10 October 2012

Road to El Cajas

I left Cuenca on a sunny morning and began a slow climb through the western part of the city and out of it. I rode through pastureland along a river that had cut through the mountains. I felt good on the bike but then the altitude began to effect me. I could feel myself wearing down, feeling nauseous and shaky.

There was a restaurant serving trout that had attached cabanas and I stopped there and order a trucha al ajillo (trout in garlic). In my fatigue I also ordered a drink from the menu I had never heard of without even asking what it was. Carajillo was its name and when it was served with the trout I took a sip and realized I hard ordered a hot brandy with spices. I did not have much interest in a hot, spiced brandy but pledged to myself to finish it. It was no doubt a typical drink of these mountains. Perhaps it would revitalize me for more climbing.

The trout was delicious and came freshly caught from the rivers that ran in these mountains. I had also finished the carajillo. Instead of strengthening me it had only added to my lightheadedness and weakness. I realized I could ride no further today. While drinking the carajillo I had rationalized that I could stay in one of the cabanas if I needed to. There are all sorts of rationalizations a fatigued cyclist makes in the mountains, all of them involving getting off his bike. I asked the man who ran the place about camping and he said I could ride up the mountain behind the restaurant and put my tent up there.
I could barely push the bike up the steep dirt road behind the restaurant. I went up and up and then I found a flat, grassy spot that was somewhat hidden. I was too tired to put up the tent and spread out my Thermarest ground pad and fell asleep in the sun.
I awoke later feeling cold. The sun had gone and the temperature was dropping rapidly. I quickly got the tent up and the gear inside it. Coming up the valley from the east were dark storm clouds. There was thunder and lightening and then it was raining hard. I lay inside my sleeping bag and continued to read Hamsun’s Mysteries until the battery on my computer died. Then I lay in the darkness listening to the rain. I was wearing two pairs of socks, my jeans, a t-shirt, my synthetic long-sleeved shirt, my wool sweater and my new wool hat and I was warm and happy inside my sleeping bag.


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