Sunday, 11 July 2010

Days 36 to 40

The first day with their panniers back, the team struggled on, weighed down by their great shackles of oppression. They miserably cycled in the 40 degree heat to Bobadilla, now only 4 days from completing their journey. Tony's help had given them a massive push towards reaching their 40 day target, and now the outlook was good. After spending the afternoon asleep under a tree, as the evening cooled down the team enjoyed a lush little run through the seemingly endless olive groves, towards the orange haze of the setting sun, camping under the trees with all but apparent abandon. They woke up and cycled on south for miles and miles to Villenueva del Trabuco, over the foothills of massive sierras, and 20% inclines, only to collapse in blissful exhaustion at having reached their destination. They stayed in the town to watch Spain beat Germany 1-0 (much to the team's satisfaction) as Puyol slotted one into the back of the old onion bag with a striking head from a perfectly placed corner kick. That night the team set up their tents in a vicious wind storm, all of their tents struggling to cope with the howling gale around them. Team member Tom awoke a number of times to find a tent pole pressed against his face by the wind, as the tent nearly crumbled around him.

They awoke after only two hours sleep. Team member James' matt had been hurled into the abyss whilst battling against the wind when erecting the tent, and he was forced to sleep on the bare rocky ground. The weary team again pushed south, almost able to taste the ocean air and the end of their great journey. They breakfasted in Villenueva Del Rosario, and climbed up the mountains towards the town of Mijas. The great and glamorous glittering golden mountains gregariously spotted with green olive groves glistened in the afternoon sun, however, the views were somewhat distorted by the sweat dripping into their eyes as they relentlessly battled through the heatwave. However, they did enjoy what were perhaps some of the greatest views that spain had to offer. Whislt the team precariously picked plump purple plums from the roadside trees, team member James was suffering greatly. After heaving from having another salami sandwich packed with superflous and frankly dangerous amounts of queso blanco, James was really feeling rather faint, nauseous as it were. He battled through though, like a right little trooper, his calves pumping like hydraulics on the arm of a JCB. The team unfortunately plunged into the depths of Malaga by accident, lost in a gritty industrial mess, having only to climb desperately out again and back into the mountains. But after a long and difficult day, the team powered into Mijas like four black-panted steam engines, and rewarded themselves with the 10 euro Menu del Dia which consisted of salmon or tuna salad to start followed by chicken kebabs or sea bream to follow, with a glass of red or white wine. The restaurant happened to be the local of the late great Leonard George Graham, spawner of half of Team Graham's members, a legend that lived in the hearts of the team. They spent the next day cycling from cemetary to cemetary looking for George's grave, but alas, given the fact that the receptions were all closed, could not find the stone. However, spending the day in the beautiful mountain town of Mijas brightened the team's spirits, and they rolled down to the coast with pride and courage, safe in the knowledge that they would soon be able to reach their destination within 40 days. Whilst in Mijas, the team were lucky enough to stumble across Phil and Andrew, who took them in into their welcoming and vibrant abode, where the team were finally able to enjoy the pleasure of a decent shower.

The team still had miles to kill however, and the clock was ticking. Ironically, the team had to front their fears, and rejoin the most dangerous stretch of the great N-340 to reach Gibraltar. The team gritted their teeth, and jumped onto the death road. After 20 terrified kilometres, the road spat the team out into what can only be described as hell - its horrendous nieghbour, the E-15 motorway. The team were forced to run across the hellish carrageway which involved great skill and cahones, to reach the safety of a motorway traffic supervisor, who advised them to take a turning off to part of the southern cost near Marbella, where the team set up camp and rested for the evening.

The next day began with a spritely dip in the Med, followed by a short sharp shocking stretch on the N-340, finally reaching the promised land of Gibraltar - land of roast dinners, monkeys, and cockney spaniards. As Gibraltar's infamous rock popped her head out of the horizon, the team's emotions ran wild. With heavy legs and happy hearts, they reached Winston Churchill avenue, with a 'Awight mate' from the local cozzer. The team could finally relax and lavishly relish in the knowledge that their tremendous feat had been overcome.

Days 30 to 35

Day 30

Having camped in Sagunt, just north of Valencia, where the team would finally leave this road of death, the team collaborated with team members Harry and James' dad, Father Tony, who met them in the town centre, and took them for a pint. He jovially reminded the team of his warning words, as he had told them that cycling along the coast would soon begin to grate on them. Tony thus directed the team inland toward pastures new, up winding mountain roads with breath-taking views, and almost empty of traffic. Having rented a hire car, tony was able to relieve the team of their Panniers, meaning each member was around 10 kilos lighter. Tony cycled with the team, helping them all the time, whether it was with lunch, their luggage, or a much needed round of cervecas. The team camped their first night with Tony on a dried up riverbed, where they ate chicken and rice with peppers, which was stewed for around three hours. Delicious.

Days 31 to 35

The team, some 40 kilos lighter, were now able to cover up to 130km in a day with relative ease. They travelled south from Betera up and over the mountains and down into Los Pedrones, where Tony treated them to pizza for dinner. They had surreptitiously camped in a field, and left early in the morning to again travel nearly 130km in a day, travelling down from the mountains onto the plains of Spain, which were somewhat beautiful in a strangely barren way. Along the flat the Team and Big T smashed the miles like hot roasted peanuts, but finding a spot to camp proved difficult, and eventually, to the surprise and great pleasure of the team, Daddy T put them up in the Hotel Europa in Albacete, where they showered, ate and rested peacefully. Having had their best night's sleep in a month, the team again travelled an overwhelming distance the following day, finishing in near Generve on the N322. It was he night before team member Tom's birthday, and they camped overlooking a huge valley, where they enjoyed hot stew, cold beer and red wine, and talked of great things, such as the life and death of stars, the apparent infinity of space-time, and the non-existence of negative numbers. It was surely a birthday eve he would never forget. The team continued on the next day, cycling hard and pushing the miles, as this was the last day that they would enjoy with no luggage on the back of their bikes. Tony helped them set up camp, and took them for a couple of beers on a farewell note. After he had gone the team stayed in the bar a while and celebrated Tom's birthday relaxedly, retiring eventually to ther campsite on the edge of the road.

Days 25 to 30

Day 25 and 26

The day after the team arrived in Arenys Del Mar, they trained it into the thriving metropolis of Barcelona, where they soaked up the sights, enjoyed some sandwiches at Bo Da B's, and enjoyed a thoroughly deserved night out on the town, where they met the Brasilian bandits Phillipi and Cleef, and spent the night with friendly Australians Matty and Leanne. Having got the night bus back to their campsite, the next day the team were forced to cycle through the city they had so much enjoyed the previous night. However, although cycling in presented no problems, the team had much to do in the city, and after finding an internet cafe and getting caught up in a gay parade, the sun was rapidly setting upon them. Navigating their way out of the city at dusk proved more difficult than anticipated, and it wasn't long before the team were drowning in the haze of an urban wilderness as night fell, and they had to leave the city via busy A roads. Although a somewhat distressing experience however, it was definitely a lesson and an adventure for the weary travellers, who eventually collapsed on a beach some 30km south of the city where they spent the night being worried about getting shouted at by an angry beach-combing-tractor-driving Spaniard. Tragically, due to his exhaustion, team member Tom misplaced the speedometer somewhere, and from here onwards, the team's awareness of time, speed and distance gradually began to slip away through their fingers, like the sand on which they slept.

Days 26 to 30

These days were not some of the team's best, as they were forced to cycle along the great N340 for more than 300km. This infamous road is an awsomely ugly artery of carbon monoxide that runs along the Costa Brava like a great hungry tapeworm. This road the team would quickly come to despise, as heavy goods vehicles and numberless cars, Hondas, Renaults and Saabs pushed past the team, filling their eyes and lungs with dirt and soot. This road of death controlled the team's lives for the near 200 miles that they spent on it, and the team gradually became lazy, as their lunch time stints on the sandy beaches increased, and their desire to cycle along la carretera del muerte ebbed away. The team did enjoy the lush Medditeranean water however, and camped on some wonderfully picturesque beaches.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Days 18 to 24

After a great afternoon spent eating steak sandwiches at the house of Felix (the most hospitable Toulousian ever) and having their bikes serviced by freindly Yorkshireman Phil (the best bike mechanic this side of the Swaledale), Team Graham cycled south out of Toulouse towards the forboding and mystical Pyrenees, which lurked menacingly in the jerking hearts of the team. The route was phenomenal, and completely unexpected to the team, who had spent the last two days in the haze of an urban wilderness. The team saw the faint silouhette of the mountains they were yet to tackle for the first time, which lurked like dark beasts of fury amassing on the horizon. With the steak sandwiches still bobbing up and down in the team´s stomachs, they ventured forth with great enthusiasm, unaware of the atrocities yet to besiege them.

On the 18th day, the Team awoke in a beautiful riverside setting, within the comfortable depths of nature´s bosom. They had experienced traditional French hospitality to the fullest in a tiny bar in Mazaria the previous evening, as plate after plate of gratuit pain, jambon et brie was served to them, as they witnessed a dismayed French football team lose to Mexico. Soon after awakening, a great tragedy befell the team. Team member Harry´s spokes were feeling slightly squew-wiff, and due to their repeatedly breaking, the team were forced to walk two disasterous kilometers to the nearest bike mechanic to recieve treatment. Typically, and honarably, the wise french mechanic didnt even charge for his services, and gave the team a spare wheel, which was regrettably worse than the original, leaving the fear stricken team to travel on foot another 5 kilometers to cycle passion where the bike fully recovered, and the team filled their stomachs each eating a whole baguette with brie and tomato to releave their stress. After 3 hours waiting on the world to change, the team cycled on, but these shinanigans had effectively cost them a whole day. The team arrived in Foix, and went to watch England play appallingly against Algeria, in a pub most likely owned by Algerians. They camped by a nice river, which provided water, and a place to wash in the morning.

The next day, the 19th of June, the team carried on towards Ax-les-Thermes. The scenery was of utterly unsurpased beauty for the excited team, who enjoyed outstanding views for the whole day, but as they approached their destination, the rain poured down upon them, and chilled their weary bodies to the bone. They arrived at the campsite soaking and miserable, even close to hypothermia, happy only to have a warm shower, and cook up some sausage and mash in the toilets before they retired to their wet and bedraggled tents. When they awoke, the path looked dangerous, and rather than risking passing through dangerous weather in the mountains, they spent the subsequent day restlessly and frustratedly waiting for the weather to pass.

On the 21st, the team awoke, ready for the challenge that faced them. The team climbed that morning to 2001 meters, 6565 ft, where despite the good weather, a wild wind raged around them at the snow-capped peak. The views were unreal, right across the moutains, where skiiers and snowboarders aplenty would be treading the same paths later that year. As they descended, they decided to take a short break from the smell of burning rubber emited by their scorching break pads, and a peculiar experience befell them. Team member Harry came across four wild horses on the road, which scarpered quickly as he approached. The team followed them down into a mountain pasture, and to their great surprise, as they came over a ridge, they walked down into an utterly surreal perfeclty green prarie, surrounded by steep cliffs, where around 20 wild horses were grazing, young and old. As a pregnant mother lay on the ground, with young foals gathering around her, the team comforted her, enjoying this bizarre moment together.. it was indescribable, and nothing quite like anything any of them had ever experienced. They arrived at a beautiful mountain lake later that day, where they made their bed for the night.

The next day, after more beautiful views and moutain climbing, the team crossed the border into Spain. Thinking that their mountain climbing was finished with, they approached the mouth of a 5km tunnel, only to be informed "no es por las blicicletas," when they realised that they would again have to climb to nearly 2000 meters. Despite the difficult task, the route was amazing, and travelling downhill for miles, the team enjoyed some of the best views they had yet witnessed. Staying again in a small field, the team reflected that these were some of their greatest days.

The team pushed onthe next day, having breakfast in a small Spanish town, where team member James illustriously recorded the local sounds on his hand held recording device, Yamaha PocketrakCX (See You!). Tom had a clumsy yet somewhat comprehendable with the local retailer, who almost persuaded the team to eat her chorizo for breakfast. Politely refusing, they carried on, still enjoying beautiful views, which were unfortunately slightly marred by the main roads the team were forced to tackle. Yawning mouths of dark hungry tunnels swallowed the terrified team again and again, who were adrift in a black mournful ocean of diesel. They enjoyed the downward sloping gradent for the remainder of the day however, and arrived in Taradell, to watch England play far better football than they had yet against Slovenia, retiring to another secluded field, which happened to be abundent with fresh wild thyme, which naturist James "Green-Fingered" Graham enthusiastically hoarded in his small plant collecting pouch.
After a herb-infused tortellini dish, the team were unfortunately deprived of another night´s sleep by the lound BANG of firewords, and the music of a fiesta, which ran late into the night. Why weren´t they there? Possibly because they deleriously imangined that they were still drifting through the dead and silent ghost towns of southern France, where not much ever really happens, and as much as a dog barking is considered an annual event.

The next day, the team ventured south, what a surprise. After many ups and downs, they finally arrived at the coast, just north of Barcelona, where desperate and deprived shrieks of happiness were emitted by the team at the prospect of a wash beckoned them, as the Mediterranean Sea peeked its cheeky head over the horizon. After 14 days of landlocked cycling, the team gratefully inhaled the fresh sea breeze. The ride toward the coast was hardly a chore, as the team wound down breathtaking mountain roads for miles, with only the cool refreshing water waiting for them at the end of the road.