Cycling Europe Day 6: Me and My Stinky

I think of my GPS as being an over-excited puppy. I spent weeks before the trip marking out daily routes suitable to my needs and abilities. I downloaded all the routes to my GPS gadget. Then, every evening I look in detail at the route and decide which parts to follow and which not. Now that I’m actually here it’s easier for me to tell which roads are good and which aren’t so I make changes accordingly. As a result, while cycling, I’ll sometimes go “off course” from the map downloaded into my GPS and it tells me so in so many words. I’ll be cycling along a nice flat road and it will suddenly bark, “Whoof! Whoof! There’s a big hill! Let’s go up that!” And I’ll say, “Shut up Stinky!” (my GPS-dog’s name is Stinky), “I KNOW you just want to make this difficult for me.” And Stinky throws a big pout and lets me do what I want until it sees another hill. “Whoof! Whoof! Turn left! Turn left! You won’t regret it! I promise!” And I’ll say, “Oh no you don’t. I’ve seen the map this morning. I know what you’re trying to do.”

Sometimes I follow Stinky and it asks me to take the second exit in a roundabout. But if the roundabout is a big one, Stinky gets all confused and tells me I’ve gone off course when all I’m doing is still turning in the roundabout. Then I get to the right exit and turn to it and Stinky acts all relieved and says, “Whew! I found the route. That was a close one!” Other times I really do choose the wrong exit and Stinky goes all wild and crazy, “Make a u-turn! NOW! NOWWW!” Sometimes he does that when I don’t want to make a u-turn because I see signs pointing where I want to go so I ignore him while he throws a u-turn tantrum for half an hour.

Well yesterday Stinky took his revenge. I looked at the route that morning and found it was probably the best route available. It was a complicated route with lots of turns into a variety of roads. It wasn’t as simple as: follow the N-52 until you reach the town of xxx then turn right into the C-155. So I decided to give Stinky a chance and to trust him this time. Never again.

I was on a roundabout and Stinky did the lost and confused act on me. “Off course,” he said. “It’s all right, Stinky. It’s just a roundabout,” and I proceeded to cycle towards the exit he wanted me to take. When I took that exit did it cry, “U-turn! Now! NOWWW!!”? No. It just told me to continue on the road I was on. So I figured Stinky knew where he was again. He did. He found a mountain for us to go up and he tricked me into taking it!!

I heard the faintest “Mwahahaha” from Stinky. I couldn’t have been sure. But up, up, up I cycled. I had seen the elevation map that morning and couldn’t believe it was actually THIS hilly. “Why can I never understand these elevation maps properly?” I thought. And up and up and up. It was actually getting cold we were so high in the mountain. Yesterday’s route was supposed to be a 124km ride. I convinced myself to keep cycling for 60km and then I’d take a proper lunch break. By then, I was feeling completely demotivated. I was tired, confused, and upset. I found a nice restaurant in a small mountain village and sat down to eat a tortilla Francessca with croquettes and french fries. Once I finished I asked the waitress, “Is Talavera de la Reina in this direction?” She said yes. I wasn’t properly convinced. I asked if she had a map. She didn’t. So I asked to use their wifi connection. It was then that I discovered where I was. I was going in the general right direction but instead of taking the original route, Stinky took me on a detour into a mountain range somewhat significantly north of where I was meant to be cycling. I could have strangled him!

After my lunch break, I reluctantly got back on my bike and started cycling, not wanting to look at Stinky. And in about five minutes I found myself gliding down a steep decline. Rather than being elated my immediate reaction was, “Noooooooo! I worked so hard to get up there!” I knew from experience that this downhill would be followed by another uphill. It was. And for the next 70km I continued to cycle through a mountain range that took me on many ups and a few downs only to go up again. “Please, God, please get me out of these mountains,” I pleaded. I wasn’t speaking to Stinky anymore. I could see the valley WAY below and knew in my heart that was where I was meant to be cycling. But the only way down there was to go down the steep grassy and rocky slope. Not an option. So I just kept cycling.

As if that wasn’t enough, my gears were giving me trouble and kept skipping. Eventually the inevitable happened: my chain fell off while cycling uphill. I wanted to cry but didn’t. I took all the panniers off, one falling into a ditch, I turned the bike upside down and set about fixing the chain, not ever really understanding what it is I end up doing to fix it. Of course this meant I was full of black grease now from head to toe. But I got back on the bike and kept going.

Tomorrow will definitely be a rest day, I decided. I was waiting for a sign from God as to when to have a rest day. I got my sign.

When I eventually saw the buildings of Talavera de la Reina in the distance I allowed myself a short cry. “Today was such a hard day!” I bawled. Eventually Stinky found the end of our planned route and moped, “Course found.” I looked back at the road I should have been coming down and cried again, “That looks like such a nice, flat road!” But I couldn’t allow myself to cry for long. The tears were obstructing my vision and I needed to be careful on the curving, downhill road.

My planned 124km day was in reality a 156km day. Sheesh, Stinky!

It’s strange the things you see along the side of a road. I’ve seen dead dogs, dead birds, dead snakes, a dead weasel, dead rabbits, dead bugs,dead mice, and even, yesterday, a dead turtle. It’s also amazing to see the things that manage to cross the road and stay alive. Every time I see a caterpillar, inching its way along, I wonder how long it took it to cross that road and how it miraculously managed to stay alive.

You know those triangular road signs we sometimes see, like “Warning! School children in the area!” Or “Warning! Deer ahead!” Or “Warning! Cow crossing!” Well, yesterday I passed the oddest sign. It was “Warning! Frogs!” I swear to God the Almighty. I looked everywhere for frogs on the road but couldn’t find a single one. I haven’t properly been around frogs for years but I’m pretty sure I did hear the occasional “ribbit” nearby.

Today is my rest day. I would have loved to be able to take my clothes to a laundromat and my bike to a bike shop to fix those gears but it’s Easter and EVERYTHING is closed. I even asked if the tourist attractions were open and was told they weren’t. The churches are open, I’m told, so I’ll have a brief wander around. My main target today, though, is to replenish. Stinky tells me I burned more than 4100 calories in yesterday’s ride. So I hope restaurants are open at the very least. I need to eat a ridiculous amount of food today.

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