Thursday, June 03, 2010

Spain Sierra bike trip – day 4

I think the mileage estimate on the instructions for today’s ride from Rascafria to San Lorenzo el Escorial was an underestimate. All I can think about looking back upon the day is up, up, up. Either I’m going to develop newly powerful legs and be able to barrel up hills in the future, or I’m going to turn around screaming any time I see an uphill.

I started off my morning with 17 kilometers of up. Pretty much constant up. Up a mountain. From 1200 meters to over 1800.

I can get myself up a decent hill or two if I know there is a descent or flatness at the top. The pain is temporary and I can push myself to overcome it. But here it was constant, a good 13 or so kilometers of non-stop up. I couldn’t ride up that, so I walked. And walked, and walked. I did well for the first half. I imagined myself taking a morning mountain stroll. I figured it should result in buns of steel. I appreciated the lack of traffic, the shaded walk through a fir forest, and the views of mountain slopes covered by trees.

When Mark passed me in the taxi, they asked if I wanted a ride. “No thanks,” I said. “I’ve only got 5-6 kilometers to go.” I was doing pretty well at that point. But somewhere in the last 5-6 kilometers, my strength was sapped. I was eating every half hour. I had to stop to rest. It ended up taking me three hours to cover the 10 miles. Yikes.

From there, we had a substantial downhill, possibly an equal distance of gliding. Yellow bushes flowered on the mountain slope and the air smelled sweet. Today was a public holiday, Corpus Christi, and the two mountain passes (ski resorts in winter) were packed with daytrippers coming to enjoy a hike.

We rode through a small town, Cercedilla, where wealthy people from Madrid have their second homes. There were some beautiful properties there and the cafes and shops were buzzing. I was tired, but the long downhill had provided some relief and I believed we were close to our destination, El Escorial. So I pushed myself on, wanting Mark to be able to see the famous palace and monastery before it closed at 6.

The directions indicated we had only four kilometers to go, so I was optimistic. But the highway seemed to go on an awfully long way. Long past when I expected we’d be riding through the town, I spied El Escorial from a distance, cathedral spires rising above a town perched upon a hill.

Then, when we got into the town, it was like a cruel joke. The road went up, and up, and up, and up. Straight up. Again, I resorted to walking.

We arrived at our hotel filthy, sweaty and tired, only to be told that we had to carry the bikes up a flight of stairs. Poor Mark.

Eventually, we managed to settle in, shower, find some good food (super huge portions and at least 10 choices for each course of the 17.50 menu at Restaurante Fonda Genera; – only bummer was that only a coffee is included as a drink. If you choose another drink, you are charged for it). We made it to El Escorial (right across the street from our hotel) and found enough energy to stroll the premises and appreciate the structure, the art and history. The library contains the oldest known book, from the 5th or 6th century. Wow.

Part of me is amazed I got here with my own leg power. Another part misses the small village. It’s much more tourist-oriented here, more expensive, less personal. Interactions in the smaller towns felt more intimate and I liked that.

Only one more day left in which the main activity of the day is accomplishing a physical feat. By late tomorrow night, we’ll be in Zaragoza with friends and then they will be in charge of arranging our schedule.

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