Father Jenkins flew in during the last week of June and we spent a few days milling around Almeria, eating, drinking and sunning on the beach. After a few days he turned to me and said, “Father, I’m tired of sleeping on your sofa. I want to get going”.
I’d had his half-constructed bicycle under my bed for weeks, with mine finished and standing proudly in the corridor. We were about as ‘ready’ to leave as we’d ever be, which really wasn’t very ready, but first we needed to buy a few things – for the bicycles and camping – from Decathlon, and the nearest one was located in the neighbouring town of Aguadulce. A good opportunity for a test run, we thought.
The only way out of the city in that direction – west – is a busy road that hugs the coast on a ledge that looks down on to the Mediterranean sea. It runs parallel with the motorway that is built much higher up in the mountains, and which is obviously unsuitable for bikes. Between them there is a linking road that functions as a sort of offramp, steeply climbing from the coast up in to the mountains where it meets the motorway, and it is up here that our ill-fated test run would go.
We had slept through most of the morning and headed out late, under the scorching midday sun of Almeria in July. The good Father had been living in Mexico City for the past year, where he was cycling regularly, but I personally hadn’t been on any serious cycling trips for a very long time. Nonetheless, we started strongly, making our way through the narrow cobbled streets of the old town and along the tree-lined road by the Parque Nicholas Salmeron by the port. All was going well.
As you leave the city you have to pass through one of two tunnels that have been blown through the cliff of a rocky outcrop on the coast. One of these tunnels goes straight ahead to Aguadulce and the rest of Andalucia. The other is the offramp, and it was here that we took our wrong turn.
It was a long, steep, winding wrong turn, and as the road began to climb I was sweating more and more in the early afternoon sun: dripping, panting, wheezing. Father Jenkins climbed the road ahead of me, and I was determined not to stop or fall behind already, not here on day one.
I had never in my life exerted myself so much while exercising that I wanted to vomit, until that day and that long, steep, winding hill. As we finally came up to the roundabout at the top, and the motorway alongside it, with the cars and trucks rushing by, I was absolutely spent.
“I think we’ve taken a wrong turn father”, said Padre Jenkins.
“I feel sick”, I replied.
That first day, the test run, forced us to entirely reevaluate our plans for the whole journey. There would be no cycling into the Alpujarra mountains, no climb into the Sierra Nevada. We would have to hug the coast.