The non-Guardian reader campsite (see cycling day 39) provided me with a supermarket evening feast which I ate whilst sitting in the tent as I failed miserably in my attempt to find a chair upon which to sit and do the same thing. At least I was spared the stares of the other campers as they wondered upon my choice of cheese spread and baguette as they made their way to their own sumptuous evening meals in their own luxurious campsite installations (as I had experienced myself when staying overnight with the Cockers the night before). There was an annoying family quite close by who had children who insisted upon screaming at the top of their Spanish voices and parents who appeared (to the extent that these things can be deduced from sitting in a windowless tent whilst eating Philadelphia cheese) to be egging them on to do so. That racket finally died down shortly after midnight and then the music from ??? started. By about 2am all was however quiet and I did manage to get some sleep but at 7am I was up and out of the tent trying to stretch out of my body the aches that seem to be a standard consequence of sleeping on a camping matt. Is it just me? I was tempted to go around to the caravan with the screaming children and start screaming myself. This may not have gone down so well I fear. Added to that I had no idea which caravan it was so screaming random things next to a random caravan would have probably seen me carted off to the local psychiatric institution.
I packed quickly and by 8am was outside the campsite reception wondering what the day would bring forth. Before having emerged from the tent I had consulted the WarmShowers (if you having been paying attention, that’s the social media website for accommodation aimed at travelling cyclists) app and it told me that, as the crow flys, the people offering accommodation in Valencia – there we quite a few – were 235km from the campsite. The coastline between Tarragona and Valencia is the route a crow would take (its a straight line) so I ignored the usual twists and turns of the road and tweeted that I would cycle for 120km and then do the same thing on Sunday to arrive in Valencia at the end of the weekend. I knew that I was in for two boring rides. It would be the same road – the N340 – that I had used to cycle to Tarragona on the previous day and I knew that the sites on this stretch of coast would be no better than they had been on Friday. With only a modicum of enthusiasm I set off for a weekend of cycling drudgery.
My early 8am start and the condition of the roads in the first couple of hours of the day – flat and quiet – helped me in putting quite a few kilometres between me and the screaming kids back at the campsite (I could still hear them until about 25km into the ride). In fact by 10:30am I had already clocked up 50km. I usually managed that by around lunchtime and I started to wonder just how far I might cycle before grabbing myself something to eat at around 1pm. The 100km point came at just before 1pm. I was cycling at a rate of about 50km every two and a half hours. From my CatEye (old-style) cycling computer I could see that my average speed was very close to 25km/hr. The rest of the time was made up with stops for drinks and snacks and the fact that during the first hour of cycling through Tarragona my urban speed had been considerably dented by all the traffic lights and junctions. The signs by the road were telling me that Valencia was about 170km away and that the town of Castello (which at that time was looking like the most likely place to pause overnight between the two days of cycling drudgery) was about 100km down the road. As I continued to cycle my mind was playing around with the statistics of cycling and I worked out that if I were able to maintain the same average speed in the afternoon as I had done in the morning then I should be hitting 150km by 3:30pm and then 100km by 6pm. That didn’t really leave me with much time to continue and finish the cycle in Valencia (if only!) before night fell but I kept up the effort. Focussing my mind upon the cycling was a distraction from watching the road and the uninspiring scenery when I was able to see it through the urban sprawl along the coastline. Apart from the hills to my right the views beyond the urban sprawl was just more urban sprawl. From a distance, things tend to look more beautiful than they do from close up Have you ever seen a video taken from a helicopter that doesn’t make the land below look green and pleasant? Even the horrible, disease-ridden campsite with the naked Peter from Family Guy that I stayed in on the Croatian island of Pag a few weeks ago looked like a holiday idyll from high on the hill. If the distance view of the places on the coast wasn’t good – monotonous grey high-rise apart,net blocks and hotels – that didn’t bode well for how they looked close up. I was perhaps lucky to be stuck on the road after all.
To further keep myself amused I made a pledge that if I were able to reach 200km (probably somewhere near Castello) before 5pm I would continue all the way to Valencia and treat myself with a day off in a city that I had never visited before. As late afternoon progressed my mental calculations told me that, actually, there was a real possibility of me clocking up 200km before 5pm and this kept me motivated. As the clocks along the Costas of Spain struck 5, I had in fact cycled 201.5km. Valencia was on!
I hadn’t formally paused for a meal break, just numerous shorter stops, all at petrol stations apart from the very first stop of the day in Tarragona where I paused for breakfast outside a cake shop and bought some kind of meat roll. Two of them. I was surprised to find that the meat was actually thick chocolate Perhaps that was the secret to my epic cycling day that lay ahead… But shortly after 5pm I did need to stop and sit down for a while so I chose… another petrol station of course! I also needed to sort out my accommodation and as I was aiming to have a day off in a big city, following my usual rule, it was back to being in a nice hotel. Damn… I sorted that quite quickly using Booking.com (they should be sponsoring this ride) finding a reasonably-priced with the word ‘Botanic’ in the title which made me think ’boutique’ and took a longer break to stretch, rehydrate and, frankly, to not have my arse sitting on a bicycle saddle for an extended period of time. Even a Brooks saddle doesn’t offer comfort if you are spending 10 plus hours with your body weight directly upon it. And then I was off again, with renewed energy to make it all the way to Valencia.
Almost inevitably the road, yes, my dear friend the N340, ejected me and Reggie shortly after Sagunt and I called upon the directional skills of Google Maps to help me fathom a way into the centre of the city. Curiously this initially sent me on a 2km trek along the service roads needed to tender to the orange plantations north of Valencia which if nothing else was an interesting diversion (probably the first of the day). But it eventually did the job it was made for and there before me was another sign for the N340, now having reverted back to being a simple single carriageway road. The N340 just didn’t have ‘autovia’ in its DNA.
I had thought that 8pm would be my arrival time in the city centre but (yet again) the suburbs of a big city took their toll and traffic light after traffic light (and one level crossing) held me back. By this point I was now chomping at the bit and simply wanted to eat, drink and be happy in a comfortable hotel bedroom. Then I noticed a missed call. I rang back and it was the ‘Botanic’ place. There was a problem with the air-conditioning in my room and they had been obliged to move me to another hotel. Didn’t believe a word of it. They had clearly not seen the email from Booking.com in time and let the one remaining room to someone who had walked off the streets. Bastards. There goes my boutique hotel. They had, however, booked me into the (less sounding like a boutique) Hotel Dimar, a ‘luxury’ place in the city centre. Mmm… Did I believe that either? The chap on the phone emphasised just how luxury it was by listing the facilities. OK! Stop!
My iPhone directions escorted me to the front door of the hotel and after the usual kerfuffel with the bike and the people on reception straining to give facial expressions that say ‘yes, we love having people coming to stay with us on filthy bikes and wearing clothes that should really be put in the refuse’, I booked in, ate takeaway pizza and a large bottle of beer and rejoiced in having turned two dreary, dull, forgettable days of cycling into one memorable epic one of 275km. The day off in Valencia is my just reward.
*By far, the longest ever cycle ride of my life!