“It is the same with people as it is with riding a bike. Only when moving can one comfortably maintain one’s balance.” This is what Albert Einstein wrote in a letter to his son Eduard in 1930. I would not dream of arguing with the genius of modern physics, but I dare to observe that, in my experience, it is much easier to maintain one’s balance on the bike than when dealing with people. Especially with people of the opposite sex. For starters, the investment in the maintenance of your steed will always pay off. You cannot claim the same about relationships. It’s probably safe to write off any emotional investment in romantic liaisons as a loss straight-ahead. Oh, this post degenerated fast. A friend recently asked me how do I achieve having casual sex without developing feelings. I suppose they meant positive feelings, such as falling in love, because when it comes to developing frustration, rage and general negativity I experience no difficulty. Well, it’s rather easy: I have sex with men, and I’ve been increasingly struggling lately to find them even remotely endearing.
Just to make it really, really clear. I do not hate men. I do not see them as my enemy. I do not find them inferior, either. I may not be able to avoid some condescending comments, but really, just suck it up. Or should I say “man up”? OK, I struggle to understand how mere physical advantage has been sufficient to gain the upper hand for thousands of years, given how many of men are nothing but pitiful victims of their own fragile ego, but this is now changing. I mean the persisting upper hand, obviously, the ego issues are I’m afraid without remedy. Happy International Women’s Day, by the way. And again, by my previous sentence I do not mean to imply that it’s now our time to finally command. See, that is the the thing that too many men still don’t get. Women do not want to be in charge just because. Feminists are not a bunch of bra-burning enraged psychos seeking revenge. (Although let me tell you, taking the bra off at the end of the day is like the best feeling ever and I’d be only too happy to burn the damn thing and never have to wear it again). Equality and equal opportunities for women does not mean that men lose their rights. In this case the victory of one does not translate into the defeat of the other. In an ideal world gender would be invisible. By equality I mean merely access to education, career and recognition without having to endure comments on our bodies, sexual behaviour or reproduction choices (or lack thereof). Equality should be natural. We obviously need each other. One cannot exist without the other. Quotas should be redundant, and one day they hopefully will be, but right now they are probably necessary. I find question about “what do women bring to a workplace” quite offensive. What on earth should they bring? Their experience, knowledge and expertise, same as anybody else. But right now, to have access to the same job, a woman has to be higher qualified and has narrower margin for error than any male counterpart, therefore if we (still) need quotas, so be it. The sooner men stop perceiving us as a threat, the sooner the positive discrimination disappears. Also, a compulsory parental leave for both parents may help to #BreakTheBias. Just saying. At least they’d stop asking about the state of our ovaries at job interviews. As for the bias in the heterosexual relationships, there would be enough material for a book, and this blog is supposed to be funny, so about that maybe another time.
I am not sure what Mr. Einstein meant about maintaining balance when it comes to people. But then I am not the miraculous mind here. Maybe that when a human being lets their mind fall into idleness and boredom, they’ll become unstable and mad. And same could be said about relationships, provided they are given the chance to blossom, which hasn’t happened (to me) in a long time. It’s not all their fault, obviously (although they give it a good effort). I admit am not always smooth to handle and I get bored easily, and most importantly, my patience to deal with other people’s BS has grown dangerously thin lately.
I like to consider myself fairly relaxed in a relationship. OK, my brain goes in overtime on most days and I constantly need to be doing something, but I am aware of this issue and I have been addressing it – by keeping myself busy, as Mr. Einstein teaches us. I do not expect, force (and frankly, nor even wish) the other person to do everything I do with me. But I want to be left free to do whatever the hell I would normally do. Example: on the weekends I either cycle or I go hiking. The potential boyfriend has 3 options: he can a/ join, b/ offer a suitable alternative or c/ shut up. Staging a scene about “you are never around on the weekends” will not end well. My unwillingness to compromise (on the things I like to do in my free time) may explain my singleness, but trust me, in the past I have been the idiot who gives up everything, stops doing things, neglects hobbies and friends, performs somersaults at command and at the latest possible notice to accommodate the other person, but most idiots eventually learn the lesson. And I am done with that sort of self-harming behaviour.
On that note, the pleasure I get from physical suffering in concentrated purely on cycling (and fencing) these days. At least there’s a benefit to it, like I burn so many calories that I can eat as much as I want. Which brings me to a fantastic solo bike packing trip I have done last September. Now, bike-packing on (my) roadbike means that I attach a 14 litre bag below the saddle, containing a pair of normal shoes and clothes for the evening and that’s it. I don’t own a gravel or a touring bike (purely for space constraints, there is no way more bikes would fit in my apartment, sadly), so I don’t carry camping gear, I still sleep in hotels – at the end there is no need to suffer during the night too.
*WARNING: Cycling babble ahead*
Before you set out on a solo trip, and I am sure there is no need to stress this, several reminders: have some basic knowledge about bike mechanics, carry enough inner tubes (and compressed air, although handpump is always more reliable), a puncture repair kit (I know it’s utter pain in the neck to use, but I ended up needing it on occasions), don’t forget your allen keys, spare battery for your phone and strava (because if it’s not on strava, it did not happen), the usual. But don’t stress about it too much either. You can almost always rely on the kindness of strangers. About that later.
Day 1: Colmenar Viejo to Sepúlveda: 109 km / 2000 m climb
I preferred to take the train out of Madrid, because I didn’t know the second half of the ride and wanted to save strength. Two major climbs before crossing to Castilla y León: puerto de Canencia and puerto de Navafría, both long but rather mild and on super quiet roads. I stopped in Miraflores, Lozoya for lunch and in the beautiful village of Pedraza for a coffee, and arrived to Sepúlveda with sunset. Strava account here.
Sepúlveda is famous, apart from being breath-taking (but then I was out of breath already when I arrived), for slow roasted suckling lamb. Which brings me to the only problem with solo trips in countries where most dishes are designed to be shared: I am unfortunately not able to devour a baby animal on my own, no matter how hungry I am, and I don’t like to waste food, so I abstained from that particular pleasure.
Day 2: loop around Sepúlveda and river Duratón: 62 km / 800 m climb
It was originally intended to be double distance and elevation (strava route here), but when I wanted to stop 40 km into the ride and have a coffee I realised that no one in this region forgotten by God, abandoned by the young and ignored by Movistar accepts cards. And I haven’t carried cash since roughly 2008. Unfortunately I wasn’t carrying much food either, and fuelling the ride with Haribo bears and energy gels is not my idea of cycling. Apart from the fact that I probably could not trust my farts towards the end of the ride. See, I cycle for fun. To see places and landscapes. I know my average speed is laughable, but I really don’t care. I am perfectly aware that I will never ride a grand tour (also because grand tours for women don’t really exist), and I am not frustrated by lack of prospective of a professional cycling career. I don’t have the access to the same pharma as the pros anyway. And it’s fine. So, if sampling tortillas in tiny villages in the middle of nowhere is taken out of the equation, what’s the bloody point? Therefore, I decided to cut the ride in half and head back to Sepúlveda and go for a walk instead. Strava result here. Note: I have this many top ten results purely because women in Spain basically don’t cycle, so I owe it to the fact that I must have been one of the 10 ladies who’s ever passed through those roads.
In the afternoon, I went for a walk. I didn’t have the right shoes to do a proper hike, so I opted for very easy, but nevertheless spectacular loop that descends to river Duratón: Senda de los dos Ríos. The nearby Duratón canyon is a famous for kayaking, but you need to book it.
Day 3: Sepúlveda – Guadalajara (almost): 111 km / 2100 m climb
This is by far the most spectacular ride I have so far done. Once I climbed puerto de la Quesera (again, long, but mild). and ventured into the valley of pueblos negros (not sure if it’s actually a name, but there are many tiny villages in this area built from black stone), I could admire the most breathtaking views. I also made the wrong assumption that after Quesera it was all basically downhill, which it was anything but. Although the route to Majaelrayo is a descend overall, there are still some short climbs with ramps over 20%, which wasn’t fun with 28-11 cassette and loaded bike, but still the views distracted me. I had three punctures – and only two inner tubes, hence the repair kit came in handy. But I lost a lot of time. I had a ticket booked for the evening train from Espinoza de Henares, but decided to ride straight to Guadalajara because I was tired and fearing lack of daylight. Also, from Guadalajara there are commuters trains to Madrid every 20 minutes, while from Espinoza there are 3 trains a day and this was the last one. 20 km before Guadalajara and with about and hour of daylight left, I decided to end the ride and wait for the train I was booked for in Humanes, which was supposedly the intermediate stop before Madrid (Strava here). So I had a drink in the village bar and when the time was right I headed to the train station, only to walk back into the same bar some 30 minutes later.
See, the train was there. Only it didn’t stop. Which left me with two options (and cycling to Guadalajara wasn’t one): I could either knock on the church gate and ask for refuge, or go back to the bar and find a ride. Here is where random acts of kindness enter the stage: I was inquiring about a cab, when one of the patrons of the bar approached me: “I actually need to drive back to Guadalajara, I will take you and the bike, but see, I’ve had a few drinks. Do you have a driving license, by any chance?” I said I did, and he asked if I minded driving him, the bike and myself back to town. The perfect solution to everyone’s problems. And a gentle reminder that in the first world, first-world problems tend to resolve themselves. And in my experience, in any other world, too.
Vuelta del Penedès: Another thing that I would not give up for the world is the yearly cycling holiday with my British friends. This time, or rather, last September (I’m behind on content as always), the twice postponed trip originally planned for the spring of 2020 finally happened. We changed Málaga in Andalucía where we had been in 2019 for Penedès in Catalunya (mainly due to availability of flights from the UK and easy access from the airport). The region offers something for everyone: quiet country lanes between vineyards, rolling hills, some – generally mild – climbing, winding coastal roads with superb views. The traffic is generally scarce and the drivers are considerate, especially if you are accustomed to UK standards. No overtaking driver will roll down the window to inform you that you are a cunt, pardon my Queen’s English, just because you happen to be out on the bike. Well, some Brits in a rental may. The Spanish law about overtaking cyclists states that the vehicle must lower the speed to 20 Km/h below the speed limit and cross to the opposite lane, which most of them do. Dangerous overtaking will result in the loss of 6 point off the driving license. The only road with heavier traffic is the iconic Costa del Garraf, but that’s because there is no hard shoulder and the road is so winding, that it becomes basically impossible to overtake a cyclist, so rather than heavy, the traffic is slow. The locals know this and use the inland road, whoever wants to drive on the scenic route may as well slow down and enjoy the scenery.
Depending on your preferences, you can get accommodation on the beach or inland. The seven of us rented a villa (with a pool, obviously) between Villafranca del Penedès and Sitges, which is a bustling seaside town famous for international film festival specialising in fantasy and horror films. We were about half an hour bike ride (10 minutes drive) from the coast. The location was a perfectly situated starting point to the many diverse rides the region offered. The strava recount of our excursions here: day 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6.
To conclude: Penedès is a wine region to the south of Barcelona, home to 95% of the country’s Cava production, but it also offers beautiful still white wines and some highly-regarded reds. In 2017, to distinguish themselves from the rest of the country’s cava (that can be produced out of Catalunya too), some local producers registered a label of excellence, Corpinnat, that encompasses wineries in the heart of the Penedès, which make their wines from 100% organic grapes harvested by hand and vinified entirely on the property. The wines are produced by traditional méthode champenoise and are left at least 18 months on the lees (as opposed to Cava, where the legal requirement is 15 months). The visit to Nadal wineries was undoubtedly the non-cycling highlight of the holiday.
And as a bonus, a few video resumés of the holidays.