Stephen

Valencia DOWN!

At long last, Valencia has surrendered and I find myself safe and secure in a downtown hostel writing another Seize The World update.  I have spent one night and one day in the city, and Valencia makes an impression, both day and night.

 

This is sort of like a lot of the places where I stayed during the past several days on the way to Valencia…  Play one of your favorite songs before starting this video because it has no sound.  Something by Rammstein perhaps?

My goal with every update is to provide context to the journey.  The most important, and constant context of this journey is that of Seize The World: global bicycle tour to promote our two primary goals.  With regard to promoting those two goals, we are about to begin the next phase of work on publicity.  This will involve the directors of STWF working to promote adventure-based stories and photographs among newspapers and epilepsy organizations within the United States.  It will also involve my working to generate interest for STWF in Europe, which has already begun to a small degree with epilepsy organizations in Spain and Europe at large.  Furthermore, it will involve side projects from other friends and people who I meet along the way – for example Don Mitchell posted flyers to promote STWF within the town of Telluride to keep the story alive, my parents work continually to generate connections with relevant people and organizations, and there are friends who have been made along the way who continue to provide helpful contacts and advice.  Some of the connections that have been provided by my friends Keith, Murry, and Gordon in Little Rock, AR, have proved to be invaluable in terms of triggering our pursuit of relationships within the epilepsy community.  Today, my friend Mike, who lives near Pell City, AL, called my on my cell phone to let me know about a news lead in Birmingham, AL, and it is amazing to hear from friends who I met along the way, who have continued to have interest in the story.

We are still waiting to see what comes of inquiries that have been sent out to organizations such as the International League Against Epilepsy and the Epilepsy Foundation of America.  Hopefully they prove fruitful.  In the meantime, we will pursue relationships with other relevant organizations and people.  In terms of our own publicity efforts, those of you who have followed STW from the beginning will remember the dogmatic pursuit of slide show dates and venues in the U.S.A.  We have broken from that approach in Europe to pursue a different plan which will allow us to reach a larger audience.  This plan will go into motion before I leave Valencia, as soon as stories and photographs of the journey can be organized for submission to the publications and organizations which appeal to us, and to which we will appeal as well.  I continue to meet people every day who are excited about what we are doing, and who tell me about relatives and friends with epilepsy who need to hear the story of STW.  This is why we are working hard to publicize the story.  Soon, I believe that we will crack the shell of publicity.  It is just a matter of time, creativity, and hard work.  We have all of those things at our disposal.

Returning to the idea of context, it is important for me to link the events, people, places, plants, animals, and other things that I encounter during each ride between updates into some kind of meaningful context.  The journey from Cordoba to Valencia could be viewed in many ways.  Dedicated readers will remember that the last text update was posted from Fuencaliente, a town East of Cordoba.  However, the story of this segment, to me, is the story of the ride from Cordoba to Valencia.  This is because, mentally, I give myself way-points or targets to aim for as I move east: Charleston was one such way-point, Lisbon another, Cordoba another, Valencia another.  Unexpectedly, Cordoba also became such a way-point in the journey.  From Cordoba, I spent twelve days riding toward Valencia – that is to say that each morning I would wake up and think, “Okay, time to start moving toward Valencia, where it is warm.”  Looking back on this journey twenty years from now, it is conceivable that I might look at some of these segments as stand-alone tours and that I might return to repeat parts of this journey.  It is also my hope that there might be a cyclist or two out there who might read these updates that I have written and decide to repeat a segment that I have ridden as its own stand-alone tour.  That is one concept of context that I have during this ride: manageable, meaningful segments.

One could look at the context of the journey from Cordoba in one sense as a freezing cold tour of Spain’s olive production country.  Alternatively, one could look at it as a frigid tour of of Spain’s various forms of electrical power production facilities – wind, solar, petroleum, nuclear.  Or, if one chose to look at it another way, the past twelve days could be seen as simply a constant struggle to stay warm during which I was able to take some pictures and talk with a few people along the way.  There are a few other ideas that I can come up with, but none of them would be without the theme of cold.  How would I put the ride into context?  I would say that it was a combination of all of those things, and I would add that I had the opportunity to meet a few incredible people along the way.  I might also add that constant forward motion is a theme, because no matter who I meet, or what I see along the way, I am always thinking about the experience in the context of my continuing journey east.

 

   

I began the journey out of Cordoba as the sun was setting on January 2nd after celebrating the New Year.  The bike bounced along Cordoba’s cobbled streets, past the Mesquita, or the Mosque, Cordoba’s Cathedral, and then turned left at the Puente Romano – The Roman Bridge.  The Bridge and the Mosque both bring the word fortification to mind.  It has been continually amazing to me as I ride through Spain to see, visually, what looks like a history of war in the architecture of buildings and in the lay out of towns.  Castles and churches on top of hills, surrounded by towns, surrounded by walls.

With thoughts of war on my mind, I made my way east through Cordoba’s network of round abouts and onto the Autovilla, essentially interstate highway, which would take me out of town.  This, of course, is not an ideal place for a cyclist, and especially not at night.  After a mile or so of sketchy riding, I found myself at a gas station where I took advantage of the car wash, which was a do-it-yourself powerwash kind of operation.  I dropped a 1 Euro coin into the machine and in return, I got 6 minutes of high pressure, high heat, spray.  This was the fast, dirty alternative to taking my bike into a shop and having the drive train cleaned, which likely would have cost around 30 Euros.

Soon a conversation started with the owner of the gas station, Ángel, who upon hearing my plan to ride east of the city in search of a campsite, loaded my bike in his van, and drove me a few miles out of town.  I will never turn down an offer for a ride out of an urban area at night, especially one with which I am not familiar.  The ride lowered the risk level a bit, provided some good conversation, and got me very close to decent camping.  A successful encounter.  Ángel told me a bit about his experience traveling in Egypt, which was interesting to hear.  The following morning, I awoke, and was once again on tour, having made it away from the Hostel in Cordoba and back to the open road.  The wet, muddy, open road.

During the following days, my experience varied between different degrees of coldness, wetness, and snowiness as I made my way east.   There were sporadic, and sacred moments of sunshine and warmth, which I thoroughly appreciated.  There was also some fairly substantial climbing and descending along the route, which was really nice, and made for good activity.  I had one night of camping along the way, close to the town of Villanueva de los Infantes, that was just barely comfortable because of the cold.  When, the following night, it was even colder as my odometer clicked past the 40-mile mark – my daily goal – I made the decision to stay at a Hostal.
The decision was a good one both at the time and in retrospect.  I certainly could have hacked it in the tent that night, but it was actually good to be able to plug in all of my various electronic devices – computer for two hours, then Nintendo DS for two hours, then video camera battery for five hours, then wake up to an alarm to unplug the camera and swap it out for the digital still camera battery for another two hours, which brought me just about up to departure time.  I only have one adapter for plugging things into Spanish outlets, so it is always a bit of a juggling act to charge my devices…   I also enjoyed drying off wet clothing, warming up thoroughly, and starting out early in the morning.  I appreciate the most basic things on this trip, which is nice.  That day, I rode from Villanueva – site of the Hostal – to Albacete.  A distance of about 70 miles.  My body was grateful for the reprieve from the cold.  It is amazing what a difference it makes to start warm.

The cold did not stop after that, however, and I continued to ride and to camp during a few more days and nights of uncomfortable conditions.  At this point in the story, there must be a few of you who are thinking, “Seriously…just suck it up!”  So it is important to point out as well that even when riding and camping is cold, that there are parts of the experience that are very enjoyable, and that it is not all bad.  There were times while riding along that I might be the only form of traffic along a small back road for several minutes.  That is a long time.  It could be amazingly peaceful.  I would stop for a bit to windmill my arms, centrifuging blood to my fingers, which makes my hands feel like they are about to explode with heat.  I would do the same with my feet, although with my feet I cannot do the full windmill, of course, skip tracks on my iPod perhaps to listen to something by the Editors, pull up the hood on my down jacket, and continue for another twenty minutes of motivated excitement in the knowledge that the coast was getting closer, and that there – on the coast – it would be warmer.  I will be the first to admit that I am a fair weather rider.  I draw some of satisfaction from commuting by bicycle in adverse conditions, and it is fun to ride for short stretches in rain and snow, but I am not the kind of rider who will often be found – until now – on the road, day after day, in cold, rainy, snowy, conditions.  And it is really nice to have reached Valencia, where the temperature is, once again, moderate.

 

That about sums up the adversity that Valencia put in my path…  I have written in previous updates about the idea that destinations provide challenges along the routes which lead me there.  Valencia was such a destination, and it is somehow more satisfying to arrive after riding for twelve days in uncomfortable conditions than it might have been to arrive under less-challenging circumstances.  Looking back on the ride into town, which ended only yesterday, it felt great.  To make it even better, I met, during the final day of the tour to Valencia, a man named Vicente, who stopped when he saw me approaching Valencia last night to make sure that everything was okay.

 

Just as I will never turn down a ride out of an urban area, I will also never turn down an easy opportunity to avoid riding into an urban area at night.  After a quick conversation on the shoulder of the road which connects Montserrat with Valencia, Vicente told me that I would be welcome to stay in the guest bedroom of his house.  Along the way, I have had opportunities to make many such quick decisions, and I am very glad that in the case of Vicente I accepted the offer to stay at his house.  We loaded my bike into the trunk of his car, and I quickly learned that he is also a touring cyclist, having done many tours throughout Spain, and having traveled in other places as well such as Norway and Canada.  I also learned that he was on his way to the gym, where there are jacuzzis, steam rooms, and saunas.  Things could not have been better from my point of view.  Vicente asked if I wanted to lift weights, use spinning machines etc.  I was pretty much just interested in jacuzzis and saunas.  I spent a full hour relaxing before we returned home for paella, wine, mandarins, and hours of conversation about travel and adventure, and viewing photographs of various journeys on laptops.  When I bid Vicente farewell, I finished my ride into Valencia already feeling welcome in this city where I don’t actually know anyone at all.

Now I find myself in the Purple Nest Hostel, sitting at one of six computers that they have set up in their cyber café.  The Nest is a giant, brightly painted hostel geared to handle Valencia’s backpacker tourism in the height of summer, and staying here now, at the height of winter, is a bit strange.  There are only a few guests.  However, for my purposes, it is a very efficient place to be in the sense that I can write, upload photographs, do laundry, and otherwise do all of the STW things that require a city.

My work-related and errand-related goals for Valencia are several – initiate phase two of publicity for STWF, which will require several hours of work, finish this update, which also requires hours of work, refill a prescription for seizure medication – I have no idea what is required to do that in Spain – replace a water bottle on the bike, repair one of my panniers, which has a fairly large hole that is tearing open, repair several small holes in the tent (or at least buy a needle and thread), and download language software to learn Hindi.  It will be nice to finally be able to talk to my computer during lonely evenings in the tent.  Even if it is in a language that I don’t understand.  That is what is going on with STW.  I will be in Valencia at least for two nights, and I look forward to seeing what this city has to offer.  It is the largest port city in Spain, and my first impressions = very busy streets, exciting riding, beautiful buildings and people.  Like all of the other cities I have seen so far in those senses I suppose, but. . . different.  The photographs in the next update will, hopefully give you an improved sense.  Keep checking back, and thanks for reading.

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