Cycling Europe Days 9, 10, & 11: When Times Get Tough

I’m sensing that my attitude is slightly changing. When I started cycling seriously last

My bike when it's all loaded with the panniers. This is what I lug around everywhere I go.

My bike when it’s all loaded with the panniers. This is what I lug around everywhere I go.

year, I’d curse at every hill and come home a dead woman after 50km of cycling, unable to move or do anything for myself.

I have had real anxiety issues on this trip. But they are always pre-cycling anxieties. The moment I put my foot on the pedal they are all gone and I take things as they come.

Exhibit A:
Day 9 (my 8th day of actual cycling) took me from Toledo to Guadalajara. According to the calculations of the route I mapped out for it, it should have been a 127km journey. Instead, I cycled a crazy 186km that day. I’ve wanted to do a century ride (100 miles) ever since I heard there was such a thing. But I certainly did not want to do it on this trip. Suffice to say I got lost in a really really bad way. So bad that I cycled one road three times and cycled down a huge hill that I ended up having to cycle up again to get myself back on track. I went into a police station in a town near Madrid to ask for directions. Some four hours later I stood in a gas station with all the staff and several motorists standing around me all trying to figure out how to get from where I was to Guadalajara. Their final conclusion: it’s too far, too difficult, take the train. They couldn’t even point me in the right direction it was that complicated. But they couldn’t possibly understand. I really really didn’t want to resort to taking the train. I decided to give the GPS another go (it was taking me in circles) when a Spanish cyclist passed me saying hola. I quickly yelled, “Por favor!” He stopped and I asked him for directions and he didn’t let me down. In broken English he described the best way for me to get there. He didn’t tell me to take the train. He understood. He then looked at my panniers and said, “You are great woman.” Those four words erased all the hardship and crap of that day. He thinks I’m a great woman, I thought to myself. Well I’ll just have to be one and get myself to Guadalajara! I still got lost after that but eventually I found my way. The last 20km were so hard. I really thought I was going to “hit the wall” and have no energy left to continue. I hadn’t had a decent meal all day; just snacks and a sandwich. While I was pushing myself very slowly up a steep hill, a peloton of cyclists whooshed by me on the other side of the road going downhill. Most of them gave me big waves. But one in particular, a woman, stretched her arm out far as if to touch me. I had so little energy left I could not even wave back. But that gesture, especially from the woman, gave me the last bit of strength I needed to get myself to Guadalajara. I cycled for more than 12 hours that day. When I spoke with my husband on Skype that night, he told me that had I messaged him with how far I cycled that day before we talked, he would have been frightened to talk to me. He would have thought I would be curled in a ball under a blanket. But I was talking to him normally. I was exhausted, of course. But what happened happened and I got to my destination eventually.

Exhibit B:
Day 10 took me from Guadalajara to Siguenza. In order to avoid getting lost like the

Siguenza was an unexpected hidden gem of a town.

Siguenza was an unexpected hidden gem of a town.

day before, I decided to write down every step of the way and to follow the GPS religiously. You know what happened? It turns out that my GPS-dog Stinky wants to take me on dirt roads sometimes and I think that is what has been messing us both up. By following Stinky, I ended up cycling/walking for several kilometers on dirt roads barely fit for a mountain bike or a 4×4. My road bike, laden with 15km of stuff, could not handle some of it. I followed the route anyways. I did call Stinky a dickhead, probably the first time I’ve ever used that term. He called me a shithead because I was the one who wanted to go from Guadalajara to Siguenza and that was the ONLY way. But then that was that. What had to be was. If I had to walk, I did. If I had to cycle slowly and very carefully, I did. In the end, I reached beautiful Siguenza and what a hidden gem it is!

Exhibit C:
I didn’t want to end up on more dirt roads on day 11. I was scared shitless at one point the day before when the dirt road took me through several kilometers of fields with no humans in sight; except for the construction workers at the beginning of the trail who saw me get onto that trail all alone. That road wasn’t rideable but I cycled on it like the wind. None of that for me today. So I looked at the satellite images of today’s planned route from Siguenza to Calatayud and discovered it had significantly more dirt roads planned than the previous day. I did everything I could to find a decent alternative route but I couldn’t. I decided to take the motorway. I looked online and there was talk that cyclists were allowed to use the autovia but not the autopista (toll road) in Spain. I did indeed see a cyclist on the autovia yesterday. Now if this isn’t the case, DON’T YOU DARE tell me otherwise until I’m out of Spain. I don’t want to know. LALALALALALALA!!

So I took the autovia today after much anxiety leading up to it. But before I reached it, I had 30 km of cycling on normal roads. Except that on km 6, my left gear cord broke and the left gear was stuck in low gear. I got off the bike and attempted to fix it. I couldn’t. I was in the middle of absolutely nowhere. No cars passed by even. I decided I’d cycle on the low gear until I could find a town with a bike shop. I didn’t. I thought if worse comes to worst I’ll catch the train. In the meantime, I can still pedal so let’s see what happens. I cycled for 70km on that autovia on low gear. That meant that I could actually move going uphill and downhill. Had the gear been stuck in high, I never would have been able to climb hills. But it also meant slow riding because it was impossible to build up much speed on low gear. In Egypt we say, قضاء أخف من قضاء or one fate is lighter than the other. At least I was able to get myself to Calatayud. I got here safely. And I even saw a bike shop on the way in that had a notice on its door saying it opens at 5pm. It closes, evidently, at 1:30pm, I’m assuming for the siesta. I’ll never understand Spanish business hours. But hey! I took the bike in at 5pm and by 6:30pm I was riding it back to my hotel! I am so relieved and hope it stays together for many more days ahead.

Exhibit D:

I’ve noticed something even stranger, regarding my attitude. I’ve started to enjoy

The view of Calatayud from my hotel window. It's amazing how cheap good hotels are off season and in small towns. This one is for 27€ including breakfast and it must be a four star hotel.

The view of Calatayud from my hotel window. It’s amazing how cheap good hotels are off season and in small towns. This one is for 27€ including breakfast and it must be a four star hotel.

cycling uphill. Ahh wallahil3azeem (I swear to God). There is something so enlivening and liberating about pedaling up a steep hill, putting your head down, regulating your breathing, stabilizing your core, and letting your legs alone do the work. There is an energy you feel coming from the centermost point of your pelvis that is like no other. I would have never expected that sort of change in me.

When times got tough, I’ve had to ask myself some serious, existential questions. “What would you rather be doing?” I asked me when I was going up the same hill for a second time. “Sitting at home watching Jeremy Kyle?” “No!” me replied emphatically. “Would you rather be watching Come Dine With Me?” I asked. “,” me replied with just a bit of hesitation. I didn’t ask me if me would rather be watching Big Brother. It was too much of a risk after that moment’s hesitation with Come Dine With Me. Besides, I had already made my point.

Today my gear cord/wire/whateveryoucallit broke, I had to cycle on a motorway, and the skies opened with pouring rain twice. I’d still rather not be home watching the Jeremy Kyle Show (sorry, Jeremy). I’ve been asked by one guy what my goals are for this trip. A friend showed concern because I was expressing anxiety and wondered whether the trip was a good idea. A third friend hinted a few times at what I shouldn’t miss while traveling through Europe. Not everyone will understand this and that’s all right. I’m still going to do it for as long as I can and want to or until it fulfills its purpose for me. And just so you’re all aware, when I’m sitting at home watching Jeremy Kyle I still feel anxious. I ALWAYS find something to worry about. But I’ve never been one to allow my anxieties and fears to hold me back from doing something that I feel fulfills me. My main goal for this trip is also not sight seeing. I get to see and experience so much by doing what I’m doing. Today I’m in the wonderful city of Calatayud. I get a fantastic view from my hotel window. My priority today once I arrived this afternoon was fixing the bike and resting up for another day of cycling tomorrow. I didn’t get to see much of the town but that’s all right with me.

One last thing: after ten actual days of cycling I still have a bit of a belly. I’ve decided to hold that belly out with pride from now on.





  1. Ya Nadia, this spanish cyclist was right, “You are great woman.” , You’re heck of a woman, cause you didn’t give up when things were worst and the gears stuck, you accomplished a huge amount of way till that day. I follow your path everyday on the map and I’m impressed by what you achieve daily. I’m a live-long cyclist, rode a lot, but I never made such big tours and I’m very inspired by your trip to start one long tour myself! No fear!

    “The moment I put my foot on the pedal they are all gone and I take things as they come.”
    Yeah. That’s what I said the other day. Once you’re on the bike and pedal, the sorrow disappears quickly and you just move on, cause you want it and you have to.
    Gute Reise!

  2. PS: If I ever will do such a journey, I would always rely on good old maps. Forget the GPS crap and what this tells you. From all your blog posts here I see that it lead you wrong way more than once. A map with good topographic showings, combined with a bit of knowledge and good sense would never do so. Technical devices are nice gadgets, to _show_ a map, but never to propose a route, They are just dumb in doing that, cause they don’t know all the ways a real map shows. Indeed, GPS gadgets are nice showing you the way you drove afterwards, to look which way you choosed and sum up the distance.

    1. I absolutely agree but I need to save money and weight. If I use maps I’d be buying one every day to get the level of detail I need then throwing it away.

  3. I’m aware you are no travelling for tourism, but, if you stay in Calatayud on Friday and are not extremely tired, you should go to the Monasterio de Piedra, a 12th-century monastery and surrounding park in the Piedra River Canyon; a kind of oasis with cascades and springs and tight vegetation in that barren region. I think it’s about 25-30 km from Calatayud.

  4. This is really inspiring! I liked what you said in the beginning of your journey, that you wanted to push your limits and challenge yourself to know it better! I love how you stare right in fear’s eyes and do what your intuition tells you to do. I find what you’re doing amazing and it’s getting me thinking of setting a similar plan (doesn’t include cycling) for the same purpose (Challenging myself)..Way to go!

    could you post photos of yourself as well!

    You are accompanied with prayers from Egypt 🙂

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