Friday, May 19, 2006


Trip dist: 120 kms. Trip time: 8 hrs, 3 mins. Tot dist: 1499 kms.

Tiredness accumulates? Ha ha ha ha! What tired?

Going into Madrid requires crossing the Sierra de Guadarrama. There are several possible ways to do this, one, through El Escorial, through 3 or 4 passes (puertos, they're called here), and which was my first pick, since the passes seemed lower, but asking around at the bars local wisdom entreated me to go instead through el Puerto de los Leones, at elevation 1511 meters.

What, that's 400 meters higher than killer Passo Cisa in Italy, you say? And even higher than the mountains I ran away from (er, train-rode through) on the way to León?

Well, yes, but the circumspect cyclist remembers something important: it is not elevation that matters, but elevation change. It turns out, Avila is at elevation 1100 meters or so already (how I gained that while biking through seemingly perfectly flat plains is beyond me, but it may explain why the ride from Salamanca had seemed so tiring, since as it turns out Salamanca is at around 795 meters--and how I wish I had a topo map, or at least an altimeter to know these things, instead of finding out post facto by internet search, but at the same time, it may freak me out unnecessarily at times...), and the pass is 60 kilometers away. Plenty of distance to gain 400 meters in elevation.

The ride, of course, was not effortless, but it was not much worse from stuff already encountered before in, say, Portugal. In particular, the actual ascent to the pass was very short, only 4 kms, which compared to Passo Cisa's 20 kms of up to 15% grade slope at some points, was, at only at most 10% grade, a very localized and rather mild kind of suffering, which I easily completed in less than an hour of riding (compare to Cisa's 4-5 hours of push-walk). Acute, but short-lasting, so much so that after taking the requisite pass elevation sign pictures, which took more effort, in terms of camera setup, patience and correct bike positioning for optimum sign show effect than the actual climb, some of the motorists having a snack at the restaurant at the top of the pass remarked that they had seen me pedal uphill and judging from my running around setting and re-setting the camera, positioning the tripod, and picking up the bike each time the wind toppled it over, that I did not look the least bit tired at all.

What were you saying, Fernando? ;)

Anyway, after the pass everything was downhill for the 60 kms to Madrid (well, not quite, since I had to ride on the service roads once the national highway turned into an autopista, there were some fun roller coaster-like up and down short hillies to go over the freeway exits and intersection bridges), and the approach to the city was rather entertaining, navigationwise, as I had to actively search for alternate routes through neighboring suburbs on the fly in order to avoid the freeways into the city, which rather lengthened the ride a bit. But all in all, it was a fun ride, both physically and mentally.

When I arrived I headed for the Let's Go highly-recommended "Cat's Hostel". And I say it again: Let's Go SUCKS! The reason they recommend this hostel is because it has a nice Mudejar architecture decorated patio, complete with fountain and mosaic arabesques, but otherwise, it is exceedingly noisy, full of college age giggly girls and randy boys, and basically a mess. Tomorrow, I'm moving. For two more Euros I get a nice room by myself in a nice, clean, half-empty hostal just two blocks away which may not have the young college kid ambiance, but is a lot quieter and saner. Holy Christ!

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