The “Ice Challenge”, it seems to be the latest cause du jour, and for that purpose it has done well. My own ice challenge has gone on for now…..5, maybe 6 days. No, not the usual 3-10 seconds of cascading ice over the head. This is pretty much an all day affair, no kidding. You can say that the fun has wore off completely. Some of you will notice that there seems to be about a week of Jeremiahs life missing since he arrived in Bilbao. The reason is, I was back in China doing a little work that had to get done or else we would have bigger issues to slay when I finally do get home.
Ever since we climbed out of Bilbao on those steep roads which take you further west, it has been very heavy overcast and dreary. First day out was 3 hours of heavy rain and the higher I climbed it turned into ice pellets as they pinged off my steel framed Surly bicycle. Somewhere along the route I had to stop and buy some food for that evening camp. I took advantage of being able to buy a newspaper and got some extra plastic bags for my feet. By the time I got moving again, well everything was trying to sieze up, no joint wanted to move. Just too darn cold. All totaled that day we hit 61 miles and were on our way towards Parc de Europa. Camp that night was by God cold. REI, states quite clearly…..NEVER LIGHT A FIRE INSIDE YOUR TENT. I understood the dangers, and did it any how.
Like most everynight this last week, I have been in the sleeping bag by 6pm…….and shivering. No sitting outside by the campfire cause there ain’t one to sit by. I use an alchohol stove to cook with, it is very efficient for a one burner affair, but thats the extent of it. My day starts and ends pretty much the same way, wrap the feet in newspaper…..I try to find pages of Obama news, wrap my feet with 2 or 3 sheets and slip on my socks, followed by a plastic bag or 2, followed by my rain sodden cycle shoes. Long johns and my Showers pass rain suit and then hit the open road with a seriously forced smile. Yes, I know, there are things called hostels and hotels, but some of this trip has to have an edge to it. I used to put all my riding clothes down inside my sleeping bag on just cold dry days, but now that the clothes are soaked thats a different story. I know just enough about cold weather survival to know, you do not want a damp, wet sleeping bag. So I came up with a different alternative, its does nothing for drying anything out, it just leaves you with clothes a little warmed up. I use my compression sack for the sleeping bag filled with the wet clotbes as my pillow. They are a little bit warm when you put them back on with great reluctance in the morning. I am so glad I finally decided to bring my pistol along after all, cause I dont think I could/would put those clothes on without holding that gun to my head.
Not alot of stops being made thru the day, my photo count has dropped right off for instance. Couple of reasons, the sky is so low and so heavy that it renders most images pretty useless. But to a greater extent, my darn fingers are so cold I just dont want to bother with getting it all out waiting for fogging to quit, wipe the lense, keep it away from your face because the diopter will fog……..OMG, by then the fingers are really shaking. I also dont stop very often thru the day for coffee or to talk, for the very same reasons, plus if you step inside and have coffee…..at least for me, I am about done. Everything just comes to a halt when the body is allowed to cool. Starting back up can be a real struggle.
As you read this blog, understand 3 things…….yes, first off I am complaining……I signed up for a bike ride……no where in the tour literature did it mention an uncomfortable bike ride. Lesson two, you will look at the images and say to yourself……..what the heck is he talking about……..the sun is always present. Correct, in the images it is, but over this however many days, I really doubt there have been 4 hours of sunshine/bluesky total. Every other moment is iether dark of night, or foggy rain soaked days with strong winds to make it all the more pleasant. And third, there is no place flat in Spain…….and that came as a surprise to me, also not mentioned in the tour the world literature.
My route to Parc de Europa, which is a must see…….some other time for me unfortunatley, the park is a jewel among the Cantabrian Mountains of northern Spain. It is the home to the Basque people, they were the first people group to make a stand against the Muslim hoarde’s invasion. From this region and its strong will to fight, it was passed onto other regions to do the same ( only Obama seemed to miss the message) but that momentum began right here where I am. “Sorry Senior, but dee park is no bueno for jew I tink. To mucho mas cloud and too mucho dee snow, plus dee hills Senior are mui more dificile”. This was a real common piece of advice that I was hearing as I asked about my route in that direction, several people told me the same basic thing, and combine that with a ten day forecast showing heavy rain and snow as what I had to look forward to…..gott’a rethink things. Somewhere north of a Soncillo, I climbed one ridge at 17%, and when I topped out I could not see more than 100 feet in any direction……thats it, I lost it officially. No, no, not that bad. I didn’t break the tissue out or nothing. I just made the choice that with the current weather scenario, I could ride right thru and yet not see a thing. I rode right back down that same steep SOB and never thought twice about it……once my mind is made up, not much alters me from my course.
With my Surly LHT, pointed south by south west I fairly flew…….till the next hill, which wasn’t very far away. It has been a steady routine of climb and coast,climb and coast. The coasting, because you just can’t take all the cold air coming at you right after a climb, at least I sure can’t. And my climbs now are broken up, I climb for a while, then get off and push. We changed things up so as to keep the hands and feet warmer, its the only way I can figure to keep enough blood moving to make everything else work as it should. In the end it still comes down to one simple fact. You can ride as hard you wish, you can boast of conquering a very steep grade the likes of which we never see at home. But within 2 days, everything you own is soaked, and you have no way of drying anything out……..none, zip, zero, na’da…….and you are done. That simple, the body will not work frozen.
The climb out or over the Cantabrian range going south takes me into a deep gorge, imposing rock walls corridor me towards a tiny village called Villarcado. Home to maybe 300, and as I go thru I realize, YUP, you done it again JW, left it till to late in the day and nothing is open in this sleepy little town. Its not like other days inwhich I literally had nothing including water. But I was low on a few things essential to make a meal, apart from tea, water and sugar and a half a stale loaf of bread and half jar peanut butter……..so, now you also know what supper consisted of as well. The climb out of this berg was a beast, partly because I was cold, but also its just a long steep slog. As I ride the last few ridges, it is apparant that the trees faded away several miles ago and have been replaced by thick manzanita and a little sage in spots. The wind is howling, I can see snow on the very top of my hill I have to get over. I make the climb, nothing pretty, no pro-teams have tried to sign me up, but I did make it without the aid of any drugs as well……more than alot of them can say.
“What the heck……..did you see that………..can’t be……..those are only in the remote parts of USA.”, I even rode back to make sure it was what I read. Sure enough it said “next services 61km”. Well, on I go for the briefest moment actually down a gentle grade, but am soon climbing again after having topped the pass. As I will soon come to know, its is a huge treeless mesa, undulating at times thru deep gorges. But nonetheless a huge plateau. The wind is fairly ripping across from my right to my left on the diagonal, the clouds are heavy and dense with …….snow…….theres some more. Its builds up to maybe 1/4 to 1/2 inch on the ground but is melting equally as fast……it is snow though. Let me see……..treeless……..windy……..wet………cold………dang, a person will have to pay attention to his dwelling place or one could end up in trouble. Not sure, but maybe a little over 5 miles later I ride past a small old rock barn right beside the road and decide I had better check that out. Upon doing so it does not take long to figure out that God himself put this thing here just for me. After clearing aside alot of plain junk, then a couple inches of sheep dung aside I had a resonable place to throw down for the night. Just a mat and the bag was all there was room for, I was in the bag by about 4:15 and shivering. Sure enough, about 9pm it really started to pour rain and I found my roof had a few……many, leaks. So, I dug out my rain fly and threw it over my sleeping bag.
Up and riding by barely 7am, almost too dark but couldnt sit any longer…..or lay any longer for that matter. Official sunrise here is 8:10am. Real steady diet of decent and climb, just not as steep as the mountains I had come from a few days past. To the south, I can see brightness within the heavy cloud convincing me that maybe the sun lives down that way, we shall see. Onward thru a tiny Spanish ghost town, repleat with an old church and many stone houses and barns. Nothing stirring but dust from the frigid wind sweeping thru vacant windows and doors. Rolled into Burgos about 2:15pm, hit a store and bought a few groceries for the evening. There is an outstanding Cathedral in town, I seen its beautiful Gothic Steeple on the ride in. I took in the cathedral and left to the west on a tiny road. Right along side my road was a park of sorts with many benches. The sun had just broken thru for the very first time this day. Nothing like a little sunshine to dry things out, so I took everything I had and tossed it over benches to let sunshine and wind do thier job. Heavy cloud threatened to close down my drying episode, that was easy to see. I was just trying to time things to get maximum exposure and drying, the rain began and with it so did my race to get it all packed back up. All in all, I was doing pretty good really…….or thought I was. I began with my tent parts to my right, not knowing that the wind had whipped my sleeping bag off the back of the bench……..MURPHYS LAW # 212 came into effect. There I was, rolling my tent ground cloth up, and looked to my left to see my bag, upside down in a dang puddle……soaked. I mean really soaked.
As I type this, the sleeping bag hangs over a vent on the room heater in the Hostel. For $18.00, yes, I will splurge and take a room. We can conquer the beasts of cold weather and solo cycle travel on another day, for now I have a dry room and better yet a dry bed for the night. Good night to you all and may God indeed Bless those less fortunate.