La Alberca - Vuelta a Iberia - CycleBlaze

October 12, 2019

La Alberca

Today’s ride

Rachael and I have been worried about today’s ride to La Alberca for a few days now.  At 48 miles with a fair amount of climbing, it sounds challenging enough.  The main concern though is the predicted strong south winds tha we fear will buffet us all day long.  With this in mind we get an earlier start than usual, leaving our hotel by 9.  We want to get as many miles in as we can before the winds pick up, and to allow plenty of time to complete the ride in case it proves to be a long day.  And, it would be really nice if we arrive in La Alberca early enough in the day and with enough energy left to look around.

We needn’t have been so concerned.  It wouldn’t prove to be as bad as we feared - we won’t have 48 miles of terrible headwinds after all.  The first five miles are just fine, and only the last 43 are bad.  

We enjoy coasting through Salamanca to the Tormes River, and riding  the excellent bike path that carries us the next three miles through the city’s outskirts.  There is a bit of a headwind pushing back against us, but it is still pretty modest.  Leaving the city behind, we’re feeling guardedly optimistic about the day.

The bike path south out of town. Salamanca has a network of these that makes it easy to access the city, once you know how to locate them.
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After that though, the winds start to pick up; and they’re definitely in our face as we ride southwest on CL-512 toward Vecinos, the first significant milestone on the ride.  CL-512 is a larger rural highway, and today it carries a surprisingly heavy traffic load that comes in bursts of five or ten cars bunched into trains, all the way to Vecinos.  It’s not really restful, but with a steady 10 foot wide shoulder the whole way to Vecinos it’s no real problem either.  

The problem is the wind, which steadily amplifies as the day moves on.  It’s definitely slowing us down, as you can see in Rachael’s video - even posted at double our actual speed, it still looks like we’re poking along.  By the time we reach Vecinos at about one third of the way through the day’s ride, we’re already hearing some complaints from our aching legs.

CL-512 looks pretty much like this all the way to Vecinos - a straight shot southwest with a broad shoulder the whole way. And the wind, which you can’t see here but can probably imagine since you’ve been there yourselves.
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The countryside is beautiful and open here, with abundant and varied livestock.
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CL-512 has two flavors today, alternating between quiet spells as shown above and patches with fast moving trains zipping past your shoulder. We’re surprised by the traffic, but our theory is that it’s weekenders out enjoying the national holiday weekend.
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Video sound track: Life in the Fast Lane, by The Eagles

As we move south, the mountains of Sierra de Francia grow more distinct. La Alberca, today’s destination, is somewhere in the middle of that formation.
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Like I said before - plenty of livestock along this road to take your mind off the wind and the traffic speeding by.
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Vecinos, our first goal for the day, finally appears. We’d coast effortlessly right down there if the winds weren’t so strong at this point.
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Ron SuchanekThere are very few things as frustrating as creating a hill only to be forced to pedal down the other side because of wind. I blame Trump.
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Scott AndersonTo Ron SuchanekPretty fair position. I blame everything I dislike on him at this point.
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But wait.  It gets worse.  The next leg, the fifteen miles from Vecinos to Tamames, are on a smaller, quieter road: the SA-210.  It’s good that it’s quieter, because traffic is probably reduced by 80 percent; but it’s less good that it’s smaller, because we now have maybe only a two foot shoulder to work with.  and it’s actually quite bad, because by now the wind has really picked up and is quite strong, with gusts that must be over 25 mph.  

It’s a quartering headwind now, strong enough to make our spokes sing, strong enough so we have to fight the wind for control of our bikes.  It’s a challenge to keep them in our narrow shoulder lane when cars pass from behind. The drivers are nearly all very considerate and must sense our struggle with the wind, because they slow way down and give us a wide berth.  A good thing, because we definitely need it.

The long, gradual descent to Tamames. The way to think about this picture is to think about the narrowness of the shoulder, and the fact that the wind is so fierce that we’re wearing ourselves out pedaling hard downhill.
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We’ve been in Tamames before and in fact have ridden this same road, 22 years ago on our ride from Salamanca to Ciudad Rodrigo.  I’m curious to see if I recognize anything from this little town where we stopped for lunch so long ago, but that’s not happening today.  When Tamames comes into sight, Rachael informs me that we’re stopping at the very first building we come to.  She’s tired from the wind, but mostly she needs to get off her saddle for a spell.   Even a few hundred more yards is too much, so we pull in at a factory and find the best shelter we can, inside the cul de sac of a loading dock.

In Tamames, stopped for lunch and a respite from the winds.
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The loading dock doesn’t actually offer much shelter.  The wind blows into it and creates a vortex, so the wind is strong on all three faces.  Still, we need to stop and need to eat, and here we are.

There really isn’t much humor in a day like this.  There’s nothing to be done but to bend over, plow into the wind for a few hours, and take your licking.  Still, we both get a great laugh out of our lunch stop.  Pay attention now, because this isn’t the easiest tale to describe.  It begins when Rachael opens up a new jar of peanut butter.  It’s very windy, things are hard to control, and the zip lock bag the peanut butter jar was in flies out of her hand and whips across the cul de sac we’re sheltering in.  I consider chasing it down, but I’m too tired to get up.

The peanut butter she’s bought is wrong for the occasion.  Runny, oily.  When she tries to spoon it onto her bread the jar slips, and she spills liquid peanut butter on her bicycle shorts.  Ha, ha.

When she grabs at the jar in a panic to right it, the lid slips out of her hand and flies across the cul de sac.  It stands on its side, starts rolling - fast, in a vortex around the cul de sac.  We’re watching it, wondering if we’d be so unlucky that it would drop ito the drainage gate in the middle, but it starts doing laps, rolling fast at maybe 15 mph, trying to catch up with the zip lock bag that is also doing laps.  

I consider trying to chase them down, but then notice that their laps are gradually becoming wider.  After about four complete circuits they gradually work their way close enough to our wall that I can just reach out and snare them as they fly past.

So that’s definitely funny.  We laugh a lot, pour most of the peanut oil out to form a disgusting brown puddle on the concrete, eat our lunch, and brace ourselves to get back on the bikes for the final third of the ride.

Our lunch spot, Tamames. I’m really sorry I didn’t record a video of our peanut butter lid and zip lock bags doing their laps. Our stuff is widely spread out because we had to move to get away from the peanut oil spilled on the concrete.
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Patrick O'HaraAhhh. The diverse and 'wonderful' lunch stops of hungry cycle-tourers! When you have to stop and eat, you have to stop and eat!
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Scott AndersonTo Patrick O'HaraIt was a bit short on charm alright, but I’ll bet it sticks with us more than most places we stop for lunch.
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So that’s the humor for the day.  The final fourteen miles are definitely no laughing matter as we slug it out with the wind and start climbing into the sierra.  After about slow, agonizing six miles we leave the flats, start climbing, and start getting a bit of relief as the hills break the brunt of the wind.

It’s come too late though.  It’s not such a bad climb, but we’re completely sapped by the day’s labors - especially me.  Even the smallest rise seems like too much.   Finally, we reach the outskirts of La Alberca and I struggle into town, imagining how wonderful it would be to have an electronic assist about now.

These next seven miles of the ride are the worst of the day - brutal, ceaseless headwinds. We knock them down as best we can, at maybe seven or eight mph. Every kilometer marker we pass feels like a significant accomplishment, a minor miracle.
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With still seven miles to go, we’re in the foothills and the trees. The wind is finally better, but our legs have had more than enough for the day.
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Video sound track: Para Voce, Jan Flor by Anat Cohen and Trio Brasileiro

La Alberca

La Alberca is a remarkable place, and well worth the visit. I was aware of it on our first tour through this country 22 years ago, but it was a bit too far off route for the time we had available.  And back then, it was harder to get information about little out of the way places like this - I couldn’t even tell for sure if there was lodging here back then.

La Alberca is a very old place, dating back to pre-Roman times.  It has long been recognized for its unique character, and was declared a National  Historic Landmark in 1940 to help preserve its characteristics - it was the first rural village in Spain to be given such designation.

Today it’s quite well known, and is a busy place this evening when we bike into town.  I’m sure it’s so today partly because it’s a national holiday, but it looks like the town is working its way into being a significant tourist attraction.  Many of its houses and monuments look like they’ve been renovated in recent years, and there are the usual run of tourist-oriented shops surrounding the central plaza.  I wish we’d been able to see it 22 years ago, when I imagine it still had more of its original character.

Still, it’s a special place; especially if you wander off into its side  streets and alleys off of the main strip. I’m glad we made it up here, and had (barely) enough energy to look around.

In the central plaza.
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As tired as we were, some of these rocky alleys were a challenge to walk up. It didn’t help that Rachael dressed poorly for the occasion. Her sandals were the wrong choice, as was the skirt - note that she’s clutching it to prevent it from flying up a la Marilyn Monroe.
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Jen GrumbyDo you remember the Billy Crystal SNL skit where he said "you look MAHvehlous!".

This inspires me to say to comment on this photo, "It's better to look good than to feel good!"

Rachael - I know you're tired here, but you look super cute!
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Scott AndersonTo Jen GrumbyYou’re right! Super cute is right on the money.
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Throughout town there are old photographs like this to show what the town looked like in the mid century.
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The city library.
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In the lobby of our hotel, watching the bullfights on TV. I tried to watch for a few minutes, but it was too much for me.
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Jen GrumbyGreat photo! Have you ever been to a bullfight?

I went to one in Seville in 1999 and loved the people-watching part of it - you know, the other spectators. Everyone was wearing their Sunday best and the crowd was a more rowdy version of what I'd expect to see at the Kentucky Derby.

But images of the actual bullfight torment me to this day.
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Scott AndersonTo Jen GrumbyNo, I never have. I don’t even like football - how could I watch a bullfight?
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Ride stats today: 48 miles, 3,200’; for the tour: 669 miles, 32,000’

Today's ride: 48 miles (77 km)
Total: 669 miles (1,077 km)

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Jen GrumbyDagnabit! Sorry about that wind!!

So glad though that the awfulness of riding into the wind was balanced out by the humor of 'the peanut butter incident' and the beauty of La Alberca. Love seeing beautiful old buildings, narrow roads, and the plaza photos are always the best!
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Scott AndersonTo Jen GrumbyIt was worth the work, I agree. La Alberca is a special place alright, but I wonder if we won’t recall the lunchtime incident even more years from now.
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