It’s 1 September and I’ve been a serious cyclist since the beginning of the year. A serious cyclist, though always up for a laugh. I started with a poor quality bike, no proper gear but lots of 24 year old energy. Distance and resistance built up steadily, from averaging 30 or 40 kilometres several times a week, I managed 50, then 65, then 80. One day I got so tired I had to push the last few kms home, another I got drenched, another I had a flat but no spare inner tube. Then came the first 100, then 120. Bought a new bike, some proper cleated bike shoes, all the gear and a growing awareness of the sense of sacrifice, determination and self-worth a long day in the saddle can bring.
Summer came, I was young, free and fit and I went for it. I was now going out 6 days a week, and pushing harder. I did 125 and home in time for lunch. Climbed my first mountain pass, did 210 down to Estepona and arrived for the first gin and tonic. Came back the next day, another 180 on the clock. Where else can we go? Cádiz, Córdoba, Málaga? No, we can do better than that. Got it. Seville, where I live, to Granada, more than halfway across the south of Spain, in a day. It’s estimated at 250, but with the extra from where I live it must be around 260.
Down the stairs, out the front door, 7.30 in the morning, say hi to a few locals, them off to work, me to cross Andalucía in a day. Gentle, comfortable speed, got to lock into a groove if we’ve got 260 ks in front of us. Sun’s up soon, warm, not too hot, in the 30s with a breeze, piece of cake for a hardened cyclist like me. Cap, no helmet, no electronic machines to measure anything. I have my breathing and my muscles to tell me how I’m doing.
Hitting 10 a.m. I’m past Alcalá de Guadaira, through El Arahal and on the flattish, boring part of the day. We’re building here, every pedal stroke, every gear change, every incline, every descent, we’re getting nearer. Cazalla de la Sierra, 67, Osuna 88. Aguadulce after 100, second stop. I put back some calories and nearly follow the large and bounteous roadside bar owner up the stairs. I looked at her, she looked at me, but I was on a mission. I replace the first of six punctured inner tubes that day.
I go through Estepa, 110, La Roda de Andalucía, 125 ks the halfway point, then past the Laguna de Fuente de Piedra. Antequera, the geographical hub of this side of the south, from a distance, 160, a tricky climb through Archidona, smoking lorries and vans have me coughing. There’s also an exhilarating five km descent down to Río Frío, but it spikes immediately upwards so let’s take those other five with caution.
200 ks in, I’m up on the hill above Loja, omelette sandwich, dried fig bread, more coke and the fourth puncture. Some problem with the wheel rim, spokes poking through, I’d find out later. I pass the furthest distance I’ve yet cycled and soon it’s 220, one final stop in Trasmulas less than 30 to go. It’s better to have more sugar in me than not enough, and I change the final inner tube, have none left now, so I have to stop every so often to pump up the leaky tyre. Are we gonna make it? Too damn right we are, we haven’t come this far to fall at the end.
Now the finish line is in my sights. Láchar, Santa Fe, and soon I pass the GRANADA roadsign, punching the air, drivers looking at me. One smiles. 8.30 pm, in the Plaza del Ayuntamiento, I pull up, bathed in sweat like I’ve been all day, uncleat and waddle into Hotel Carmen. It’s modest and it has a room, the bike comes with me. Later the owner says she wouldn’t normally have let me up with the bike, but seeing my face and evident exhaustion she didn’t have the heart to turn me away.
“All the way from Sevilla? Madre mia.”
Dinner at the vegetarian restaurant down by the Ronda del Darro is a huge and just reward, and the TV weather map for tomorrow, scorchio again, shows that I’ve cycled halfway across the screen. Andalucía in a day. Well, half of it. Just one man, his energy and determination. Back at the hotel, I look at the bike.
“We did it, kid. Just you and me.”
But that back tyre’s flat again.
260 kilometres, 6, make that 7, punctures, four rest stops, 10 litres of water, half a kilo of fig bread, 3 kilos lost in weight, 817 words.
A true story 1.9.1987