Apologies for the lack of text to go with the pictures when I initially posted about cycling day 43. If I had written anything late last night it would have been rambling gibberish (‘no change there then’ I hear you cry!) as a result of the quantity of red wine consumed with my neighbours at Camping Peñascosa. More of that later. If I can remember…
I was a grumpy cyclist as I made my way back down the N322 from Albacete, retracing my exasperated steps from the previous evening. I had made the decision to abandon the Via Verde due to the unsatisfactory nature of the ground – often just rubble – and had resigned myself to cycling on the road all the way to Alcaraz and perhaps beyond. I could, however, win awards in the National Fickleness Championships (held annually in Brighton but they always change their mind so it ends up being in a different seaside resort every year…) and after a night’s sleep and, more influentially, a 20km cycle along the N322 which seemed far busier than it had the previous afternoon, I decided to give the Via Verde a second chance. In fact so desperate was I to get back onto the traffic-free route that my first attempt ended in abject failure as I found myself navigating a way through farmers’ fields sending rabbits scooting across the path in front of me and game birds excitedly escaping from the undergrowth near where I was cycling. It was almost like a shoot-themed episode of Downton Abbey. All that was missing were a few withering put downs by the dowager Countess of Grantham. As ever, I digress…
I did eventually refind the Via Verde only to be directed back to the road as a deviation had been put in place at the point where I happened to stop on cycling day 42. I simply hadn’t noticed it at the time. Once the deviation was over and after a couple of kilometres the surface of the track did dramatically improve and I could at least enjoy being on a traffic-free cycle path. Well, an everything-free cycle track as it was just me and Reggie enjoying the embankments, the cuttings, the long tunnels (some lit, others not so apart from my own cycle lamp) and at the very end of the route some spectacular viaducts. I paused for lunch at Los Chopses in the unimaginatively-named Bar Los Chopses where a cheerfully rotund woman who spoke no English (few people seem to do so away from the coastal areas) served me up a wonderful ham and cheese sandwich followed by an ice-cream. When I went to pay I entered the bar itself where men of all ages were jabbering away; it was clear however who was in charge. I liked her style and she left me feeling not just fully-fed but also a bit more positive towards the Spanish system of the women doing the work while the men just laze around and expect to be waited upon.
My mood at the very end of the Via Verde was in marked contrast to the mood in which I had started the day. When I arrived at the final panel informing me that the route had ended I consulted the website that also told me that there were plans to extend the ‘greenway’ for a further 30km through the Sierra de Alcaraz mountains. I hope they do but in the current economic climate I would imagine its not anywhere near top of the list of priorities for the Spanish authorities to do so.
As I turned to make my way across the gravel which joined the cycle track to the road, the gods of the Via Verde were keen to punish me for my comments about the first section of the route from Albacete (see cycling day 42). With my feet clipped into the SPD pedals I set off but in the deep gravel Reggie didn’t and with no time to unclip myself I fell flatly onto the ground with a bump. My first cycling accident of the trip but apart from a bruised thigh, no harm done.
It was still only about 4pm and I wondered about continuing down the N322 towards the Parque Nutural de las Sierras, its lakes and its campsites. Reason got the better of me however and when I realised that I was not yet on the N322 but on the road that went to Peñascosa where my map indicated that there was a campsite, I decided to bring the cycling day to a close and cycle up the hill to the village. After only a few metres the campsite was advertised & it was a mere 5km away, well before the village itself. Wonderful!
9km later, just after the village, I finally arrived at the campsite. If ever I had wanted to be fluent in Spanish it was upon the moment of arrival. How satisfying it would have been to make some clever sarcastic comment about how the lying bastards had put 5km on their sign but in reality it was nearly double that. I think I’m going to sign up for evening classes when I get back to Britain, book a two week stay at the campsite for next year and have my opening withering line all prepared. Or perhaps not.
Bringing a mallet was never on the list of equipment. Just too heavy I’m afraid and actually, it’s a good way to break the ice with your neighbours. I try to pick the people near my tent who look like the most interesting to talk to rather than those who are most likely to have a mallet. It usually works (and you would be amazed how many people who don’t have tents – just caravans or camper vans – have a mallet in one of their boxes) and at the end of cycling day 43 it worked a treat. I asked a woman who was on a nearby pitch who was reading and smoking a cigarette if she spoke English. Yes she did and in fact, she was English, from Bradford of all places. She introduced herself as Tracey and after a few moments her husband Ewan appeared. I was offered a beer and the three of us were soon on the road to thick heads in the morning. Tracey & Ewan were former linguists for the RAF and they had some interesting stories to tell. They had now based themselves permanently here in Spain – near Marbella on the coast – but chose to come up to the mountains to escape the heat. Being linguists and unlike many, probably most British people living on the costas of Spain, they spoke fluent Spanish and sounded as though they were very much part of the community in which they lived. A good evening ensued.