“Mild hypothermia,” I say to my cycling other self, as I reflect on my own wierd behaviour yesterday. It had been a cold but sunny 5°C the previous morning when I’d left the northern Spanish town of Portomarin. However, driving wind and rain had then accompanied me over the hills. Two days prior, I passed locals outside bars and cafes, soaking in the Spring sunshine. Not yesterday though.
By the time I reach my pre-booked hostel in the Galician town of Sarria, the temperature had risen to 12°C. My internal temperature however felt little more, underquipped as I was with cycling gear for the cold. While I was chilled through, unnderstandably at just 12 Euros per dorm bed, the hostel owner had turned off the radiators. Easter was behind us and this week I sensed a public belief that winter was over: outdoor seating areas in village square cafes seemed filled with optimism. Just not today.
Inside the hostel it’s the same temperature as it was out and I just can’t seem to get warm. Cycling along the following day, wonder at my bizarre behaviour, sitting immobile in the one tiny patch of sunlight that is filtering into the hostel’s shared kitchen. I’m unable to think through a way to get warm, too cold to consider removing clothes for a shower yet unwilling to use my sleeping bag until I’m clean. So I sit there, unbelievably cold, unmoving in that tiny piece of sunlight. For three hours.
With solo travelling, I’m accustomed to checking on myself. “Am I sickening for something?” I wonder. My icy body reminds me less of a recent bout of Covid and more of the chilling malaria bouts from previous adventures, and I go through differing diagnoses, still immobile long after the patch of sun disappears. Finally, in the late afternoon the hostel owner arrives – the host often doesn’t seem to live on site here in Western Europe – and I somehow find the initiative to ask if a heater is available. She takes one look at me and within minutes produces a tiny fan heater. Though my longing is to climb right inside it, within 30 minutes even this small slither of warm air seems to revive me from hibernation: I heat soup, shower and am snuggled down in my bunk, sleeping bag up over my head.
This morning I awake feeling fit. Ready for more cycling. It is however, still very cold. As I pedal eastwards, pondering my actions of the previous afternoon, the temperature rises to 5°C. “Feels like 4°C”, the forecast kindly points out. I’m fully aware of this, yet on this crisp and clear morning, cycling is once more such a joy. Low hills and river valleys come and go, as I take in the historic villages and the leaves emerging into spring growth, a brighter green than I get to experience in the north of New Zealand. I stop to chat to a young cycle tourer on a cargo bike – his luggage carrier filled with camping gear extends out onto an extra wheel at the front – who left his home town in Germany two months ago and has come up from the south of Spain. He speaks of warmer weather along the Mediterranean coast.
By the afternoon, my lightweight cycling gloves are no defence against the wind chill and driving rain. I lose feeling in 2 fingers, now clasped to my palm within my wet glove. Fortunately, the hotel I have booked in the mountain town of Pedrafita is clearly used to addressing the weather. I have a single room with a superb radiator and even a second one in the bathroom, soon adorned with wet gloves and my other sodden clothing. The adjoining restaurant serves a spinachy Galician bean soup, I read a Spanish award-winning detective novel, and peace comes ‘dropping slow’ as I relax within the heart of these Spanish hills.
The weather hasn’t however improved the next morning. I’ve cycled downhill for about 3km, following the ‘Eurovelo 3’ route I’ve downloaded onto my Komoot App (and while I may now be mentioning the process now with ease, let me assure you, learning the process almost defeated me). Suddenly a construction worker, part of a vast team rebuilding a collapsed autostrada bridge, signals that I must turn back. Its a long way pushing my bike in the rain back up the hill I so gleefully freewheeled down just minutes before. Already my gloves are soaked. I’m not sure whether to feel thankful or cross to view the ‘no bikes allowed’ sign on the main road – trucks rerouted from the collapsed autostrada rush past and I can feel the slipstream even from the verge. By the time I pedal back up to Pedrafita, my tears of frustration are hidden only because of the driving rain.
The “WHY CYCLE, JANE?” that is probably on your lips, is by this stage on mine too. Not only am I cold and wet but this bad-weather cycling scares me. It is not only the chill factor, the rain steams up my glasses and not only can I no longer see clearly, I am extremely aware of my dimished visibility to passing drivers too.
Fortunately, my bike folds into a bag. With the help of Google Translate and a supportive shopkeeper who calls his friends and so, with Google Translate and a helpful shopkeeper, 25 Euros later a taxi driver is depositing my bags, my bike and I outside a cafe 10km down the road. Not that his one-handed on-the-phone-texting style of driving seemed much safer than cycling, but it was either that or heading on a 40 km uphill detour, back the way I came….
it is clearly time for a rethink. Not only has yesterday’s german cyclist highlighted the warmth of the weather at the Mediterranean, but the serendipity continues as Sarah, Gavin and my grandsons message me of their plan to pass through Barcelona in their campervan in a few days time. The sun is inching out as I finish my espresso and head off downhill on a delightfully quiet road following the river and I’m filled with a new sense of purpose. Once I reach the historic city of León, there is a fast train to Madrid. It’s a ‘no-brainer’ as any Kiwi would say: by overnighting in the capital, I can not only take in a Flamenco performance, but if I cycle to Madrid’s other station the following morning, I can be on a train to Barcelona in time for an afternoon with family before cycling on eastwards in warmer weather.
Several days more cycling including a 1500m mountain pass lie between my current location and León. “That’s okay”, I reflect, back into the delightful Kiwi sense of ‘She’ll be right’ as I freewheel downhill in a still chilly but now sunny 11C for a few more hours. “I can do this!” I tell myself. I’ll be following the Camino Frances pilgrim route in reverse over the hills all the way to León: I sense it will be a superb journey. And so it turns out.
I’m gobsmacked you endured that cycling in the rain and bitter cold.. the part written about the rain hiding your tears, yep 🥺 Kia haumaru koe, please…