I never would have made it to Léon yesterday. I was still 112 kilometers out this morning. I am not used to starting so early in the day, and it was cold. After a little climb out of town I cruise down the valley for an our or two, before the road gently angles towards the heavens. I am unhurried, not even in my highest gear, though still chugging slowly and steadily. I pass through a long tunnel- 1100 meters long, but the road is deserted. It is cold, overcast, and quiet. At times like this it feels like one is alone in the world. It is not as if it were your own, but rather that there is no ownership, no individual, no separation; it is your world because your are the world, and this is a special thing.
The climb is the sort that slowly wears you down. I begin to rest more towards the top, as usual. A mist sets in, but dry, for it is ice. This evolves into a flurry of snow, and I think about that balaclava I left behind. Thankfully, I have a beard. I pull my hood on when the ice starts blowing into my ear. As the flurry increases, I hit the crest and begin to leave winter behind me once more. As I pick up speed, the snow batters my face, however, the cold flakes stinging my eyes so that I fly down the hill, head turned, eyes squinted. I stop and pull my sunglasses out so I might see where I am going- the first time for sunglasses, in order to shield my face from snow, naturally. The descent is long. The sun comes out, but I get a little chilly. I am now in a very open plain, with snow-capped mountains to the North. The wind is blowing, at my back, and I am pushed up the occasional rolling hill. It is wide open and brushy, and I feel as if I am in the American Southwest. The giant bull on yonder ridge adds to the effect.
Something about the fatigue and the weather induce a calmness. I am insulated from the cold, encapsulated as I soar through this wintery day, too subdued to decide to stop and have a coffee, eat some lunch. I am simply moving through this sparsely populated landscape, permeated by the stillness of it, the phenomenality of it. In a world bombarded by extremes, in which a place and a people are defined by their greatness and by the horrific incidents of their history, the vast space between is safely cradled. So much calm and quiet, so much daily life, so much peace. This is the mundane, the humble, the unassuming, and it is beautiful. I am captivated by it, swimming through it, enamoured by the practicality, the intimacy of the calm between storms, the middling ground between cliffs and mountains. Here on the plains time slows down, people live their lives, surely fraught with struggle, triumph and drama, but what I feel as I pass through is the passivity, the balance, the slow march.
I see nine albergues in a 2 kilometer stretch outside of Léon and keep pushing. May as well get there, only 18k to go. I ride into Léon and it is beautiful, seems to be up-and-coming again, there are some very tasteful, modern structures up next to a huge brick building that is being renovated, a historic structure of some sort that they have invested a lot of time and money to preserve, which is nice. There is a large fountain in a roundabout before oldtown. Here is another gorgeous pedestrian center for shopping and eating with a fine old cathedral in the center. I check in at the Léon Hostel, which is on the fourth floor of a narrow building. I walk into my room and see two sets of panniers, one belongs to Antony from the UK, and the other to Jaime, from Canada.
Antony is on a Longhaul Trucker, and has already ridden from London to Tokyo, and is heading through Africa. He is a very nice chap, and chock full of useful information and advice! He is very ambitious with his budget, trying to spend 6 euros a day, And also very brave, riding through Egypt and Morocco; perhaps more courageous for the frequency with which he sleeps in abandoned buildings. He has some stories! We are all heading East, incidentally, backwards on the path, though Antony is heading North today. Jaime actually started in Lisbon as well, so we had the same idea! What’s more, I have a riding partner for the next few days! We all went out for some beers last night and got along fine, dominating the hostel with bicycle talk. I may see Antony again as well, for he is going to Milan. It would be niche to see him again, he is an inspiration.
The next day was a pleasant, short day with good company, riding on dirt and gravel. We actuallly rode o n an old Roman road for a good while- bumpy. We are here in a humble, comfortable Albergue, and I have not slept so well this whole trip- I needed a mellow day goofing off. We met another tourist on the road, one Alberto of Léon, who had been travelling Europe for a year and returned for his birthday before another three years out and about! He was well met. Jaime and I hung out at a bar- of which there are very classy ones in these small towns seemingly in the middle of nowhere- talking about life, the meaning of travel, self-actualization, and writing. I greatly enjoy his company, and it has been a fine counterpart to the solitude of my usual travel. Today we shall split off, for he is biding his time, I am pushing mine. He is well met. The internet is not working so well out here, but after a fifth attempt, here it is!