Water trickling down the back of your neck. Water beating on your knees. Water soaking through your boots. Somehow, water trickling upwards inside the sleeves of your jacket. When you ride a motorbike, there’s nothing worse - apart from coming off and getting hurt - than getting wet, especially wetter and wetter with no sign of respite or shelter.
In 2005 we were touring through France and northern Spain. Barcelona was our turn-around point and now we were heading off towards the Pyrenees and back to Toulouse. We’d been lucky so far. Spain had been hot and dry – that’s why we came – but as we travelled, we could see dark rain clouds gathering. When the rain finally came, it wasn’t light and refreshing. It was heavy and bleak, and it quickly made us feel bleak as well.
As we passed through Manresa we were already soaked. We wanted to press on, thinking we’d stop around five and find a campsite for the night. Our plan had worked so far, and we’d always managed to find somewhere without booking ahead. That was part of the fun, the big adventure, but now, even though we were following a map as we rode, we couldn’t see anything around us that helped us to get our bearings. After we left Manresa, all we could see around us were fir trees. We were in the middle of nowhere.
We rode on and our mood changed, because being soaked on a motorbike with no sign of anywhere to stop is depressing. If you know you’re heading somewhere and you’ll get there eventually, it doesn’t feel so bad. I couldn’t complain. I had the better deal on the back of the bike, while my husband Dave was bearing the brunt of the driving rain at the front. He was doing a great job, not complaining while he kept us safe, watched the traffic and tried to wipe the water off his visor with a soaking wet glove.
Out of the blue, a signpost suddenly revealed a slip road going off into the trees. The signpost also displayed the familiar image of a triangular tent, and our hearts lifted. A campsite at last! Hopeful of warmth, comfort and somewhere dry for the night, we turned off and followed the slip road. However, after only a short time, the tarmac changed into a dirt track, full of potholes and pebbles. We parked up. No sign of a campsite. No sign of any life at all, except for a couple of derelict barns away in the trees, and our atlas page gave us no indication of how far we might have to continue to find human habitation.
“We could just camp here, in the trees,” I suggested half-heartedly, hoping Dave would disagree.
“We could,” he agreed, in a way that suggested he definitely disagreed.
I looked around as I considered this option. It had been dark on the main road, but now we were plunged into an extra-dark darkness created by the close proximity of the fir trees. Their branches reached out to touch each other, evergreen arms closing in to prevent any comforting natural light, while the lashing rain made visibility even worse. I imagined camping here, in the middle of nowhere, all alone, and suddenly I was on the set of Something Wicked This Way Comes, or Twin Peaks, or worse still, Blair Witch. We’d got ourselves into an uncomfortable situation, and if we camped here overnight, we might end up being here forever. If a mad axeman, escaped lunatic or evil witch chopped us up into bits and buried us here, nobody would ever know. I imagined my children being consoled by family and friends at a remembrance service for us, not a funeral, because they never found our bodies…
“Hmmm,” I said out loud. “It’s about fifteen miles back to Manresa. We could cut our losses and find a hotel, no matter what the cost.”
We turned the bike around and headed back the way we’d come, were relieved when some friendly Spaniards in Manresa led us to a hotel, and an hour later we were relaxing in expensive, luxury surroundings, bike jackets and trousers hanging up to dry. No matter that we couldn’t actually afford this. No matter that we’d have to worry about the cash flow later. For now, we’d escaped our miserable experience, our rain-soaked dice with whoever-might-have-been-waiting-for-us-in-those-woods, and tomorrow was another day.