Back In The Saddle Again

Vineyards and marsh reeds in the Jávea farmlands

(Post by Tom Carter)

“Life is made up, not of great sacrifices or duties, but of little things, in which smiles and kindness, and small obligations given habitually, are what preserve the heart and secure comfort.”    Humphry Davy

For seven long weeks, I dreamed of riding. Aside from a few trips to the market on my pannier-laden beater bike, I had not done any proper cycling since the day before Spain went into official lockdown, with all outdoor exercise banned. That final ride had been a glorious trip out to the Jalon Valley with a neighbor. We had met a Dutch couple who offered to take me on climbs out of the valley that I had yet to explore. When we parted ways with them, we exchanged WhatsApp numbers to plan future rides together. None of us had any idea that the mandatory quarantine announcement had already been made by Prime Minister Sanchez, effective at midnight. 

Cyclists leaving the Pueblo on the orchard road

When we left the United States in early 2019, I had given away my gizmos that turn a real bike into an indoor trainer, reasoning that the weather was good year-round in Jávea, so I would have no need to resort to the grinding monotony of stationary riding. In the thick of the quarantine, however, I had come to regret that decision. But trainers on Amazon were backordered and expensive, and the cycling and sporting goods stores were all closed, so I waited it out and satisfied myself with riding to the market when I could.

When I first moved to Jávea, a month ahead of Karen and a couple of weeks ahead of the shipping container with our furniture, kitchen supplies, clothing and—most importantly—bicycles, my only means of transportation was a mountain bike that Karen’s brother Paul kindly lent me. I used it a lot during that first month: initially out of necessity to run errands and, after eventually purchasing a car, driven by my desire to ride and to explore this new place. I don’t recall ever leaving the Jávea city limits during that period. The town, while small, is somewhat spread out. Our house is twelve kilometers from the Old Town on the opposite corner. So those rides still allowed a modicum of range, distance, and hills. And getting home from anywhere required a half hour climb.

Never far from the sea

In the following year I had ranged farther afield. Almost every ride on my road or cross bike took me to the neighboring towns up and down the coast and, particularly, inland. The Jalon Valley is a renowned cycling mecca and the prime reason that so many professional cycling teams are based here for their winter training. Having explored the towns, climbs, and smooth, car-free, and spectacularly scenic roads, I went there and the parallel valleys on almost every ride that afforded an adequate window of time.

When the success of the quarantine began to appear in the COVID-19 statistics and Spain’s restrictions began to ease in early May, Karen and I waited to hear whether outdoor exercise would be allowed. The first step was to let kids play outside with a parent during certain hours. A week later came Phase 0,which included allowing take-out service from restaurants and some measure of outdoor exercise. We awaited the details and the timing, since each province would make those calls based on local circumstances. Luckily our province of Alicante has not been hit very hard, and our little district of Marina Alta—including Jávea and several neighboring towns—was almost entirely spared.

So, on May 2nd, Jáveanos were allowed to exercise from 6:00-10:00 AM and 8:00-11:00 PM, with the rest of the day reserved for kids and senior citizens. Cyclists were limited to the city limits. For a few minutes after hearing this, I lamented not being able to ride to Jalon Valley or Calpe, but then I recalled how magical those first rides in Spain were. 

Paco’s bakery: Jáveas finest cocas and empanadas

We celebrated the first two days of exercise freedom with long runs and hikes around our neighborhood coves, cliffs, and parks. But on the third day, I simply had to get on the bike. For almost three hours I circumnavigated the city limits, riding through the big beach section, the port, and the old town. I saw friends I hadn’t seen in months, including Paco, whose bakery was open for business. Then I ventured out into the extensive network of narrow roads through the orchards. The aroma of orange blossom and wild fennel tickled my senses as I rode along the base of our magnificent Montgo peak. I even climbed up a significant hill in town called Ribaldi that I had only explored by car to visit friends who live at the top. 

Montgó, from atop Rebaldi

While virtually car free, the orchard roads were populated by walkers, runners, and cyclists. As they had been on the previous days, everyone was extraordinarily friendly and exuberant. When I stopped to take a photo of a grazing mule, a couple walking by said “es espectacular, si?” “Si, si,” I responded, “las cosas pequeños son muy importante!” As they walked away they each raised both thumbs in agreement.

Stubborn kind of fellow

Due partly to the indomitability of the human spirit and partly to the futility of doing anything else, most people have sought silver linings in the midst of this life-shattering pandemic. One commonly expressed bright spot is rediscovering the wonder and joy provided by things that we had too often taken for granted: spending time with our loved ones, running into a friend at the market, limiting screen time, fresh air, sunshine, enjoying the place where we live. It struck me that no one I met on today’s ride failed to appreciate the immense importance of las cosas pequeños, the little things.

Look for the bare necessities
The simple bare necessities
Forget about your worries and your strife
I mean the bare necessities
Old Mother Nature’s recipes
That brings the bare necessities of life

— Terry Gilkyso


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