An interesting day… I had no great expectations that it would be. Just another few hours trundling along the N-630. I set off with no definite destination in mind; the plan was to cycle as far as Carcaboso and I had already identified that there was a campsite in nearby Plasencia. Would that be the place to finally break my run of cheap hotels and hostels? In the end I did stop in Plasencia, but more of that in a few moments…
I started the clock on my Cyclemeter app not in the centre of Cáceres but as I passed the campsite that I had visited yesterday evening but refused to pay €21 for the privilege of having use of a private toilet. This prevented a bit a double counting of kilometres en route to Nordkapp although in the final reckoning we are talking perhaps four kilometres in total. I noticed a sign not far into the cycle: Salamanca was 197 km away. The plan was to arrive there on Sunday and take Monday off as a rest day but 197 km was most certainly an achievable distance in two days rather than three so I resolved there and then to do just that. As I sit here typing in Plasencia, there remain 130 of those kilometres to cycle but on past experience that’s not a fanciful target for one day. Remember the cycle to Valencia in 2013? (No? Read book 2…). Terrain may, however, be an issue.
I could see mountains in the distance not long after spotting the sign for Salamanca. These were no longer hills, they were most definitely mountains albeit small ones. The landscape gradually changed from being quite pretty – again, very reminiscent of the Yorkshire Dales (did that bloke just say ‘hola’ or ‘eh-up’?) – to being semi-spectacular. For the first third of today’s ride the N-630 moved away from its big brother, the motorway, but as I moved into the mountainous area it was replaced with… Was it a road? Was it a railway? It didn’t have any tracks although it was covered in tarmac. The N-630 crossed this deserted yet substantial ‘way’ via a bridge that must have taken months to construct and millions of euros in finance. Had it been abandoned when the financial squeeze took effect? Too many unknowns. I cycled on. The answer to my questions came as I began to cycle along the edge of the Alcantara lake. I had been waving merry ‘buen camino’ to a small group of walkers who were approaching a bridge but then as I cast my gaze to the right as I crossed the bridge over the Rio Almonte I could see another, very large bridge in mid construction. There was a second, almost identical bridge at almost exactly the same stage of construction over the Rio Tajo a few kilometres away at the other corner of the lake. A sign confirmed what I had now worked out for myself; it was another of Spain’s high-speed railway lines in mid development. Impressive stuff. The deserted ‘way’ that I had seen earlier was simply awaiting the arrival of the rails to make it a ‘railway’. I think it looked fantastic and if you live between north London and Birmingham it’s what is coming to you soon, hopefully. (As an aside, I was surprised yesterday to find out that the Greens in the UK are against HS2. Why?)
The road continued to climb as I made my way towards Grimaldo. Once again I spent a few minutes chatting with the young German who is trying to complete the route of the Via de la Plata following the walking route itself. I think he is doing it for religious reasons so there is an element of penance about his journey. The only thing I was suffering from – or rather the bike – was a slight wobble.
I noticed it as I started cycling downhill from Grimaldo but put it down to the road surface which although ‘good’ was not quite as good as it had been along earlier stretches of the N-630. At around 2.30pm I pulled into a service station to buy some peanuts (I had to suffice with a couple of ‘energy’ bars which required more energy in opening that they probably contained) and then, after a few moments of rest I got back onto Reggie and set off. Something wasn’t quite right. I looked down at front wheel and it did seem a little deflated (had it been disappointed by finding no peanuts as well?). I stopped and investigated. Although not flat, there was definitely an issue. Something momentous had just happened: after two and a bit crossings of Europe by bike (plus two lengthy trips in the UK)… I was experiencing my very first puncture. My heart sank.
My mind immediately flashed back to Athens Airport in 2013 and the stresses I had endured trying to inflate my tyres. It had scuppered my attempt to cycle to my intended departure point and resulted in much faffing around in Athens itself (read the book for more details). But I kept calm. “It’s only a flat(ish) front tyre” I told myself. Over the course of the next 20 minutes I tried to carry out a textbook removal and replacement of the inner tube. I thought carefully about each stage, I remembered which way the wheel had been facing when I removed it from the bike, I checked for obvious causes of the puncture on both sides of the tyre (although didn’t find anything) and then readied my equipment like a surgeon preparing for open heart surgery. I probably looked a right pillock. There is a video you can watch on YouTube showing a guy who has no arms changing an inner tube with his feet. Go find it; it’s impressive. Surely I could manage with all four limbs in fully functioning order! I eased the tyre over the rim, removed the old inner tube (checking that too), replaced it with a new one, inflated it slightly, very satisfyingly popped the tyre back over the rim (that was the bit I’m most impressed with, apart from the next bit of course – are you ready?) and inflated the tyre using the Presta valve. Yes, I’ll repeat that. I inflated the tyre using the Presta valve. Quite impressive, no? OK, I know what you are thinking. Let’s move on…
I, however, was genuinely delighted with my efforts. For the next couple of kilometres I stopped a few times just to check that it wasn’t all a dream and that I had managed to repair my bicycle without the help of a bike mechanic. Bloody marvelous!
It was perhaps another 20 km to Plasencia and just outside the town I paused to check the accommodation options. There was a campsite on the other side of town – €16,50 according to the Rough Guide – but there was also an albergue in town for €17. It would mean sharing with potential snorers but… I would give it a try. I reserved my bed online and found the building without problem. Well, apart from the fact that it was closed. After perhaps half an hour (I could change an inner tube in that time!), the guy running the place turned up to explain that I would have the place to myself. No snorers, no middle of the night farting (by others) but no one to compare travelling notes with. No one to tell that I had changed my own inner tube. Oh well, perhaps another day. Hang on, no, not another day. One puncture is sufficient, no?