Monthly Archives: April 2016

Cycling Spain- Day 2 – Olvera to Prado del Ray including the Via Verde Rail Trail (45 km)

The first of 30 tunnels we cycle through on the Via Verde.
The first of 30 tunnels we cycle through on the Via Verde.

We woke to a downpour. Raindrops were bouncing off the sidewalk, rivers were racing down the street, construction workers were taking long coffee breaks under the hotel awning. Riding a gravel or dirt rail trail in a downpour did not seem like a good idea.

I checked the weather on my iPhone. It was saying “cloudy until noon and then rain for the rest of the day”. Obviously, the phone hadn’t looked outside. I checked another weather app. It said, “the rain would be subsiding in 37 minutes”… Seriously! … I preferred the optimism of this app and suggested to Eric that we read until about 10:30 am when the service would come to pick up our luggage. If the deluge was still in process we would catch a ride. If the rain stopped we would ride.

Now, here’s the part where I kid you not. Exactly 37 minutes later, at precisely 9:57 am, the rain stopped. Ominous clouds still circled the city of Olvera but the castle was bathed in a tiny circle of sunlight. Eric chose this exact moment of sunshine to order an espresso. I joined him thinking that by the time we had finished our coffees the clouds would break or another deluge would begin.

It was our lucky day. The clouds lifted and we headed out. After a quick stop at the local patisserie for picnic food we started cycling. And glorious the beginning was….The Via Verde Bike Trail is an old rail trail. Spain built a railroad in the early 1900s and then never used it…. a “make-work” project so-to-speak. Luckily someone (or people) saw a tourism opportunity and preserved the trail. The first 7 or so kilometers from Olvera are even paved. The rest of the trail is gravel or hard-packed sand. Sure, there were a few puddles remaining after the recent rain, but all in all the trail was in great shape.

The trail surface dried well after the rain.
The trail surface dried well after the rain.

This trail is fun because it has over 30 tunnels – most with motion-sensitive lighting – and a handful of viaducts. There are many places to picnic along the way and some nice snack places that might be open in the summer although they weren’t today.

The vegetation changed as we gradually went downhill.
The vegetation changed as we gradually went downhill.

We were feeling pretty good about completing the 35 kilometers of the trail and so happy that the rain had not dampened our plans. However, once we got back on paved roads (#s 8100, 8101, and A373 to be exact) our lucked took a turn for the worse. Strong headwinds slowed our paced. Rain started falling gently and then the heavens opened up and sheets of rain poured into our collars, down our bodies and out the toes of our shoes. It didn’t seem things could get much worse especially since our odometers indicated a mere 8 kilometers to the finish.

But, the truth about cycling is this: When you don’t think things can get worse, they really can. Add a long, steep hill climb into a head wind with pelting rain. I think the last five kilometers were harder than the previous 43 combined.

Feeling pretty smug...little did we know rain and hills were coming.
Feeling pretty smug…little did we know rain and hills were coming.

The sight of our night’s lodging, Hotel del Carmen, was better than gold at the end of a rainbow.

This rural hotel has a beautiful view from the rooms on the back side.
This rural hotel has a beautiful view from the rooms on the back side.

After peeling off our wet clothes, taking an extra long shower, and discovering the beautiful balcony from our room, the rain stopped, the sun came out and the cold Cruzcampo cervaze (beer) did its trick.

Evening in Prado del Ray

Our evening in Prado del Ray couldn’t have been nicer. The sun came out just as we shredded our wet clothes. To make things even brighter, we had a room with a large balcony overlooking the hotel swimming pool and gardens, the valley below and the green hills in the distance.

A balcony and sunshine meant two things: laundry and beer. I quickly did my usual shower-laundry dance which basically amounts to pouring some shampoo on my clothes, stomping on them while I shower, giving them several squeezes and rinses and then hanging them out to dry. The brisk breeze was another “pot-of-gold” after today’s rain and hill. Sipping a Cruzcampo beer with a beautiful view was the icing on the cake.

By now our stomachs were growling so we walked the 15 minutes uphill to the town of Prado del Ray. Aside from its location at the top of the hill, what makes this special is it lemon and orange tree-lined streets. On any given day, the streets would be lovely but on a spring day with the trees in full blossom, the gentle perfume of the lemon blossoms was exquisite. We couldn’t wipe the smiles from our faces.

On this Day 2 our of our cycle journey we were still adapting to the Spanish schedule of long afternoon siestas (everything is closed) and late dining options (restaurants in small villages don’t open until at least 8:00 pm.) We hadn’t planned for this and we quite hungry, but after extending our walk to the four corners of town, we finally settled at a bar with a glass of red wine. People watching was at it’s finest: a young girl learning to roller-blade gripping her mother’s hand on one side and her grandmother’s on the other, two boys playing soccer with a soft rubber ball, teenage boys popping wheelies on their mountain bikes, old men shuffling along the rough cobblestones.

We found a lovely outdoor tapas bar. Our waitress did not speak any English but her girlfriend who was sitting with a friend at the table next to us did. She came over and told us the specialities of the house including a seared ahi tuna tapas that has won an award for this restaurant. Tuna and grilled cuttlefish made our long 4 hour wait for food totally worth it.

Contented with full stomachs and the scent of lemon blossoms, the walk to our hotel at sunset was beautiful.

Another great day!

Cycling Spain — Day 1 – Ronda to Olvera (42 km) – A Little Rain Won’t Stop Us

Early into the ride and we're already soaked.
Early into the ride and we’re already soaked.

“Unfortunately, tomorrow is supposed to be Biblical,” said Drew, the representative from Andalucian Cycling Experience after he’d finished adjusting our bicycle seats and collecting the necessary signatures and disclaimers.

Hoping not to be deterred by the threat of day-long heavy downpours, I couldn’t help but reminisce about last year’s self-supported cycle tour where we had the freedom to take a “rain day” to read and relax rather than riding in a raging rain storm. Our self-guided but supported six-day tour in Andalusia, Spain with a set itinerary and pre-booked lodging was going to take some getting used to. (Self-Guided means we follow the maps they give us. Supported means a van carries our luggage.)

The night before the ride, both Eric and I had fitful sleeps.

I woke often. I was excited to ride, like I used to get before the first day of skiing when I was young. Would I like the rental bike? Would we wake up to pouring rain and skip the ride? Did I remember warm enough clothes?

Eric had nightmares. He was dreaming about an oversized back wheel that his brother assured him would work just fine even though the back skewer was too long and the wheel wobbled on the axel.

I think the meaning of our dreams were clear: we missed cycling but also felt out of practice.

Sure enough we did wake to rain. It wasn’t as heavy as I’d imagined Noah’s boat having to survive, but it was definitely more than a gentle patter.

Stubborn as we are, neither of us had any intention of riding in the van to Olvera. We wore our cycling clothes and Eric clacked down the marble stairs to breakfast announcing our intent. I think we both knew that we could survive 45 mostly-uphill kilometers,  to keep us warm.

Within minutes of cycling we became soaked. The rain was steady, the roads were wet, and passing vehicles made sure to find the deepest puddles as they passed us.

Fenders could have helped a bit, but in the long run, there was no way to keep dry. We were only able to keep warm because we were cycling up hills… until….we came to….a…
 very, long, cold, wet downhill with rain pelting us like small pebbles.
We finally arrived at our lunch destination in Setenil de las Bodegas, cold, wet, and hungry. We stopped at La Tasca, a cute Bar Restaurant built into the side of a cliff which, aside from it’s unique architecture and excellent tapas, has an excellent wood-burning stove that was stoked and hot.

The wood-burning stove was perfect for our wet clothes and bodies.
The wood-burning stove was perfect for our wet clothes and bodies.

We slogged into the restaurant and peeled off our wets jackets, socks, gloves and hats. We circled the wood burning stove with tables and chairs laden with dripping cycling clothes. When we laid our  shoes  against the pot belly stove,  water poured from their heels. Our gloves were smoldering on the top.

At one point the bar tender came over with a mop to wipe away the large puddles forming at our feet and below the chairs. I couldn’t tell if he was disgusted with the mess or safety-conscious hoping we wouldn’t slip on the wet tiles.

Lots of roads and houses are built into these cliffs near Setenil.
Lots of roads and houses are built into these cliffs near Setenil.

As miserable as this might sound, we were exhilarated. We were back on bikes in a new-to-us place. Life was….life is… good.

We ate, drank, and let our clothes dry for over an hour. Then seeing a break in the weather – a tiny patch of blue sky and rain tapering down to a dribble – we put on our mostly-dry layers plus a down jacket sandwiched in between and headed back out.

The remaining 20 or so kilometers to the day’s final destination of Olvera were scenic, mostly dry and not too hilly.

Olvera, our stop for the night.
Olvera, our stop for the night.

We checked into our hotel. After showering neither of us felt the need to siesta so we walked to the town’s main attractions located at the top of a rocky outcropping: La Incarnation Church and the Arabic castle from where we got beautiful pictures of the village Olvera below.

The view of Olvera's church as fort from our hotel room.
The view of Olvera’s church as fort from our hotel room.
Yes, climbing the steps is worth it....
Yes, climbing the steps is worth it….
...because you get a great view from the fort.
…because you get a great view from the fort.

I mentioned not taking a siesta because this was our biggest mistake of the day.

This is the only snack/food we could find between 2:00 and 8:30 pm....oh, and a few bar nuts...
This is the only snack/food we could find between 2:00 and 8:30 pm….oh, and a few bar nuts…

Siesta time is sacred in the small villages of Spain and all the shops, bars, and restaurants have hours that seems so foreign to us – generally 8:30 – 2:00 pm, close for siesta, and open again 5:00 – 7:00 pm. Restaurants start serving again about 8:00 pm. Not taking a siesta was a huge problem because we were hungry at 3:00 pm but couldn’t find any food beside bar nuts and beer until 8:00 pm. The obvious solution was to drink too much and eat too many plates of nuts before dinner.

To summarize – the ride was fun, the rain was heavy but not “Biblical”, our hunger was epic.

Lessons learned: eat a bigger lunch and take a siesta.

A Home Base for Cycling

Overlooking the Colorado River from the Kokopelli Trail near Fruita, Colorado.

It’s been a long time since I’ve written. Yes, I’ve been cycling…a little…But, nothing of note and nothing that has inspired me to write.

Until now…sitting in our new “home base” for cycling…looking at the Colorado National Monument…feeling thankful that everything came together, contented to be in a beautiful and peaceful location, and excited about an upcoming cycling trip to Spain.

Here’s the brief recap of the past seven months…

In October, after our 11-month cycle tour of SE Asia, New Zealand, Australia, and Germany, I moved back into our home in Washington State, supervised some remodeling and got the home ready to sell. Eric accepted an interesting/challenging opportunity for a little work in Egypt. We spent some time together during Christmas and New Years to drive around Colorado and explore our “perfect” retirement area knowing we wanted to be closer to our parents, adult children and cycling. We sold our Washington house and bought a home in the cycling-friendly town of Fruita, Colorado.

Just one of the bike stand-sculptures in downtown Fruita.

We chose Fruita for it’s eclectic vibe, smaller size, and proximity to great cycling from our front door. We wanted an affordable place where we could cycle or walk to a downtown, have easy access to the mountains, and be within a day’s drive of family.

Yesterday, after unpacking boxes for most of the morning, I took a well-needed break to run a few errands and explore our new “home town” with my bicycle. I strapped a light-weight Topeak Trunkbag onto the back rack of my “touring bike” which is really a mountain bike with a butterfly handle bar, an Old Man Mountain rack mounted through the back axel, and smooth 2-inch Schwabel tires and headed out.

My first stop was the relatively new (built in 2011) Fruita branch of the Mesa County Library and Fruita recreation center. I signed up for a library card, picked up a recreation guide and beamed at the fact that I can easily cycle to an indoor swimming pool and/or beautiful weight room or settle into the library reading room filled with newspapers and magazines all about five minutes from home.

Dinosaur bones and great cycling make this area fun to visit.

I then cycled past the post office, several banks, a grocery store and pharmacy to the hardware store where I picked up a few odds and ends for the house.

The weather was beautiful – sunny and warm with a slight spring breeze – so I decided to cycle an additional eight miles to the Grand Junction Best Buy along the lovely Colorado Riverfront Trail. Trees in full white blossom dotted the sides of the Colorado River which is swollen with spring run-off. Many groups of cyclists had the same idea as me and we waved, smiled or said “hello” in secret understanding that we are lucky to be riding on such a gorgeous day and in such a bike-friendly place.

After making my purchase at Best Buy and cycling home, with a nice tail-wind I might add, I stopped at the grocery store where I bought the makings of my first “home-cooked” meal in our new house. I stuffed the food into the bike bag and then rode to the center of Fruita where I took several photos in front of some of the funky, downtown street sculptures. I’d already been told of the upcoming Headless Chicken Festival and the story/legend of a farmer keeping an headless chicken alive for 18 months so I was excited to see the commemorative sculpture.

Mike, the Headless Chicken, the town mascot.

Arriving back home after about 18 miles of “errands”, I unloaded my bike with a smile on my face and the satisfaction of knowing that we chose a great place to cycle for retirement.

Once again, I’m inspired to blog and I’ll have a lot to talk about…

cycling in Andalusia where I’m meeting Eric next week,
cycling the Colorado National Monument,
mounting biking near Fruita,
riding the Kokopelli trail,