While my title may not conjure up such pleasant mental imagery as does that of Chris Stewart’s popular book, it does sum up my experiences of cycling in Spain rather well. Obviously there is so much more to cycling in Spain than just going over roadkill but I have found this to be quite a frequent occurrence. But anyway, let’s start on a chirpier note shall we? Let’s start at the beginning.
I bought my bike a year or so ago and since then I have had all sorts of adventures and fun on it. I love cycling. Not only does it get me out of the house after a busy day at school, it gives my poor runner’s knees a much needed rest on an alternating days basis and is also a great form of exercise. And we mustn’t forget the style factor; who doesn’t welcome the chance to wear a kaleidoscope of neon Lycra whenever they can? Not since the 80’s have I looked so unashamedly luminous in public!
I have heard it said that Spanish drivers don’t have the best reputation when it comes to considerate and careful driving, but I have found that drivers in Spain are surprisingly courteous towards me when I’m on my bike. It may just be that I’m so very uncoordinatedly colourful that they can’t help wanting to avoid me but I find that I have a more harmonious relationship with fellow road users when I’m on my bike than I do when I’m in the car. In the early days I worried about cycling on what I used to think of as ‘the big scary road’ aka the N340, but actually I feel much safer cycling on this busy main road than I do when I’m cycling through towns. Cars tend to keep a safe distance on the N340 and apart from being almost squashed by a neglectful bus once, I haven’t had any major scary moments. Cycling through towns is a completely different experience. I have to navigate double-parked vehicles, have to brake hard in order to avoid crashing into pedestrians who step out into the road without looking and have to swerve to avoid suddenly opened car doors with a frightening regularity. Cycling through towns can get a bit hairy! One of my favourite things though is heading off inland, exploring the beautiful, quieter and less polluted country roads, especially discovering new places that I haven’t been to before where I don’t know what I will find around the next corner.
I’ve found cycling to be a surprisingly sociable activity. Fellow cyclists always call out greetings as they pass, they are a friendly bunch. Last Summer one man went so far as to try and engage me in conversation as he rode alongside me on ‘the big scary road’. He was oblivious to the fact that I couldn’t hear a single word he said and he failed to notice my gestures which were intended to communicate that due to the wind whistling noisily in my ears I had no absolutely no idea what he was saying. So instead we travelled along, in companionable incomprehension as he chattered away inaudibly and I smiled and nodded in agreement at sufficiently regular intervals so as not to appear rude or unappreciative of his efforts. Eventually, after some minutes, he raised his hand to bid me farewell and took the next exit.
Another time I found myself inadvertently absorbed into one of those huge groups of cycling expert types that you often see travelling along the main road. While I must have stood out as a black sheep in the pack, what with my distinct lack of sponsorship embossed clothing and having no fancy reflective sunglasses, I experienced a reassuring but brief sense of community as one by one my ‘companions’ cycled past me. ‘Hola!”, said the first while smiling and raising his hand in greeting, “Hola!”, I replied with the same smiling gesture. Then the second one sailed past, “Hola!”, he called out while smiling and waving and again I did the same. Then went the third one, “Hola!”, he called while smiling and waving. “Hola!”, I replied, wondering how many more still had to go past as I forced a smile and waved. By the time the 12th one had passed and we had called “hola” and smiled and waved at each other it was all getting rather repetitive but I didn’t want to be the one to break our fleeting bonhomie.
Sometimes people in cars get in on the sociability too, especially in Summer when drivers often have their windows open. I have had many people talk to me while we are stopped next to each other at traffic lights, I’ve been offered a beer from a van load of workmen as we waited at a zebra crossing and I’ve even had variations of “alright darlin’, nice arse” shouted at me in both English and Spanish, usually as I’m furiously cycling upright while going uphill. So you see it can all be a very interactive and multicultural experience!
I sometimes forget that there are other people around me. I have quite a vocal approach to exercise. When I run I tend to sing along to the songs my iPod and when I’m on my bike I tend to talk to myself a lot. I give myself encouragement on the more challenging roads, I provide a running commentary on things I can see or on how I’m feeling and I even (and this might not be completely normal) repeatedly recite the number plates of passing cars, trying to remember them. Don’t ask me why, I have no idea. On one regretful occasion I was cycling along in the rain and lying in the road I saw a freshly squashed animal that had its bits that should have been on the inside on the outside. It was so badly mangled as to be quite unidentifiable. “Ewww, what the hell are you?” I asked of it in disgust as I passed, but unfortunately a rather bedraggled lady who had clearly been surprised by the sudden downpour and who obviously hadn’t applied waterproof mascara that morning judging by the way it was running all down her face, looked at me in a very disdainful way as she had thought I was talking to her!
Now this brings me nicely back round to the subject of my title. Roadkill is a very common sight along the roads. Cats, dogs, hedgehogs, rats, frogs, toads, snakes and various other creatures fall foul of the passing traffic. I myself have only ever squashed one thing, a rather large grasshopper. I had tried valiantly to avoid it but usually if I’m trying to avoid something I end up making a beeline for it instead. It must be a fault in my internal navigation. And so as I turned around to check for damage (almost wobbling into the kerb as I did so) I saw that my attempt had been futile. The grasshopper had been squashed. It was a sad day in my cycling history. It’s not just road kill I have to try to avoid though. There are all sorts of strange things littering the side of the road and I sometimes wonder how they got there in the first place. There’s the usual bits of blown-out tyres, fallen off car parts, rocks and general rubbish, but I’ve also seen shoes, teddies, syringes, socks, gloves, various other items of clothing, a nail varnish, a pet passport, a potato masher and a box of breakfast cereal.
Sometimes there are more exciting sightings. One day, just before Christmas I was cycling along ‘the big scary road’ when I passed a silvery, shimmering box just at the side of the road. I continued on but the further away from it I got the more I formulated this idea in my head that it was actually something valuable, something worth going back and retrieving. So, at the next ‘cambio de sentido’ I turned around. I cycled back the other way for several minutes until I could change direction once again and then cycled back towards where I had seen it. I kept my eyes peeled ready to locate my treasure, hoping that nobody else had stumbled across it first and claimed it as their own, all the while imagining what it might be! How exciting! Soon, up in the distance I caught a glimpse of the box shimmering away in the sunlight. My treasure! I pedalled faster, getting ever closer until I eventually got close enough to work out what it was, a soggy box of ‘turron’ wrapped in cellophane. The condensation which had formed inside the wrapping was reflecting the sunlight giving the box its magical, silvery effect. Oh. It wasn’t quite as valuable or exciting as I had hoped then. But not every story can be a best seller.
Nor can every road be a joy to cycle on. In fact, whether you are a cyclist or a pedestrian you would be well advised to keep your wits about you when travelling on paths and roads here. It isn’t unheard of to come across a gaping manhole missing its lid, just waiting for a poor, unsuspecting person to stumble into it. Sometimes helpful folk have attempted to warn of the hole by stuffing it with tall branches or planks of wood with scraps of material attached to billow in the breeze in the hope that this will alert other people to the danger ahead. Potholes are another frequently encountered hazard. Many a time I have gone careering down a steep hill, enjoying the rush of the wind and the frisson of excitement that comes with travelling at speed. I always check my sport app when I get home which records my maximum speed and my personal best to date is 52km/h. That particular speedy day was a grey and overcast one and by the time I got to the hill it was getting dark and my light wasn’t very bright. Consequently I had no warning of the bumpy road peppered with potholes ahead of me and crashed through a sizeable pothole just around the time that I reached that maximum speed. The huge jolt reverberated painfully up my arms as I struggled to keep hold of the handlebars and not fall off! Since then I have invested in a brighter light and am now slightly less cavalier in my approach to plummeting down steep hills in the dark.
So, we can conclude several things from this, not least that there are some strange people about, but if there were one thing I would hope to communicate via my rambling anecdotes it would be this; cycling is a wonderful thing. When you cycle you have freedom to explore and to go wherever you want to go. I would recommend it wholeheartedly! And so next time you are driving along the N340 and you see a multicoloured, fluorescent cyclist talking away to herself while bumping into potholes and over uneven surfaces, give her a wave.
It might be me!