At Fort Lauderdale airport I got my bag and bike checked in with no problems and I settled in to wait for my flight to Madrid. It was delayed about an hour but I wasn’t bothered as I had a long layover in Copenhagen, sitting in the departures lounge in Florida as opposed to Denmark wouldn’t make a difference.
In the end the flight was fine and I slept and read my way across the Atlantic. I then sat around in Denmark writing my blog and waiting for my connection. Unfortunately this part was delayed as well, I was more annoyed about this as my flight was arriving in the late evening and any delay would eat into sleeping time on the ground.
When I finally arrived in Madrid it was gone midnight and I was numb with tiredness. Unfortunately I had a bike to assemble and some bags to pack before I would be comfortable sleeping, not that I was even sure I would be able to drop off.
Normally when I fly with my bike I try and do as little as possible to it before putting it in a box. Just remove the handlebars, pedals and front wheel. The only problems this normally creates are finding a box the right size.
In Boca Raton I’d had trouble finding a correctly sized box so I had decided to use a local bike shop’s packing service so I wouldn’t have to mess about all day like I did in Japan.
When dropping my bike off at Bike America, as the shop was called, I checked they’d have a correctly sized box given that I only wanted the wheel and handlebars taken off. I was assured they would.
Imagine my surprise when I picked it up and they’d not been able to find an adequately sized box. Instead they’d disassembled the whole front end of the bicycle removing the front racks, light and mudguard as well as rotating the fork and taking out the part my bar bag attaches to. Bolts had been undone that had not turned since the bike was assembled.
Which would have been fine, if, as they seemed to have assumed, I would be getting it put back together at a another bike shop in Madrid.
This was not the case of course. I would be reassembling my bike myself in an airport starting at midnight having slept very little.
This was not the moment to be relearning how to adjust a headset or for finding out how my front racks actually attach for the first time. It was definitely not the time to find out that all three of my bottle cages had been removed for some reason as well. It really really wasn’t the time to find out that they’d lost one of the stem bolts that holds my headset together…
Luckily the only spare bolt I was carrying, which was for attaching my saddle happened to fit. I was only carrying this as the bike shop I used in Thailand (they found a box the right size, as did the shops in Kazakhstan and India) gave me one in case of emergency as I’d worn down my first with use.
I don’t know what I would have done without it. Mainly because I have no idea what happens if you try and ride with that stem bolt missing. It might be fine, it might not be; these are the kind of things you don’t want to experiment with in an uncontrolled environment.
In the end after reattaching everything, removing all the useless bubble wrap (my bike is so scratched anyway I wouldn’t have noticed a few more and its frame is so tough that the kind of force needed to damage it won’t be stopped by a few layers of wrapping) and packing my panniers it was about four hours later.
I just wanted to drop into a bed and sleep forever. Sadly there weren’t any beds to hand so I put some air in my sleeping pad and tried to get some sleep in arrivals under some stairs.
I may have dozed a few minutes, maybe not. All too soon it got too cold to sleep as an automatic door deactivated for the night was put back into service.
I decided it was time to prepare to leave and got changed and generally faffed about to try and waste some time before daylight arrived which was at the very late time of eight.
In the end I got bored waiting and I felt riding might wake me up a little, so I left in the dark. It was cold, probably a little below freezing and the roads immediately outside the airport were definitely not designed for cycling.
To top it off you only got half an hour free Internet in Madrid airport which I’d used to put my route into Googlemaps. Sadly I’d then dropped my phone causing it to switch off and lose the route.
I thus wasn’t exactly sure which way I was going or what roads I could ride on. In the end I just followed signs for Zaragoza, my first destination in Spain and hoped for the best.
This took me on roads a little busier than I would have liked but they at least seemed to be sending me in the right direction. Then I heard a strange noise from my front wheel, like a slapping. This happened a couple of times before I was a able to stop. I looked over my handlebars and pulled out a massive spring from my front tyre. Any hope I didn’t have a puncture disappeared with the audible hissing as air escaped from the hole the sharp metal had created.
I wasn’t exactly in the mood for changing a tyre by a busy road in the freezing cold with jet lag but as no one seemed to be offering to do it for me I did.
This is probably the moment on the trip where I’ve come closest to quitting. I just wasn’t enjoying myself in the slightest. If someone had pulled up and offered to drive me and my bike to England I’d have accepted in a flash.
Before when I’d taken lifts it had been to get out of difficulty and there had been no question of ending the trip. Now I was just fed up with the whole thing and I was regretting flying to Madrid rather than London. All I could see ahead of me was a month of freezing cold miserable cycling.
Luckily no one pulled up to offer a lift and I was forced to stop feeling sorry for myself and change the inner tube and continue.
The sun then came out, brightening up the day and gradually warning me up. I was able to follow the service roads alongside a motorway meaning I knew I was definitely going in the right direction, albeit not on the scenic route.
As I continued on my body passed into another cycle and I felt less numb with tiredness and more up for the challenge.
So on I rode into northern Spain and as I got further from Madrid the scenery improved as I gradually left behind the depressing urban sprawl that surrounds most major European cities.
There were even snow capped peaks off in the distance which cheered me up more.
In order to make sure I didn’t forget which country I was in, the Spanish had helpfully erected huge silhouettes of bulls.
They’d made sure you knew it was definitely a bull not a cow as well.
It was nice being back in Europe, there is a lot to see when riding and while there may not be a castle or church on every hill there is still a high ratio of scenic buildings to elevated areas.
After a few kilometres the service road had ended and I’d begun riding on the autovia itself. I had no idea if this was permitted, there were no signs, so I decided to wait and see if I was stopped to find out.
I made it to the evening none the wiser and so I had to choose where to rest my weary head, which was very very weary.
I decided I’d get a hotel room for two main reasons: firstly I was really jet lagged and wanted to make sure I could sleep comfortably as long as needed and secondly I was at over 1100m (3600ft) and it was really rather chilly.
Coincidentally the hotel at the point where I wanted to stop was a motel so I hadn’t quite left America behind. That said it was of course fairly different from American motels in that it had far less amenities. Thankfully it was also far cheaper.
The motel turned out to be a good idea as I slept like a baby for over 12 hours which is the longest I can remember sleeping in years!
I woke late in the morning feeling far better and fully up for riding all the way home.
I was about a million times chirpier than at the same time yesterday and was unphased even by the chill. I breakfasted on a Spanish potato tortilla at the restaurant that was part of the motel. I then set off to make some kilometres.
This went well as the road was good and their wasn’t too much wind. At this altitude I would see occasional patches of snow left over from previous falls.
The landscape was fairly barren and sere up here and it reminded me of Arizona and New Mexico. I hadn’t realised Europe has land like this.
The road I was on allowed me to come off the motorway and pass through small villages before rejoining letting me see some of the inhabited areas while maintaining some pace.
It was as I rejoined the motorway from one of these villages that I thought my time on the motorway was ended. There was a police car waiting for me at the on ramp. I wasn’t sure what I’d do if they said I couldn’t continue on this road as I couldn’t see another way that didn’t involve taking minor roads off in strange directions.
So it was with some trepidation that I approached the police car ready to be sent back.
Luckily they weren’t concerned about my choice of road, unluckily they were interested in my choice of attire. Apparently in Spain it’s the law that cyclists must wear reflective clothing and a helmet when riding.
The helmet I had, reflective clothing I was sadly lacking. In fact I was pretty matte, as I was all in black.
I didn’t have anything reflective either, so I thought quickly and asked if I could wear my white cycle jersey outside my other clothes as that was the brightest thing I had. This seemed to satisfy them, so I rode off looking like an overweight man as my other layers bulged beneath the jersey.
I’d forgotten about Europe’s love of health and safety but at least the Spanish were happy for me ride on a busy highway!
After a few hours on the motorway a secondary road began to run alongside it and as I was making good time to Zaragoza, which I needed to reach the next day as I’d arranged a warmshowers.org host, I started to use this.
It wound through pretty villages and as I’d descended somewhat there were more trees as well as the obligatory historic buildings on hills.
It was all in all a lovely day.
That evening I’d pass through the town of Calatuyud and camp on the wooded slopes above the road I was riding on.
It was cold much but much warmer than the night before so I spent a pleasant night under canvas. I had a meal similar to those I’d eaten in America, with canned ravioli and a kilo of yogurt I’d picked up from an Aldi. I’d also managed to find some camping gas at a decathlon the day before so the ravioli was heated.
The next morning my tent was wonderfully dry so I didn’t need to worry about airing it. I rolled off happily in the direction of Zaragoza hoping to make it there relatively early. Annoyingly the wind had other ideas and i suffered from a terrible crosswind for most of the day. Except for about ten minutes when the road curved and I briefly experienced that happy feeling of being pushed down the road.
That day I started off in some beautiful hills riding on the secondary road still. This curved round the shape of the land above the motorway which would go through obstacles where possible.
After a while I came out of the hills and was in a more expansive desert like landscape where the wind really made itself known. I was lucky it was coming from my left or I would have been afraid of being swept into rather than off the road.
I eventually reached Zaragoza a bit later in the afternoon than I had expected and was swiftly given a reminder of how nerve wracking riding into European cities can be when you are unprepared. The cycle maps function on googlemaps doesn’t work in Spain for some reason so I had to follow any old road in, which meant I ended up on some very busy ones. In America getting into cities hadn’t been a problem as I was always on the best roads for cycling.
After a hair raising few kilometres I popped out into the city’s centre, or downtown if you prefer. Here I was reminded how complex old European cities can be and Zaragoza is old (over two millennia apparently). The city wasn’t planned and the roads certainly weren’t. There were random one way streets and roads that seemed to be only for taxis or buses and everything seemed terribly narrow after America. In the end I got off and pushed so as not to go the wrong way up a one way. Then I was reminded that European city centres are often very dense so I wasn’t that far from my destination anyway.
And while they may be hard to navigate European cities are also often very beautiful and Zaragoza was no exception with beautiful buildings around every corner.
Including the bull ring:
My host had told me to call him when I got to Zaragoza and we would then possibly meet at a cycling social club where his roommate worked. As I didn’t have a phone and wifi is much harder to find in Spain than America I went straight to La Cicleria which was also a mechanics shop as well as a social club/cafe.
Here I met Daniel, the roommate of my host. Daniel was kind enough to help me with my rear hub and tuning my brakes, which was why I headed here first. Both of these things I had asked Bike America to do before I flew out of America but in their eagerness to stuff my bike in too small a box they appeared to have completely forgotten to do anything else I asked.
Disassembling my hub, Daniel was able to explain that certain things were not good, it was easy to see from the wear inside why my rear wheel was rocking from side to side when it wasn’t supposed to, 35,000km with heavy bags will do that. With some spare parts they had lying around Daniel was able to replace some of the more badly worn parts of the hub without too much trouble and hopefully it should now get me home to England!
I then headed over to meet Sylvain my French host.
At Sylvain’s, as I got my bicycle up the fourth floor, I was reminded of another big Euro to USA difference. In Europe it’s common to live in high apartments, in the USA houses are more prevalent, at least where I rode. Houses are definitely more convenient!