually let us in an hour early, maybe not so pedantic after all… though still an unfriendly grump.

We returned over an hour half later, the Portuguese charmer was back on reception. He greeted us with a smile for the first time since our arrival. And of course the expected smart ass comment was delivered.. and another smile, so he does have a sense of humour. Hilarious. Breakfast wasn’t great and the coffee was pretty shit. We chose carefully and I gathered my now customary napkin full of little biscuits and pastries.

Very soon after completing the cobblestone run out of Evora I was giving myself such a hard time. I had skipped the base layer this morning as the sun was out and the forecast was for hot all day. It wasn’t so hot in the morning, it was pretty damn cold. For the next few miles I kept shouting curses at myself, mostly ‘idiot’ along with one or two other words that would tell any listeners what kind of idiot I was. I eventually got rid of this rage and forgot about being cold, or else it just got warmer.

I felt loads better today than I did at the start of yesterday. I still had this pain above my heel but it wasn’t hindering me like before and everything else was fine. I have a similar distance to travel to yesterday but only half the climbing and a significant part of this in the first 8.5 miles. At this stage I have climbed to 1150 feet, which is the highest point of the day. I didn’t mind the gradual climb, which was short of six miles but included no huge gradients. It was a good feeling as it was about 55 miles ‘down’ to sea level to the ferry port at Montijo, I didn’t kid myself that it was all downhill from here but there were no major climbs.

This was the windiest day so far and for the first 15 miles I was heading north-west, straight into the north-westerly. Three miles before reaching Montemor-o-Novo the direction changed to a more westerly route with only short spells heading north-west.

monMontemor-o-Novo is a big milestone of my journey. This is where I crashed out on the reverse journey two years before. As I approached there were tears in my eyes (the wind had found it’s way under my sunglasses). I continued on and cycled straight through the town, it was a bigger place than I remember. I clocked the cobbled hill where I eventaully stopped and the Stop sign at the far end of town where I first gave up. I had it in my mind to stop there and take a new photo at the signpost but I couldn’t be arsed stopping on a hill. I had got some speed up and was enjoying the descent. Aldo text me soon after leaving Montemor-o-Novo, halfway to my lunch stop at Vendas Novas. He’d touched down and was looking forward to welcoming me – with a Super Bock or two.

Vendas Novas was also longer to cycle through than I remember. I kept a lookout for the roadside cafe that we stopped at last time. It was the last building on the outskirts going away from the town, which means two years ago it was the first building in Vendas Novas. Last time when we asked Brian to find a good food stop in here he selected this place, which was ideal. Did he look around and scout about and make an informed decision, did he just get lucky or did he settle for the very first place he saw? Whichever, he made a damn good choice, good enough for me to revisit next time around. The place was quiet, empty outside so I parked my bike near to the table I was going to sit at. I had a quick look at the menu and a quick look at the translator page on my phone then went inside to order. The girl that served me was charming, I think I humoured her with my brillant and fluent Portuguese.

I don’t remember the road much from my lunch spot to the ferry port, except it was relatively flat but windy. I did have a few stops for text conversations and even a phone call. Aldo mostly gave me abuse but did check out the ferry times for me. Cheryl kept me up to date with her arrival, the hotel check-in and meeting up with Aldo & Karen among other anecdotes that kept me amused. One read ‘Hurry-up I can’t drink any more wine’. This was funny for two reasons, firstly because I knew she was serious and secondly because it took her two text messages to complete the message. Obviously the wine was starting to take effect.

The ferry hadn’t arrived at Montijo, I cycled round the area where I reckoned it should be docking. After talking with three Portuguese guys I found out that the ferry hadn’t arrived in Montijo at any time today, in fact for the last several years it hadn’t arrived. The ferry port was now a mile or two along the road in a place called Cias do Siexalinho, which was the port which we landed two years previous. Haha, two years ago I thought we got off the boat too early. Strange how we find reasoning for our mistakes, stop searching after we find the first plausible one and make it fact in our head without further investigation. Until it is shattered of course, by three drunk Portuguese guys who didn’t know the time of day.

I didn’t really realise it at the time and I never thought about it when I planned it but the ferry port was the end of my journey, at least as far as the cycling went. Aldo met me off the boat in Lisbon with the customary EE handshake. I was at Journey’s End. I have completed my Stage 1 and can now, as Aldo reminded me, get on with cycling the rest of the tyre track across Europe. The party was over and another one was about to start. When we reached the Square and met Cheryl and Karen, I realised that the party had already started, I was just a little late.

 

IMG_0461IMG_0501IMG_0470IMG_0586DSC_0349DSC_0343DSC_0345lisbon3lisbon2DSC_0372  lisbon7lisbon1lisbon6 IMG_0491How did you get a balcony?lisbon5

First day in Portugal

To avoid the scenario we experienced in Segovia, we have both been setting a morning alarm. Cheryl had an early bus to catch from Elvas, which was 10 miles away across the Portuguese – Spanish border and neither of us wanted another attempt at the world suitcase packing speed record. I also wanted to get away early, even earlier than the other days so as to limit the amount of time I needed to cycle in the heat. It was a slightly longer journey today, only about six or seven more miles than yesterday but the amount of climbing was double. I got up at 6.15 after hitting the ‘snooze’ just once. I started getting ready and at 6.30 I had freshened up and was nearly ready. Cheryl checked the sky outside; I wanted to know if it was cloudy or clear and already blue. It was neither! We should really have been surprised at the lack of light, it was a dark shade of black! I looked into the street and all the cars had their lights on, I brought no lights with me for the bike, why would I need lights in the Spanish summer? Nothing for it but to chill for a while and put out of my mind that extra time in bed I could have had.

I switched on the laptop, made some chess moves and checked the weather for the day. Still looking hot in Evora, from about mid-morning it hits the thirties. I ate a couple of the breakfast bars that we’d bought at Cortes Ingles in Badajoz the day before. These bars tasted rather good so I stuck another three in my jersey pocket to enjoy later in the day. I would have helped Cheryl do the remaining of the packing but she was surprisingly relaxed and doing some yoga; her bus wasn’t for another two hours yet.

Sunrise or not, I decided just to get on the bike and go. There was a cycle lane on the pavement and I was going to hit the quiet road that runs alongside the motorway when I get to the edge of Badajoz, which is only a mile or two from the hotel.

I tried the cycle lane for a while but the surface was poor as it was just a painted part of the pavement. It was relatively light now and I didn’t consider it a danger cycling on the road in this semi-light. The road wasn’t very busy with cars though nearly all of them had their night lights on. I thought this strange, as although the sun wasn’t out fully it was still what I would consider daylight back home, at least for half the year this was the best it would get.

Every morning so far I have felt full of energy, though it’s not always lasted the full day. I didn’t feel it today. Today I felt drained, tired and sore. My right knee bothered me at some point every day on this trip but never like it bothered me today and never at the start of the day. The knee pain extended up the outside of my leg along my IT band and my left hip felt like it was out of its socket. The niggle of a pain that started yesterday above my heel, behind my ankle was now bloody sore on every push down and pull up on the pedal stroke. It was a bugger because when my right knee hurt, as it did today, I would push harder with my left leg but I couldn’t today. The first eight miles into Portugal and to the edge of Elvas was directly west and straight into a headwind, not hugely windy but enough to make me feel even more sorry for myself.

I checked, the first eight and a half miles have taken me nearly an hour and I was still feeling sorry for myself. Reaching the foot of the climb through Elvas gave me a little respite as the road turned towards the south, I was sheltered by the town so couldn’t even feel the crosswind. I took the hill slow, but not really much slower than I had been going on the flat. Elvas wasn’t a big place, surely I could find the bus station and meet Cheryl and get some painkillers from her before she gets on the bus. At the top of the hill I get a text, ‘on the bus, lucky I got here early x’

Leaving Elvas the road turned again and I was heading due south and downhill, well up and downhill, though mostly downhill. On a little uphill section I thought my tyre was flat. I stopped and checked it. No flat but the back tyre was pretty soft. How long has it been that soft? What AM I doing here? No doubt the tyre had been soft all morning but had it been like that since I got the flat a few days ago? I pumped it up as much as I could; now my arms were hurting too. I realised that despite my efforts to fill the tyres with air, with this small hand pump they would always be less inflated than I would like. When I got back on the bike it felt great, my legs got a stretch and after a short while I could feel the tightness round my IT band and hip loosening. The pain above my heel even eased off enough not to bother me.

The next fifty miles were constant ups and downs. I did enjoy the many descents along the way but invariably as I was descending I could see the road rise at the other side of each little valley. At the end of the climb up to Alandroal I missed the turn-off into the town, going round on the main by-pass road instead. I stopped at the far edge of town and contemplated going into town for breakfast but it was all uphill so decided to carry on to Redondo, fifteen miles further on and breakfast there instead. I went through Redondo, over all the cobbled streets, up some deserted streets and through the centre of town but didn’t see anywhere that took my fancy and before I knew it I was out the other side. I stopped on the grass verge at the side of the road, under a tree and contemplated the final twenty miles or so. I fed myself with the remaining breakfast bars and some Spanish jelly babies, added sun screen, removed the base layer and had the obligatory pee though not necessarily in that order. The jelly babies tasted different from the ones we get back home, still tasted good, just different. I’m used to eating the expressionless British jelly baby but these guys had a look on their face, it looked like guilt. It was kind of Cheryl to get these for me as the two bags of jelly baby rations I had brought with me had prematurely emptied. 

DSC_0323[1]It’s not a great picture of São Miguel de Machede but as with every town in Portugal I have passed so far, all the houses had white walls and corrugated red tiled roofs.

When I reached Evora I was feeling the best I’d felt all day. It was a real workout today and I was working hard at the final climb into the town but the fact was I could work hard, at the start of the day I could not muster that energy. For the final few miles the temperature was into the nineties, it seemed I’d just about got here in time. When I got to the town square after a mile of cobbled roads I stopped at the fountain, removed my helmet and submerged most of my head. What a good feeling. Cheryl had text and told me she was in a café in a street just off the square. It wasn’t a surprise when I found her in a smart looking place with a young charming waiter. The food was good, she chose well.

The beer was good too……

As Cheryl got to Evora very early she managed to get some sightseeing in before I arrived. It was no doubt my poorest hotel choice of the trip and there was no getting into the room before 2.00. So after lunch in the old town we sorted out the room and got organised before an afternoon checking out the Roman remains and other attractions inside the Medieval Walls.

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Caa the-es

It took me a about ten minutes to get out of Caceres. A bit of pavement driving outside the hotel, back up the one-way street towards the Plaza. I crossed the Plaza as the pedestrians do and dropped onto the road on the other side, going the correct way on the one-way system. A straight road with a few roundabouts to cross over and I was at the edge of town. Then it hit me. It was freezing! The wind that blew across the long straight road away from the town was ice cold. My exposed arms felt it the most, my legs were kind of cold but I just dropped a gear and moved them faster. The day was forecast to be another scorcher, hence the early start. I left off the base layer for this reason but never bargained for such a nip in the early morning. The temperature did slowly rise  as the morning progressed but it was still a bit chilly after about an hour if I was in the shade.

Now an official stopping point on the EE Stage 1
The Restuarant Bar just outside Puebla de Obando. Now an official stopping point on the EE Stage 1

Only one main road to travel today, the EX-100 and I was on it pretty quickly. No busy intersections to contend with and little chance of the Garmin and I having a disagreement. I stopped for breakfast at the little town called Puebla de Obando which was just short of halfway. We stopped here last time in the middle of a short but torrential downfall, the weather was always going to be better this time with zero rain predicted. By the time I’d reached this place most of the day’s climbing had been completed and the cold wind had turned into a warm breeze. I was feeling pretty happy with myself and was looking forward to a little snack. I ordered a tostada jamon tomate and a cafe solo. It was a busy place considering it was only about 9.30 in the morning. I sat outside and caught up with the text messages I’d received whilst on the road, read some news and checked out the rest of my route. The food and coffee were excellent and only cost two euros. The bus that Cheryl was travelling on passed me as I was leaving the breakfast spot. I had less than thirty miles to go and it was mostly flat or downhill so we should have the afternoon to spend in Badajoz together.

The temperature rose pretty quickly this morning and after ten miles the road flattened off and became very straight. Twenty miles to go and I can see at least eighteen of them stretch out directly in front of me. It was the monotony of the road more than the heat that made the last twenty miles seem longer. I had plenty time to think. My mind wandered back to yesterday and the guys on Camino de Santiago trail. The exhaustion on each of their faces were still clear in my mind; the old man off his bike, the hungry guy with the horse and the solo walkers. I thought why would you walk out here by yourself, and in this heat. When I pondered about it more, I thought ‘Is this not what I am doing? It is just like what am I doing? What is it I am doing?’ I mean ‘What AM I doing?…. WHAT THE HELL AM I DOING?’ – Were these walkers looking at me and thinking the same; why would you cycle out here in this heat, and all by oneself? At least if there is a bit of madness I’m not alone.

The last 4 kilometres into Badajoz were via a busy dual carriageway, I guess I never paid enough attention to the detail at the end of the route. The dual carriageway had a hard shoulder…. but it wasn’t a motorway. It wasn’t the way the Aldo and Mac navigated out of town last time, I remember routing it for them to avoid this road. It wasn’t a motorway, at no point was there any sign saying cyclist not allowed. I’m not sure why it had a hard shoulder type thing but I reckoned this wide lane at the side of the double carriageway was safer than the narrow space I had been cycling on all day and the red gritty covering meant a better surface for cycling. I thought about coming off at the next roundabout (what motorway has roundabouts? – none). I thought about trying to find another road into town but it was at the end of my day and it was TFH. Besides this road wasn’t a motorway.

For over two years I had been pronouncing Badajoz and Caceres like any other English speaking, British tourist would say it. When Cheryl was on the train the previouis day, she heard the correct pronunciation, at least in the local dialect, She didn’t recognise her next two destinations…. Caa the-es and Badahogh

In Badajoz there had done a good bit of landscaping done around the river. The City looked better for it but it was still a dump.

Summer Swelter

Parador Plasencia
The bar in Parador

It was a pleasure to stay in such an impressive building as was the Parador in Plasencia. Built in the 15th Century, the former Gothic style Convent of Santo Domingo retained all of its splendour. The breakfast was pretty damn good too and since it cost a fair penny I didn’t think they would mind me loading up a napkin full of little pastries to stock up for today’s ride. As the bus to Caceres wasn’t until after eleven we had a relaxing morning and breakfasted and checked out together.

The roads were busy at 10.30 and I was aware there were a few big bad junctions ahead where I needed to take some extra caution. I did try the evening before to find an easier route out of town but it was TFH (too hard). The road I wanted to get on and stay on was the N-630 but my caution getting onto this road led me to fully circle the roundabout, stop on the roundabout, check and eventually exit. It shows as a thick red circle on the Strava record.  At a roundabout further down this road, my fear of taking the slip road onto the autovista made an even thicker red circle on the Strava record and added about a half mile onto my journey. The final roundabout I had to encompass included two on ramps and two off ramps onto the Autovista. I carefully read the signpost as I approached, I carefully checked Garmin as I encircled. Then I carelessly took the on ramp to the autovista. I needed to travel along the slip road about a hundred yards to be sure. This guilty red line can be seen on the GPS record too. Bloody Garmin tells me I’m ‘off course’ and gives a crazy alert when I go round a roundabout on the outside edge and then lets me go a hundred yards onto a motorway before it say ‘ oh hey, by the way your taking the wrong road’. It’s only a hundred yards and the hard shoulder is quite wide (ha, the hard shoulder – you might think I would have noticed that on the way down) so I cheekily cycled back and found the correct turn off.

The N630 runs alongside the A-66 (the autovista) so the sounds that morning were a little different. I could hear no cow bells or bird sounds from the bushes. If there were lizards shuffling around at the road verge I was unaware. And I wasn’t going to startle any wildlife near the road with the sounds from the bike.

I felt good this morning, possibly because the air was already hot, possibly as I was clear of the town and on a downhill section. I felt I had my cycle legs on. There was a wind blowing across me, sometimes slightly in my favour sometimes against me.

On the climb up to Grimaldo I came across another cyclist, an older gentleman pushing his bike. I got talking to him, of sorts. When I showed my concern as to why he was off the bike he pointed to his legs. I noted they were sunburned a bit and tried to figure out in my head why you would stop cycling because your legs were sunburned. I mean how bad do they have to be to stop cycling… aren’t they just going to get more burned if he’s walking? Shouldn’t he just ride to the next town, find a bar have a drink and then worry about his sunburn? These crazy thoughts of mine passed through my tiny brain in seconds. It seemed he was giving his legs a rest; we were on a hill after all. He was from Iceland and he understood ‘Escocia’ and ‘Scotland’, his Spanish and his English were better than my Icelandic. He’d obviously been to Aberdeen, on a plane by the looks of the motions he was making with his arms. We chatted for a little longer, I got that he was ‘doing’ the Camino de Santiago and circling round back up to Avila. I didn’t know the Camino came this way but then remembered seeing the signs along the road. I wished him well and got on my way.

I was familiar a bit with Grimaldo it was a lunch stop last time but I wasn’t stopping there today. I stopped in Canaveral, near the spot where Aldo was stopped in his tracks by his support guys (halfway up the climb). I bought water, filled up the bottles and ate two of the stolen pastries from this morning. When I reached the huge lake at the bottom I counted six miles. Seven hundred feet in six miles is no problem to the super fit, super slim, hill climbing Aldo of today but for the two guys back then this was a toughie. What I didn’t realise was that they had a twenty mile descent to this point all the way from Caceres.

The lake was a beautiful still expanse of blue. There was the occasional car parked on the far bank, the occupants had spilled out onto the grassy area near the waters edge. Further along there were cattle in and around the waters edge where the grassy areas merged with the lake.

As I started to cycle away from the lake I came across walkers, ‘doing the Camino’ I guess. Some guys were obviously walking on their ownsome, others in groups, though it was difficult to tell as the groups were pretty strung out, maybe due to the heat. Also met a cowboy, we talked but he didn’t like what I told him. It was nueve kilometres to Canaveral, I didn’t tell him four miles of it was up a big feckin hill.

Cowboy doing the Camino

It was getting hot and my feet were boiling and I began to question why. I thought to myself I have thin summer cycling socks and I need to put on overshoes to keep my feet dry when I used these shoes in the winter. Not only that I needed to tape up all the air vents to keep out the water. Feck the tape, I’m an idiot! I’m cycling around Spain, it’s bloody hot and I have taped up the air vents in my shoes.

The climb to Caceres was energy sapping, it wasn’t steep but it was long and it was windy and Garmin reported the temperature as 34 degrees. The wind was a blessing and a curse; if it wasn’t blowing at me I would be frying though it would have been good if it was blowing at me from a different direction. I never fully appreciated how the heat would drain me, it was knackering. I eventually made it to a little cafe in a small town 5 miles from the outskirts of Caceres, I bought an ice cream and filled a water bottle. I text Cheryl and told her five miles and a bit, I’ll be there in about 20 minutes. An hour later I meet her in the little square down from the hotel. I throw water over my head and down my gullet, I feel better again.

Helter Skelter

I just got up, got ready and went. It was going to be a long day and a hot one, if the guys at eltiempo.es were to be believed. As I struggled through the narrow doorway into reception the girl at the desk started chatting, asking where I was going today. She sounded very impressed and insisted I have some coffee or juice. Coffee sounded too good to refuse and I fancied a couple of those magnificent looking buns but she only offered coffee or juice. I poured the filter coffee into a cup and added some cold water in order to finish it quickly and grabbed the buns on the way out. The girl jumped up as if startled, not sure if this was because I grabbed her buns. But she smiled, wished me well and grabbed my buttocks as I pushed my bike into the front street. You got to love the friendly staff in this hotel.

It was cold this morning (except for my buttocks) but looking at the clear blue sky I reckoned it wouldn’t stay this way for long. I did a little detour out of Avila as there seemed no other way onto the N-110, the road I wanted to get on. The detour meant I cycle six or seven miles before I join this road, adding only a few miles onto my journey. It was a pleasant little detour and the miles went passed very quickly. But when I hit the main road the next few miles seem to absolutely drag. My Garmin showed that I was about twelve miles in and I was thinking something needs to happen to make this interesting. The road was flat and straight, I could see the route stretch directly ahead of me for miles…. give me a kink on the road, a small bend or even a little incline.

Today consisted of three distinct climbs followed each time by a descent steeper and longer, a more than just reward on paper (computer screen). On the graph the climbs looked like just little bumps in the road but only because they were showing in proportion to the third descent, which was of near Alpine proportions. It had a few long straight bits where you could ‘put your foot down’. There were short slopes with sharp corners where you have to slow down to a near stop (at least I did). Then there were the slow sweeping bends where you could just let go, no need to pedal or brake if you used the racing line and dared to wander a bit on the road.. Of course the real fast guys would be pedalling like maniacs and braking like maniacs. A few miles into this I got that old Beatles song into my head…. Helter Skelter but I couldn’t remember all the words, so I just kept repeating what I could remember over and over in my head. If I sang out loud I might remember more, I thought and hey who is going to hear me? So I did but I still couldn’t remember any more, and I found it was all too much for my lungs to cope. So I shut up again! I moved on to other different inane thoughts. It wasn’t hugely relevant to this activity as one of the lines I remembered went ‘When I get to the bottom I go back to the top of the slide, where I stop and I turn and I go for a ride’. There was no way I wanted to go back to the top of the slide, that was about two and a half thousand feet in twelve miles. Huge amount of fun on the descent but I had done my climbing for the day. This was just one of my other inane thoughts.

I planned my first stop for Piedrahíta, forty miles into today’s trip. As I cycled through the town I slowed, it wasn’t much more than a one street town and nothing appealled to me enough to stop. I knew El Barco de Avila was down the road a bit so I could afford a quick change of plan. After I had passed through Piedrahíta I pulled into the side and stopped. As it was getting hot, I removed my base layer and tied it round the handlebars and covered myself in sun screen. I was still suffering saddle sore and had been blaming the poor seat quality but it occurred to me (I had loads of time to think this morning) maybe I should experiment with the seat position. I loosened it, slid it back a centimetre or two and tightened it again, let’s see how that goes. It was worse on the climbs and Piedrahíta was at the foot of the second climb. Whatever I did it had immediate effect, my bum pain was easing.

I stopped in El Barco for lunch four hours and 53 miles into the trip. I was passed halfway, two out of the three climbs were complete and still felt really good. I bought some water from the bar where I had lunch, filled the bottles and went on my way. Cheryl was to change bus in this town but I didn’t want to hang around for another half an hour or try and find the bus station. I stopped before the third climb, it was hot and I wanted to apply even more sun screen. This hill I felt, it was longer and steeper than the other two. Cheryl’s bus passed me soon after I restarted and went out of sight as I passed through the next little village. But I caught sight of it again as I left Puerta Castilla, it looked like a dinky toy as it was a few kilometres ahead of me and over 300 feet higher, ah my climb was not over… feck. I didn’t know at the time but the bus was very near the top and if I hadn’t stopped for a photo shoot with a motorcyclist I might have even caught it on the way down. After that I didn’t stop again until Cabezuela del Valle, a nice little town, where all the buildings had the same slanting red tiled roofs and on the banks of a charming little river.

The gentle breeze at the early start had slowly picked up throughout the day. It seemed to come in waves of constant blowing (in my face) for 5 or 10 minutes and disappear again for a similar length of time. This made the last 10 miles more challenging than most of the day so I put out my head any chance of a detour just to get to the magic 100 mile marker…. It can wait

Wadders
Wadders

When I visited here in 2013 with Aldo, Mac and Brian we visited this little square and chatted about the day’s activities. We got talking to another visitor who was sitting nearby getting slowly drunk by himself. He was a sculpture, he informed us and he had a commission with a blank canvas but hadn’t yet decided what to fill the space with. We were not convinced by his story but we listened, He had overheard us talking and was interested in Aldo’s story of how Brian stopped him halfway up the climb through Canaveral the previous day. Brian had specific instructions not to organise the lunch spot until after the climb was complete. We had a laugh but Aldo still seemed a bit annoyed with it. Anyway the art work is called Wadders so not sure if our story influenced his idea.

Out of Segovia

You could hear the bells from the Cathedral, which was at the other end of Plaza Mayor from our Hotel. The noise wasn’t unpleasant and Cheryl liked to count them and let me know what the time was.

We had worked out the timings the night before and in our heads we had a well practised drill which included who’s in the shower first, packing the toiletries and zipping up the bag. The next days clothes were all laid out, we even had breakfast choices made from experimenting the morning before. The alarm was set and we tried to sleep. It took me a long while but I eventually dozed off, I remember hearing three bells but none after that until I awoke. I wasn’t awake enough to count them but Cheryl assured me she heard eight rings. I made that sound as if she was quite calm about it… she wasn’t she was frantic. In fact I hadn’t seen this frantic since she thought she’d lost her handbag in Milan. We were meant to be eating a quicky breakfast at 8 o’clock sharp as soon as the bar opened. I fumbled for my phone so I could check the time and re-assure her that she had miscounted. My phone said 0800 – feck how did that happen? I remember setting the alarm so couldn’t understand why it didn’t go off an hour ago.

There was only one bus to Avila today, at 9.00 and if Cheryl didn’t make it then we had to go to the back-up plan, I hadn’t told Cheryl what that was yet. We were both now frantic and took a few seconds to think, same plan no breakfast, no showers. By 8.20 we were ready… of sorts. We checked out and Cheryl was in the taxi and on the bus with time to spare. I could have had breakfast as this was a short day cycle but decided just to get on my way.

View on the way out of Segovia

Plaza Mayor was empty. The atmosphere was of the quality that you only get in the mornings, before the world awakes and before the buzz begins. The skies were clear and we could see two hot air balloons floating above the City, which added to the aura this beautiful morning. I set down the cobbled street (great practise for next year). I knew this road as I ventured down here twice yesterday, once for the bike shop visit and then to buy the bus ticket. It was the way out of Segovia, Garmin and I agreed on that. I stopped at the view point and tried to capture the essence of the morning as there were now several hot air balloons towering above the roman dwellings on the edge of the settlement.

After about 7 miles I passed through a little village called Valverde del Majano, which was even more peaceful than the streets of Segovia; were all it’s inhabitants still asleep? Abades a further 3 miles further on was much the same. I was looking for somewhere to stop for coffee and a snack but the shutters were still down and there was nobody on the streets. I passed another two villages in the next 10 miles that were only slightly busier but still no bars or coffee shops open. I guess that’s just the way Saturday mornings are around here. The seat post was fixed yesterday so I had stopped in these villages anyway, just for some adjustments and some readjustments.

Although there were a few hilly bits on this road, so far there was nothing very testing. It gave me time to take in the views of Sierra de Gredos or the Sierra de Guadarrama, I’m not sure which. I passed through the Guadarrama Mountains yesterday and my destination today is in the Gredos Mountains, they seem to run into each other. The mountains were about 10 to 20 miles away to my left. The scene on my right was of shallow rolling hills, the horizon being too far away to focus. I was on a flat fertile plain and it was starting to get hot.

I got confused with the road structure near Sanchidrian. This was the intersection where I stop heading west on the small roads and take the main road south. Garmin showed my carefully designed route taking me up the off ramp and I could not work out from the view ahead how the hell I was meant to get onto the road I wanted to get on, or even which road it was that I wanted to get on. So I thought time for coffee and cake and doubled back to Sanchidrian. This village could never be counted as lively unless comparing to my experience in all the other places that morning. I found a spot with good nosh and friendly service, also got the water bottles refilled.

tyreThe first thing that Cheryl remarked on when I took delivery of the bike was the smooth surface, no tread on the tyres. She made some comment about how they didn’t look like they were of the ‘Indestructible’ variety. Well seems she was right. About 10 miles from Avila I heard a noise that sounded like a blown tyre, I kept cycling as you do when you are in denial. Feck – I did not mind changing it, it was just that my smart-ass thinking that on my shortest day, I would only take one spare inner tube with me. Where’s the sense in that?

As I changed the tube I was attacked by little skin-biting flying ant-like things, a close relation to Midgies I think!

The last 10 miles I counted down, watching the road surface as I cycled, though not sure looking at the road would help avoid any potential tyre burster. So I just prayed instead, after all this is a catholic country.

Avila at night
Avila at night

Avila is a lovely city as good looking, if not better looking than Segovia. Our hotel was within the city walls, between the castle walkway and the cobbled street. Getting there at lunch-time was a bonus,

By the way Cheryl made it to Avila ten minutes after she got out of bed in Segovia.

Madrid to Segovia

Madrid is a big busy place with lots of fecking traffic. We stayed a few miles out of the City Centre on Calle Jose Abascal but it was still a big bad busy roads place. I knew this from going out the night before on a trial ride on the rented bike. I selected 5 miles on Garmin’s round trip calculator and chose one at random. I got lost on the one-way system only a few hundred yards after I started when I decided that I was not going to attempt the massive roundabout that it was leading me to. I’m not sure I would even want to drive round that in a car.

Breakfast was meant to be at seven but the alarm had been reset in the early hours of the morning as I was still awake and had a well reasoned change of heart after a debate with myself about holidays and rushing and enjoying it, the little longer lie in won. Though a late night I had a good sleep and was showered, shaved and dressed for breakfast by 7,30. But even at this hour I was breakfasting alone, too early for the holidaying Cheryl. She had a shit sleep, thought I was the one who was going to suffer that. Breakfast spread was fantastic, a real Continental in a posh hotel. If this was any other holiday I would have had some of everything and more. After Cheryl saw me off she went for her morning snack. I said a snack as she ate very light as she’d arranged a Yoga class with Marta at 10 o’clock. Alas she missed this as the clock on her iPad was lying to her, it was still on BST. So yaga yaga no yoga, shame she only realised this after her rationed breaky.

Calle Jose Abascal wasn’t so busy with cars at nine in the morning as it was all evening yesterday, however the roundabout that scared me last night was at the bottom of the six lane road outside our Hotel. And it was the first obstacle on route. I spent a frustrating few hours at bedtime trying to replan my route so I could hurry out of Madrid with little hassle away from the big bad wide one-way fecking busy roads and roundabouts. But I gave up, Cheryl’s laptop has IE8 – fecking hopeless! Try redrawing a Strava route on an iPad mini and using Google Maps for reference on smart phone. One thing I did learn from the night before was which side of the road to cycle on. Obviously I know it’s the right hand side but it is all one-way streets so there is no oncoming traffic to keep you right. What I was doing was driving on the very left lane thinking I was playing it safe and keeping a slow pace. Some of these roads are five or six lanes wide so it’s surprising how long it took me to realise I was cycling in the fast lane. Anyway, I decided feck it I’ll just go the route I first planned, what’s the worst that can happen? I cycled across the pedestrian crossing as my hotel entrance looked onto the fast lane, it goes against my ethos of where cyclist should ride, better this than jumping the lights. Then I jumped the lights, I had bad positioning and was getting in the way of the pedestrians. Jumping the lights goes against my ethos of what I think cyclists should do, better this than cycling on the pavement. Ah, in the slow lane but so were countless delivery drivers – parked two wide so in the second slow lane too, Nothing for it but jump onto the pavement, the pedestrians didn’t seem to mind.

I was very careful as I cycled over the remaining pedestrian crossings; I can cycle as slow as I can walk. There were about six of them in all before I reached the safety of a two lane one-way easy riding side street, which ran parallel with the busy multi-lane mayhem. This road was good with no scary moments and easy to follow on the Garmin. It took me a while to find the cycleway. I was never going to find it following the Garmin but I tried. I stumbled across the red cycle lane when lost and Garmin was recalculating the route. The cycleway went underneath Chamartin railway station and doubled back up to a road I’d already been on, where it stopped. I decided to follow another solo cyclist down the road, he’d just come off the cycleway too. As we headed to a roundabout, Garmin told me to go all the way round and go back the way I came. The cyclist in front looked liked he was lost as it seemed like he was also circumnavigating the roundabout. Suddenly he darted down the final exit, except it wasn’t an exit in was an entrance. This wasn’t a little side street, it was a feeder road from the adjoining highway. What fool would cycle up there? After a moments hesitation I followed him. There was plenty space between the white line and the edge of the tarmac, which helped in avoiding oncoming vehicles. We passed one other cyclist on this short road and he didn’t look bemused that we were going the opposite way on a busy on-way street. I followed my involuntary guide onto a sharp left turning off the main road and onto the cycleway…. for proper this time.

red cyclewayThis red cycleway runs alongside the the M607 for the next 20 miles at which point I, as a cyclist, can join the road proper. Though once out of town it is never as close to the Autopista as seen in the snap shown. This was truly a cycle highway, very busy with other cyclists and no other traffic and no pedestrians. It was an easy ride, with ups and downs, though mostly ups. My pace wasn’t fast by any means as I was deliberately saving energy for the real climb later that day. I stopped to adjust my saddle height just a few miles in. I thought I had got this correct last night but now seemed too low. It took me another stop further up this road to realise the seat post was slipping regardless of how tight I turned the bolt. Most of the ride along the cycleway was pleasant but uneventful. I did have a chat with another solo cyclist but as he spoke even less English than I did Spanish the conversation was short lived. I knew I was at the end of the red cycleway section when Garmin informed me I was off course, though its recalculated course made no sense along dirt tracks, farmers fields and marshes. I had just crossed over the main road that I wanted to get onto, so I simply joined it at the point where it intersected with the cycleway.

The first ten miles on the ‘real’ road was relatively flat, the climb didn’t start until about four or five miles short of Navalcerrada. No speed records broken along this road either; my mind was on the climb ahead and on the spectacular views of the well defined rugged edges of the mountain tops as they stood out against the clear blue skies.

looking back at Madrid
looking back at Madrid

I stopped near Navalcerrada to take off my base layer as one top was enough; to adjust my saddle height; to eat; to drink; to answer a call of nature and to check my mental state. Several cyclists went past going in the opposite direction (downhill), with great speed and huge smiles. I restarted my journey very slowly and kept this pace until I had caught a fellow cyclist; he’d past me a whole five to ten minutes before I started off from my rest place. So I slowed down. Unknowingly this guy helped me up the hill, not just because of his pace but his presence ahead of me was a focus, rather than staring at the climb as it slowly appeared and spread out uncompromisingly in front after each bend. At each kilometre from the top a marker was posted at the side of the road stating how many kilometres to go and the gradient, either average to the top or current, I’m not sure. The first one I noticed was at 7km with a gradient of 7%, which I was happy with as my Garmin reported I was at that time doing 8.3%. I looked forward to seeing these signposts but they never came fast enough. At 6km the gradient was still 7%, at 5km it was still 7%. When I approached the 4km marker I could see it was not 7%, it was 8 or 9 or 6, my eyes weren’t good enough too far off – I begged it to be 6…. It was 8. Thankfully the 3km and 2km posts were both showing 7% again. I was already celebrating in my head when I could see the 1km to go post but I was slightly deflated when the gradient was showing 10%… Arghhh – either the sign writer had a sense of humour or the road builder had!

The first beer – I have a day off tomorrow

I celebrated at the top with a Fanta and a pastry. I put my base layer back on, adjusted my saddle and flew down the mountain. I calculated that it took me about 30 seconds to complete the 26km downhill into Segovia, Strava reported it to be a little longer.

I did have one brief encounter with the traffic cops coming into Segovia but I put that down to them being knobs and went on my way. I also cycled far too much when I reached Segovia, taking a few wrong turnings on the cobbles.

Cheryl reached the hotel before me despite completing a taxi tour of the all the major bus stations in Madrid before she departed.