Life without Toph, out of season and off the map.

Posted: October 19, 2019 in Uncategorized

Or traveling with the Garmin on approved goat paths.  Or whose idea was this anyway?

I haven’t decided what to call this. It’s been a strange adventure, that was the result of a series of decisions that led us onward to more adventure altering decisions. It began when we decided to stay in Europe after Toph left as we had 60 days left on our visas and if we got south fast enough all would be well.  Like it would be warm, sunny and stop raining.

And then we discovered we couldn’t get as far south as we had hoped from Orleans, France.  We wanted to take a train to Barcelona but we had the tandem.  After some extensive frustration and a little research, we learned we could take a regional train. So, we went as far as the French train system would take an unboxed tandem, which was the city of Pau.


Pau is at the base of the French Pyrenees. All we had to do to get warm was to ride over the mountains and into Spain and then ride south fast.  The problem we found was that we’re old, we have a lot of shit, and we’re slow.  We persevered.  We rode over the Col du Pourtalet, which was a very beautiful but a slow slog that began in the wet but famous town of Laruns and ended on the other side of the Pyrenees in a Spanish campground.



From there we changed plans and routes a couple of times and ended up in Jaca.  Jaca is a very cool town with a very unimpressive campground.  From Jaca we could have gone to Pamplona but Pamplona does not have a campground so we decided to head kind of sort of in the general direction of Zaragoza, without actually going there.


We stopped at the last open campground on our chosen route.  It was a cold, cool, ride that took us through parts of what looked like NM, CO, UT and WY.  Instead of wildlife there was old stuff.  We stayed two days.  We used their internet connection to research weather in southern Spain and the Algarve of Portugal for November and again made a new decision.  We decided it was time to call it over.  We researched and secured flights to Malaysia from Madrid while consuming a few glasses of wine.  We mapped what we thought was the fastest, bestest route to Madrid from wherever it was we were over a couple of more glasses of wine.


Our route took us through always up, farming, pig raising, fly infested, mostly boring, headwind blowing, no campgrounds Spain.  We figured it would have taken us a month to get to sunny, warm, interesting, beachy, touristed, fun having Spain or eight days to Madrid.   And the days were shortening and weather chilling and the fucking headwinds kept blowing hence all of the windmills dotting every hill we had to climb.


Thankfully we found amazing wild camps where we enjoyed packs of msg enhanced ramen for dinner and breakfast.  We filled our water bottles and water bladder every evening at the local well/fountain before riding another 5 to 10 kilometers in search of the perfect wild camp.

IMG_3799 IMG_3807IMG_3816

When we could we’d buy a couple of beers before leaving the last village on our quest for a secluded pitch so we could celebrate our survival.


Hmm, missed the “Sin Alcohol” part when I bought this.  Tasted good however!

And in between wild camps or if the weather got too drizzly or we ran into a city with an Inn at the right time we’d rent a simple room for the night.  At the Inns we’d take long long hot hot showers and then we’d wash our cloths and hang them from the curtains.  While the clothes kept vigil we’d wander the town to see the sights, have a glass of wine in the square and find the open grocery to buy a picnic dinner to enjoy in our warm dry room.


The days passed.  The sun set every night around 8 and started to lighten the sky again around eight.  We slept a lot as every ride day was at least 80 K against the wind, with a couple thousand feet of elevation.  By the time the sun would actually appear around nine as there was always a hill or a mountain that it had to climb over, we’d have already stuffed the damp tent and had our camp coffee and ramen or if we were in a room we’d pack dry and leave after bad café coffee and stale bread made into toast.  We however were alive and living.


We were out of season, off piste, and riding toward Madrid really slowly.  We changed routes daily as the map or the Garmin or the phone or the police would offer us some new information.  The new information was that we could ride Camino Rurals or gravel goat paths.  These farm lanes make the white roads of France look like super highways.  We double tracked our way across a lot of rural Spain.


The 30K goat path into Guadalajara followed the expressway. While bouncing over rocks and riding through puddles and ditches we waved to truckers and read the billboards.  The goat paths into Madrid were a different box of frogs.  We had nice gravel and evil large rock strewn double track with off camber shoulders.  We had deep sand and river crossings in which we had to take off our socks, roll up our tights (remember chilly as in low 50’s high 40’s) and carry the Burley over the water.  We walked and pushed and rode and prayed our way to the paved white road that took us outside of the Madrid airport.


The dark brown cloud we saw hanging over Madrid we learned was not pollution from cars it’s caused by the 80% of the population who are smoking, morning, afternoon, in their sleep, no matter where they are or what they are doing they are smoking.  The city is paved with cigarette butts.


After viewing the cloud we tunneled our way into Madrid.  On the east side of the airport there is a tunnel, a 2500 kilometer tunnel, under one of the runways.   The sign outside the tunnel advised cyclists to wear vests and turn on their lights. I donned my white vest and we turned on all of our blinkies and rode on in.  We had a dedicated bike lane with barrios every 6 or so feet.  It was a loud, ventilated, lit tunnel.  It was the longest 2500 kilometers we’d ridden on the entire journey, including riding over Col du Pourtalet.


We followed the Garmins suggested route to the campground we had stayed at 20ish years ago when we began our first about the world adventure.  The campground had not changed or improved during the time we had been gone.


We put up our tent and our clothes line and started to walk the Garmins suggested route to the grocery.  At the main intersection I looked up and realized I knew where we were.  We had stayed at a hotel in the neighborhood last year on our way home from our tour of Galicia.  We knew where the grocery, metro and cafes were.  We were home.

The next day we woke to almost the worst sound you can hear from your tent, the sound of pouring rain (the worst is hearing someone robbing you while you’re tangled in your sleeping bag, but that’s another story from another time).  We put on our best pout as we had not put up the coffee making tarp.  Thankfully by the time we actually decided we had to get up there was a lull in the rain, we got the tarp up under mostly dry skies.  I set up the tent for dining while Curt brewed up some camp coffee under our wonderful cool tarp.  It was a leisurely morning.

We then decided to rain ride to Terminal 1 of Madrid’s international airport. We needed to test the route before we had to take it for our flight out.  It took us about 15 minutes to ride the 4 kilometers of neighborhood up and down and lost.  The wrap your luggage guys and the dry corner to get the bike together are not far from Saudi Air which is what we’re flying to Malaysia on.

Now we get to spend a couple of days getting our shit together and enjoying Madrid.  We are still woefully out of season and trying desperately to stay warm and dry, but we persevere.


Things did not improve during our second night in Madrid. We got up for our nightly free-range pee to discover that it was rain dusting, not raining, not fog just wet dust that sometimes got so heavy it would sprinkle.  We crawled back into the tent to burrow into our sleeping bags, we could hear the wind, the pitter patter and feel the darkness before the dawn. After a slow morning waiting for it to clear, we rode into Madrid. It was a busy Friday 10:30ish morning.  The GPS refused to find the route to the sporting goods store we needed so we had to use the phone for navigation.  We needed cheap yoga mats for wrapping the bike for travel and a new sleeping mat as our 23 year old thermarest mat had started to delaminate.  The phone directed us to ride past the Madrid bull ring, through throngs of tourists, through a couple of protests and after an hour it said we had arrived at our destination, which was not our destination, it was a grocery store.  Frustrated with technology and the traffic we decided to have lunch at our favorite Madrid restaurant, which was a Basque tapa bar(we had found it when we were here last year).  While eating Curt reprogramed the phone and after a fun meal we really made it to our destination.  They had everything we needed.  And then the Garmin decided to find its brain and got us home on a great route.  I think the Garmin is a bit competitive and wanted to show the phone how to do things right.


And now we’re also discovering we’re not only out of season and off piste but some of the stuff we brought is in need of replacement or repair.  We now have a daily mission to replace what we can until it’s time to fly.  Next story from Malaysia.

  1. Tom Murphy says:

    What a great story, thanks for sharing. We’ve travelled in some of the same places so it’s quite fun hearing about your trip. Can’t wait to hear about Maylasia, never been there. Best to you both from sunny cold Gunni.


  2. Marilyn Staff says:

    Loved both your stories! I look forward to the next installment. This morning finds me waking up in the Himalayan foothills, high above Dehra Dun, India, listening to a troop of monkeys race across my roof. Thoroughly enjoying my favorite country, visiting friends, exploring and checking in with my school project. All good! Much love to you both.


  3. Brett says:

    Hey that’s a great adventure! I know it was cold, but hope it was worth it. Keep taking the road less travelled.


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