Cycling Europe Day 29: The Stuff of Nightmares

It’s not important to be the fastest or even to be fast. It’s not important to be the

This Italian hamburger gave me just enough energy to keep looking for a hotel.

This Italian hamburger gave me just enough energy to keep looking for a hotel.

strongest or even to be strong. What IS important is to be determined and persistent. Remember the story of the rabbit and the turtle? I’m a turtle. And it’s working for me just fine.

It’s the stuff of nightmares; my nightmares. I roll into a town I don’t know and can’t find anywhere to spend the night. Although unlikely, it COULD happen. I could have as one of my destinations a town so small it does not have hotels. What do I do then? I dread the day if it comes.

While I was organizing this trip, I researched hotels and campsites in and near my planned destinations. For every destination, with the exception of perhaps five, I have the address of somewhere I can stay. If it’s a campsite, I check its website the night before I arrive to make sure there is a restaurant in or near it. If not, I head to the nearest city. If it’s a hotel, rarely do I actually look for it when I arrive. My system has been to find the city center and book into any suitable hotel there.

But things are never that straight forward. Sometimes I can’t find the campsite or it turns out it doesn’t exist. Other times I get there and it doesn’t have grass plots so I can’t pitch my tent or it doesn’t have food nearby. Sometimes, like today, I can only find one extravagantly priced hotel in the whole town. There must be others but I can’t find them.

I don’t really have a backup plan. Wild camping is not an option I want to consider. (more…)

Cycling Europe Day 24: Holding On To Memories

“How does one hold on to a memory?” I asked myself while walking along the marina



in Cannes, France. The sky was blue, the weather was warm, the sun was shining, the waves of the Mediterranean lightly rolling. I was feeling content. It had suddenly hit me (not for the first time) how fortunate I was to be able to go on an adventure such as this, to see the places I have seen, and experience the things I have done. How do I hold on to this moment of content so that I can recall it later for many years to come?

The cycle today was by no means an easy one. I cycled 125km from Saint Maximin la

I cycled through a mountain to get to Cannes.

I cycled through a mountain to get to Cannes.

Sainte Baume to Cannes. It involved 872 long, hard meters of ascent and 1111 blissful meters of descent. Basically, I had to cycle over a mountain to get to Cannes. But the moment I saw the Mediterranean I forgot the pain of the previous hours. It’s such a strange thing when that happens. I cycled lazily along the coast for awhile. Everything was so beautiful. Seeing the sea reminded me of one of my other passions: scuba diving. And it got me to think how amazing it is that I can experience life in so many different ways: by bike, diving underwater, hiking and hill walking… I am truly fortunate. Alhamdullilah. All thanks be to Allah.

I haven’t seen many cyclists in France; no where near as many as I had seen in Spain. Some French cyclists I’ve seen don’t wear helmets. I saw a lot of cyclists in Arles. There must be known bike routes in that area. I saw several cyclists climbing the mountain with me today to Cannes as well.

The French don’t seem to be as good-tempered as the Spaniards. I’ve been thinking that the Spaniards might have the right idea with this siesta thing. Shops and restaurants shut down at 1:30pm in Spain and re-open at 5pm. Maybe that’s why I saw more cyclists on the road there: they have more time for leisure activities. In Spain, the cyclists really cheered me on. Motorists beeped happy beeps for me and waved as they passed. In France, the cyclists barely nod their heads in acknowledgement, if that, and the motorists are just angry, aggressive folk. I think the French should consider taking a siesta, getting some sleep, maybe having some sex… They really need to lose the temper and loosen up! (more…)

Cycling Europe Day 17: Culture Shock

I had it all planned out in my head. Today’s blog post would be titled, “Vive la France!” with an exclamation point at the end, of course. When I saw the sign indicating I was crossing into France, I might give a little cry with tears then right about it in the post, then I’d take a picture of the sign and post it too, with me feeling all glorious and triumphant.

But Spain was having none of it and neither was France.

I always check the weather reports the night before and the morning of a cycle. Always. I want to know what to expect; partly to know what to wear and partly because if I know to expect bad weather I’m mentally prepared for it.

I checked the weather reports as always for Girona, Spain, my starting point, and Perpignan, France, my destination for the day. Both cities were to have partially cloudy mornings and it would drizzle in the afternoon in Perpignan. I’d want to try to get there early, I thought. Might as well avoid the drizzle if I can. I also checked the wind. I could have sworn I checked both cities and that they both had very minimal wind today. I was relieved. I now suspect that I checked the wind in Girona only. (more…)

Cycling Europe Days 15 & 16: Ole! Ole! Ole!

I did not organize this trip as a sight-seeing trip. I did some very basic research on each

The exhilarating road to Barcelona.

The exhilarating road to Barcelona.

city I was to pass through, copied some notes into an excel sheet, and barely read any of it. I knew that to save expenses I would need to camp frequently outside of cities and that my priority would always be to rest and eat to be ready for the next day’s cycle rather than to go see the sights.

That’s why I’m usually quite surprised when I do get to stay inside a town and I find it a wonderful place to visit.

Getting into Vilanova i la Geltru on the Mediterranean on day 14 was a big landmark day for me. I cycled from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean in two weeks! Vilanova was a lovely little quaint resort town and I stayed in a small hotel on the sea. Nothing could beat that.

The next day, day 15, I cycled on a twisting cliff-side road just over the sea. It was

My camp in El Masnou, just outside Barcelona. Shut up! I framed the picture to show only the good parts!

My camp in El Masnou, just outside Barcelona. Shut up! I framed the picture to show only the good parts!

exhilarating. I was like a child in a candy shop when it came to cycling through Barcelona. I’ve visited the city many times before but it never loses its magic. That is, until the traffic gets to you. It took FOREVER to get from one side to the other. There were too many traffic lights that turned red too many times for too many cars, busses, motorcycles, and taxis. It reminded me of Cairo’s traffic, just a bit more organized. If I were to choose one reason for never wanting to go back to Cairo again, it would be the traffic. I’m serious.

I eventually made it through Barcelona, happy I chose not to stay in it as that would have meant navigating through morning traffic the next day. I eventually arrived at my camp in a town a few kilometers outside Barcelona called El Masnou. (more…)

Cycling Europe Day 14: The Mediterranean, Baby!

It’s been two weeks since I started cycling from Lisbon, Portugal, on the west coast of

I figured this occasion was worthy enough of me stopping someone and asking them to take a picture of me - the first Proper one I have of myself on this trip.

I figured this occasion was worthy enough of me stopping someone and asking them to take a picture of me – the first Proper one I have of myself on this trip.

the Iberian Peninsula. I’ve had one rest day so far. In two weeks I cycled across Iberia from Lisbon in the west on the Atlantic Ocean to Vilanova i la Geltru on Spain’s east coast on the Mediterranean Sea. Unf#*%+ing believable!

I started my day in a bad mood. I was feeling lonely. I told my husband I wasn’t sure I wanted to keep this up on my own. He said to take it one day at a time. I rolled my eyes. I’m LONELY!

As I cycled on a gradual 40km-long incline, I thought to myself how there were advantages and disadvantages to this solo touring deal. (more…)

Cycling Europe Day 13: Everyday Stuff

Getting terribly lost a few days back evidently had its advantages. Today was the day I



was most apprehensive about before the trip. It was going to be the longest in terms of distance. But in the first few days I got lost once in the mountains and ended up cycling 156km and another time I got lost and ended up cycling 186km. Today’s 143km next to those seemed like peanuts. It’s strange how the mind works that way.

It’s all relative, though. I was thinking today that as I got on my bike this morning my friends were just starting to sit at their desks at work. And when I finished, my friends were just finishing their work and getting ready to head home. Now imagine sitting at your desk that whole time while cycling with different speeds and gradients. You do get toilet and snack breaks, but they need to be quick because every minute lost not working is added on to the end of the day. You also need to make sure your desk is within sight during your toilet and snack breaks lest someone thinks of stealing your valuable work.

I’ve been getting up just before 5am everyday. I try to sleep more but I never can. I get anxious in the mornings. I wake up, wash, start gathering all my stuff together in the panniers, and have breakfast as soon as the nearest restaurant opens. I haven’t been very happy with the breakfast portions here. Usually I’m given a croissant, some tea, and orange juice. When possible I’ll add bread or cereal or whatever I can find available. I then gear up my bike and try to be on the road around 8am. By then it’s light enough outside for me to feel safe.


Cycling Europe Day 12: The Wind

It’s so strange how the weather has changed dramatically from day to day since I



started cycling. I’ve had maybe one or two days of what I would consider comfortable weather. I’ve cycled in searing heat, pouring rain, and misty cold. Today I got gusty 29mph winds. On the autovia! I’ve learned my lesson. I’m not cycling on motorways again. It was frickin’ scary. The wind pushed me against the guardrail twice. It was so windy I had to get off my bike and walk twice – on the frickin’ motorway! – and the wind was still pushing me against the guardrail. Then when big trucks passed by I had even less control because their wind pushes me around too. Seriously never again. I don’t care if cycling on the motorway in Spain is potentially legal. It’s not for me.

I did get into Zaragoza with enough time to spare for a quick visit of the city. It’s probably the largest I’ve been to so far and is full of university students. The old part of the town, although small compared to others, is beautiful.

I’m in a hotel again. I planned to camp tonight, but when I went to the camp they gave me a cement plot that was impossible to stake a tent to. The bathroom near the grassy plots, they told me when I went back to tell them it wouldn’t work, wasn’t open. It was a great excuse for me to ask for my money back and look for a hotel. It was too cold and windy and there wasn’t anywhere other than the tent for me to take shelter. So much for budget travel. That’s pretty much been flushed down the toilet.

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. (more…)

Cycling Europe Day 8: Missing My People

As the days go by, my perceptions of distance and degree of difficulty are changing.

Toledo, Spain

Toledo, Spain

After a misunderstanding between me and my GPS the day before yesterday that led to a 156km cycle through the mountains, today’s moderately hilly 75km cycle felt like a leisurely morning ride. Leisurely is probably taking it a bit far. It was cold. It was raining. I was absolutely drenched. I decided not to wear my rain coat because it was causing me to overheat. So I dared not stop otherwise I would get unhealthily cold. There were hills. The road went up and down for most of the route. But every time I saw the next hill I’d think, “Those are normal hills like the ones in Yorkshire. I can do those.” Never would I have thought that the day would come when I’d call the rolling hills of Yorkshire, England “normal”. I HATED training on those hills. I cursed at those hills. But that’s why they are such a good training ground for cyclists. Once you become accustomed to them other hills are normal too.


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. (more…)