If it is in any way possible, Julie is even more central to my thoughts today; today, 16 months since she died in my arms in Wirral Hospice St. John’s; 16 months which seem simultaneously, only seconds ago, and yet a lifetime away. I haven’t done anything different to mark the day: I have simply reflected and said my usually prayer. I am not religious but neither am I a non-believer, and so I pray. I’m pretty much like Julie in that regard; she used to pray each day, but not to a god of any one particular faith; just to God.
Anyway, when morning and mourning came knocking today, I dragged myself out of bed at 8am and down the stairs into a beautiful rustic kitchen, and sat myself at the traditional wooden table, covered in a table cloth made up of different coloured squares, each square in the boldest of bold colours; right up Julie’s street! (There, you see; first sentence about the day, and Julie’s already mentioned) There was orange juice, coffee, toast, marmalade, and then ……… cake! I was fortunate enough to spend some time in Israel and Palestine earlier this year, and there, among other things, I was served hummus and salad in the mornings, which felt like having lunch for breakfast. In Spain, it is cake; ‘pudding’ for breakfast! The world, and our different cultures and ways of living, really are fabulous, aren’t they?
I was ready to begin my ride at 9.15am. The sky was filled with a thick blanket of cloud, so I skipped the sun cream application process. Fifteen minutes into the ride and the sun broke through those clouds; its heat penetrated them, and began to do the same to my skin. It was time to stop, dig out the sun cream from my pannier, and try to apply it as best I could to the top half of my body; ‘as best I could’ since reaching parts of my back is pretty much impossible, and I no longer have my soul mate and personal sun cream applicator, at my side.
I knew that today’s ride would begin with a long and steep climb out of what was essentially a ‘bowl’ in which Vega de Pas sits. The village is surrounded by hills (are they mountains?) and so, as the pop singer Yazz one declared, the only way was up(*) (* one for the younger readers there!). I’d travelled about a mile, following the road that overhung a steep sided valley, when I encountered a sign stating: ‘CARRETERA CORTADA POR OBRAS’. I now know that this simply says ‘Road works’; but this morning – without Internet access and the ever helpful ‘Google translate’ website - I feared that it may mean ‘Road closed’. “I could end up climbing a few miles here only to find that there is no through road”, I thought to myself. And then, “Oh well, there’s only one way to find out!” I carried on. Had I been in a car, then the road would have been pretty much closed; not officially, but effectively, since the thoroughfare was blocked by digging machines and trucks at various points. The diggers were shoring up the roadside with boulders and the trucks were carrying debris away, and creating huge dust clouds for me to cycle through every time they passed me by. All the workmen - for it was all men - clapped and shouted support as I rode by, and towards the end of my climb, one truck driver stopped, wound down his window, and said, “Two kilometres; two kilometres; go, go, go”. The elevation reading on my sat nav was 932 metres at that point. A quarter of a mile later, it read ‘1000 metres’ – the first time I have ever seen 4 digits in that particular section of the sat nav – and, once the two kilometres had been successfully negotiated, it read ‘1243’. This is over 4000 feet and is higher than I’ve ever climbed on foot with Julie, while out hiking. Despite the desperate sadness that she is not with me, or indeed that I can’t even tell her about how I managed to ride ‘4000 feet into the sky’, I allowed myself a celebratory photo as the top, taken by a kind man who was parked up admiring the view. If truth be told, I was relieved and pleased to still be in one piece! I stood with my arms in the air as the man pressed the requisite button on the camera. God only knows what Julie would have made of me at that moment, and of what I am currently up to!
I'm guessing that it is no accident that this high point (‘high point’ in more ways than one) marks the border between the Cantabria region of Spain, and the Castilla y Lleon region. And the first roads that I was to encounter in Castilla y Leon were gently undulating; more or less on top of a plateau, in stark contract to the steep valley road that had shared the morning ride with me. On a hill at the other side of the plateau, a line of wind turbines stood to attention. They are not everyone’s cup of tea, wind turbines, but Julie loved them. She loved all forms of renewable energy and while she understood some people’s concern about the visual impact of turbines on the landscape, Julie felt that they were much better than “ugly power stations” and that any visual impact was worth living with. In fact, for Julie, it wasn’t a case of ‘having to live with’ the visual impact; to her, the turbines were quite majestic.
The ride remained pretty flat – if anything gently downhill - for the next hour or so, until I reach the village called Los Monteros. There, I enjoyed an outdoor coffee and watch the world go by; a world that today seemed to populated predominantly by very young school children dressed in various coloured T-shirts, which I can only assume signified their respective schools.
I don’t know how long I will do this for, but on the 4th of every month, I sit quietly at the precisely the time that Julie died, reflect on the enormity of what happened to her, and say a prayer. That time is 12.57pm, Greenwich Mean Time. I know it probably sounds daft to you sane people out there but once the clocks go forward in April, to ‘British Summer Time’, I change the time for my ‘ritual’; it moves to 1:57pm during the summer months. Today, I sat quietly in the ‘’main square’ in Los Monteros, and then said my prayer, from 2.45pm until 3pm. I figured that 2:57pm was the right and proper time to honour Julie while on Spanish soil, in Spanish summer time.
I knew from my research that there were no restaurants near to tonight’s accommodation, so I decided that I should buy some provisions from a supermarket in Los Monteros, which would enable me to cobble together an evening meal. And then it was back to the road; at 3:30pm and with, according to ‘Google maps’ and my Garmin bike sat nav, about two hours riding ahead of me. In the event, my navigation system(s) let me down a bit this afternoon, taking me along some very bumpy unpathed roads and attempting to guide me along roads and paths that no longer exist. I was forced to turn around at least three times and retrace my route for a good few miles on each occasion, with the result that I ended up riding 62 miles in total and didn’t arrive in the sleepy village of the Boveda until just after 8 PM.
Tonight’s accommodation is Casa rural Neithea Puelles (Campo Bidea, 13, 01427 Bóveda, Araba, Spain) and is set slightly up a hill overlooking the village. Julie would have loved it (there I go again) and when I walked into the room, I burst into tears. I was tired and relieved to have arrived safely after the route finding shenanigans, and so tears weren’t too far from my eyes as I reached the front door of Neithea Puelles. The salt water breached the dam when I stepped inside and saw the big old oak doors, the ceiling beams to match, the beautiful bedroom, and perhaps most significantly, the twin beds. In days gone by, Julie and I would have immediately have set about rearranging the room and sliding those beds together. Tonight, there was no need.
That I get upset at times like this is not the result of me being on my own; it is the reason why I am on my own that causes the distress. That reason is Julie’s death; she has died and can no longer experience beautiful things, such as travelling and seeing lovely new places – something she always loved to do. My upset does not lie in the fact that she is not with me and that I am alone; it lies in the fact that Julie can never experience those things again. I would gladly spend the rest of my life sitting at home looking at four walls if Julie could do things like this; If she could be alive and go off travelling alone or with friends; if she could be in places like this lovely Spanish building in this lovely Spanish village. She can no longer things like this; she can no longer do anything on this earth; and that is the desperate, desperate, sadness. Its about Julie; not about me.
After a shower and a few minutes to compose myself, I enjoyed a short walk around Boveda, which was very peaceful and quiet. At its centre – both visually and sonically – was a very old church; at least, if it wasn't old then it looked it. I walked past just as the clock struck nine and could see the hammer on the outside of the bell. Sounds a bit sad I know, but this is the first time I have ever actually seen the bell of a church being physically struck. Told you it was sad! It was going quite dark by the time I arrived back at Casa rural Neithea Puelles. As I got into bed, I decided to open the windows and the internal shutters. And theer they were again; last night’s cow bells.
Distance 62 miles (100 km)
Time spent in the saddle: 6 hours 15 mins
Elevation gained: 5,562 feet
Maximum Speed: 33.5 miles per hour
Average speed: 10 miles per hour
Total distance now covered on ride: 349 miles (562 km)
1,2,4,5,6,7,8. The high road out of Vega de Pas; 3,9,10. Roadworks; 11. 4000+ feet; 12-24. The ride down to Los Monteros; 25, 26. Los Monteros; 27-32. The ride to Boveda; 33. Case Rural Neithea Puelles; 34. The view from my room; 35-37. Views of Boveda
Julie and I used to always have a 'song of the day' whenever we were on our travels, and that is a tradition that I have decided to continue. Song of the day for today - day 10 of my bike ride back to Julie's beach - is Don't Let The Sun Catch You Crying, the second best song ever recorded by Gerry & The Pacemakers. It is always catching me.