Oliva to Torre del la Sal. This One is for All the Good People in the World.

First and foremost; this post will not just be about our travels from Oliva to Torre del la Sal. It will mostly be about the innumerable amount of good people we have met since then. It will be about the people who have gotten us off of the “thin ice”, who have been our guides and those who have just provided good words of wisdom.

After we stayed in Oliva, we headed north towards beautiful Gandia. Before we headed out of the city we needed to find the correct road to take, fearing we would end up on one of the major roads. We asked a nice woman in the center of Oliva if she could direct us and she offered for us to follow her in her car towards a bike path that would take us directly to Gandia. While we were on this path we really started to get a taste of how many cyclists there are in Spain. It was almost like every half kilometer we would see any where from one to groups of 6 cyclists riding. After we had been on the bike path for a while we saw an older gentlemen taking a break from his bike ride on a bench off to the side of the path. He asked us where we were from and how far we were planning to go. When we told him that we were heading to Roma, he seemed very impressed. He then proceeded to give us some great advice on places to camp in Spain, he also advised us to get better road maps because the ones we were carrying were rather rudimentary. After we chatted for a bit, we said adios and continued towards Gandia. Not 3 minutes later, he was right behind us on his bicycle, eager to talk more. Long story short, he ended up guiding us through Gandia towards Valencia. At one point we had to stop because Casey’s derailer seemed to be acting up. The gentleman pulled out some rubber gloves and offered to fix it. With great success, he took off his gloves and stuffed them into Casey’s handle bar bag as a gift! He even lead us to a neighboring city more towards the coast in hopes of finding us a better maps. Enrique, you will forever be in our hearts. Even though you only guided us about 8 kilometers, you helped us tremendously simply out of kindness  We’d thank you 100 times over, if we could.

After riding about 60 kilometers, we took a break on a beach and swam in the Mediterranean for the first time. It was so refreshing after a hot day of biking. At times like those, we realize how fortunate we are to be able to go on an adventure like this one, and it makes the salty water of the Mediterranean that much sweeter. About 3 hours later, we finally found a place to camp in a forest across from a golf course near El Saler and slept very soundly. Another thing that is noteworthy about Friday night, is that we met some 1%-ers. For those of you that don’t know who these people are, they are the 1% of motorcyclists in the world who are part of Hell’s Angels. Now THAT is something you don’t see every day. Anyway, we thought that was pretty cool.
The next day we biked about 15 kilometers and found ourselves staring the Valencian skyline down, right between its eyes. All I could think of was, ‘alright Valencia, round two. Show us what you REALLY got!’. After we biked towards the center of the city we saw the most beautiful architecture. A Valencian man by the name of Santiago Calatrava designed the building of Arts and Sciences along with the Oceanographic museum right at the East end of the city. I thought that was super cool because this man also designed the Milwaukee Art Museum and it reminded me of home. As we biked through the huge Valencian park (once a river that has now dried up) we decided that we needed to stay the night, the city seemed way too interesting to blow through in a couple hours. We found our way to the tourist office to find a hostel. We got directions and found ourselves in the middle of Old Valencia.  We walked into our hostel and fell in love. Its called the Hilux Hostel and it seriously has to be the coolest one in all of Valencia, if not all of Spain. The reason I say this isn’t because of the beautiful and unique rooms, its not because its clean, its not even because of the free wifi (although all these things help). Its because of the great people we met. Saturday was the first night we stayed and it just so happened to be Mojito night! The Argentinian manager invited us to partake when we arrived so we said, ‘why not?’. Mojitos were served in the kitchen and there we met Julia, the two Argentinians named Diego and a student from Holland named Freeg. Julia works at the reception desk so she couldn’t stay too long but we did end up talking with Freeg for several hours and decided at around 12 midnight that we needed to hit the bars. The three of us had a great time dancing and experiencing the Valencian night life. We decided that we must stay another night so we could really experience a Valencian weekend.
The next day we headed out and Casey bought a new Nikon D60 camera. What a great idea, we really would like to have some great pictures from our trip. We intended to go to the Bioparc that day but opted not too. A bit too expensive and we thought it would be better to walk around and play with the new Camera. It was a delightful day.
The next day, we packed up, said our goodbyes to the lovely Hilux staff and headed out on our bicycles. We thought the best thing to do was head east toward the beach and find a good road to take up the coast. On our way there, we saw our first organic grocery store. I nearly squealed with delight! There we picked up some breakfast and some more soap. We also got a discount because we came on our bikes, how wonderful is that? It is so refreshing to see people who share a “greener” mindset. When we left, a woman on her bicycle asked us in English where we were headed. When we explained, she beamed with support and encouragement. SHe offered to lead us toward the coast and direct us north. We biked for a while with her and found out a bit about her life story. Her name is Natalia from Holland and she had been living in Spain for the past 11 years or so. This woman’s energy and personality is so warm, loving and free spirited. Her outlook on life is so fresh and inspiring. You know; a lot of times when we tell people what we are doing and how far we are traveling, we are told we are absolutely crazy for going on such a long adventure. Not Natalia, she was so excited for us and was genuinely happy for the two of us. She lives her life in the “now” and really gets it. It was a pleasure to meet her. She gave us her information and I think we’ll send her a card at Christmas time. (Author’s Side Note: I also fell off my bike 3 times within an hour and a half….HA! I guess 2 days off the bike really jaded my cycling skills? Its okay, no harm done!)

So… again we were off, headed north towards what? We did not know. This is when things started to get a little hairy. Essentially, after Valencia, there are no more secondary roads that travel up the coast line so we were trying to find all these bass-akwards ways to take towards the next major city. We traveled about 56 kilometers that day and really didn’t make much headway. We decided to stop in a little town called Canet and call it a day. I think both Casey and I were a bit frusterated and tired of getting turned around. We decided to bike around town to find a good place to pitch our tent. Without much luck, we went to the grocery store for some dinner. This is where we met Santiago, his wife and their young daughter named Susana. Casey approached them outside of the grocery store and asked them for their opinion on the best route to go north with our bicycles. To our surprise, Santiago told us that the national highway is suitable for cyclists. We were shocked, we thought the national road was more like the equivilant of America’s interstate highways. Apparently not! With that weight lifted off our shoulders, we asked Santiago is he knew of a safe place for us to pitch our tents for the night. After some deliberation and discussion, Santiago and his wife invited us back to their appartment to spend the night! We were so relieved! Its interesting, the days where our traveling gets the most hectic are also the days when we meet the most generous and kind people. So, we followed Santiago’s car on our bikes to the neighboring town where their appartment is. We unloaded our stuff, locked up our bikes and took the elevator up to their flat. Santiago’s wife made up a bed and told us that we should shower so that all of us could eat dinner together. I cannot describe how greatful we felt at this moment. Casey and I showered and headed out of the apartment to find the family at a resturant down the street. We walked for a while and couldn’t find them. I think at this point we realised that we must have misheard them. Keep in mind, none of them spoke english so there was a serious language barrier. We headed back to the apartment and waited outside, hoping they’d come back and explain to us what they had really said. Not 5 minutes later, Santiago and his daughter came back and told us to get in the car. We did, totally unsure of where we were going. We arrived at another apartment and walked up the stairs. All the while Casey and I were exchanging confused looks. When we got upstairs we were in an even nicer house. All of a sudden it dawned on us that this was their primary home and that the one we were staying it was just their “beach house”. Anyway, we thought that was pretty funny. Even though there is a language barrier and we’d only known them for a short while, they totally opened their homes and hearts to us. That night we talked laughed and ate…I mean REALLY ATE! They fed us so much food, I felt like I was going to explode. After dinner, Santiago took us back to the “beach house” where were originally unloaded all of our bags. He said good night and left us in their second home, all to ourselves. We were so shocked and so happy. We still couldn’t believe how everything worked out so well and we really reflected on all the good people that are in this world.

The next morning Santiago and his wife came back over and made us some breakfast. They also gave us a peice of paper with their 2 addresses and their phone numbers. They told us to call them if we needed anything while we were still in Spain and that if we ever came back to Canet, we’d always have a place to stay. We told them how greatful we were and headed out, this was our first day that were were going to travel on the national highway. All in all, it was a great day of biking, we did about 80 kilometers…phew!! Right at the end, the road climbed up a mountain. Since it was a little over 80 degrees, it was quite the haul. The decent down was even more intense, if you can believe it. There was NO shoulder and it seemed like every semi-truck known to man was traveling that part of the road. It was quite a thrill. When we got down the hill we pulled off the road towards Torre del la Sal, the town we decided to stay in. We immediately biked to the beach and got into our swim suits. We played in the Sea for a bit and washed our hair. It felt so good to get out of the heat and back into the water! From there we went to the grocery store and joked about hanging out there until we met some other people who might take us in for the night. We did meet a man from the Netherlands who was camping near by and told us that we should come there for the night because it was a nice place. We decided to go there and that is where I am writing from right now.

Needless to say, the last few days have given us more than a great tan. Thanks to all those who we have met, we have broadened our horizons. For us, this trip is all about learning and immersing ourselves into new cultures. I can sit here now and honestly say that these experiences have gone far beyond my expectations and its all thanks to the amazing people who have opened their hearts to us. This post is for all of you, and all those who we will meet in the next 3+ months, and all those who we know back home. Thank you for your support, it means worlds to us.

Sending love,
Kristen and Casey.

[altpwa user=rawandfit album=OlivaToTorreDelLaSalSpain]

Benissa to Oliva, Spain bicycle tour

Our first day of biking took us from Benissa, Spain to Oliva. Jamie, our host in Tarbena, dropped us off with all of our gear in Benissa, about 15km from his place. It’s a real pain to get out of his driveway, and the extra time it would have taken us to get down the mountain would have been serious.

Anyways, we hugged Jamie goodbye around 10am, and built up. 2 Camelbak’s full of water (3 Lit. each) and empty stomachs. We headed out to find the road to the east, toward the sea. It took us quite a few tries at asking people for directions before we were able to figure it out. We ended up in a small rural village because we took a wrong turn. The road ended into a guys homestead, and he gave us directions. We think he was German.

From there, we got on the road towards Xabia (Javea on the Google Map).

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Before we say anything further, you need to understand Valencian language. Google Maps hasn’t recognized the difference between Spanish and Valencian. Jamie described it as more of a ‘cool’ way to talk. Shortening words and having other ways to say things is a form of Nationalism that the Valencian’s share.

For example,

Ordinal numbers (5th, 6th, 20th): quint, sext, vigèsim for cinquè, sisè, vintè. < >
More info here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Valencian

H’okay. So…

We pedaled into Xabia just fine. It was a bigger city, but we didn’t stay too long. After getting turned around, we found a narrow road up the mountain to take us to Denia. It must have been 7 km total up the mountain. Maybe not. Maybe it was 4 up and 3 down. Either way, it was hard. We had to get off our bikes only 200 feet into the climb and put on our tennies to get up the rest. Long, but at the top, it was beautiful.

On top of the mountain between Xabia and Denia

After that, it was smooth riding down the mountain into Denia. From there, we just hugged the fairly flat coastline to get to Oliva. Nothing too unique to see, except some lemon and almond farms. We were between the ocean and the red road, the national highway (think I-75), but we couldn’t see water.

When we got to Oliva, we biked into the long city center and hung out on a bench. Kristen shopped for some fruit and veggies, but we ended up just eating the cookie sticks and potato chips (fried in olive oil, not veg!). From there, we started looking for a place to sleep. One thing led to another and we were ‘forced’ to sleep in a campsite, Campo de Kiko. When we got there, there was no receptionist. We looked around and decided to enter. It was a small RV park only a dune-climb from the ocean. Some German folks told us to just pitch our tent in an empty spot and see what happened.

What happened was that we got to use the bathroom, shower, and sleep without having to pay. Sweet.

Check out the pictures below!

[altpwa user=rawandfit album=MaridTarbenaBenissa]

Our first week in Espana!

Hola everyone!

Our journey thus far has been quite the adventure, and its only been a week. We are finally settled in with our first HelpX Host in Tarbena, Spain. His name is Jaime Owen and even though we have only been here 2 nights, we already feel quite at home and at peace on top of this beautiful mountain where he resides. We have learned so much about ourselves and have already faced many challenging obstacles that have already made this experience worth all the effort.

Casey left you guys with a brief update on our arrival in Madrid. Although we were only there for 2 nights, I think we both agree that was enough. Madrid is a young city filled with fun and excitement around every corner. You can just feel the pulsing energy there, especially in the late night and early morning hours. The center of the city is called Sol – Spanish for sun – and it lives up to its name. The streets glisten with the country´s rich history and the Spanish people radiate a certain genuine kindness and selflessness that I find completely charming. We had a grand time exploring, but we were quite excited to leave the big city. Casey and I feel that this journey is about learning and growth and well, we honestly felt we had learned what we could from Madrid. It was time to move towards the mountains and toward our passion to help others,  and get a taste of the rural Spanish culture.

Now, a European bicycle adventure wouldn’t be nearly as thrilling if there weren’t any figurative and literal  speed bumps along the way. Saturday morning we were to leave Madrid from the Chamartín Train and arrive in Alicante, Spain. When we got there, we would meet with Jaime who would collect us and then we’d all spend the night partying in Alicante together. On Sunday morning our plan was to drive up the mountains, through Tarbena to his house. However, we found ourselves in a bit of a predicament at Chamartín (Understatement of the Year, by the way). Casey and I waited patiently at the station with all of our gear for the train’s platform to be announced. Casey bounced around a bit, meeting interesting folk who were also in transit. He also was smart to go to the information desk and quadruple check to see if it was alright that we carry our 4 large boxes of bikes and gear with us on the train. For the 4th time, they said it would be just fine. At last the platform was announced and we made our way down. When we got down there the train station staff immediately approached us and started explaining in Spanish that we could not take our boxes on the train, they were simply too big. Casey’s Spanish is better than mine, but I could tell by their tone exactly what was being said. We started to get frantic, pleading with them in our broken Spanglish to let us on. After all, we were told several times it was acceptable. Tears started to stream down my face as I watched our train to Alicante, slowly chug away from the station. Just then, an angel came to us. A woman by the name of Mia (I think…) was also on the platform saying her farewells to her husband who was going on business. When she saw that we were having troubles, she came to us offering to be our English-Spanish interpreter. This woman stayed with us for 1.5 hours helping us get refunds on our non-refundable train tickets AND find an alternative way to get us and our gear to the south-east of Spain. She was so wonderful.  I wish we could have gotten her contact info because I would love to send this woman a Christmas card or something, I just couldn’t say thank you enough.

SO, the new plan was this: Train to Atocha, the neighboring train station in Madrid. From there we would have to get on a local train that would take us to a neighboring village and from there, transfer to another local train that would take us to Valencia which is about 180 km north of Alicante. Thankfully, we called Jaime and he was alright with picking us up in Valencia.  Finally…we were on our way.  By 10 pm we arrived in Valencia. We got all our stuff off the platform and waited on the side walk outside of the train station for Jaime. About 30 minutes went by and he was no where in sight. We found a pay phone and called him several times and finally around 11pm we got ahold of him. Apparently he was at a different train station in Valencia, finally he found a taxi driver to direct him to the other station and at 11.30 pm, he arrived in his car! We gave him huge hugs, I have never been so relived to see anyone in my life, and he is pretty much a complete stranger none the less.

So we all decided it would be best just to drive the hour and 15 minutes it takes to get to his home in Tarbena from Valencia. BUT…about 30 minutes into the drive we realize we are going the wrong way!!!!! By that time we were onlu about 30 minutes from Alicante (our original destination) so we decided to drive there and stay in the hotel we had originally booked! I guess forces of nature REALLY wanted us to go to Alicante. It also worked out for the best because we weren’t able to cancel the hotel in the midst of all the chaos so I guess its good we got rerouted to Alicante.

On Sunday morning we all drove to his house in Tarbena. It is absolutely breath taking here. Jaime is an artist and has an amazinbg life story. We all get along very well and we both feel very at peace here. He already has offered us to stay longer than originally intended so we will have to see how everything pans out. So far we have gotten a taste of local Tarbena night life and some amazingly delicious Tapas. We have started work on his land, clearing out brush and doing some household chores. More importantly, we all have spent a lot of quality time together talking philosophy, books, art, life and technology.

Our bikes are built up, our tummies are full of good food, the air is clean and this post has gone on too long. Stay tuned for pictures, the internet is quite slow here in rural, Spain but they are coming soon.

Peace be the Journey,
Kristen and Casey

Bicycle Touring in Madrid

We made it!

After 10 hours of flying, we arrived in Madrid. A quick trip on an oversized taxi (costing us $51US), we found our hotel. We are about 5 km from the center of downtown Madrid:

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We’re on our way out to explore. More later! We stay here for 2 nights.

Bicycle Tour around the Thumb of Michigan

Kristen and I did a test-tour to get everything set up before our big 4-month trip around Spain, Italy and France. We decided that a good in between plan was to meet at the Thumb near Bay City and bike around for a few days. We thought about seeing some lighthouses, camping on the beach, and just taking it easy.

Here is a map of where we decided to go on the bike tour: Unionville to Caseville to Grind Stone City to Forestville to Gagetown, back to Unionville. 137 miles, 5 days. Super super easy. AND FUN!

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I met Kristen in Unionville and we built our bikes up. It was pretty easy to do and only took about 30 minutes. Most of it was fitting Kristen’s new Ortleib Backroller Classic panniers that she had just picked up from REI.

Here are a few fun pics from the trip:

Kristen with her new Ortleib Backroller panniers

Kristen with her new Ortleib Backroller panniers

Cooking oatmeal on our MSR Dragonfly stove
That’s us just north of Caseville in a campsite’s picnic area. It was off-season, and we were the only people around. While we didn’t sleep there, we still used their covered place to cook oats on our MSR Dragonfly Stove.

Trek 1.2 used for bike tour

Trek 1.2 used for bike tour

Casey on his fully loaded Trek Pilot 1.2 with a TW-Trailer

Camping in Caseville with MSR's Hubba Hubba tent
Here’s Kristen in our MSR Hubba Hubba tent in the woods by the High School in Caseville. We just walked around until we found a nice spot in the woods and set up camp. We didn’t ask anyone if we could stay, and found it to be a great place!

The tent is awesome. Super easy to set up and roomy.



The two of us in Grind Stone City Camping behind Paul and Pauline's place in Grind Stone City, MI

On our way back from getting some ice cream in Grind Stone City, we hitch-hiked back to where we kept our bikes — Captain Morgan’s Bar. It was a super safe place for us to leave them, we were not worried. When we were moving them out, some people were asking where we were going and where we were staying. We had planned on sleeping out on the end of the little peninsula in town, but the folks invited us to stay in their back yard. We were able to use their bathroom and they showed us around their house. Very neat people. Thanks Paul and Pauline!!

That’s about it for pictures. The big trip is only a few days away! We will keep you posted on a full packing list when we finally decide what to bring!