Words by Reese Ruland
Traveling is something I, like many, love to do. But when I say, “I love traveling,” what I’m really saying is, “I love to see new places, but I hate transit.” The actual travel part, driving to the airport, waiting in endless lines, waiting at the gate, sitting on one plane after another, ad infinitum…I don’t enjoy that part. Which is why I was looking forward to my Spain vacation, but also dreading the 20 hours of travel that awaited me on both ends of the trip.
In college and when I was “funemployed,” aka working at a bike shop part-time, I usually took frequent small trips because PTO wasn’t a term I knew. Vacations just happened when I wanted them or could afford to miss a few days of lecture halls. Now, however, there are more moving pieces and a vacation requires planning. Who’s watching the dog, mowing the lawn, and watering the plants while I’m away? Because more planning and a set amount of PTO days are involved, I try to take one or two big planned out trips a year. Trips where I’ve allotted a significant amount of time to just being away from the banal platitudes of daily life. For my first big trip of 2019, I settled on Girona, Spain. Gavin, my fiancee, is a pro cyclist and spends a good deal of time there when he’s training and racing in Europe. I’ve only heard stories about how amazing the riding is and how delicious (and cheap) the wine and cafes are. He planned to go back to Spain after Tour of California and stay until Tour de Swiss. We decided to meet in Barcelona and head to Girona together, where I would stay for eight days, most of which would hopefully be full of riding, running, cafes, wine, and gelato.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, what with all the talk of wine and fun. First I had to actually get there. I flew out of Denver at the end of May and classic Colorado, it snowed. A good foreshadowing for the rest of the travel day ahead. I was flying Norwegian Air, the Spirit Airlines for international flying. Aka budget. However, I received an email informing me that Wamos Air would be operating my flights. If you’ve heard of Wamos is likely because you’ve heard how comically bad their flights are. If you haven’t heard of them, it’s because their flights are comically bad and no one chooses to fly them. I, the anxious flyer, boarded their plane for my 10-hour flight to London, only to find that the plane must have been a relic from the 90s. No TVs, no way to charge devices, seats with questionable covers. Now, I’m fine at entertaining myself without a TV or phone, but throw me a bone here. I can only read my book for so long.
For most of the flight, I was able to drift in and out of light sleep, occasionally waking up when my head would fall off the seat or the food cart would graze my hand in the aisle. When I got to London, Gatwick, not Heathrow, I walked around in a groggy daze and ate food for the five hours I was there, before I jumped on my two-hour flight to Barcelona. I have no recollection of that flight, as I was still in a sleepy stupor or perhaps it’s repressed somewhere in my memory. Less we forget, Wamos. I landed late, far past my bedtime, around 11 pm, which meant things in Spain were probably just opening, as Spanish time is far far different from my own internal clock.
I met Gavin at baggage claim, he flew in from California the day before, and we stayed at a hotel near the airport before heading to Girona the next day on the train. I was so looking forward to being done with the transit part of the trip and on to the vacation part. I was mostly excited to see places and go on rides that Gavin talked about so that when he told stories or made references to things in Girona, I’d actually have a better idea of what he was talking about. Put a memory to a name so to speak.
Our friend Nate Brown graciously let us stay at his apartment while we were there because he was off riding in a little race called The Giro d’Italia. His place overlooked the beautiful canal that runs through the city. Every day I was able to open up the floor to ceiling doors that looked over the water to watch people take pictures of themselves on the various bridges that spanned the river. It was endless entertainment.
Everything we needed was within walking distance of the house, from grocery stores to 10 amazing cafes to the bike shop where I rented my bike from. When traveling internationally, renting a bike is far easier than lugging it through an airport or trying to shove it into the back of a taxi. Once we were settled at the apartment, we walked over to the shop to pick up my bike. Along with flying Norwegian Air, I made another rookie travel mistake. I forgot to bring my own saddle. I ended up using the shop’s women-specific saddle from, I’m guessing, the early 80’s, a time when women-specific meant just adding more padding. It was unsightly and weighed as much as three Webster’s dictionaries but it would have to do for the next several days.
The first full day I was in Girona, I did a run in the morning and to my surprise, found some nice unpaved running trails in town. Because of the person that I am, I figured to combat jet lag and to ensure maximum sightseeing, Gavin and I did a three-hour ride a few hours after my run. We set out to Banyoles, a nearby town, in hopes of eating a pastry at a cafe overlooking the lake. Unfortunately, the weather had different plans for that day and the next. Both days we ended up riding in the rain for at least 50% of the ride. Each ride, the front of me was covered in road grime, my glasses were acting more as a mudguard than a light dimmer. But I was going to ride new routes and see new places, damnit. The weather was not going to get the best of this PTO.
However, on the second day, while we spent the first part of the ride riding through the rain, the clouds broke and the sun came out. And the ride was glorious. We were heading up to Sant Hilari, a small town on the top of a hill, about 2,600 ft above sea level. We had the small road that took us to the town mostly to ourselves. Occasionally a car would pass us, but unlike in the US, the drivers didn’t seem to mind waiting until it was safe to pass, moving over entirely to the other side of the road. I was so accustomed to getting passed on a blind corner, the driver flooring the gas by me since being slowed down for five seconds is such an inconvenience.
When we reached the town, we rode around in circles in hopes of finding an open cafe. 1:30pm is prime time for cafe stops unless you’re in Spain. In that case, any place you want to go to is likely closed because, well, Spanish time. After a bit of trial and error, we found a small cafe that didn’t mind serving us, as long as we were ok with them closing up shop around us. After eying the almond croissant, I had to stay. Besides, I was on vacation, I had jet lag, and I had been thinking about a pastry for the last 30 minutes of that climb.
We descended back to sea level and made our way home, where we had lunch around 4pm, an ideal time considering dinner spots aren’t open until 8:30, and even then, that’s the early bird special.
My legs and body were fairly tired after those two days of riding and running. I wanted to keep riding, keep seeing new things, but as casually as possible. Luckily a friend and former co-worker from Specialized Bicycle Components lived in Girona and was setting out on an easy ride with a few friends the next day. We goofed around, rode in a huge circle, had some guys try to tag along with us awkwardly, and of course, ended at a cafe back in Girona where I proceeded to eat a delicious egg and avocado toast lunch, like a true millennial.
At this point, I was definitely feeling a bit exhausted. Jet lag plus three big rides and a run had left me with legs that felt like cement. But that’s what this trip was all about, right? I had to do it all. Which leads me to the last ride of the trip that I’ll talk about because it was the straw that broke the camels back. The one that let me know I’d need another vacation after this vacation. Gavin and I drove to Besalu, a town just north of Girona. We planned on doing an out and back ride, to the top of Mare de Due del Mont. I figured that this would be easy and I could just ride up this in granny gear, keep my heart rate low. Wrong. From where we started to the top of the climb, it was 14 miles (28 RT). During that time we gained 4,245 feet of vert. This climb is apparently an Hors Categorie (HC), which perhaps I should have known that prior to setting out on this ride. Gavin, bless his heart, rode with me most of the time. I was fully at threshold the whole time. I looked down at my Bolt to see that my conversation pace heart rate was at 160bpm and my speed only 9mph. To add insult to injury, someone thought it would be a good idea to tear up all the corners on the switchbacks and replace the pavement with gravel. The gravel corners looked very similar to the paved sections, but you only knew they were gravel when you noticed your wheels sliding around beneath you. I was greatly looking forward to descending down them. Gavin could tell that was true by the scowl what would come across my face each corner we rounded.
With sweat pouring off my face, we (me, Gavin was fine.) made it to the top of the climb. And of course, as it always does, at that moment it all felt worth it. The view was incredible. I forgot how much I didn’t want to go back down that gravel slip and slide we had just climbed up. I remembered that I’m in Spain. Riding my bike. Yes, I’m exhausted and my legs feel like trash, but I’m so lucky to be able to do this ride with someone I care about. That I’m healthy enough to do all these activities. Lucky enough that I’ve made not working a priority right now. I think that in moments of exhaustion, where you’ve pushed yourself just beyond what you’re comfortable with, that we get a clearer perspective.
I will note, that it’s shocking how quickly I, we, lose sight of that clear perspective though. As soon as we started descending, I immediately remembered how much I didn’t want to be descending on that crap road. The whole way down, I kept thinking, “This is not how I want to go.” We made it back to the car, unscathed, and grabbed our packed lunches. As we picnicked next to the 12th-century bridge in Besalu, I had to admit that the descent and ride, wasn’t as bad as I thought. But perhaps my newfound perspective was because I was off the bike and eating Iberico ham in a small Spanish town I’d never heard of.
The rest of the trip, I dialed back the activity intensity but tried to see as much of Girona and the surrounding areas as I could. It was amazing to meet up with several old friends and make new ones across the world, further proving to myself that bikes are an amazing vehicle for human connection. Before jumping back on what would surely be a fruitful Wamos flight to Colorado, back to the real world, where work, closing on a house and moving would become my reality for the next month, I made sure to drink wine and cortados and eat as many gelatos and tapas as I could handle.
It’s been many years since skipping class or being unemployed was a thing for me, so PTO is not a new concept to me anymore. What is a new concept is how some people don’t use all of their Paid. Time. Off. I’m a huge advocate for investing time and energy wisely. Sometimes that means taking time for yourself, to make sure that you’re hard-earned money and PTO are used for capital F Fun. PTO is a bonus, a gift, a time you can set aside to do whatever it is you want to do. But look, don’t get to the end of the year and realize that you still have tons of PTO left. Life is too long to work all the time. Conversely, one might say it’s too short to spend all of it at work. Take time for yourself. It doesn’t have to be a huge trip to Spain, it could simply mean spending an extra day off with your family, spending a three day weekend taming the jungle you call a yard or climbing up a big hill on a bike for no good reason other than it was there and you thought it would be a good idea.
Girona by the numbers (6 full days):
Hours moving: 16
Feet Climbed: 16,570
Miles rode: 205.3
Miles run: 14.1
Scoops of gelato eaten: 12
Reese is an avid trail runner and cyclist. When she isn’t out riding gravel roads or running up a mountain near her home in Colorado, she’s drinking hot tea and staring at her French Bulldog, Loaf.
Check out @reeseruland for proof.