Spain – Cycling the Picos de Europa
Our wooden windows swung open to reveal the grey knife like cliffs of the Massif Central of the Picos de Europa soaring thousands of feet skyward around us. Through the window flower box the cool air of the valley drifted in with white daisies waving good morning on the hillside. In the distance the jingle of the cowbells continued.
Hubby and I had started out earlier than the rest of the cycling group the day prior.
Why were we leaving early you ask? The day included 50 kms of continual climbing, a total of 1500 meters elevation over two mountain passes, before descending into the little village of Posada de Valdeon, nestled in with its mountains as protectors. As a slower cyclist I am very cautious about ensuring I stay on track. The idea of adding extra distance to a day via a wrong turn conjures up feelings similar to that of the anticipation of a root canal.
For the first 20 kms we rode along the beautiful River Sella, the climbing quite gradual, the quiet of the morning and constant shade of the deepening gorge ever present.
The stone covered in moss and vines, the babbling of the water below and still an occasional palm tree, as if not wanting to quite give way to the deciduous forests overtaking the backdrop, were spotted on the roadside.
What followed was 30 kms of steady, zigzagging and now more challenging climbing.
The group spread out with Chuck and Judy, the owners of Nichols Expeditions bringing up the rear. They refer to it as sweeping, that is to pick up any pieces that fall by the wayside, riders such as myself in particular. The local Spanish guide scurried via support van from the front of the group to the back over and over to check in with all riders.
Each time she would come to me and with a big smile leaning out out of the driver’s window would declare “Sue! You are doing so good!” I believe that translated to “I am so pleased you are still alive and I haven’t needed to call for an ambulance!”
Again many of you reading might ask what why in heavens name would you want to do such a thing on vacation? One has a lot of time to reflect during such an experience; for me and my trusty cheerleader husband, about 5 hours. What comes up over and over if the feeling of gratitude.
Gratitude to be surrounded by such spectacular scenery, gratitude for shade; there may be nothing so fabulous as the coolness of shade when slogging up a mountain via two wheels in the sun.
Coming around a corner to find a stretch of road darkened by overhanging tree, to feel the coolness on sweaty skin that seems close to spontaneous combustion; this perhaps defines gratitude.
We spoke thankfully about being healthy enough to accomplish such a thing, to have the mental toughness to get through it and to have a life partner who is happy to endlessly cheer on the effort.
At 49.75 kms, according to the odometer on my bike, we reached the summit. Stumbling giddily off my bike I lovingly wrapped my arms around a road sign indicating a 9 percent grade descent into the valley was about to begin.
As I kissed the triangular sign I thought this sight could be a poster image of gratitude. Or perhaps it could be the poster of someone who has become delusional with exhaustion. Take your pick.
What is your idea of vacation?