Distance 18 miles (29 km)
Time spent in the saddle: 1 hours 30 mins
Elevation gained: 395 feet
Maximum Speed: 31.4 miles per hour
Average speed: 12.4 miles per hour
Total distance for ride: 745 miles (1199 km)
I seemed to just want to hang around in Cabanes this morning. I was in no rush to depart and, I guess, in no rush to finish this ride. I’m well aware that the whole venture has provided a distraction from the ‘real’ world; a protective bubble. Perhaps I am frightened of that protection coming to an end when the bubble inevitably bursts. The thing is, it has to burst; the ‘protection’ has come to an end; and I will then just have to get on with things. I know this; I knew it when I was still sat in a Cabanes street outside Bar l’Hostal at 2pm; and I knew that I must finish my coffee and get back on with my bike. I did, and I eventually left the town at 2.15pm, soon reaching the CV-148 road, which would accompany me for approximately half of today’s short, 16-mile ride. The CV-148 was mainly downhill but extremely bumpy; the local council around here must be as cash-strapped as ours are at home. But I didn’t choose the route for comfort; I chose it because it would ultimately lead me to Orpesa, the next town (northwards) along the coast from Benicassim. This is a place that Julie and I rode to a couple of times when we were in Benicassim in October 2014. A 5-mile long ‘Via Verde’ (or ‘Green Way’) runs between the two towns, along a disused railway line (www.castellonvirtual.com/the-greenway-via-verde-between-benicassim-and-oropesa-del-mar/). We rode along this on the last day that Julie ever went for a long ride; the last time that she went for a ‘day out’, for want of a better phrase, on her bike. Julie was to use her bike for very short journeys on a couple more occasions while we were still on the continent but wasn’t able to use it at all after our return home at the beginning of November. The date of that ride - which took in the Via Verde - was 19th October 2014, the 37th birthday of Julie’s sister, Kelly. It was a hot and sunny day (surprise, surprise) and Julie and I rode to Orpesa from the Bonterra Park campsite, before following a circular cycle route from that town that took in more of the coast further north; as far as a lovely place called Torre La Sal. It was a long day and Julie was quite exhausted for a few days afterwards. And I think that it was during those few days that I began to become that little bit more concerned about her health; and to worry that perhaps the side effects that Julie was experiencing as a result of the targeted chemotherapy that she was undergoing at monthly intervals in Germany, might be outweighing the benefits of the treatment itself.
So today, I chose the CV-148 road to Orpesa so that I could ride along the Via Verde into Benicassim. And I was still on the CV-148, when I caught my first glimpse of the sea since leaving Santander on 3rd July. I crossed a roundabout at just before 3pm and as I lifted my head from the road, I could see the Mediterranean up ahead, between the last few remaining hills of my ride. I then descended to the N-340, a much busier road, and the one that Julie and I had driven along in our motor home, on the day that we arrived in Benicassim for the first time. I had 8 miles of my ride still to go now and my view of the sea became obstructed by a long row of tall buildings; blocks of (mainly) Spanish owned tourist accommodation, beyond the road, and beyond the agricultural land, in an area that has seen large-scale developed in recent years; development that hasn’t, it must be said, been kind to the surrounding environment and scenery. "Shit", Julie and I thought when we saw the development, so close to our eventually destination; "Where the hell have we come to?" But thankfully, Benicassim was to prove a much more inviting and beautiful place, altogether.
I was soon in Orpesa and the fact that I was back in a place that Julie visited, and visited so recently, began to hit home. I rode past buildings and landmarks that I recognised and a multitude of images – all of Julie, mainly on her bike – began flashing through my mind. When I passed through one particular part of the town – a sitting area where the seats have all been tiled in very bright colours, and which Julie loved – I had to stop. I took a photo of myself sitting where Julie and I had sat 21 months earlier but, as I said when I wrote about taking a photo at the water fountain on the road into Vega de Pas, on 3rd July, I don’t really know why. Again, the only conclusion I can draw is that I was somehow trying to turn back the clock and pretending that Julie is still (physically) here.
I eventually reached the Via Verde and as I rode up the ramp onto the disused railway track, it felt like only yesterday that me and Julie were riding along there. I soon came to the tunnel and my memory of riding through that same tunnel with Julie was so vivid, that it was as if the 21 intervening months, her suffering, and all the misery since then, had never happened. If only! I stopped by the old tower at the side of the Via Verde, just as Julie and I had done, together. I took in the views of the vegetation and the beautiful green sea beyond, just as Julie and I had done, together. I felt the heat, and smelled the scent of the tress in that heat, just as Julie and I had done, together. And I reached the end of the Via Verde, where it descends down into Benicassim, just as Julie and I had done, together. I rode down the slope alone, and with tears streaming from my eyes. I just couldn’t believe – I just can’t believe – what has happened since Julie and I were in this town in October 2014 … together.
When the Via Verde reaches Benicassim, riders and walkers have two options. One is to turn left, into a beautiful promenade that runs between the golden beach and the magnificent Victorian era villas that still populate at least some of the sea front. The other is to cross the road, onto a continuation of the cycle path, which leads around the back of a residential area and the Bonterra Park campsite. It was on this site that Julie and I stayed in our motor home in October 2014 and I chose to continue along the cycle path and ride past the site: As if I wasn’t upset enough already! I could just about see over the fence at the back of the campsite, and the pitch on which we had parked our motor home during our stay; in a part of the site where, in ‘out of season’ October, we had been the only ‘unit’ for most of our stay but which today, in the high season of July, was jam-packed with motor homes and touring caravans. I soon arrived in a central part of the town, passing the temporary campsite that has been created to house revellers attending the Benicassim music festival this week, and past two busloads of British youngsters, disembarking in time to start revelling at the festival tomorrow night. I rode past the supermarket where Julie and I shopped during our stay in the town, and then the front gates of Bonterra Park, where I stopped. I now just had the short ride from the campsite to Julie’s beach; a ride that Julie and I did every morning during our stay in 2014; left out of the Bonterra Park gates, along Avenue Barcelona, right into Carrer Bisbe Serra, and then left along the promenade, until we reached the Villa del Mar bar/restaurant, where we would lock our bikes to some piece of street furniture or other (usually the sign indicating the ‘official’ name of the beach – ‘Almadrava’), and then settle ourselves under our parasol for a lazy day of sunbathing, swimming, talking, reading, and listening to music. It is a ride of just 750 metres; the last 750 metres out of a total of 1199 kilometres; the last 820 yards out of total of 745 miles; the last 820 of the 1,311,200 yards that I have ridden since leaving home, and then Wirral Hospice, on 25th June.
Rather bizarrely, given the sadness I was feeling at being back in Benicassim without Julie, and the devastation that her life has ended and she can no longer enjoy places that she loved, or visit new places, I was a bit apprehensive as to how Julie’s beach would look. When we were here in October 2014, it was quiet. But Benicassim is a proper tourist destination and Julie’s beach is, ultimately, a tourist beach; it is not one of those glorious, quiet coves that you find in places like Cornwall or that Julie and I used to frequent on our travels to Greece. I was arriving in July, at the height of the tourist season and indeed, the day before the start of the Benicassim Festival. “Might it be chock-a-block with tourists, and populated with sunbeds for hire?” I wondered, as I rode along Avenue de Barcelona. “Perhaps the sand and the sea are not as lovely as I remember? Maybe I have built it all up as being lovely, since Julie died?” But when I reached the end of Carrer Bisbe Serra and rode onto the promenade, any apprehension faded. I could see Julie’s beach a hundred yards to my left; and it was as lovely as I had remembered; and the sea looked perfect; and there weren’t any sunbeds for hire; and there weren’t too many people. It all looked beautiful; but it couldn’t be beautiful; because Julie couldn’t be there to make it beautiful.
I rode the last 100 yards, to the wooden ‘boardwalk’ that extends onto the beach, in front of the Villa Del Mar Bar/Restaurant – the first place in Benicassim that Julie and I ever frequented - and then I rode onto the sand. My wheels sank of course, and within a split second, I had come to a stop and my feet touched the floor; they touched the sand of Julie’s beach. I hadn't really thought about what I would do when I arrived but I found myself instinctively wanting to kneel down and so I did. Then I kissed the sand; and then I just thought and felt. A whole rush of things went through my head and I had a strange conversation with Julie. I was thanking her for getting me here; then I was hating the fact that it is Julie’s death that has led me back here at all; then I was proud that I haven't just faded away since Julie died and that I've managed to ride 750 miles, back to her beach; and then I was sad that I ever had to think about doing this. On the one hand, I knew – I know - that I have achieved something; on the other, I wish I'd never been given any reason for seeking to achieve it.
It may officially be called ‘Almadrava’ but it was always Julie’s beach in my mind and my arrival by bike simply confirmed this. “I’m back here, Jule,” I said inside my head. “And I know what you’re thinking; ‘why did you bother?’ Well I just did and I’m so, so sorry that you are not here. I’m so, so sorry that you went through all that you went through and that you didn’t make it back here; and I hope that you don’t mind me coming without you. Please make sure I’m not here without you, Jule. Please be with me here. Please be with me everywhere that I go. Please continue to live on this earth through me. Please see and feel what I am seeing and feeling now. I love you so much, Julie; thank you for getting me here; thank you for keeping me going; thank you for giving me a life; thank you for making me carry on with my life even though yours has ended. Thank you my love”. Of course, as I write this a few hours later, I cant remember every last word that I was thinking and saying in my head; but this is pretty much everything and, I reckon, is almost word for word.
I said my usual daily prayer for Julie, I sat for a bit, I took a couple of photos, and then I went for a swim. I'd forgotten how warm the water had been when Julie and I were here, even in October. Today, any bathers could have stayed in the water all day without ever feeling cold. I floated around; I thought about Julie; I visualised her being in the water with me back in October 2004. Then I showered off the salt water and walked to the Villa Del Mar, a lovely bar/restaurant with a courtyard overlooking Julie’s beach, and a row of 6 tables and lacy parasols outside the courtyard, on the promenade. This was the first place that Julie and I ever enjoyed a drink in Benicassim; a coffee for me and for Julie, as ever, a green tea. Julie loved the parasols, with their beads and tassels hanging delicately beneath the lace. I sat beneath one and I toyed with ordering a green tea in Julie’s honour; but I figured a coffee would be just as appropriate, since that is what I used to drink when we were here last time. And let’s face it; a good, strong coffee, is a whole lot nice than a green tea!
I eventually had to drag myself away from the Villa Del Mar and Julie’s beach, so that I could check-in at my accommodation – the Hotel Tramontana – about a mile away. The staff were expecting me and, perhaps more importantly, were expecting my bike. Christina immediately directed me to the storeroom at the back of the hotel and she arrived a few minutes later, armed with the appropriate key. A comfortable space was made for my bike - in between the tins of paint, cleaning products, crates, boxes, and at least three different sets of stepladders – and I left it there for a brief, and well earned, rest while I unpacked my bags in my new home for the next 9 days. Me and the bike were soon off out again, however, to the Madre Tierra organic restaurant, which Julie loved, and then back to the Villa Del Mar, where I sat with a couple of beers, looking at Julie’s beach and the dark sea beyond, and listening to the waves as they gently broke on Julie’s sand. As I sat, the signifance of me being there, and of what I have done, hit me. And so did the significance of today’s date; not the fact that it is 16 months since Julie’s funeral and burial, but because this was the date – 13th July – in 2014, when we began the first of our two journeys to the continent of Europe; so that Julie could attend the J.W. Goethe University Hospital in Frankfurt, for the targeted chemotherapy treatment that she was to endure monthly, for the next 5 months. When we made the appointment in Frankfurt, Julie already had two other appointments in the diary with practitioners in Bath and Bristol who she had already seen a couple of times. So we left home on 13th July, in our motor home, to enable Julie to attend her appointments in Bath and in Bristol, knowing that we would be catching Le Shuttle from Folkestone, on 17th July, and driving from Calais to Frankfurt over the subsequent days. Beyond that we knew nothing. We didn’t know how many times Professor Vogl, the doctor in Frankfurt, would need to see Julie; we didn’t know whether she would have to be admitted as an inpatient; we didn’t know when we would be returning home. In the event, Julie was treated as an outpatient at monthly intervals, and we spent two separate periods – one in July & August, the other in September & October – travelling in various European countries. The second of those trips saw us drive from Frankfurt, through France, into Spain, and to a town called Benicassim, which Julie loved, and where she now has her own beach named after her … in my head, at least.
I walked on your beach again today, Julie. God bless you my love. Dawson xx
I've posted below, a picture of me – or at least, my belly - on Julie’s beach, taken when I arrived this afternoon. There are then a handful of pictures of Julie, from when we were in Benicassim in October 2014, a few of which were taken as we rode along the Via Verde (the ‘Green Way’) along which I cycled into Benicassim today. I’ve then posted a few pics from today's ride and finally, I have posted today’s ‘Song of the day’. The song, ironically enough given today's heat on Julie's beach, is called ‘Winter’. It is a song that we played at Julie's funeral, which took place 16 months ago today, on 13th March 2015; it is the last song that we played, as her coffin left the chapel, and I just couldn't get it out of my head today as I was riding along (I suspect because of it being the 13th). I have posted a link to the version of Winter that the song's writer, James Grant, recorded especially for Julie and if you aren't familiar with how that came about, please have a listen to the song and then have a read of the text that I have posted about it below. I've also posted a version of the original version of the song, by James Grant's band Love & Money, so that you can hear the version that Julie and I first heard and loved, back in 1991. Appropriately enough, the only version that I could find on 'YouTube' has got Spanish subtitles on it!
Thanks to everyone for your support, and to Julie for guiding me back here safely.
Love, peace, & strength.
Julie's beach, Benicassim, España.
Some pictures of Julie - Benicassim, October 2014
Some pictures of today's ride
To hear the version of Winter that James recorded for Julie, click here or click on this link: James Grant - Winter (acoustic version for Julie).
Note: If you get a 'pop-up' message asking you to 'sign in' or subscribe to 'Drop box', just ignore it and go straight to the video or click on 'No thanks, continue to video' at the bottom of the pop-up message.
To hear the original version of the song, click on the YouTube link below.
And to read about how James Grant came to record a special version of Winter for Julie, scroll down the page a bit further ...
Winter – acoustic version for Julie: The story
One of the first pop concerts that Julie and I attended together, was a band called Love & Money, playing live at Manchester Library (I think, in the summer of 1990). The band released a number of albums in the 80s & 90s, had a few singles in the charts, and reformed briefly in 2012. Otherwise, James Grant, the lead singer, has been a solo artist since 1993. One of Julie's favourite songs is a Love & Money song from 1991, called 'Winter', and composed by James.
Julie was diagnosed with cancer in 2010 and was told that it was 'incurable'/'untreatable'. After the initial shock had knocked the wind out of her sails, Julie vowed to take control of her cancer and stop it from controlling her. With a lot of effort and great commitment, Julie managed to remain relatively well despite a number of set backs and probably confounded all of the doctors' expectations. Nevertheless, she did experience these set backs and one came a few months into 2014, when the discovery of some new cancer cells required treatment at The Christie hospital in Manchester. Julie's appointment was on a Monday and we knew that she would be very anxious during the preceding weekend. So we decided to stay on a caravan site in Bury for the weekend with a plan of doing some walking, taking Julie's mind off things, and then getting the tram into Manchester for her treatment on the Monday. We were walking into Bury town centre on the Saturday, when I saw that James Grant was playing a gig that night. We bought tickets and attended a fantastic gig, along with around 100 other people, which Julie later described as "the best gig I have ever been to".
Anyway, when Julie began to lose her appetite in January of 2015, I decided that I would like to do something both to lift her spirits and to acknowledge the contribution she has made to the lives of people she has touched, and society in general, by arranging a get together where people who knew and loved Julie, could demonstrate that love while she was still relatively well, rather than at some future point after we had lost her. And in my urge to do something very special, I wrote to James Grant, who lives in Glasgow, and asked if he would consider doing a gig for Julie. I described some of Julie's achievements and qualities, and how much she meant to me and other people, and told James that I would like to pay him his usual gig rate, and pay for his accommodation & travel expenses.
James not only bothered to reply but stated that he would like to do something. He said that he would feel awkward taking money and that if he did a gig, he would simply like his accommodation expenses. James also said that he was very busy in the immediate future and asked if we could look at doing something in April, when he was due in North West England (to play a gig in Southport). Unfortunately, Julie's health had deteriorated and she had entered our local hospice a few days before I received James' reply to my initial letter. I wrote thanking James for his generous offer but saying that a gig, especially one in April, no longer seemed feasible. I then signed off with a quite 'off-the-cuff' remark saying that Julie loved his song 'Winter' and that if he was rehearsing for his tour in the coming weeks, and had a video camera to hand, it would be great if he could video himself playing the track and send the video to Julie.
To my great surprise, a link to a video arrived in my email inbox a few days later. James had asked the producer of a couple of Love & Money’s videos (I think I have got that right) to film him playing the song in an echoey hall, and to edit the video, ready for James to send it to us, complete with his verbal introduction: “Hi Julie. This one’s for you”. Julie was so moved that she burst into tears when she first began watching the video in the hospice, and I had to switch it off. She could not believe that I had written to an artist describing her qualities and that he had then gone to the trouble of sending her a special recording of a song that she loved so much. In all honesty, I just think Julie didn't consider herself worthy of this kind of positive treatment or of (what she would have described as) "such a fuss". However, I am glad to report that she watched the video a few days later, along with me and our friends Jeff and Marg, and absolutely loved it. 'Winter' was to be the last song that Julie ever heard in full and the original (1991) version was played as her coffin left the chapel at the end of her funeral service.
You may or may not know of the band Love & Money or the singer James Grant; you may or may not know the song 'Winter'; you may or may not like the song. But I attach the link to James' video here, in honour of Julie, as ‘Song of the day’ for 13th July 2016, the last day of my bike ride back to Juiels beach. If you've got a spare 5 minutes, why not give it a listen? http://www.dropbox.com/s/df47t0yyfze7rxp/James%20Grant%20-%20Winter%20-%20acoustic%20version%20for%20Julie.mp4?dl=0 (*)
Love, peace, & strength.
(* Note: If you get a 'pop-up' message asking you to 'sign in' or subscribe to 'Drop box', just ignore it and go straight to the video or click on 'No thanks, continue to video' at the bottom of the pop-up message).