Dirty and exhausted I am sitting on the curb at a gas station considering my next move while devouring a sandwich. It is 5pm. I had been riding for the last seven hours and had 187km in my legs. My road bike was filthy from all the farm roads. I was in the middle of a 600km adventure cycling trip through Spain with nowhere to stay.
How did I get myself here? Why didn’t I just take the bus?
I guess the answer is that having just recently moved to Spain I was curious. Curious to to see what the country looks like beyond my daily cycling routes, curious to see how long the trip would take and just where it would take me.
It was a curiosity only an adventure cycling trip would satisfy.
I packed a tiny bag and started riding from Madrid back home to Motril on the Southern Spanish coast. I had no route planned or intermediate destinations lined up. I just left Madrid and started to ride south, completely alone and with no one else to blame but myself when things went astray.
Starting out on my solo ride across Spain
I learned very quickly that there was no such thing as a cycling route. The roads on the map all looked alike. I could not predict whether it was a gravel road or paved road. Sometimes, it changed suddenly for no reason. I had to literally create my own path. The roads ranged from paved roads to farm tracks.
Sometimes I would end up at private properties with gates high enough meant to be taken seriously, sometimes on steep gravel ramps that forced me to walk up them, but mostly on remote and rugged dirt roads that gave me a chilling and thrilling feeling. Due to the unforeseeable road conditions, I was unable to estimate how long it would take to ride the section ahead. However, too often, I still tried to predict my progress.
That was a mistake.
I just want a roof over my head
The trouble started on the third day, the toughest of them all, when I was sitting at that curb munching on my sandwich wondering about my accommodation for the night. That part of Spain was deserted, hotels few and far apart. I had the option to either stay where I was or ride for another 50 kilometres. I felt good enough to push on.
But then that paved road became a pothole-filled farm track 10 kilometres down the road. I kept going hoping the road would change back to a paved road. But not this time. Not only did it slow me down to a walking pace, it made me worried about when I would arrive and sucked the energy out of me.
I was so tired. And so worried. Would I make it before sunset?
I remembered from looking at the map there was a town, Campillo de Arenas, ahead. Maybe, just maybe, it had a hotel which just hadn’t been put online? I circled around the tiny one-road village looking for any accommodation. There was none. Wishful thinking Monika!
I had another 30 kilometres, uphill on rough terrain. I pushed on. Exhausted. Tired. Hungry. Thirsty. Beaten.
I needed food. I was longing for a shower and a roof over my head. I wanted a bed.
What was I thinking?
At that moment it was tough to explain, even to myself, why I would put myself through all this instead of taking the very convenient bus from Madrid to Motril. It stretched me completely beyond my comfort zone riding almost 600km while having trouble finding a path, getting lost, dehydrated, hungry and fatigued.
But the vulnerability of that position brings me back to the basics, to a place where I appreciate the things that truly matter.
During that kind of trip, the problems of daily life lose their significance and fundamental values gain importance. Such an adventure also gives me a huge sense of freedom and full responsibility. But exactly because of that it is also scary. I am responsible for every action and every decision I make is fully mine – even when I am getting lost and have decided on the wrong route.
This complete self reliance makes me truly feel alive. I learn more about myself. I learn how I deal with adversity, how to solve problems, how to adjust expectations and how to motivate myself throughout the day to keep going despite the strong headwind, the untimely puncture and the forced route changes.
The kindness of strangers
As a last attempt as I left the town and tried to face up to the 30 kilometres ahead I asked two people on the road, “is there a hotel in this village?”
“Nope, sorry,” was the demoralising but expected reply.
Then they started talking fast. Too fast for me to understand. I looked down gazing at the road trying not to fade away, but was not able to hide how exhausted I was.
A minute passed. One of them looked at me. “I can drive you to your hotel.” I looked up, puzzled yet relieved. I couldn’t quite believe it.
Normally I would politely decline but this time, considering my condition, I happily accepted. We loaded the bike and drove the 30 kilometres on the highway.
The sun was setting as I entered the hotel. I made it, maybe not under my own steam as planned, but I made it! I closed the door of my hotel room. Exhausted. Tired. Happy.
Day 3 of the solo Spain cycle
No place like home
It was getting through experiences like that which left me with an overwhelming feeling of satisfaction and achievement when the next day I saw the beach that signalled home and the end of my journey into the unknown.
Day 4 of the solo Spain cycle
The four-day trip was an experience the numbers cannot explain. It entailed finding a path that did not exist, withstanding meteorological forces and defying harsh terrain while intimately exploring a raw version of a new country and discovering an unedited version of myself. It taught me what really matters in life and to appreciate the little things that are easily forgotten in a world of abundance.
It was such an enriching experience that I am longing for more; a new adventure and a new excuse not to take the bus.