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The trip started around the corner from my friend Lena’s squat, at the public library. It was one of the few times in Catalunya I sensed animosity for speaking in Castellano (regular Spanish)
– this anciano behind the desk didn’t humor me at all, and I only caught little snippets of his directions in Catalan. It’s crucial that the language – and hence the culture – stays alive, don’t get me wrong, but to my ear, it sounds like a mutant Italian-Spanish biogenetic tongue experiment, aborted and carved out of the mouth. Thankfully he drew the route on my map.
Once out of Valldoreix village it was up to me, though. I explored a gravel forest track over a huge hill(a bit taxing on day one), found my way out the other side onto the farm road, into another village(from the back where they don’t post road signs), and finally onto the N-340 to Vilafranca del Penedï¿½s.
The elevation started rising, interrupted by short descents to let me know I was still climbing. The hills were one thing – the word “Sierra” was written all over my maps – but I can handle mountains. Just put it in low gear and push on over; besides, what goes up must come down. But that wind! The wind was the first thing, the worst thing. For five days I dodged tumbleweeds and gusts; five days of headwind, five days of wind in my face, filling my cheeks and drying my eyeballs, robbing me of downhills and turning climbs into nightmares, never letting up…. After five days I learned: this wind has a name. El Cierzo, with a capital C, cruel Eastward product of Iberian weather patterns. Ugh. The only thing going in my direction were the wind turbines. I had to cackle like a crazy person when I saw the newspaper celebrating the first time ever in Spain that ecological energy beat out the rest, for five hours on a Sunday morning. Yeah I remember that Sunday morning, it was hell….
Besides that, it was freakin’ cold (my air mattress has a half-hour leak and I left my winter hat and scarf back in Croatian summer), but it was nothing compared to last winter in Scotland; and I am from Wisconsin, after all.
I took my refuge in cafe-bars and behind boulder ridges, drinking cafï¿½ con leche and peeling mandarins. I sold my first drawing ever, for the price of my coffee, in a freak colored-pencil accident — they saw me taking a thistle sketch and mistook me for an artist. Once I was treated to piping hot bean stew and home-made wine that left a smile on my face even in the cold November drizzle. Once I begged an old man for the sanctuary of a straw-strewn sheep corral, and penned a letter by the light of a vine-wood fire. Several times I was shunned by timid villagers with a “Not here, keep going” or a “Get out of my town” but I found the public library anyway. Every day my Spanish improved, every day I got a little closer to Madrid. And always, as always, the adventure grew inside.
Eventually the wind calmed down and the mountains were replaced by hills; I had reached the high plateau of Castilla la Mancha, Don Quixote’s celestial stomping grounds. For the last week or so all I had to really worry about were frozen toes, internet access, and the worsening condition of my valiant steed….
It was the tires, mostly, though the fork threads had actually all stripped and my front rack was tied on with a baling-twine tournequet…. Okay, that could’ve been a disaster, but I’ve got enough tricks up my sleeve to keep fifteen kilos afloat for six days, so no, really it was mostly the tires.
The front tire, to be precise.
Leaving Madison with this tire was almost an ancestral memory. Long ago, it was already old. Rubber riding surface was a luxury of the past, disintegrated into a ragged missing strip; for months I had been riding on the kevlar alone. The puncture resistance was certainly suffering, and with inreasing frequency I had to resuscitate, stitching a sidewall hole, reapplying duct tape to rusty exposed bead edges, or installing emergency “boots,” as they’re called: a temporary layer of material under an exacerbated wound in the tire, to keep the inner tube from bulging out and exploding.
This tire worried my father, all the way in Wisconsin; it caused friction on the road with Lily; it caused innumerable flats and required thousands of strokes with my old Roadie pump. People cringed when they saw it, mechanics refused to fully pressurize it. But I wasn’t worried about its condition — I had developed an intimate trust in it. What I was worried about was giving it the respect it deserved; allowing the story to write itself naturally. Like lovers, we had carried each other, through so much, so very far. I wasn’t ready to let go. Her grave was waiting in Madrid, i to je to.
It was a close one.
At least once a day, there was a problem with the tire; constantly I was forced to apply ingenuity, not to mention patches, just to keep going. About three hundred kilometers from Madrid, I started to sense the climax of this story surrounding me. My hi-pressure frame pump had given up the ghost a few days earlier and I was on to using the leaky back-up pump. For the first time I began to wonder what in the world I would do if I couldn’t bring her back to life; not a comfortable thought, especially when I refuse to use motor vehicles.
The pressure of the situation gradually coalesced to a single point: two of the larger holes in the riding surface, right next to each other, finally joined together with one sharp *POP*
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Boots of plastic, paper, and cardboard, rubber boots of folded inner tube and craft swatches, layered boots of duct tape and rim tape — they had all become insufficient, even in combination stacks. I sat there in the orange dust of the Castilla scrub, searching through various bags and repair kits, assembling all my options for the repair. Nothing seemed tough enough to hold the tube inside the tire for more than a few kilometers of heavily-loaded road wear. I sat calmly with that particular uncertainty, breathing back pushy wisps of potential disaster, and meanwhile installed my biggest patch over the ragged thumb-sized hole in the tube.
Then I remembered: back in Caminreal, I had found a ripped leather wallet while looking in a dumpster for useful goodies! Relief! There’s a cosmic reason for everything, it’s all connected, and now this wallet’s destiny was revealed. With a giggle, thinking of Bob Dylan’s song, I set to work fashioning a pair of boots for my front tire; a double layer to take me to my destination.
Serendipity lasted, happily pedalling in tune with “Spanish boots of … Spaaaanish leather” — but only for about fifty kilometers. Unfortunately, it turns out leather isn’t the best material to withstand extended use either. No wonder they don’t make tires out of leather….
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Before another dangerous blowout could occur, I set aside all cute notions of universal harmony and buckled down to hard practical truth. If I didn’t find a working solution, I wouldn’t even make it to Madrid, i to je to.
The real fix was easy to find, a common sight on the shoulders of highways world-wide: car tire. What else? I installed a scrap of busted semi-truck rubber in there – now this is definitely made to withstand road wear. It was so thick I had to sew it in place with needle and thread, and for the remainder of the trip it transmitted a disconcerting thump-thump-thump-thump through the whole rig, but it worked.
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I made it to Madrid.
Seven months later than I had “planned,” back in Paris, but I’m here.
Y estoy muy bien colocado aquï¿½ con Ricarda y amigos, me han dado mi propio cuarto, cenas fabulosas, todo apoyo y buen rollo VENGA
My bags are empty, my gear spread to every corner of my room. I’ve been holed up working on Priority One – African visas – but I’ve had a chance to get out into the bike scene here in Madtown-Madrid, and in between… well, I’ve been busy enough! I’ll just copy the huge to-do list I wrote on the back of my map — last chance in Europe….
[some items have been crossed off – NOV 30]
maps to Marruecos
Ciclos Delicias – job?!?
bici crï¿½tica THU NOV 26
contact Spanish press – parasaber.com
visit internet friends
Leukemia & Lymphoma Society
www.bicycle4earth.org – organize & familiarize
-decoration for bike
translate newspaper articles – Croatia, Italy
scan newspaper articles
update email list
collect world MP3s – email requests
organize Zen player
craft origami book
make waterbottle netting
Couchsurfing invites / info – fax?
embassy – info(free) meeting possible?
APPT – Algeria
haircut / beard trim
sailboat — Maroc
schools — Arabï¿½
travel insurance policy
f. rack solution – reform rack?
spare brackets prepared w/bolts
install tires w/ new tubes
HB tape – crisscross?
panniers -patch holes
-bike earth patch
tent -mosquito net patch
Dutch Sampson patch kit box
bicycle earth flag
HB tape – black
bota del paï¿½s basque
cork for weird little bottle
purple fabric for pants
beer cardboard for dictionary cover
Thanks to Ricarda, Manuel, and Nico for holding my mail for so long and for putting me up so nicely; thanks to everyone who sent me mail — it really helps! And thanks to you all for reading! More writings en camino!
Amor y Gozo, Love and Joy,
old website where my caveman brain can figure out how to upload photos : http://www.crazyguyonabike.com/doc/worldtour07
videos : http://www.youtube.com/user/worldbiketour07