I’m starting to climb the walls. My leg is healing well but it’s taking time and I can’t ride or run whilst it heals. Spending pretty much all day sat on the sofa with my leg elevated isn’t my idea of fun. To combat my feelings of itchy feet and take my mind off my itchy leg I’ve been looking to the future. The next chapter of my journey begins in April when I head back to Leeds for a few weeks to visit friends and tie up some loose ends.
Then at the end of April I head across to Clitheroe for the Cycle Touring Festival. I’m really excited for the event which has now sold out. Especially the opportunity to be involved as a member of the panel for the technical discussions on cycle touring equipment. I’m also looking forward to meeting other touring cyclists although I often find these sort of events challenging on a personal level. I can quite happily deal with meeting one or two new people at a time but I know I struggle in situations that mean interacting with a group of new people all at once. Time to work on being social and outgoing, I have these character traits I just struggle to use them.
After the touring festival I head back to Leeds for a couple of nights and then it’s off to Hull to catch the ferry across the North sea to the Netherlands. I have twelve weeks in which to tour before having to come back to the UK for my cousin’s wedding at the beginning of August. In a way I quite like the fact that all these weddings this year give me time limits to my trips abroad but it’s also slightly frustrating as it increases the costs in terms of ferries. From the Netherlands I intend to head north east through Germany, Denmark and Sweden. Depending on the speed I travel I’ll either end up doing an out and back route or if I find myself covering ground quickly a loop around the Baltic sea.
When I’m sat in one place and with access to a computer I also find it hard not to spend money. So far I’ve managed to limit this to a new larger tarp and some gaiters which will hopefully make wet bivying and wet riding more comfortable. I’ve offset the costs of those new items though by selling my old tarp, some spare bike parts and a chunk of the record collection I’ve amassed over the last 20 years. However almost unconsciously I still find myself ‘window shopping’ for new bikes despite not having the money, storage space or even time to ride them! It’s hard to break years of programming that encourages you to spend and buy despite knowing I don’t need any of these things.
So I’m back in the UK. I’m sad that I didn’t get to ride back through France and I’m back here two weeks early but I know it is the right choice. Much better to end my trip early and heal properly rather than jeopardise my future plans. When I returned to my parents I discovered that they had been plotting my journey on a map. Pretty rad.
My leg appears to be healing fairly well but I think I might have at least another week if not two of it being dressed regularly. It’s strange but as it heals it’s more painful. The burn essentially destroyed the nerve endings and I think that the feeling is coming back as they regrow. It’s not bad though it smarts a bit and has also started to itch but I wouldn’t say it is painful.
Please be prepared for a reduction in the number of posts over the next few weeks. Although I have lots of time on my hands I can’t ride and so probably won’t generate much in the way of ideas to write about. Feel free to suggest ways I can occupy myself. Whilst my leg heals I’m finding myself pretty much housebound which is feels very strange. Past the end of March I should be back to full strength and I have plans brewing which I will write about in the future.
Today I remembered that I forgot to write about when I was stopped by the police.
It was between Murcia and Teruel, I think when I was approaching the town of Almansa. As an aside Almansa had a big sign claiming to be ‘the town of the bicycle’, for the life of me I could not see why. They were very friendly to me in the cafe I stopped in when they found out I was cycling though. Before reaching the town though I was quite happily cycling along under a grey overcast sky hoping it wouldn’t rain when the Guardia Civil pulled up alongside me. Winding down their window the driver asked me (in Spanish obviously) where my cycle helmet was. Now before setting out on this trip I didn’t know that in Spain (and France too apparently) there is a law which says that outside of cities and towns you legally have to wear a cycle helmet. I haven’t brought a helmet with me for a number of reasons which I don’t feel I need to explain as it should be my choice.
Anyhow I politely informed the police officer that I was English and didn’t have one. Upon hearing this he looked grave and motioned to say that he would need to give me a ticket. Now although when I left the UK I had no idea about helmet laws I had been told in Valladolid that you were supposed to have one when cycling in the country. However I wasn’t about to let the police officer know that so I played ignorant and expressed my dismay asking if it was illegal in a shocked manner. This seemed to diffuse the situation somewhat and the two officers in the car informed me that it was, and in France too. They then pointed to their flourescent tops and told me that I should also be wearing a hi-viz jacket when riding in the rain. I bit my tongue slightly here and didn’t argue the point that it wasn’t actually raining. Instead I excitedly told them that I had one of those! My warmshowers host in Valladolid had insisted that he give me a hi-viz jacket and actually told me to buy a helmet in Madrid, advice which I had ignored. I’d worn the hi-viz on a handful of occasions in bad visibility and fading light.
So as we had stopped at the side of the road by this point I started to pull the hi-viz jacket out of my bag. The Guardia Civil were obviously satisfied that I was complying and without another word drove off, clearly the hi-viz was sufficient. Now I should of course take the view that the police were just looking out for my well being. However I have since spoken to a few people about this encounter who have suggested that the police were probably bored as it’s very rare to get stopped for not having a helmet. In addition although I don’t know this to be a fact the consensus is that the fine is not an on the spot one and therefore the fact I was English was probably a good enough reason for them not to write me a ticket. Will I travel with a cycle helmet in future after this incident? The answer is no, it is still my view that it should be personal choice!
So every cloud has a silver lining and because I am back in Zaragoza yesterday Pedro took me to see a man called Carlos. Carlos is a retired car mechanic who lives in a small village close to the city and has a collection of old, wild and wacky bikes. He is the sort of person who can fix/make anything and so some are restored bikes whilst others are self built objects of insanity. It was nice to see the collection and speak as well as I could with Carlos, however it’s a shame to know that the bikes are never ridden and he is really an untapped resource in terms of his knowledge and experience.
In you are wondering about the tube sign, they were apparently made in a factory in Zaragoza at one point. The wheel has a wooden rim!
I have been to Spain before but an extended stay has really taught me a lot more about this country than one week as a tourist. I could wax lyrical about how friendly and welcoming the Spanish people are. I could point out that the stereotype of ¨mañana¨ is actually pretty true. However to a degree George Orwell pretty much summed up all of the relevant points in the first chapter of Homage to Catalonia, so I suggest you read that. Like that book the Spain I have seen is one of political divide. There is a definite left wing streak to this country and most of the people I have stayed with have clear associations with left wing politics. This ranges from anti-fascist stickers to libraries of anarchist literature. Yet clearly there is also a right wing side to Spain, it’s still an advanced capitalist society. Right wing and fascist grafitti can still be found. In fact when it comes to grafitti there appears to be in places an ongoing battle between Fascists and Anarchists/Communists with each side scrawling over the others symbols and slogans.
In terms of visual atmosphere Spain is more openly political and more openly anarchist in it’s views than the UK. There is far more anarchist grafitti than you see in any British city and the anarcho-syndicalist union the CNT in the industrial north at least has offices in most major towns and cities. This hasn’t necessarily translated for me into many political conversations due to the language barriers. However those I have had have been intesting with many people happy to talk general ideas but not really give much away in terms of their own views. One conversation did highlight that the government is outlining the usual capitalist formula for prosperity through a return to growth in the economy and yet there are some who are suggesting that maybe growth isn’t the answer. The anti-growth concept is not one that I have heard of being present in the British political arena. A largely fringe idea in the UK that perhaps is being practiced more than spoken about. I haven’t seen anything though that I would view as major political action. Although today students in Zaragoza are on strike to highlight the issue of rising university fees and I believe that there will be a demonstration tomorrow. People don’t seem to really inject their politics into their daily lives although I guess we perhaps don’t in the UK either.
So Spain is in effect despite it’s visible high level of left wing and anarchist thought ultimately politically not much different to the UK. In peoples day to day lives they are appear more focused on making ends meet and putting food on the table. The economic crisis has left people often in precarious situations with regard to job security. Perhaps the fact that the anarchist tradition in Spain is anarcho-synidcalist and related to trade unions (and therefore work) means that people although not happy with their lot in the capitalist system continue to ‘play the game’ in order to survive. My current thoughts are whether were more anarcho-primitive or individualistic ideas mixed into that pot people would be looking at more radical alternatives to the system that has so badly let them down. It confuses me but I don’t have the language skills to dig deeper and find out more.
Postscript: To follow on from the last post, my leg seems to be healing well so I am hopeful for getting back on the bike again early next week. Also in that post I used the name Lleida for the city I was in. Lleida is the catalan name as it is a town in Catalonia, the ‘Spanish’ name is Lérida. Regional languages, ambiguous signage, odd grammar and the same word to mean different things. It makes life interesting!