Day eleven: is this a holiday?

León to Pola de Lena

What doesn’t kill you, only makes you stronger and the hard shit is character building, right? Well that’s what I tried to tell myself today at least.

After yesterday’s grim mood, the day started well with even some blue sky. As I rode out of León though, I could see the dark skies looming ahead. Their foreboding greatness covering the tips of the mountains I was headed.

And sure enough, just 10km out of León, the rain began. Just a dribble at first, but not before long a full on downpour. My mood quickly sank to the lows of yesterday.

Channeling my brother’s positive thoughts – he likes cycling in the rain, I tried to appreciate it for what it was. Just me connected to my bike, with the sounds of the dripping on my helmet, the chirping birds and cars and lorries whooshing by.

The positivity didn’t last long and rather than upset, I became annoyed. Pissed off even; what should be an awesome ride – today looked perfect, a slow easy ascent followed by a long long downhill thriller – would be ruined.

After going past a grim looking coal power station and cement factory, I stopped at La Robla for a much needed coffee. Stupid me found the one café which wasn’t serving food, but the kind bar lady gave me a couple of packaged cakes which tasted delicious dunked in my coffee. Accompanied by just the factory workers in the cafe, they all stared at me like I was crazy and I started to agree I certainly was.

Knowing that the only way was up, I left and grumpily started pedalling again. Up and up, I had the train line to one side of me, a river the other.

No longer able to channel any positivity, it was chucking it down and I was completely soaked to the bone. I couldn’t have been any wetter with the squelch of the puddles in my shoes at every turn of the pedal.

Going through a series of tunnels, I decided I had to stop and take shelter in one. Should I call home? A taxi? What the fuck can I do?!

When a long dark tunnel is your friend, you know you’re not having a good day

The highs and lows continued as miraculously, when I decided to emerge from the tunnel, it was slightly clearer. Hallelujah!

This is where the bulk of the upwards drag started. It was never ridiculously steep and my chain stayed in the big cog at the front most of the way. Like I said, this would have been the best day’s riding if it wasn’t for the weather!

I did start to get tired though and as I slowly went gradually up, I kept checking the map on my phone – surely I must be near the top? It seemed to go on forever.

Then the penny dropped. The reason I couldn’t see the top was because there was no top. Just a huge fucking cloud. In fact, on the other side of the pass, the whole valley was in a cloud. As I went over, I realised this was going to be scary. I had been anticipating the wet roads, but hadn’t considered poor visability. I put the lights I have on my bike, what difference that made, and went on, praying the lorries would see me.

The moment I went over the pass – what should be a beautiful view down the valley was covered by a wretched cloud

As it got steeper downhill, it didn’t get clearer. Unlike the steady incline on the other side, the signs here (when I could see them) said the gradient was 17%. Without being able to see the twists and turns of the road ahead, I gripped my brakes, literally for dear life. And then I cried. I feel silly now for doing so, but at the time, it really was the lowest of the low. Mainly because I was petrified – and I’m normally an adrenaline junkie. This was too much.

Misery going up, before the long long down

I’m gutted because what a downhill it would have been – 30km of uninterrupted descent. I’m sure there are beautiful views down the valley too, when you can see them. With no hard shoulder on this part of the N630 and lorries going up and down, together with the wet road and steep gradient, well I hated it.

After what felt forever, it eventually started to get clearer (I think about 500m lower in height). And everything looked lush. It was raining now, so I couldn’t take a pic, but remember thinking how it looked like the island Jurassic Park is filmed on. That made me smile at least.

Smile only until the rain meant I couldn’t see again, with the speed making it thrash in my eyes I was forced squint. Of course I was hungry too. I was 80km in and had had a croissant and two snack sized cakes to eat. It was raining was so heavily, I missed my turn off point, so had to carry on to my final destination.

Finding my hotel, I trudged in like the mad woman I am, dripping like a wet dog. The young guy working there was really friendly, a huge relief. I don’t think I could have handled another battle with a grumpy Spaniard.

Getting to my room, I went straight in the shower with my cycling gear still on. Sitting at the bottom of the shower, I started to thaw out, with my toes tingling as I felt my circulation going again.

Knowing I had to be quick because I really didn’t want to miss the window for lunch, I put on my wet jeans (Apidura bags definitely aren’t waterproof, FYI) and headed out for lunch.

I had a recommendation from the guy in the hotel for the best local cuisine – and boy I’m glad I took his advice. After such a day, every mouthful tasted incredible as I felt the nutrients soak into my body. I had a delicious white bean and king prawn soup, followed by a slow cooked meat stew and then a huge chocolate cheesecake type thing. As part of the set lunch, the hero waiter (who I think sensed the day I had had), plonked the whole bottle of wine on the table, rather than just a glass.

And now I’m back in the hotel. Lying in a huge comfy bed with crisp white sheets, with the destruction of my unpacking (chucking all the wet clothes out of my bag) around me. What a day!

Though at the time, I hated it. Hated it so much that I cried (and I can’t even remember the last time I did so), I now have an incredible sense of not only relief, but accomplishment. I survived. The real bad news however, is that tomorrow is the hardest day of the whole trip, with double the climbing involved. And the weather unfortunately doesn’t look like it will clear.

I’m too tired both physically and emotionally to even worry about that for now. Instead, I’m going to enjoy being holed up in the comfort of this room, with it still raining outside, for a few hours of comfortable bliss. I made it and for now, I don’t have a worry in the world.

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