DAY 17 - October 6th, 2017
Matt PrayI pulled over, pausing the Freakonomics podcast and pulling out the earbuds. I chugged from my half empty 1.5 L water bottle and studied Google Maps, giving Larisa time to catch up. 12.33 p.m. We were five kilometers into our long climb through the Sierra de Baza mountains in southern Spain. It was hot and I tilted the bottle up again. One third left. I had about three-quarters left on my other 1.5 L tucked into my second bottle holder. I looked back. No Larisa.
Zooming into our route on the phone a slow forming realization pieced together. We’re not going to have enough water. I half believed this because if that really was true I should have hoofed it back right then, told Larisa I’ll catch up and gone back and gotten more water. Five kilometers down and five back up. I chose to hope I was being too cautious. In reality I was letting my future self suffer in order to appease the task of my present self of fetching the proper amount of water.
We had 40 kilometers to Charches, the next town, and presumably the next opportunity to fill our water bottles. Larisa pulled up smiling.
This was our first mountain pass on the trip and we didn’t have enough water to do it. At least not enough to do it smiling the whole time. We had 1300 m (4300 ft) to climb and were topping out at 1933 m (6300 ft). During the climb I would take small gulps of water and try to hold them in my mouth as long as possible. Then, as if the water had its own will, it would slip past my throat and down my esophagus in an instant. Like a small pool of water disappearing into dry sand my body lapped up the gulp and my brain beseeched me for more.
It was a grit climb on a bumpy paved road. The final five kilometers on switchbacks up. Grinding. To get to Charches, our next water source, the road turned off at the top of the climb to a compact, rocky, dirt road. We went down a bit and I noticed immediately we were heading into a bowl. There is only one way to get out of a bowl. Heading down we passed four or five water pipes leading out of the ground - bone dry. The river bed below was rock lined and dusty. The down hill was a relief only on the legs as the only time my throat was satisfied was in the brief instant water passed through it. We began our climb back out of the bowl, dodging large rocks and pushing. One pedal at a time, up. A couple more bone dry water pipes starred one eyed and glumly at me as I pushed passed them in disgust.
This was much more a test of discomfort and concentration than any real danger of dehydration. The town would come eventually. I had been taking tiny sips every 20 minutes or so by the time we reached a sign saying we had 12 km until Charches, 12 km until water. I looked at my bottle with about 100 mL left and then I watched Larisa kill the last of hers. Uhg. Unable to hold any meaningful conversation we reluctantly continued. 12 km, no water, after a long climb into 6000 foot mountains. Nice little test.
It was 5:30 p.m. as we rounded the corner of a beautiful section of the road lined with aspens and filled with pines. The aspen leaves the yellow of fall. Then I first heard the sound. That unmistakable sound. My cracked lips stuck together as I strained my ears. The sound of running water. This spring was gushing water into a stone pool on the sloped side of the road. Rock stairs led up to the spring and pool.
These moments are my favorite. Something so simple as water. It was what we needed at that instant and it came. We enjoyed the sound of the water splashing into the pool and chugged from freshly filled bottles while eating salty chips. We sat in a dazed silence slowly fueling back the parched cells of our bodies. “You wanna camp down there?” I urged. And that is just what we did.