Saturday, April 30, 2011

Chapter 4, in which your heroes discover their great power

Ando and Erwise were bummed. Their burdens had been weighing heavily on them since they entered the land of the Euros. Even the smallest staircase, which the lithe Eurofolk bounded up, required great toil. And while their shoulders were heavy, their purses were becoming distressingly light, for their Shire coins were worth very little.

Dusk was fast approaching as they wandered another unfamiliar town, understanding none of the strange tongue spoken. A sign, mercifully legible, indicated they might make camp for the night someplace outside the town. But their legs were weary, and the sign said nothing about the distance to camp. Erwise sat and contemplated the deepening shadows the headlands cast over the immense, blue Meditteranean, when suddenly she was struck by a vision so vivid it was as if Gandalf himself had returned with his wizardry. They would mount their burdens, and pedal them to camp! In fact, they could really pedal them anywhere in Middle Earth! They were not burdened at all. Instead, they possessed a great power.

"Ando! Alack! Grab the reins of your stead and let us flee this town, for the wind is at our back and the world is ours!"

Ando mounted his stead with a hearty yell, and started up the sinuous highway. As soon as his foot hit the stirrup, the world seemed to shift. The azure Meditteranean appeared an even deeper blue. He charged up the steep hill that lead out of town, not feeling the grade at all, as though he was being pushed by an invisible hand.

Your heroes banked through turns and raced the birds, and soon, too soon, camp appeared on a headland across a cove. Provisions, they had not, but they now understood that it didn't matter. On their faithful steeds, the immense world had become a little smaller.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Vías verdes (and not so verdes)

Girona is known to be a center of competitive cycling in Spain. The US team trained here, Lance had a house, etcetera. Which is all well and good, however we are operating on an entirely different plane than 17 lb bikes and 80 liters/kilogram VO2 maxes. Fortunately for us, it is also a center of anti-competitive cycling, with lots of rail-trails and rural cycling routes. We took one such rail-trail from Girona to Platja d'Aro, on the coast.

After very pleasant 42 km through small towns and alongside fields of poppies and rapeseed, we arrived in Platja d'Aro. La platja was a raging shitshow of traffic and vacationing Madrileños. Whoops, we forgot it was Semana Santa, which means Spring Break! for all of Spain. And just like Spring Break! in the US, everybody goes to the beach. We found our camping, where they assured us that it wasn't really all that crowded, which although incredible, might have been true. We were camped in site 5207, and an entire half of the campground wasn't open yet. God help us if we had arrived mid-summer.

The roar of traffic on the carretera throughout the night assured us that we should find a route that didn't involve the highway. The next morning, traffic through town had calmed substantially, and we rode next to the water through fancy-smancy beach towns and steady, but not terrifying traffic, before finding another rail trail that led inland. A propicious wrong turn lead us up a couple hundred meters of climbing to a pleasant viewpoint. If only all wrong turns were so scenic.

From bikinggirona

Some fast kilometers downhill and a wrong turn onto the carretera (which was actually not too bad, and far less terrifying than "smaller" roads we rode on) lead us to more routefinding through beautiful, medieval towns, and eventually the town of Torroella de Montgrí. We were bushed from pedaling our distressingly-heavy bikes into the wind all day, and couldn't convince ourselves to look for the camping outside of town. So we settled for an over-priced hotel in the city and a underpriced, and very delicious Catalan supper of sausage, salad and lasagna.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

mm-mm-mm-my Girona

We hurriedly stuffed our bikes into the bus bound for Barcelona where we would connect to Girona. Our bikes were mostly built by this time, boxes discarded. We soon found ourselves back in disassemble mode - racing to take off parts of our bikes to make them fit into the luggage compartment while encouragements (if you want to call them that) were yelled to/at us by the bus conductor. We were soon on the bus with more than one annoyed look from strangers for holding up travel. We were soon settled in to fitful sleep.

The morning in Girona was dark and rainy, the clouds menacing. With café con leche in hand, we settled into a coffee shop to wait out the Seattle-like weather. Soon enough the clouds burnt off, the sun came out and we were able to explore the city of Girona before setting off on two wheels.

To Andrew's eyes, it was like wandering around a section of disneyland, but real. And it made the old parts of Chile and Perú less impressive, with the possible exception of Cusco.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Madrid is a very fine city, but it ain't no Rivendell

Despite the best efforts of the barrowights, also known as Air France, your two adventurers and their Great Burdens arrived in Madrid.

Ando argued mightily with the Wights that they leave us in Rivendell, aka Paris, but it was for naught. $1800 must be abandoned, p.p., for the privilege of getting off the plane early in Paris. That they left one of our bags to marinate overnight and closed the boarding of our plane 15 minutes before scheduled in Rivendell, I can only theorize, was to punish us for the asking.

But yes, Madrid. Quite nice.

Lots of parks, an absurdly extensive subway, and strangely desolate, due to Semana Santa (note foreshadowing)

We did some more investigating and found that Alsa would help carry our Great Burdens by auto-coach towards France, via way of Girona. They were intact, mostly. So we built them, mostly. Then we pushed them, cajoled them up stairs, held them while speaking in soothing tones on train and subway (they spook easily in crowds), did delicate ballet to corral them onto elevators. Then dumped them in the luggage hold of a bus.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Chapter One: In Which our Heroes Leave the Shire and Discover Their Great Burden

It was several weeks past the equinox in the shire, in what had been an unusually cool spring. The daffodils and tulips were finally, cautiously poking their heads out of the cold ground.

The Shire in Bloom
From bike1

From bike1

The mid April sun shone obliquely, but did little to warm Ando McDaggins, who was on his way to his post at the Cancer Prevention Mill. Ando had just crossed the bridge on his way to South Bywater when he came upon his dear friend Erwise.

“Good day, Erwise Gringee. I must admit I am surprised to see you this far from Hobbitown. Are not your services required in the Hobbitown Public Health Clinic?”

“Nay, Ando. I threw up my deuces and walked out this morning.”

“What brought on this change of heart, dearest Erwise?”

“I had a dream last night that a great journey was in my future, and I figured that I needed to be unencumbered by a job to take on this task."

"A dream? You quit your job because of a dream? I have always known you to be a level-headed, scientific type. I am just surprised you did such a thing.” Ando spoke, while scratching his scraggly bearded chin.

“You speak true. I usually do not heed such dreams, but I lately have been fed up with spending my days doing Hobbit footcare.”

“Tell me about this dream of yours. I took a class from Sir Gilbran on dream interpretation several years ago, and maybe I could help with interpretation.”

“Well, there was a large Elvin apparition that appeared to me and showed me two large boxes hidden in the bushes, and called this my 'great burden'. She told me I was to pick a partner for the adventure. And that was all. Except she was dressed strangely for an elf, in head-to-toe spandex and with a long, bright yellow cape. She also kept complaining about how much her taint hurt.”

“Oh, yes, I can definitely help interpret this type of dream,” replied Ando. “Just toss three sticks under one side of the bridge. When they appear on my side, I will use the pattern to decipher the meaning of this dream of yours."

Erwise quickly gathered three sticks and tossed them in the river.

"A-hah!" cried Ando. "Just what I thought. You are to take a bike journey to the hills of France, and your travel partner will be I, Ando."

Erwise looked down at the sticks - one stuck in the curve of the river, the other two seeming not to make a symbol at all. Sir Gilbran was known to teach bogus classes for extra cash to support his herbalism habit. This would not make for as good a story as her friend Frodo was able to brag about around the town bonfires. However, searching for a real answer to this obtuse dream seemed tedious, and the answer might be something that involved Dark Riders, which didn't sound tempting in the least. Giddy with the thought of free time and adventure with a dear friend, she accepted.

Ando tossed his cancer prevention bag into the Water, and they turned 90 degrees. They set out west, towards the Brandywine, the ends of the shire, and the land of the Euros.