Saturday, May 27, 2006


Trip dist: 103 kms. Trip time: 7 hrs, 57 mins. Tot dist: 1801 kms.

The road not taken.

Wow, this was another ride with lots of headwind, and therefore rather tough ride up to Minglanilla. There is also a small port/pass on the way to Requena, Puerto de Contreras, which you can approach two ways, on N3 (the national highway, old two-lane), or on the A3 (newer, 4-6 lane highway, not autopista, but almost-like). The A3 is smoother, not too many neighboring towns (you need to exit and travel at least 800 meters away from the highway to get to them), lots of traffic, with a relatively gradual ascent to the pass. The N3, of course, has lots less traffic, is prettier, but the incline according to the locals I polled at the town 10 kms away from the ascent, is a bit harder. Lots of pain, but highly localized and short. "Which one would you take if you were biking?", I asked them.

Shrugs and puzzled/helpless exchanges of glances. Short, sharp pain, or mild, longer lasting? They don't know.

Well, how much longer lasting is it? 10 kms? 3 kms?

Only a couple, says local wisdom.

Besides, they say, bikes are not allowed on the A3.

"Oh?" said I. "I was on it just yesterday..." (and it was true! Also true the day before, when exiting chaotic Madrid...)

"Ah, but if the guardia civil de caminos catches you you're in trouble!"

And I laughed. For that is exactly what happened to me yesterday: I passed right next to a parked guardia civil, except no trouble, they simply smiled at me and shooed me on my way good-naturedly (bikes, tractors, and pedestrians, it turns out, are actually allowed on the autovias, just not on the autpistas. Tricky, but there's a difference).

After explaining this, more shrugs followed. "Take the N3, maybe" they said, rather unconvincingly.

I always think local rules of thumb, when heeded with caution and chosen wisely, have great merit to them, so on to the N3 I went, even though I had been thinking of avoiding it and getting onto the A3 ever since the morning when I started, because the N3 was doing a lot of very pretty but wholly unnecessary uphilly-downhilly (and if you could plot the derivative of the road it would be just as sinusoidal in the z-direction as the road itself!) while the A3 which I could often see run parallel was a whole lot smoother, and had been looking for an excuse to get on it, which the approaching pass did not, in this case, it seems, provide. {shrug}

Now, approaching Puerto de Contreras, the A3 runs exactly alongside the N3. So while on the N3 (the locals seemed to prefer short and quick pain to a mild prolonged one--this is probably quite true for most things in life: hell, I think, is a small, annoying but not show-stopping pain that never ends--like a blister on the back of your heel that is felt only at every step of the right--but not left--foot, if you can imagine), at every approaching new uphill, which dissapoints (because you were hoping the one you just came down on was the last one) and makes you grit your teeth once more, one always has the urge to check up on the other road, which, as it happens, was running along very smoothly on flat plains, and did I make the right choice, and are these little uphillies necessary, and will they drain my energy before I approach the actual pass, and the angle I make on this road with that truck on the A3 makes it seem for an instant like we're travelling at the same speed, let me race it and take advantage of the optical illusion, but no, the truck is way too fast, and why the heck did I take this road, this is sucking more than I thought it would, etc. Doubt always pursues you until the very last moment when the choice, one or the other, takes you to the final consequence or (in this case) destination and it no longer matters. But before that, the "what ifs" can drive you nuts (and maybe if you consider that as I was pedalling I happened to be listening to Shostakovich's obsessive string obbligato in the 3rd movement of his 8th, you can imagine how appropriate the whole environment was: hot weather, difficult ride, and with a coincidentally highly appropriate stressful musical background, while in the distance you can see the smooth, easy, Beethoven's "Pastoral"-like road in comparison!). One...always wonders about the road not taken.

And in the end, you're forced to convince yourself, even when you can see that this road you chose goes downhill (a lot!) way before the pass, implying there will be a high price to pay later, while the other one continues smoothly, perfectly flat until you lose sight of it and you know it is already too late, way too late to go back and get on the other, you now are forced, you have to (for there's no choice about it either), tell yourself, "oh, this road I'm on is prettier", or "oh, this road is less boring", or "oh, that road was too dangerous anyway", and pray you're right, even though all this time your brain is screaming at you what you know by now is true: "Ah, [insert your name here], you were a fool!"

{shrug}. So it goes.

The cool thing about Requena is the old cathedral, which has been restored inside in modern style architecture and now is the site of a museum of modern art. Getting to the old part of town here one has to "callejear" a little.

The verb "callejear" is such a cool word. There's no equivalent in English, but in Spanish this short and elegant utterance means something roughly like: "to improvise and change course on the fly while navigating through narrow labyrinthine city streets in order to get to where you want to go."

Anyway, for dinner I had a delicious "Consomé al Jerez", which is just your generic clear chicken broth and would deserve no mention other than the fact that, while in Mexico we add a little squirt of lemon to make such first courses a little less boring, here in Requena they added a few drops of Sherry, which made it quite interesting indeed, and it was a nice idea, I thought.

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