Last night we all gathered together for one more group dinner somewhere in the heart of Bilbao. Over ten burgers and two goat cheese and vegetable sandwiches, conversation quickly turned to suggestions for the next long distance Team Gerbil ride. Ciarán made a strong sensible argument for Holland. “It’s flat and there’s tulips!” Paul was set on New Zealand and I worked hard to convince everyone to come to Colorado.
This morning Sam, Elena and Paul are setting off early to drive the van back to Girona and return the bikes. What took us seven days to cover on two wheels will take them just under six hours by car.
After everyone else says their goodbyes I leave my suitcase behind reception and head out to explore the city. I’m the only one spending an extra day in Bilbao. My original plan was to spend the afternoon at the Guggenheim but it’s closed since it’s Monday. Thor said not to worry because the outside of the building, a masterpiece of architecture by Frank Gehry, is better than any of the art inside, and I’m finding myself in agreement.
Out in front of the museum Jeff Koons’ Puppy–Thor swears everyone in Spain pronounces it Poopy–stands at attention.
In Bilbao the bugs are back and the trees are full. We’ve followed the cusp of spring all week as we moved from the Mediterranean, up into the Pyrenees, and down to the Bay of Biscay. It’s much warmer here and quite pleasant.
My legs aren’t exactly cramping but they’re almost too heavy to pick up and move forward. I rest for a minute in the Parque de Doña Casilda de Iturrizar where three more of the happiest dogs in the world frolic off leash.
Then I rally myself for a sluggish circular stroll through downtown.
Walking the length of a brand new city is one of my single most favorite things to do but after a few hours I’m so tired I can barely stand. Then when I sit down on a bench in the Parque República de Abando I realize I’m too tired to even sit up. Would anyone notice if I just lay down and close my eyes for a minute?
Sure, this isn’t the safest way to experience a foreign country but I’m checked out of one hotel and unable to check in to the next one yet. I realize I’m putting myself in a very vulnerable position . . . but my passport is secure in my backpack under my head . . . and I don’t have any cash on me . . . and . . .
Just like that I’m out. Full on sleeping on a park bench like a homeless person under a fragrant and fully blossomed tree on a beautiful spring day. It’s a power nap—I’m only unconscious for about fifteen minutes—but it restores enough energy for me to stand once more. I stretch in the afternoon sun and think the one thought that has been on my mind more than any other this week: Food. Now.
This morning at breakfast I ate a big slice of this delicious Spanish style egg and potato pancake thing, plus scrambled eggs, a plain croissant, a chocolate croissant, two glasses of orange juice, black tea, almost half a pineapple, four slices of cheese, and a chocolate donut. Now it’s nearly 2:00 pm and I could eat it all again.
I really want one more ice cream for the road but I don’t have any euros left and the ice cream cart lady doesn’t want my credit card. Instead I find an Aldi grocery store and for less than ten euros I’m stocked up for a late lunch, dinner, tomorrow’s breakfast, and snacks for the plane.
And with that I call it a day. I’ve trekked up and down the Gran Vía de Don Diego López de Haro. I’ve seen the Nervión River, the ever-so-slightly over the top Statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the outside of the Guggenheim . . . now I will see the inside of a taxi and my new hotel by the airport, where I will have many opportunities to practice both Kaixo! and Eskerrik asco.
In my hotel room I slather myself with Icy Hot and look back at the totality of our route. It’s phenomenal just how far the wild winds of fortune carried us. In the end only two of the eleven cyclists completed the entire route–Mark and Paul. But whether by bike, or by van, or by bus, all twelve of us made it over 500 miles from Girona to Bilbao, relatively unscathed, and we’re all the better for it.
I know my life is in a really beautiful place because I really don’t want to leave but I also can’t wait to get home. Tomorrow I will wake up at 4:30 am to head to the airport and retrace my route back to the States. Two-hour flight to Munich —> zombie-like layover —> ten and a half hour flight to Denver.
And before I know it I’ll be home, collapsed on my bed with my pups. As I drift off to sleep Tobi will be in his usual protective and alert state.
When I wake up the following morning, Banjo, who has astonishingly passed the majority of those damned Gu gel packets through his cast iron intestines, will have maneuvered his way up to snooze by my side, just like he has every night for the past twelve years.
The next Team Gerbil ride could happen anywhere in the world. It’s exciting to think of the possibilities. The only thing I know for sure is that wherever it is, I’ll be there, ready to conquer it with a big smile on my face.
Sending all my wild ecstatic love to Paul, Andy, Mark, Ciarán, Thor, Vanda, Helen, Alistair, Sam, Claire, and Elena! Until the Gerbils ride again! ❤ ❤ ❤