It never ever occurred to me that I might one day find myself sitting, as I was last night, at a table for one in a restaurant in a small village in Spain, on a Friday night; why should it? I know that I was noticed; people saw the flag and the flowers on my bike and the picture of me and Julie on my t-shirt. In the past, would I have been self-conscious? I don't know. What I do know is that I'm not in any way self-conscious these days. I simply don't care what people think; and in any event, surely they have better things to be thinking about? When I am sitting on my own, in public, I don’t care that I am sitting on my own in public. All I care about is the fact that Julie is not able to be sitting there; or is not able to be back at the hotel; or at home; that Julie cannot enjoy new experiences any more. I feel sad about what she has lost - desperately sad – and that sadness never leaves. But I'm okay with that, just as I guess most other widow learn to be. And I’m not sharing this information in the hope that I will receive sympathy; I’m just sharing it as fact; in an effort to convey to friends, to family, to other people who have experienced a bereavement recently, to the population in general, just exactly how it feels when the love of your life has died. Nothing is stimulating; nothing is exciting. But life is life; it is, as Julie often remarked, an amazing miracle. And it needs to be lived; whether you are still with the love of your life, or not. And when you are not with the love of your life, and when the reason for that is because she or he has died, then there is all the more reason to make an effort to live out the rest of your years - however many that may be – in as good, in as loving, in as meaningful, and in as proper a way as you can. To not do so, would be to dishonour the memory of the person who you loved – who you love – and whatever she or he endured, whether it be a terminal illness, a sudden unexplained death, or some other traumatic and unforeseen event. Our loved ones would give anything to be alive and we need to remember that as widows; as relatives; friends; or indeed just as plain and simple strangers, to those who have died.
Once again, I spent last night meticulously planning a cycling route for today that follows roads. But I could see that there was no way of avoiding a 5 mile stretch of unpaved road, unless I wanted to add approximately 30 miles to the length of today’s journey. Because of this week’s experiences, when I am riding on unpaved roads, it feels like I am cycling ‘on thin ice’. I’m never sure whether a thorn, or perhaps a big stone, is going to puncture one of my inner tubes. That risk, and the associated apprehension, is offset slightly by the peace and tranquillity that these unpaved roads offer; but the thought of punctures and being stranded, are never very far away and take the edge of my enjoyment of the surroundings; just a bit. The unpaved road that I had to follow today was out of La Muela and across to the A-1101. It becoming increasingly steep the further it climbed out of the town, and I eventually came to a plateau upon which were perched hundreds of wind turbines. I was able to look out across an expensive plane that went on for mile after mile. There was much brown – various shades of brown, beige, and red, to be more accurate – and this was interspersed with dark green of crops, that have clearly received generous water rations.
When I eventually reached the A-1101, it took me all the way to the small town of Villanueva de Huerva, where I had to turn left – in an Easterly direction – onto the A-220. I decided to look for a café/bar in the town and came upon a friendly bunch of locals, all enjoying a Saturday afternoon cerveza (or two… or three … or more). They could hardly speak a word of English between them, and I can speak about 10 words of Spanish; yet me managed to have some sort of conversation and as usual, it focussed on what I am up to and why I was riding a bike decorated with a flag and flowers through their town. I was able to convey the how far I am riding and why, and every member of the group appeared to be genuinely moved. We had a photo taken and then I moved, onto my bike and onto the A-220, which would take me the remaining 16 miles of today’s journey, directly into Belchite. For the first 5 miles, until the road reached the town of Fuendetodos, I was forced to ride quite steeply uphill. But from there it was more or less downhill all the way, and the ride was, thankfully, uneventful.
I arrived in Belchite, at just after 4pm and read a note on the hotel door advising guests that reception is closed on a Saturday between 2pm and 5pm. I walked 50 yards or so down the road to Ernesto’s Bar, where I enjoyed 2 bottles of ice cold sparking water and made my usual weekend Facetime call to Gina & Mike’s house. Mike is tracking me using a phone ‘app’ and when he answered my call, his first words were: “Are you in a bar called Ernesto’s Keith?” I think my dad, who was sitting next to Mike and who doesn’t even own a mobile hone, was inwardly impressed by the technology, or by Mike – or by both. But how would you know? He’s not a man to let any feelings – good or bad – show outwardly. When our call ended, I went to check-in at the hotel, dumped my bags, and went for a ride around Belchite, before parking myself up outside Bar El Gavilan. From there, it was about 100 yards back to the hotel and as I walked back with my bike, a crescent moon was try to hide shyly behind the steeple of the church opposite the hotel. As I looked up, I thought about the many times when Julie and I have been ‘stargazing’ and looking at the moon; and I wondered whether she can still see it now.