The Cork Board

Day 5 Valencia to El Toro

Valencia is one of those cities I could have spent more time in. I was getting the feel for the place and was enjoying wandering around. Today, however, I leave this area and the tourist spots behind and head into the hills. Wandering on the wild side…well, as wild as it gets, this is the first world, after all.

I have a long day ahead and the most climbing so far, around 6000 feet. At least when I get home I will be charging up those timid lumps in England.

Leaving the city was easy enough except that the dirt and grime from wet roads had gunked up one of my cleat pedals. This meant that I couldn’t clip in properly and though you can still pedal you are only doing so with your toe secured. A very unnerving feeling. I did everything I could. I worked it with my foot, worked it with my hand to loosen it. Now was not the right time to discover that the tiniest Allen key on my multi tool did not release the tension on my pedal. Not amused.

I decided that the best way to free it was to blast away the grime with a jet spray of oil and so finding a garage, pit stopped to apply a repair. This too failed but being so far behind schedule I just had to carry on and see what happened.

The fun bit…along my route was the Port de L’Oronet.A 500 metre climb designed for cyclists if ever a hill was. In fact, there were so many cyclists on this hill traditional traffic stayed away. For the professionals, this is graded category 4. For the mortals amongst us, whose body fat is somewhat more, this is know as a TB… Tough B#@5/*d. During the 5 kilometer climb way-markers told you what to expect during the next kilometre…minimum 5.5% maximum 8.5%, for instance. There must have been 100 cyclists riding this hill in both directions. At the top was a finish line across the road. If you want to be King of the Mountains, train in Spain. I admit, I thoroughly enjoyed this one.

I did it !

The destination for the day was a remote rural village called El Toro. High on the moorland surrounded by amazing scenery and with luck, baking sunshine. I confess that during the last sharp climb I got off and walked. This was a 20% ramp I knew was there, but I’d done 50 miles by this point.

Funnily enough, walking seemed restful. My body in a different position, different muscles being worked in a different order to the last 8 hours.The reward for all this effort is to find yourself the only moving object for miles in open green vibrant scenery. Exposed to the sun even the wildlife takes a siesta. The silence and tranquility is humbling. Sometimes the sheer vastness of a space when you are alone brings you closer to a sense of existence, a sense of being. This is why I do this.

Because I thought they looked beautful.

The red roofed houses of El Toro appear in the distance and my day is nearly over.

I am greeted by my hostess, an elderly lady with a kind face, who gestures rather than engage my fragmented Spanish. I seem to be the only guest in her exquisitely adorned farmhouse cum bnb. It seems that she also runs a bar in the village and that is where my dinner will be. Having done my jobs I wander down narrow alleys and across broken ground to the village.

When I arrive my table is already set and she greets me with a sense of affability. We quickly come to some arrangement – I know enough Spanish to make her comfortable. The regulars are noisy and despite being perfectly sober are in full flow. I’m convinced that you win arguments in Spain by being louder. Quietly by the door, their shouty days over, older gentry are watching the bullfight on tv. They get up to leave but wait for the kill.

It had been a long day but sitting here in the midst of all this rural life I felt a sense of comfort and familiarity. Sitting on the outside looking in, these small communities, full of people who have gone to school together, laughed and loved together, grown old together, and built a life where they are, seem to have a strength that commuter communities don’t. We have lived in our house for 9 years and still we don’ t know the names of neighbours 2 or more doors along the street. We’ve never seen them. There are some people who have pointedly never spoken to us since we moved in. I can’t imagine that here. Is that why we Brits can be transient an cold?

There is a canopy above my bed. I shall sleep with the fairies tonight.

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