Mucho peso - How to avoid a mother-in-law - CycleBlaze

Mucho peso

The coast road of the Costa Brava must be awful in high season. Even in September I wasn't sure about taking it. There'd been plenty of people in that bus station, after all. I don't suppose their drivers are anything but professional and courteous, but tour buses are big things and need momentum to get round steep bends. Coexistence with cyclists struggling with tour bags isn't likely to be to the cyclist's advantage.

But... I shared the road with just a few other cyclists and with a straggle of hikers. The walkers caught me at the top of a climb as I started to take pictures of the sea shining beneath the sun.

"Buenos dias", I said. The first man grinned and shrugged. He was about 65, all crumpled, healthy, sun-browned face. He had pointed ears and above them one of those jaunty Tyrollean hats with a feather in the side. I hoped he'd start singing something from The Sound of Music, or a happy ditty about loving to go a-wandering, his knapsack on his back.

Instead, he said something in German. And there I was stumped. My German is limited to "Achtung! Spitfire!", which is all the Germans ever seemed to say in comic books, and "Woh ist mein fruhstuck", which I think means "Where is my breakfast?" One day, one or the other will come in handy.

The man said something like "Ich bin Schweitz". If he then added: "Have you come all this way on that bike?" I wouldn't have understood. Between us we managed to establish that, no, he didn't speak French and that, no, I didn't speak German or Italian. By smiles, waves, a few mutually understood words and the sheer goodwill between people on the road, he let me know he had been coming back to the area for the last four years. He loved walking, he said, which he mimed by marching on the spot with exaggerated enthusiasm. But it made him hungry, he said, which he demonstrated by clutching his stomach and pushing his tongue out. I wondered whether to teach him the phrase for "Where is my breakfast?"

After that, we shook hands, agreed that the scenery was magnificent, and each continued in our own way. Up behind him came more smiling Swiss, all waving and maybe all shouting the German for "Have a good trip!" and "Have you got all you need to mend punctures?"

The sea defied me to ride by without stopping... and just staring
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The views of the sea were striking, the water a rich blue and the sun a shimmering band of silver. I dropped into a valley and headed for the beach. A good number there, nearly all Spanish, despite the lateness of the season. I ate an ice cream as I walked along the sea front, then changed on the beach and splashed up and down in the sea. You can't sit down much if you haven't got a towel.

Another problem showed, as well: the consequences of getting changed on the beach. I didn't notice it until I'd set off from lunch. I couldn't get comfortable on my saddle. No amount of shuffling would make things right. And then I realised: I had trapped the gritty sand of the Mediterranean on the lining of my shorts. I was being ground to death. Reaching inside and picking away what I could find wasn't enough so I stopped behind an abandoned building in a large lay-by, pulled down my shorts and gave them - and me - a good brush. Problem resolved.

I forget where I was when the next problem arose but it was all my fault. I stopped at the edge of the road and lost my balance. My right foot was off the pedal in time but my left foot stayed trapped. I still don't understand how it happened but the consequence was extensive grazing of my right calf. The blood came to the surface instantly and began to run down my leg before the warmth of the sun dried it and ended the problem.

A woman looked aghast from a car - the fall must have looked a lot worse than it was, exaggerated by the size of the luggage - and a passing man of about 70 carefully explained, pointing at the bags, that it had been caused by mucho peso. More mucho stupidity, I think.

The stay on the beach and a leisurely lunch meant I had most of the riding to do in the afternoon. Normally days balanced themselves perfectly. I stop for lunch at about 50km and then ride a further 50 before the end of the day. The map showed the French border was getting tantalisingly close and I toyed with the idea of making home territory before stopping. It meant just riding through the next couple of towns, mostly on main roads but with welcome excursions on to short cuts along lesser roads, and keeping the kilometres flowing until about 8pm.

I lost time finding my way through roundabouts and a bridge in one village and asked a couple for directions. I fumbled my Spanish as usual and they were unusually hesitant in replying. After a few words, the woman asked in French if I spoke French. With mutual relief, that is how the conversation continued. She explained that she thought from my accent that I was German and had suggested French as a possible mutual language. They came from Clermont-Ferrand, they said, and they were on holiday.

Clermont-Ferrand is a good place to start a holiday. Nowhere you go to will ever seem worse.

They directed me perfectly but time was passing, especially after a stop to buy water and bananas. I reached the junction outside Figuiredo, saw a sign pointing to a camp site four kilometres away and decided that France could wait until another day.

The little lane followed the main road for a while and I worried about having a disturbed night. After a while it swung away, though, and carried on and on, seemingly far further than four kilometres, through fields and past clumps of trees. I began to wonder what I was getting to and when I'd get there. In fact, as I discovered later, I had ridden to the coast.

The site was crowded but full of interesting people. Just a tiny space remained for me between two caravans and the Dutchman on my right grew concerned for me. But a tiny tent will go anywhere and there was room to spare. As ever, arriving on a bike opened minds and mouths and the Dutchman and his wife, Peta, invited me to join them for a beer. They lived in Breda, they said, and when we spoke of the storms and floods which had hit the French coast to the north, the man told me that his homeland was also under water. In fact his house was just a metre above sea level. One day the dykes would break and he'd be under water. He had named his house "Sea View", he said - "it always pays to look at things optimistically."

Next morning the couple on the other side, also Dutch, invited me for tea. They were a retired fireman from Amsterdam and his wife, who'd rented the site for most of the summer. Being Dutch, they said, they were aware of how much that had saved them.

Before I left, I walked over to a tent that the first Dutch couple had pointed out the previous evening. They had seen a tandem and a trailer there, although they hadn't known from which country. Overhearing conversation in the tent that night, I'd established they were English. In fact he was English and his little wife, "only five feet tall", whom I never met because she stayed in her sleeping bag, was Welsh. They had come to France on the Bike Bus and had ridden south from the centre to the Spanish coast. Now they had a couple of spare days before being collected from a neighbouring site, which they had rejected as too busy and too expensive.

The man said he always toured in sandals with pedal cleats and said that I'd never do otherwise once I'd tried them. I assured him the same about having his gear levers beneath his brakes, something he had never tried because, as he said, "I've never taken one apart and I don't like to have anything on my bike that I can't take to bits and reassemble."

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