Fortunately, a good night’s rest meant that John’s sore toe was slowly healing, helped no doubt, by the cream that we had brought along for such emergencies. And the voltarol was beginning to work on my tired leg muscles.
After the previous day’s traumas we were wary of following the trail again. So we waited until most of the others had left before we set off. Today we were both calmer, more rested and both in better moods. Neither of us were ready for a repeat of yesterday’s spat and the first few miles were conducted in comparative silence as we both pedalled along the N120 parallel to the motorway.
We kept this up until we reached Santo Domingo de la Calzada and I was ready for a short coffee break so we turned onto Avenue Logrono which took us straight into the town. I think even John was relieved to stop for a while now. Many of the streets in this town were built in the Medieval era and it was fascinating to walk through them, pushing the bikes in search of a cafe. Here we met a Dutch cyclist from Sneek. He had an excellent map in Dutch which John was quite envious of.
As we left Santo Domingo in the distance, the road became more demanding with inclines and descents. When I was younger, I used to love swooping down a hill then managing to keep from pedalling until I was halfway up another but today I found it tiring. I tried not to think of the terrain we were to reach just after Villafranca Montes de Oca as we had heard it was tough going.
From this point the N120 was again busy because it was no longer running parallel to the motorway. This section is etched in my mind even now as I recall feeling horrified when we came across some road-works. It became increasingly harder riding uphill while narrowly missing the cones placed along the steep, winding road. All the while trying desperately not to be hit by one of the fast-moving trucks as they passed us at breakneck speed. Soon after reaching the road-works I go off the bike and John follow suit. It seemed safer to push them behind the cones.
Oh boy, what a relief it was spying the dusty trail after a few more miles and we quickly moved over to it. Fortunately, as this section was much smoother than the previous day’s, and well maintained, the next few miles lifted both our moods. Eventually, a narrow road led us straight into San Juan de Ortega. Described as a town was a bit of an exaggeration as it seemed to consist of a large monastery and a few houses dotted nearby. I could be wrong – perhaps had we investigated we might have found a great big sprawling city behind the monastery – but I somehow doubted it.
The outside of the imposing albergue attached to the monastery was very reassuring, but once inside we realized that the dormitories were overflowing with as many bunk beds as could be crammed in. They were packed in tightly and we were lucky to get a bunk each. It had been a long and tiring day’s riding (and walking) and I, for one, certainly didn’t relish the idea of perhaps riding on.
However, the one downside of arriving late at an albergue is that most of the lower bunk beds had already been taken. It was a top bunk or nothing (something I had steadfastly managed to avoid until now). That might have been ok but, unlike in most of the dormitories we had been in before, these bunk beds didn’t have ladders attached! So it was a case of hauling oneself up as best you could. I must have looked a sight, because as hard as I tried, I could not hoist myself up into the top bunk. John tried helping me by locking his hands together. But I still could not find the energy in my upper arms to reach and grab anything that might have helped.
Just as I was contemplating putting the mattress on the floor (as if I could because even the floor space was at a premium), a very nice young woman in one of the bottom bunks told me that she was happy to swap. What a relief! I was extremely grateful to this good Samaritan. I did notice out of the corner of my eye that a young man was looking very uncomfortable in his bunk, and looked as though he would have offered, but then he sat back down with some relief when my kind friend offered instead. I would have liked to repay her kindness in some way, and I often wish I had taken her name and possibly kept in touch with her.