Archive for April 1st, 2010

Monte Gordo to Huelva (36 miles) then train to Jerez de la Fronterra via Seville, then bicycle to El Puerto de Santa Maria (12 miles)

I set my alarm for 7 a.m. today with the hope that I could break camp and be on the road by 8 a.m.  It was going to be a more than 30 mile journey to Huelva, Spain, including a trip across the river into Spain by Ferry.  Unfortunately, it took me longer to get going and I wasn’t starting to bike until a bit after 9 a.m.  I reached the ferry terminal and bought my 2.50 euro passenger and bicycle ticket just 10 minutes before the ferry was to leave at 10 a.m.  It was a quick ride across the river, and there must have been about 6-7 other bicycles on board the ferry, but they were all outfitted like single-day touring rentals.

Entering Spain...
Entering Spain…

Just after leaving the ferry on the Spain side, I saw another fully-loaded touring cyclist coming down the road towards me!  All smiles, we greeted each other and found out that we could speak in English with each other! Astrid was from England and was just reaching the end of her two-year bicycle tour around the world. We spent a good fifteen minutes chatting about her upcoming route through Portugal and I gave her my list  of campsites that I had used, along with a general assessment of the roads.  We each posed for a photo for the other (sadly we didn’t get one with the both of us together) and then I had to take my leave, because it was already 10:45 and I needed to cover the 36 miles to Huelva to catch my 2:25 train to Seville.

Astrid, A Round-the-World Cyclist
Astrid, A Round-the-World Cyclist

I kicked into high gear after that short conversation with Astrid, because it was so inspiring to actually meet one of the few “Around the World” cyclists in person.  It made my short adventure seem less daunting.  I started to think what it must be like to cycle around the world by myself. I’m not sure I could do it without a partner. Already, after only 9 days on the road, I have definitely had periods where I felt very alone and wished for something familiar, or at least some conversation and company with my friends and loved ones back home.  The constant search for food, water, and a place to camp has been frustrating, and I wonder how those traveling on bicycles for years are able to keep that adventure-exploration yearning going. There are so many more questions I would have loved to ask, but we just didn’t have the time.

The road to Huelva was pretty good and without too many distractions to slow me down.  I was keeping my eye open for a supermarket so that I could get some cheap and healthy food to eat when I was on the train, and for dinner that evening, but nothing seemed to be open, a problem which I am becoming only too familiar with, especially between the hours of about 11:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m.  I was making good time, and it looked like I was going to reach the train station an hour before the last train to Seville.

My heart sank when I reached the Huelva city limits and saw a digital LED sign with the time.  It was already 1:55 p.m., not 12:55 p.m. as my watch said.  At some point during the morning’s ride, I had crossed another time-zone, and now it was going to be near-impossible to find the train station in time.  I have been fighting with my Garmin for days now, as it keeps wanting to take me on routes through pedestrian areas of the city which really slow me down. I got lost again within half a mile of the Renfe train station, and it was about 2:22 p.m. when I rolled my bike up to the ticket window.

I quickly asked for a billete (ticket) to Jerez de la Fronterra via Seville (in Spanish!) and they told me that the train was leaving.  I was fishing around in my coat, looking for the extra 50 euro bill that I had stashed, because I had no idea how expensive the train would be, and I was surprised when they asked me for only 18 euros! I paid and ran my bicycle out the door, across two sets of tracks and pushed the button outside the Seville train’s doors.  I had to hoist the loaded bicycle (which I estimate to weigh at least 120 pounds) up almost a foot and a half up into the train car from the platform below, and all the while, bells were ringing, signaling the imminent departure of the train. Thirty seconds after I leaned my bicycle against the wall of the car, the train started moving, and I breathed a sigh of relief after having made the closest travel connection of my life. Thank goodness the train industry doesn’t operate like the airline industry, or else I would probably would have missed the train by two hours while waiting for my ticket to print and then watching them unpack and repack all of my belongings on the way through security.

My connecting train in Seville to Jerez de la Fronterra didn’t leave for an hour after my arrival, so I took the opportunity to buy a panini and a Diet Coke, and enjoyed some people-watching.  I may have been interesting people-watching fodder, myself, lugging around a fully-loaded bicycle with small clown tires.

When I got on the 2nd train, I propped my bike up against some other luggage against the wall and took a very conveniently located seat right in front of it.  I really needed to use the restroom, but I wanted to wait and make sure that my bike was in a good place and that the train was in motion.  It’s a good thing I waited, because a few minutes before the train left, some women came on with strollers and told me that the bike couldn’t stay there and that it needed to be in the bicycle area on the other side of the car. Sure enough, around the corridor was an area with bicycle signs and three upright  racks with hooks that allow you to hang your bicycle upright by the front tire.  I still had all of my panniers and gear attached to my bike, so there was no way I was going to be able to lift it up into the hook, so I propped it up against the wall and had to stand next to it for the hour-long journey, to be available to move it if asked.  It wasn’t terrible, and I had a great view out the window to watch the plains of Spain pass by. My two train rides had quickly covered a distance that would take me two or three days by bicycle, but I did not feel too much regret, because I was still putting in a 50 mile day of cycling.

I found out that the train was going directly to La Puerta de Santa Maria, my final destination for the night, that I had planned to bicycle to after getting off at Jerez de la Fronterra, which was about 14 miles away.  I was so tempted to “accidentally” miss my stop and get off at the next, but I hadn’t paid for a ticket that far, and the 14 extra miles of cycling would make for a more respectable daily total mileage.  It was 7:00 p.m. when I exited the train (this time with a much better three-inch step to the platform) and I got my things situated and left town. The time change did wonders for the sunlight, because the sun was still pretty high in the sky, although it wasn’t bright enough to provide a constant source of power for my solar panel to juice up my Garmin GPS.

The terribly annoying thing about this GPS is that although it will charge with a normal USB cable, it goes into a stupid computer-interface mode that precludes use of the navigation functions when you do so.  So I have to use the car adapter, which works fine when there is uninterrupted sunlight to my solar panel, but overtime I pass into a large shadow of a tree or bridge or anything else, the GPS stops receiving power from the panel and puts up a dialog requiring a “Yes or “No” to confirm whether the GPS should turn off since it has lost power.  While this feature is immensely useful in a car, as you never have to remember to turn on or off the GPS, since it does so automatically when the car powers on and off, it is never-endingly frustrating for my uses on the bike.  Since I keep the GPS in my rear jersey pocket, I have no way to keep telling the GPS to stay on, so it becomes super-annoying if I try to use the solar panel for power as the sun is starting to go down, or on a heavily shaded road.

“No worries” I thought.  It was only supposed to be an hour to the campsite, “Las Dunas”, and surely the battery would last that long, right?  Wrong.  As I got into town, the GPS turned of and was no help. My attempts to turn it on and at least get a direction to the campsite were useless, and to top it off, my trusty iPhone was not getting a satellite lock with its GPS because I had travelled hundreds of miles by train since I used it last, and I hadn’t had a chance to purchase a Spain cellular data SIM yet, which would speed up the process.  I managed to find some signs showing the direction to the campsite, and I rolled up at just after 8 p.m.  What a long day!  I was glad that my travel plans had ultimately worked out, but there were lots of little things that didn’t work so well.  I still hadn’t been able to stop at an open supermarket, which meant that I had been eating junk food out of vending machines for the past 48 hours.  The supermarket at the campsite was closed by the time I arrived, so for supper I had to settle for two ice-cream bars (Nestle, not Magnum).  There was wifi at the campsite, but they wanted you to pay an outrageous 4-euro-per-hour fee, and there wasn’t a good place for me to charge up my electronics either.  I ended up staying up until about 11 in my tent looking at my maps and reading some cycling travelogues that I had already opened and downloaded in my browser, trying to plan my attack for the next few days of cycling.  I set my alarm for 8:30 a.m. so I could head into town and pick up a SIM card for my phone before heading south to Tarifa.