It's a strange existence when you have no direction. We have never had a plan on this bike tour, but there was always a specific location or people to visit that somewhat dictated our route. In the US it was a goal to ride coast to coast and our tour was designed to stop and see our friends and families scattered across the country. In South America the goal was always Ushuaia, the southern tip of the continent and there were very few roads to choose from. We never had to think about where we should go as there was really only one option. But now things are different. We don't have many friends or family to visit nor is our goal to simply reach a specific city or traverse a given country or all of Europe for that matter. I'm not sure what our goal is other than to see a huge portion of Europe, which, with no direction, is proving to be a more difficult goal than it sounds.
We open our travel guide book and all it mentions are museums, cathedrals and attractions in the cities. We're not big fans of museums or cathedrals as they lose our attention quickly, and it's especially difficult when we have to also worry about our bikes and possessions sitting out on the street. Cities are nothing more than congested, traffic-heavy nightmares to navigate on a touring bike and we try to avoid them as much as possible and therefore have found our guide book worthless in helping direct us. We've talked to plenty of people, but most people who travel, travel to the cities. That's where things are happening; most travelers wouldn't be perfectly content, as we are, spending an evening in the endless grids of olive groves covering the mountains of southern Spain. Thus, we have also learned that travelers, unless they too are on fully loaded touring bikes, are generally useless in giving us helpful suggestions. So we have been left to wander aimlessly. Every few nights we open our map and assess the billions of options we have. “Where should we go next” is always the question. “I don't care” is always our response. I generally despise that as an answer but we really don't care as we have no expectations or any idea of what we'll find down any road we take.
We've started to use the “Natural Parks” as well any green colored areas on our map as our points of interest and it's been working well for us. We're still unsure what exactly a “Natural Park” is as there's still houses, towns and farming and there's no notable difference with the surrounding areas other than everything is fenced, which can make finding camp a little difficult at times. It has, however, generally put us on quiet mountain roads where we are alone to enjoy the oak tree scattered hills, ancient moss-covered stone walls, giant granite boulders, rivers and wildflowers which neither of us will ever complain about. The terrain has been challenging as all of southern Spain appears to be mountainous, but belting out the songs playing on our iPods at the top of our lungs without a care in the world helps us forget about the burning muscles and instead shifts our focus to the beautiful landscapes surrounding us. Music has a wonderful way of making great things even better.
We have learned a couple of lessons from our first week in Spain. Number one is that they are the ultimate lovers of siestas and number two is do NOT eat Spanish mushrooms. We thought it inconvenient in South America where towns shut down for an hour or two every afternoon, but here it's more like 4-5 hours and literally the streets of every small town are deserted from 2pm until as late as 7pm. We have learned to do all of our days' shopping before noon if we want anything other than chips, soda, coffee or beer during siesta which can be purchased from the bars that remain open at all hours and have saved us from collapsing of afternoon thirst or hunger on more than one occasion.
And then there are the mushrooms that we love in our dinners. It was virtually impossible to find good mushrooms in South America so we were ecstatic when we arrived in Europe to find them abundant. Although they are plentiful, we found out the hard way that they're also full of sand and rocks, even the packaged, pre-cut, clean-looking ones. We typically make a veggie stir fry with noodles for dinner and there's nothing more disappointing than digging into a delicious smelling meal after a long day but immediately losing your appetite when you end up with a mouthful of gritty veggies and then have to spit out a big rock that nearly busted a tooth. Where all of the sand was hiding when we inspected the mushrooms is beyond us but we both have too much dental work to risk breaking by chewing on rocks. We've donated a few of our recent dinners to the trash cans, had to resort to good old egg sandwiches for dinner and sadly give up eating mushrooms in Spain.
Yesterday marked our 10th month on the road and the daily wear and tear on our gear has really started to show, especially in our clothes. I guess when you wear the same two outfits everyday for that long you have to expect they'll eventually wear out. Our t-shirts are literally threadbare and when we hold them up to our faces we can see through both layers of the shirt better than we can see through the horribly scratched up lenses of our sunglasses. We found a thrift shop yesterday in Granada and bought Mike a new shirt as the formerly white one he had been riding in since we left Minnesota in September had turned a nasty shade of brown, even after being laundered in a machine (with soap) and it was beginning to be embarrassing to wear in public. Then there are our poor cycling shorts of which we each have two pair. They have been worn all day, everyday, washed in rivers or gas station sinks, wrung out and hung to dry nearly 150 times each on top of all of the wear they got before we left on this trip. The material around our legs have slowly been deteriorating over the past month losing their elasticity and becoming thin enough to see through. The transparency in the legs doesn't concern us at all but last week when Mike doubled over laughing about the thinness of my shorts in the rear, we realized it might be time for some new shorts. I wouldn't say I'm fully mooning all of the people we pass, yet, but it's definitely a rapidly waxing crescent moon that needs to be addressed soon before we really have a problem.