Back in the Saddle, and Feeling It

Sunday, March 12, was our first day back in the bicycle saddle. We’re starting a multi-month cycling tour that starts in southern Spain, takes us to Morocco for a few weeks, then back to Spain for a bit, and then on to … France? Ireland? Unlike our TransAmerica ride from San Francisco to Maine, where our goal was to cross the American continent, here our goal is to ride in interesting places and if it means sometimes loading our bikes on ferries, trains or buses to skip the boring (or really hard) parts, that’s okay.

View of Álora, Spain. Citrus orchards in the foreground

Our first day of cycling in Europe was interesting. A little bit of everything. Not all of it what we wanted. Our goal was to ride from Málaga, Spain to El Chorro, Spain. A 34 mile jaunt that would take us from the uber-beach resort areas of southern Spain and up into the beautiful countryside of the Andalusia area of Spain.

We noticed a few things about cycling here in Europe (or, at least, in southern Spain) that differ from the US:

  • There are no dedicated bike lanes along country roads. And rarely any kind of shoulder. On the other hand, drivers are incredibly courteous. They slow down and will wait for a good place to pass. And then they give us a nice wide berth.
  • While there are dedicated bike lanes in the city of Málaga, they’re almost always on the sidewalk. Although this usually worked fine, lots of pedestrians tend to ignore the bike lanes so we got plenty of practice ringing our bike bells.
  • There’s no interaction between folks riding bicycles and and motorcycles. In the US we got used to always waving to bikers as they roared past. Here folks riding motorcycles don’t acknowledge cyclists at all.
  • Apparently, not many people do cycle touring. While we notice some folks do a “double take” when they see our bikes, no one is gawking at us, but that’s mostly because we don’t have anywhere near as much gear on our bikes as we did for the TransAm. (I’ll be doing a post about our gear soon.)

Once we finally left the urban sprawl around Málaga, the landscape has proved to be absolutely beautiful and what we hoped for. It’s such an amazing experience to cycle past orange and lemon orchards and breath the almost giddying aroma of these trees’ blossoms. I wish we could bottle the aroma to share it with you all.

Over-optimistic First Day

Our first day of cycling proved to be both rewarding and much more challenging that we’d hoped/planned. We ended up doing just under 36 miles (35.8) and just under 2,000 feet of climbing (1,968). That would have been a decent but not challenging day for us part way through our TransAm. After more than 5 months without any cycling, ouch! Our tender parts were really tender half way through the day and Joy was in such pain by the end that she sometimes walked her bike to give herself a break.

We also realized that we need to re-learn a bunch of things that had become second nature to us. Three examples:

  • Always refilling our water bottles whenever we stop at a gas station or restaurant
  • Constantly eating small amounts so we don’t hit energy troughs
  • Learning when to pass or to slow down so I don’t ride up Joy’s butt on steep climbs

The day would have been tough enough as it was, but it turns out that we also had to battle 23mph headwinds that sometimes gusted sideways. At one point the wind pushed me off the roadbed. Fortunately it was only a two inch drop into grass so I didn’t wipe out. And, of course, Google Map Lady sent us up a series of back roads that turned into rutted, rocky farm tracks that were so steep we had to push the bikes through lemon and orange orchards for a few miles. And when we reached the top of the hill Google Map Lady told us to turn left onto active railroad tracks. I stood on the tracks and had a momentary temper tantrum until we discovered the hidden dirt path on the other side of the tracks.

Keeping Track of Our Progress

TrackmyTourDay1As with our TransAm, we’ll be using Track My Tour to flag key waypoints along the way. Here’s a link to the map for this adventure: Click here to TrackMyTour!


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