My, how things have changed! There is much to tell, and much that is not worth telling. Of this art I am beginning to find the Golden Mean, getting a grasp on what you ought to know, balanced with my somewhat diminished desire to catalogue and document everything. Me, I don’t even know how many miles I’ve gone, nor do I particularly care.
When I started this trip, I was an American in a foreign country, undertaking a “spiritual journey” encompassed in an “outdoor activity.” All of this has changed. I do not feel like a man in a foreign country, I feel like a traveller. While I am more aware than ever of my roots and their profound hold on me, I am no longer a separate entity. I float over these boundaries of culture and power, passing through, yet within. My perspective is bigger. I no longer feel nervous in grocery stores, the look of doubt or confusion is gone from me, there is no tension in my shoulders. I am another person, buying food. The streets are my streets, I belong here. Perhaps that feeling will change, but so will my ability to adapt. I am a chatty vacationer no longer, I am becoming a world traveller, in a profound sense. As for a “pilgrimage,” or a “spiritual journey,” I am simply struck by the emptiness of these words. Any term or description falls pitifully short of what I am discovering is happening. There is much of the mundane and everyday as well, as always. Nothing is as I expect and I am becoming comfortable, grateful, for this. I am realizing that missed turns are not always wrong turns, that missed expectations, dates, visas, are also potential opportunities. I planned a trip to get myself here, but what may happen, how, and why are yet to be determined, perpetually unfolding.
Likewise, up to this point I have been “documenting.” I have little reserve in this regard. For example, I have never like cameras because I take too many pictures. I am realizing that I write too much in kind. I am not bringing my trip to you; it is not my responsibility, nor is it my desire, to share my experiences so intimately as I have. Struggling with this search for moderation, I have thought a lot about dropping this blog entirely. I spend some of my days thinking about how I ought to take pictures for others, or perhaps how I will phrase an experience in writing, essentially narrating as I travel, which is an absence of being; I am not here, not experiencing the now, and this is unacceptable. Of course, as of yet I still feel a strong obligation to my friends and family to update my wherebouts and general condition. This may change, but seems somewhat unlikely at this point. I will do my best to make this blog work for the author as well as the audience.
I struggled for a few days with this, before I realized this is exactly what I need to write about. I was nervous about the Russian visa and my schedule the last few days, but Jaime, bless his heart, was a patient and attentive mirror for my turbled thoughts, providing acute insight, support, counterpoints, and extrapolations. Since then I have felt much better.
The day we parted, the wind shifted. I needed to clean my bike pronto, and intended to do so just out of town. On the empty plain, I was assailed by a pernicious headwind, and after four or five grueling kilometers I took shelter in a small copse of pine trees. The wind had the effect of disorienting me when I dismounted, stumbling like a drunk, numb, head buzzing and also aching somewhat. I also lost a lot of moisture this day through my nose, and I had a very attractive and steady stream of snot being blown across my far cheek all day. I spent a good hour cleaning my bike there, poking out the accumulated grime from between each chainlink with a stick. I broke the zipper on a pannier when this was done, which simply made me laugh. I had best keep an eye out for Tidy Cats buckets! (I don’t think that is a thing over here).
I pushed into this wind, canted at a silly angle against its North-NorthWesterly course, doing my best not to end up in the ditch. After a mere 25 kilometers, I was feeling pretty toasted. I had wandered away from the Camino, and decided to drop back down to it, considering I would be riding with the wind. In 30 minutes I had ridden 15 kilometers, bringing my total for the day to a more respectable though still discouraging 40k’s.
I stayed in a nice, inexpensive hostel, by myself, occupying one of sixteen beds.
I left early the next day, intending to cruise into Burgos early and perhaps to camp just outside of the city. I found a bikeshop that looked like it might have the spare parts I needed for my pannier, which I wanted to take care of in a country whose language I spoke to some degree. The wind was better, and the ride pleasant. Just outside of town, I pulled off to eat a sandwich, and who pulls up next to me but Jaime? I thought I might run into him again, and so it happened! We rode into Burgos together, but parted ways there. He is heading South to Madrid, and I still wanted to get out of town.
I found the shop, but it was closed from 2-5, of course. So, I rode out of town to the hostel I had picked out and dropped off my bags. It is still rather cold, and it is supposed to rain a bit tomorrow. I am becoming spoiled I fear, loathe to set up my tent, though I have not been travelling through particularly campable areas either. I waited an hour and rode the 7 kilometers back into town for groceries and parts. I shopped until the store opened and then popped in. I saw online that they carry my bags, but they have no spare parts. Okay, well I still have a sheared bolt on my back rack, so I ask them to take care of it.
I was afraid that the bolt would strip and need to be bored out, and my fears were realized. I heard a grinder from the work area and knew we were in for it. The man called the other employee up, and I wound up pacing nervously, like a new father in the hospital, as the sound of grinders, drills, tapping and such emanated down to me. They brought the bike down and I asked if everything was alright. Here is what I found.
Well, that works, though not ideal. As you can see, they tried to drill it out, having unsuccessfully tried to unscrew it, but the metal was too hard. So hard, perhaps, that I could have travelled just fine as I had it. This setup is somewhat less strong, and I have a lot of weight in the back. You never know though, if the protruding piece of bolt sheared at some point in the future, I would have been in a bad way.
What soured me, though, was the 25 euro charge. Ouch. They didn’t charge me for parts, but for the labor… Well. I tied up two men for almost an hour, and they tried, but ouch. I have been doing well, bringing my spending down, and there goes a whole day’s budget, for a job that I am not very happy with. My worst fears were realized. Aesthetically, the fix is hideous. Functionally, it is weaker, though my worry about further compromise of my back rack has been waylayed, I guess… Had I been prescient, I simply would have purchased these parts just in case.
It was certainly a kick in the nuts, forgive my crudeness, for I cycled out of my way, did not receive the parts I needed, and did not get my bolt replaced, but reattached, with the original support point effectively blocked from further use. It sucks because I could have fixed it myself had I been at home. I can’t be sure that their method was sensible, for I knew it would be a challenge, but I don’t have the means to try myself. It was the same when I repaired roofs- for a simple problem that cost me half an hour and a thirty dollar bundle of shingles, we would charge 500 dollars. What are you paying for? I have a big ladder. I have tools. I showed up. This all costs money, so I cannot be too bitter, though one service I was not paying for, which I provided as a roofer, was know-how…
I am so foolish and so cheap that I bring regret upon myself. There you are. My panniers are disintegrating, I can find no spare parts, and my cycle mechanics sort of failed me and charged me an arm and a leg for it.
Que cera cera. I know less and less, perhaps learning to form no expectations. The days pass and, perhaps, I pass with them.