Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Still haulin' anchors with Radio Euskadi

Very few people are as up on the movements of Spanish travellers as Roge Blasco is. Roge is the host of "Levando Anclas" on Radio Euskadi, the Basque regional radio station; and during the Trans-Iberian, we chatted on a weekly basis about how it was going and what the challenges were.

About a month back, we had a chat (in Spanish) that sort of summarized the entire trip, and it was funny to hear the recordings that he'd made and to think back to when we were doing the trip, trying to keep the panic out of my voice as we got blasted by every storm imaginable. As I mentioned, the interview is going to be in Spanish, and I don't know if it's going to be broadcast over the internet...but here's the entry about the interview, in Roge's blog:

"Levando Anclas" is broadcast on Radio Euskadi every Sunday night at 9PM.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

One more time?

Careful, my father said when I got back to Madrid. You're going to have a tough time readjusting to being back after being on the road for a while. And he was right. As difficult a challenge as it was, being back has been an even bigger challenge: there are times when I'll be on the bus or walking somewhere in the city, and I'll look up, and my mind will temporarily timeshift and I'll think, God, not so long ago I was riding up over there. I was free, on my bike for six weeks.

It's been almost two months since I got back and I have to confess that my mind is still on being away. I've decided to go back and do the first half of the route in August, to be able to experience it and truly, truly enjoy it, doing it with friends and in much better weather. I don't know if this is going to become an addiction or just something that requires constant upkeep, but in any case, my mind is definitely set on heading back.

A couple of my favourite Pedalibre people are coming along for various parts, and during the week, it looks like I'll be able to have some days riding solo.

I've been staring at the Day Thirteen Route Sheet for the last three days and have maybe written a dozen words. Is it time to head out again?

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Why aren't these railways being turned into greenways?

A deserted cut in the forest. The shell of a formerly magnificent building, its dark-blue enamel sign dripping rusty ooze. Grass and small trees popping up among the rail ties.

Spain has almost seven thousand kilometres of railway lines that are no longer being used. I'm no expert on railways, and I know that taking on the role of activist in Spain has its limits and requires miles of patience.

But here are five chunks of disused rail lines which I've come across on my travels during the Trans-Iberian. I know the reasons that would be given for not turning these into rail trails (the usual suspect being money, money and money). But if any lines have the potential to be great destinations for cycling, these ones do. So, aside from money, where's the delay?

1. ARANDA DEL DUERO TO SORIA (about 300km)

This one, left, is the former line that used to unite the cities of Valladolid and Soria - a trail which would go through some of Spain's prettiest countryside, linking historic towns that dot the Ribera del Duero wine region.


Another of the many railways constructed to bring coal to Burgos. According to to the nice folks at Burgos en Bici, this greenway has been "en proyecto" (under development) for at least six to ten years, but as you can see here, not much seems to have been done. This greenway would serve as an ideal complement to the Vía Verde de la Sierra de la Demanda; and, along with the Camino de Santiago, would give cyclists a perfect opportunity to visit the interior of Burgos province over the weekend.

I'm going to keep taking photos of these and I'm going to get in touch with the various tourist offices to find out what's going on with these. Not all of these railway beds could run through private property. So what's the holdup? Money? Lack of public accountability? A perception that no one gives a damn?

Monday, June 2, 2008

It's all right if it sucks.

One of the things that kept me riding (and sane) throughout the trip was my weekly chat with Roge Blasco. Roge is the host of two renowned radio shows about travel, La Casa de las Palabras (The House of Words) and Levando Anclas (Hoisting Anchor) on Radio Euskadi, the Basque regional broacasting network. At the end of every week, after 9:30 in the evening, we'd talk for ten or fifteen minutes about how the trip was going. No one in Spain is as up on the movements of travellers as Roge is: you name the means of transport or the country, he knows someone who's been there and done that, but there's always a note of enthusiasm and jealousy when he interviews you. It's like at any moment you expect him to say, "Gimme a couple of hours, and I'll be there..." and for him to slam down the phone and show up at your hotel before sundown.

Yesterday we did a taping for an edition of Levando Anclas which will be broadcast in July, and Roge brought up the fact that a lot of the problems that we had on the trip were weather-related. And I thought about something that I read last week, which makes all the more sense now that I've got some space to reflect on the trip.

CNN correspondent Anderson Cooper is the cover story on this month's edition of OUTSIDE magazine. He's been a reader of the magazine for decades, and was inspired by the article to take a trip across Africa when he was barely out of his teens, and from there went on to be one of the channel's best-travelled journalists. For copyright reasons I can't clip the particular question and answer that moved me, but if you click here( and do a search for "It's supposed to suck", you'll see which one I mean.

It was a great relief to read this. It was a relief to see someone else say that it was all right if the trip didn't go perfectly, if the weather sucked or you realized that you were generally a lot happier when your travel companion went off on his own and you didn't see him for three days. It was all right to be awake at night, normally at 12:03 AM, obsessing about whether someone was going to steal your bike and leave you stranded in some lost town in Soria. (Funny, I never obsessed about breaking my neck - but the thought that someone would nick Ruby gave me more than one sleepless night.)

And Mr. Cooper is right. You learn a lot more about your own limits and your own sense of possibilities when things don't go perfectly. If you don't have adversity, you don't learn how strong you actually are, how resourceful you are and that it's all right to be alone. A woman travelling alone is not an automatic target for all the evil and crime in the world. As women we receive messages, consciously or unconsciously, that if we go down into the woods today, we're going to end up dead in a ditch somewhere, that we're just asking to be raped or attacked or God knows what. (I should get my mother to fill this part in.)

That doesn't mean that we shouldn't take precautions. But fear has limited value when undertaking something like this. If you're too fearful, everything is going to seem like a threat, rather than just crap that happens to everyone. You don't get bad weather because you're a woman travelling alone. You don't get pelted by hail because you're a woman travelling alone. Sometimes it is going to suck. You just can't take it personally.

You shrug it off, you learn, and you keep your head down and keep going.


Roge Blasco's blog (in Spanish:)

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Unfair fares: A warning about Iberia Airlines

A word of warning for those of you who are planning to bring your bikes to Spain this summer.

Iberia Airlines has started charging travellers €150 (each way) to check bikes in as luggage, even if the bicycle falls within the traveller's luggage allowance. They started charging the fee at the end of April, and from what I hear, it's not being applied to everyone who tries to check a bike in - people who travel on domestic Iberia flights don't seem to be getting hit for the extra money. But if you're coming over for whatever reason - Camino de Santiago, cycling holiday, the Trans-Iberian - be sure to check with Iberia that you're NOT going to get nailed for the fee, especially if you bought your ticket before the end of April and you wouldn't have known about the fee.

In the meantime, I'm going to find out how to get ahold of Iberia so that we either can have the fee eliminated or have Iberia's ISO 14001 rating put under revision....

UPDATE: Bingo, here it is.

Iberia Airlines of Spain
c/ Velázquez, 130
28006 Madrid
Phone: (34) 91 587 8787

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Riding or writing

Let this be a lesson for everyone who doesn't believe that you should backup your work: I'm still (yeah........STILL........) working on the Daily Route Sheets. Given that I'm also back at work (and having to make up for six weeks of not working), it's a slow process, and it's kind of embarrassing to admit that it's taking so long. Like my buddy César says - You rode it. Just write down what you rode! Ah, were it so, but for an agonizingly slow laptop which starts smoking every time I start up Google Earth....

Anyway, the first week is almost done, and for those of you who want a specific section of the route for your summer hols - feel free to write me and let me know. I'm just doing these in chronological order for the logic of going from start to finish, but if you need a specific part, write me and let me know, and I'll tackle that part next.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Here come the Route Sheets!

As much fun as it was to ride the route, it'd be a mistake to say that the work's all done. In fact, it's only begun: After the writing comes the riding.

One of the key parts of the Trans-Iberian Express is the creation of a series of maps and route sheets, in both Spanish and English, that gives cyclists the chance to do the route for themselves. This is actually a LOT more work than actually riding the route, since I've got to go back and double-check information like the names and numbers of towns and highways, phone numbers and the like, so please bear with me as I get everything up and going.

I'm aiming to have all of the days written up and posted by the end of May. If things go well (and the weather still sucks this week), I'll probably have the first week's worth of sheets done today and the first three weeks done and up by Saturday.

You can see the entire list of sheets online at:

The first week is done....
Day One: Hondarribia to Errenteria-Lezo:
Day Two: Andoain to Lekunberri:
Day Three: Lekunberri to Pamplona:
Day Four: Pamplona to Estella:
Day Five: Estella to Logroño:
Day Six: Logroño to Haro:
Day Seven: Haro to Atapuerca:
Day Eight: Atapuerca to Salas de los Infantes:
Day Nine: Salas de los Infantes to Burgo de Osma:
Day Ten: Burgo de Osma to Retortillo de Soria:
Day Eleven: Retortillo de Soria to Sigüenza
Day Twelve: Sigüenza to Brihuega (provisional - I need to find a better first half to Almedrones):
Day Thirteen: Brihuega to Morata de Tajuña:

Once the sheets have been done and translated, I'll then expand this website so that each page of the website has all the information that you need to do the route.

And, as always, please let me know if you find any mistakes or problems with the sheets!

Friday, May 9, 2008

More on the Rain: I wasn't imagining things

AEMET, the state weather agency, just released data on April's weather. I wasn't imagining things: the weather in Spain was, compared to normal, far more rainy and humid. The monthly precipitation map is on the bottom of this page (the map with green tones.)

Looking at the scale ("H" is humid, "MH" is very humid and "EH" is extremely humid), it's wild to see how those lovely dark green tones happened to coincide with where we were. April 8th and 9th, in particular, were the rainiest days of the month - the days when we happened to be going from Aranjuez to Alcázar de San Juan.....

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Back in the saddle, and it feels GOOD!

Just got back from being at my second day at work. One of my classes had no intention of working, so we took a look at the photos from the trip (thought: whoops! Hope I remembered to bring the pen drive home) and I think that there might be a chance of recruiting both César and Álvaro to come along for a weekend or two in July. Which would be cool: César's just bought a new bike, and Álvaro's always shown a bit of curiosity about cycle tourism, so one never knows.

Riding up to the north end of town today was GREAT! I never thought that I would describe riding in Madrid traffic as great, but I felt more sure and solid on the bike than I ever have in my life. It was brilliant. Nothing stressed me out, nothing made me angry, nothing freaked me out and I only had to mutter something to one pedestrian. Even got a cute traffic cop to say hello to me....The trip just whizzed by.

I wish I had the guts to try to ride out to the airport tomorrow, but I'm not sure it's such a hot idea, given that they're calling for more (insert your favourite expletive here) rain and hail tomorrow.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

1,760!!!! WE MADE IT!!!

...and for what it's worth, you actually can't go to the very, very, very southermost point in Europe because, as it turns out, the the very, very, very southermost point in Europe is actually military territory and they don't take it very well if you leave your bike there and take photos. I'm just sayin'.

So that's it: it's taken care of. It's not entirely finished yet, because I need to go back and re-sticker certain sections and take a look at other alternatives. But the ride is over, we made it safe and sound, and with the weather forecast looking good for the next couple of days, I think I'm gonna do some Tarifa-ing (i.e. park my carcass on the beach and do as little as humanly possible until it either rains or I have to go to Madrid.)

I'm not sure of what it should feel like to have done something like this. I'm not physically tired, really (although I'm glad to have a couple of days off the bike so that my hands can recuperate) but I'm not ready to go back to Madrid just yet. Mom asked me the other night if I was planning to ride back to Madrid; I said "no way", but it would be great to have the chance to try to make it back a different way. I just don't want to go back to my "normal" life yet. I don't want to have to deal with whiny students, traffic, the Metro, having to move in June, the bank, the internet provider....I just want to keep on riding, numb hands and headwinds notwithstanding....

Friday, April 25, 2008

Almost there

The fabulous and quick Roman M., a native of New Jersey who's been in Spain for over eighteen years, came to join us today, and it was a good thing that he did, because I think that the three of us would have gotten a lot more disheartened a lot more quickly had it not been for the sight of someone quicker than us going uphill out of Bolonia. There's a Force 9 wind blowing through the Straights of Gibraltar today, and while it's invaluable for keeping the sky blue, it's a right royal pain in the ass, because, as usual, we're catching it full in the face. Aggravating.

But at the same time, it was a thrill to get over the hill at San Bartolomé and see the sandy curve of the Playa de los Lances lying in front of us, along with the distant blue peaks of the Rif Mountains on the Moroccan side. Even if we were all getting blown into the guard rails....

But it's Tarifa, and if there's one thing that the Campo de Gibraltar region is known for, it's for the incessant winds which blast the living hell out of the area almost daily. Years ago, Tarifa's claim to fame was its abnormally high suicide rate, which was blamed by many people on the relentlessness of the winds which assault the region. Luckily, the tarifeños have been able to make those winds work for them, attracting windsurfers, kite surfers and electricity companies in equal measure, giving the area a measure of economic stability. And at least we're not getting rained on with the weather....but it looks like the triumphant ride to the Punta de Europa might need to wait for a day, just to be safe....

UPDATE, 13 MAY 08:
I just checked the Weather Office stats for Tarifa on the 25th of April, and it turns out that it was a Force 7 wind, not a Force 9 wind. Still, that ranks as a Near-Gale wind on the Beaufort Scale. Scary!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Flat lines

I was just waking up when Andrew came up and said that he and Randy were setting off.

"Do you know where you're going?" I asked.

"I think so," he said. "Someplace called Za-something."

"Just be safe and don't go on the highways," I muttered. And they took off.

Highways are a big problem in this part of Andalusia. The Alcorconales Nature Reserve cuts the Campo de Gibraltar area in half vertically so it's hard to get across the mountains, and while the A381 highway has removed a lot of traffic from the regional roads, there aren't that many ways of getting to the coast. Had Andrew and Randy been riding mountain bikes (and had they not been quite so determined to get an early start every day) I would have shown them the Corredor Verde de las Dos Bahías, an adapted transhumance route that links the Bay of Cádiz with the Bay of Algeciras. At 94 kilometres long, it's not the longest hiking and biking route in the area (the E4/GR7 hiking route trumps them all - almost 10,000 km between Tarifa and Athens) but it's a good alternative for non-motorized transit. On the Michelin map of Andalusia, it's shown as closed road, but it's nothing that a bike can't handle, especially if it hasn't been raining and you've got no particular desire to ride up to the town of Vejer de la Frontera.

The key to cutting this day short is to take the Corredor Verde westward just before reaching Benalup de Sidonia - Casas Viejas, cross the regional road and instead of turning left to go southward, keep following the cañada real straight on until you reach the N340 highway before Tahivilla. This cuts the day down from over 70 km to just under 50 - providing, of course, you're equipped for offroad riding. You go through irrigated fields of wheat and crops, and no one seems surprised or offended if you're on a bike (though a German couple attempting the route on a Vespa got some strange looks from the local farmers.)

One note, though - there's no shade whatsoever, so make sure you've plastered your shoulders well with sunscreen. I didn't. Ah well, at least I know that the sunburn will keep that sleeping bag toasty warm tonight....