Day 8: Pizarra to Nerja (88km)

Today was a short yet important day. Because of my “cultural excursion” yesterday night, I needed to catch up on some sleep. Hence, I only started at 14:00 hrs. I was still a bit shaken, but strengthened by Mark’s great muesli which he had prepared from fruits which he had harvested in the garden minutes before. It can’t get more fresh.

I turned East to Malaga where I had to buy yet another power bank since the new one was already broken. Then I followed the beautiful coastline until Nerja.

On the way I crossed the 1.000km mark which means that I am well on track for reaching Montpellier in two week.

When I checked into my hostel it just got dark. There was a strong headwind on the way, but nothing compared to the miles approaching Tarifa a couple of days back.

Insight of the day: There is really no free lunch. Everything has consequences.

Day 7: Ojén to Pizarra – break day (40km)

One little note before I tell you a fun story: If you read this blog, please do feel free to like and comment every now and then. Thank you!

Today, I had decided to do a break day. Via an Internet-Forum for long-distance cyclists I had met Mark who is living in Pizarra, a small place near Malaga. He had invited me to come by and stay when I am in the region – and I had accepted.

On my decline from the refugio I flew my drone through a very nice valley and up a little hill. Pretty spectacular scenes, I find.

Around noon, I arrived at his idyllic place which is situated outside the village at the bottom of a huge rock overseeing plantations of fruit trees. We sat down beside the small pool and started talking about life. We found out that we were of the same age and that we shared many other commonalities. From then on time passed by very quickly.

After a very late lunch – best Spaghetti Bolognese ever – Mark came up with the idea to show me “his” Malaga at night. At first, I was not enthused because I would be tired and so but at the end I know that these are pretty much the events that make such a tour unforgettable.

So we had a siesta, washed clothes, fixed Rosinante’s gears and then, at 21:00 hrs, took a train into Malaga. Who knows me a little will agree that this was vastly against my habits. Mark, who is also a tour-guide and knows tons about Spanish history, showed me some of the must-sees of the city, like the unfinished cathedral, a sign of the so-called Reconquista. This describes the period, when the Christians, after 800 years of being an Islamic colony, had finally in long wars regained control about the country and replaced all mosques with Christian churches.

What came next, was a serious pub-crawl from one bar packed with good-locking, friendly locals partying to the next one. The atmosphere was like nothing I have ever encountered in Germany. It was like carnival just without the costumes. And this happens here every weekend. Wow!

One thing led to the next and eventually we were as drunk as everyone around us. By 05:00 hrs in the morning we were back at Mark’s place. It was an unforgettable evening. Thank you for this, Mark.

Insight of the day: Sometimes, letting go of all discipline and going with the flow is the right thing – or at least leads to some really good stories.

Day 6: Algeciras to Ojén (130km)

This day was split into three parts, two of them being really positive and the other one, well you will see.

I was a bit traumatized from battling the storm the day before (yes, I am a good weather cyclist) and found myself procrastinating in the morning. I had stayed at a hostel for 30€ per night were normally foreign workers of the nearby petrochemical plant are staying. The host was a really nice guy who had been born in Germany and still spoke the language very well. Yesterday, I definitely cracked the 20 words threshold because of him. This does rarely happen if you stay in a regular hotel.

I finally got on the bike by 9am and the wind had indeed become much softer. Therefore it was cold and rained a little. First, I cycled into Gibraltar. On the way two local cyclists came by and we started chatting. I knew they could not have been “regular” locals because those fellow cyclists, if any, had ignored me constantly for the past five days. Indeed, one was a British pensioner and the other one was a retired policeman from Gibraltar. When they heard where I come from, they were apologetic for the weather and especially the wind. One said “You have to cycle up the Gibraltar rock. On a good day you can see the Sierra Nevada and a lot more from there “. They carried on whilst I stopped for pictures of this monumental freestanding rock in the sea which is a country by itself and even has a tiny airport.

The unemployment rate in this part of Spain is very high. 40% amongst young people. In Gibraltar in contrary, it is close to zero. As a result, many local Spaniards go there for work every day.

I crossed the border and there were in fact real bobbies checking passports and luggage. There were red doubledeck busses and London-style taxis. So funny. Right after the border, you have to cross the Gibraltar airfield which is closed when a plane lands. After that you get into the actual city which resembles Monaco very much.

I skipped the rock though because my legs were tired and instead turned North again, direction Marbella.

When I had prepared for this trip, I had heard in cycling forums that the coastal roads here were challenging for cyclists. On the other hand, the Eurovelo 8 cycling trail starts in Cádiz and goes all the way to Croatia. I had even downloaded the GPX data for my navigation system. So I felt in control and well prepared. This continued until my only option left was to cycle on the A7, a coastal highway, which looks and feels precisely like a very narrow and curvy German Autobahn. You have a space of about one meter to cycle on and the trucks pass you at 80 km/h or more. I was so scared and tense that I did not dare to press the “record” button on my camera. It was wild and lasted for 40km.

On my way, I got really angry about the officials of Eurovelo who market this route and it’s scenic beauty on the internet. Only by rechecking the site, I noticed in the fine print that the route was still “in planning”.

That part of the tour was very dangerous and this status “in planning” should be clearly spelled out by Eurovelo. It is irresponsible to propagate this part of the route further in the web.

I much rather cycle through the mountains from now on than repeating this experience. I did not stop in Marbella because I couldn’t stand any more cars and people. So I turned Northwest to climb up to Ojén where I had found a “Refugio” in a nature reservation area. Also, I want to visit Mark tomorrow, a fellow cyclist who I had gotten to know via a cycling forum in the net. He lives here and had invited me to stay with him.

The climb was rough but beautiful. Unfortunately, Rosinante had problems with her lower gears again which makes steep roads very challenging. However, I arrived at the Refugio in the last daylight – and I had a bathtub, the greatest luxury I could think of … until I saw the open fire place in the little bar. Life is good.

Over dinner, I started chatting with some hunters from Oregon who were here with a local guide to shoot a special type of Mountain Goat. They seem to be doing this regularly all over the world. That’s a different concept for vacation. Very nice people and I did enjoy the conversation even though my views on many things including politics will probably differ a lot. I find it always very interesting to meet people with a different perspective about the world. That’s way easier once you let go of mental categories like “right” and “wrong”. However, thanks to them and the cyclists in the morning I again easily cracked my 20 word threshold. And I had a good laugh. Mission accomplished.

Insight of the day: Believe the last person who has climbed a mountain more than the map.

Day 5: Cádiz to Algeciras (123km)

Today was headwind day and by now I am absolutely toast.

From Cádiz I turned southeast and I had rolling hills and a solid headwind right from the start. However, the more I got South approaching Tarifa this developed into a real storm. I guess it is a surfing hotspot for a reason.

Most of the roads went straight through endless plains followed by soft climbs both with absolutely no protection from the fierce wind. I chose not to fight it simply because this takes away too much energy. I rather went slowly, made myself as small as possible but this still was exhausting.

Around noon, I ran out of water, a beginners mistake. It looks like I needed to go another 40km against the storm until I could refill. Yesterday, that would have been nothing but against this storm it felt like an eternity. Luckily, after 10km a gas station appeared out of nowhere and I could have a “lunch”.

When the wind came sideways, my inframe bags functioned as a kind of sail in a bad way. I was almost blown off the road twice. The storm lasted for about 100km until I reached Tarifa and later Algeciras.

The one fun bit, next to an unexpected call from my wife Carolin in the morning, was a nice drone video shooting of a herd of cows in a pittoresk valley shortly after the start. My first one on out-of-sight-distance under severe wind conditions. All went well, also for the cows 😎

Another great thing was finally seeing the mountains of Tanger, Morocco, i.e. the African coast across the street of Gibraltar. What a small world we live in.

From tomorrow on, I will only be cycling North.

Insight of the day: When you are ready to benefit from a tailwind, don’t complain about a headwind the next day. At the end, life gives us equal amounts of chance.

Day 4: Matalascañas to Cádiz (196km)

What a day! Today was my official distance record on a zis fundraising tour. It was also the longest distance cycled without turns in my life. Boy, that was boring. To be clear, I do not cycle such distances (only) because I do not value the cultural treasures of Andalusia. There was simply not much to see other than about 100km of agricultural monocultures: Olives, oranges, lemons, pine trees … dozens of miles each.

I started off at sunrise. It was foggy and chilly. I was happy to have my gloves. After passing through the Western city El Rocio, I had to pay the price for my learning from yesterday. Can you see the detour in the map? Solid 50km!

First, I had to go about 80km northeast against a pretty solid headwind. Then I crossed the Rio Guadalquivir and finally realized why I needed to do the extra miles. On a distance of about 50km there was not a single bridge across the river. Wow!

Then I turned south and I had a great tailwind all the way to Jerez a la Frontera. In the 12th century, Moslems had colonized this and other cities in the region. That’s why the name contains “at the border”. Hard to spot today other than in some old places.

Then I found a mechanic for Rosinante. After leas than 10 minutes I was back on the road and the gears were magically working again. There seems to be a unspoken law with mechanics that cyclist who are on the road get instant help and mostly for free! Thank you “El Motoriste”!

Finally, I turned south again and had a quick bite of tapas at a bar before I went off to Cádiz.

Insight of the day: When you have a wave of tailwind – ride it!

Day 3: Tavira to Matalascañas (150 km)

Today was the day of unforeseen insights and some laughter.

The first learing was that boarding the ferry across the Rio Guadiana to get to Spain entailed a time change of one hour – to my disadvantage because of reduced travel time.

Also, instead of listening to music I started increasing my Spanish vocabulary. However, I had obviously downloaded a rather old audio book because there were a lot of words to learn around exchanging money or where to find a telephone cell. This made me laugh out loud. How normal it is for us today to have a shared currency and mobile phones. However, it is not.

Around noon, I had some nice tapas for lunch in Huelva. The second learning happened happened a little later in the huge industrial harbor of Huelva. My navigation system (Komoot) had send me 5 km down a road that turned out to be a dead end and I had to return and cycle back. However, instead of being furious it made me smile somehow. I had had similar situations in other big harbors before.

Then followed the very large national park Coto de Doñano and the third learing. For 40km nothing but pine forest and dunes – but no people or villages. Then I arrived in Matalascañas which is a artificial tourist ghost city the size of a regular village and the last civilization for another 40km. According to Komoot the road would now follow the coast line and would then get to another ferry to Sanlúcar de Barrameda. Taking another route would add another 30-40km because of the detour around the national park. The problem turned out to be, that were just was no road. Not even a trail. It was all covered by dunes. What had been there once was long gone.

Since it was to late for the detour I decided to stay in the tourist ghost town which was really special. I used the gained time and the great scenery for some more drone shots.

Insight of the day: Unforeseen learnings can make you angry or amused. It depends on your state of mind.

Day 2: Vila Nova de Milfontes to Tavira (165km)

After a great breakfast, I did my first drone shots on this tour with Abraxas, my new DJI Mavic Pro. It requires some practice, a clear mind and also a road without any cars in order to do this safely . So I figured that a bit of practice right in the morning could help. A group of cows really found this interesting and became groupies.

Today I probably spoke even less than 20 words if I don’t count the conversations with myself, mostly about my sore and hurting bud. On my route through the inner part of the Algarve there were hardly any villages and hence also no bars not to mention market places. Most places were really poor and run down. So eventually I ended up having some toasts at a gas station. This turned out to be the social hub for the villagers. In the absence of alternatives, people would come here for a coffee and a chat and to hang out with friends. So I could at least study some social interactions even if not having some myself.

Shortly after, Rosinante started having some problems with her lower gears. I will need to find a mechanic in the coming days before I head towards Granada and the mountains.

It was really warm today and I had issues replenishing my water supply. I probably need 5-6 liters or so. But luckily I passed by a public water tap in the middle of nowhere.

My first target of the day was the surfing hotspot Faro at the very South of Portugal. After the loneliness of the past days, this place was quite a shock for me. It has an airport and a train station and the road leading into it was like an Autobahn. Based on the huge road advertisements of German, French and British real estate agents, this is the place to be for some richer Norther Europeans. The town has been shaped by tourism and tourists. Makes sense given the combination of countryside, Portuguese way of life and infrastructure.

After a drink I rushed off for my last stretch to a small place called Tavira short before the Spanish border. I was tired and became very hungry. To make it even worse, I had the instinct that there would be no food at my hostel. Hence I entered another gas station and hastily bought me “a healthy dinner” consisting of chocolate, crisps and Coke. Great. And as usual, my gut feeling had been well informed. So this staid my only meal for the evening.

Insight of the day: The coaching Jargon “sitting with the pain” becomes much more tangible in long-distance cycling.

Day 1: Lisboa to Vila Nova de Milfontes (162 km)

Today was a really great first day. Blue sky, sunshine, perfect temperatures and gentle winds. What more can you ask for?

In the morning I took the ferry to Almada and waved good bye to Lisboa. I will come back with my family one day to explore this great place more thoroughly and with more time.

Then I turned south. As the miles passed by, rather ugly satellite towns and industrial areas slowly turned into pretty small towns and eventually into farmland. Finally I arrived at Setúbal, an ancient coastal port town, to take yet another ferry to Tróia. This is a finger-shaped peninsula covered with dunes. I had hoped for a lunch break but nobody is actually living there.

Finally, I arrived at Comporta and sat down in front of a little bar at the tiny market place together with some local aging men who were hanging out there. Having a yummy toast and a Coke in the sun on such a day can be better than an expensive 5 course meal! Especially, when after a while you realize that this place is full of storks.

During the entire day, I spoke maybe 20 words. If you deduct “obrigado” which means “thank you”, my only Portuguese word, it was even way less.

The afternoon was hard. I went through long stretches of rolling hills with some head wind. I was getting tired but I still wanted to cover some distance. After a long debate with myself I choose to aim for 160km today because I would be running out of daylight otherwise.

The entire day I cycled through an amazing country site with stunning views on the Atlantic every now and then.

Right at sunset, I arrived in a simple hostel where Carlos, the host, was already waiting for me. I even got something to eat!

Rosinante, my bike, and I shared a room. She is named after the horse of Cervantes’ Don Quijote because she shares some key attributes with the novel figure. She is a bit old (14 years), is not the strongest nor fastest, but is very faithful and loyal. And extremely comfortable.

Insight of the day: The more we return to our true nature, the less we desire.

Day 0: Heading off to Lisboa

Today is “z day”. The week was busy but in a good way. However, I am a bit tired and could need a weekend. Also, I did not have much training lately because of a combination of traveling and a poor choice of hotels. Hence, I am in a less than perfect shape. Or I am just getting old. However, for the first time on one of these trips my Achilles Heel is ok, the doctor told me, and so is my back, thanks to regular training during winter. Only concern right now: My left wrist is hurting a bit from training in the cold (and age). Let’s see how this unfolds in the coming days.

In the morning it was cold, dark and the rain is poring down. Hard to believe that I won’t need much warm clothes in the coming weeks. I was really tense and nervous. Carolin, my wife and confidant, ran me through my checklist. In theory, it should all work out. At least she was confident. My baggage was surprisingly small though.

This is the first time in my adult life that I head off for three full weeks without a computer. It makes me feel vulnerable and a bit naked even. I will be operating solely from my smartphone for the next 23 days. The business is in full swing. So many things can – and I am sure – will happen, but we have a great team in place and I will have to learn to be hands off. Well, good luck with that.

We were driving to the airport. The cardboard box for my bike is so huge that it won’t fit in my Volvo – that is rare. So, we needed a trailer. I hoped they would accept it as luggage, though.

It turned out to be a non-issue. Checking in a huge box is faster and the service is way friendlier than with regular baggage. Also, several people jumped by to help because I got stuck at the airports’ sliding doors – they were just too narrow 😉

Also, despite all articles of “experts” in the net, getting a drone and batteries through security is disturbingly simple. No questions asked. Piece of cake.

That was a good start for this trip. The flight was uneventful and close to 3 hours. Boy, and I really want to cycle most of this back? After one hour or so we left the clouds behind and flew across the Alps in a clear and sunny blue sky. Nice.

I was really curious if my bike would be in good shape when I collect the box. That is, if there will be a box at all. After some waiting in a remote part of the airport my bike arrived.

The box was ripped open but there was still a bike. However, some parts had fallen out of the box and are now somewhere between Frankfurt and Lisboa. Among them were my power bank and a cover for my phone. I will need to replace this tomorrow.

The next challenge was putting everything back together and avoiding stupid mistakes. Peter, my longtime mechanic, was unreachable or would at least be unable to fix things. So, I should better make it work. Then, I will have to elegantly dispose off my temporary bike shelter. Hopefully, in a legal or at least morally conducive way. Both tasks worked out just fine.

The hotel was just over 10km away from the airport and close to downtown Lisboa. This will be my only regular hotel for this trip, I hope. People looked like I was an alien in my gear and with my bike in the lobby.

Metropolitan areas and bikes usually don’t go well together for me. Cobblestones, tram tracks, traffic lights, busses and scooters make life difficult. I took the time to cycle around a bit in the city to get an impression. With the hills, the old cable cars, the big bridge and the waterfront it reminds me of San Francisco. I came across some beautiful places and some rather ugly ones. But everything was full of sun and people are so relaxed.

The riverside of Tejo looks really cool. Will explore that tomorrow.

Ana, a coach colleague at the Center for Creative Leadership who lives in Lisbon, picked me up for dinner. We ate at a transformed factory nearby. We had a really cool view on “the bridge” and river Tejo. For the first time in my life I had fresh squid. Not as bad as I thought;-)

It was very nice to catch up. She also helped me to buy a new power bank shortly before midnight – which was really great.

Insight of the day: the better I prepare the lesser I seem to need it.