for those who love the outdoors

4 April, 2024


A spanish lesson in mind over matter

This last week I've been staying in Mijas in Andalusia, Spain with a hired Road Bike and... well let's just say... I've been dealt a lesson or 2 in realism!

Bill 1


The background to this trip then : I suffered a serious spine injury last year which resulted in surgery at the end of October to put titanium screws in to stop a slipping vertebrae.

I had endured terrific pain all last Summer resulting in very little cycling for months, which put my epic cycle across France in Sept-Oct in doubt but, with the help of Nerve blocking meds I eventually completed it with the huge lack of cycling fitness being my biggest hurdle

Fast Forward to now and the surgery went well but there was a similar long layoff from cycling afterward as I was so tired and also ill from the effects of withdrawal from the strong medication. I eventually dragged my sorry backside onto my bike on New Years day, inspired by a rare dry sunny winter day , and recorded this joyous comeback ride which you can see by clicking here

I have a plan to get back to my full cycling fitness and a trip across Wales end to end with Pedal Britain with my son Jamie at the end of June is my personal goal this year. So I felt I was a similar situation to when I began the France trip in September, in fact I felt I was in a better place this week as I had a couple of months doing club rides when the weather was dry enough and indoor Zwift rides to get me up to speed. I hired the bike for 7 days and planned to ride on 6 of them and having cycled around here a few years ago I wanted to build up to a couple of 80-90 mile rides, one of which I did in 2019

I did this 85 miler in 2019 to the El Chorro Dam and Caminito del Rey and was looking forward to riding there again this week.

I've been in the area a few times over the years and always fancied visiting Ronda but never have. I worked out a "there and back" route which was obviously challenging at 95 miles and a ton of climbing but back in September on the traverse across France I did 14 days consecutively some of which were in excess of 80 miles and hey, "I climbed Mt Ventoux" my over confident ego was telling me !! After a few rides around the 50-60 mile mark in the next few days I'll be ready by the end of the week.

I tapped into the inner strength of "Mind Over Matter" in France - and at times, and there were a few when I felt like giving up , it helped me through and I fully realised it’s capacity and power.

So the week was all set up nicely, what could go wrong? I had a wander around the beautiful flower clad streets of Mijas and looked forward to a lovely week of cycling.

During that walk I spotted up on the hill above the town, what is known in cycling circles around here as "The Antennas" . There is a steep (obviously) climb from just outside the town and the Cycle Hire shop have a Leaderboard on their wall for times up the climb each season. On my 2 previous cycling visits around here I'd never attempted it but as I went to bed before my first ride I thought that I might tag on the end of one my rides this week, at least an attempt to reach “The Antennas.”


I had already been in nearby Puerto Banus with my partner Lynda for a week before this in a Hotel on Half Board.

Now I tend to do a reasonable job of controlling my diet and weight at home, partly by keeping "the wrong stuff" out of the house !! BUT a hotel with a Buffet style breakfast AND Dinner meant that over eating for the first few days at least was almost a certainty for me and in hindsight was most definitely not great preparation for a week of hilly cycling

Partly because of this I decided my first ride would be based around what seemed to be the flattest plateau in the area but without a route planned - just see what I find and get the legs working .

I often like to take quiet looking lanes if that's an option to get off busier roads and this ride was all about doing that, and there lies my first mistake that day. The little lanes tend to be routes from maybe a century ago before modern road building learned how to smooth out steep ascents, so I came across some horrendous climbs which found me out fitness wise, my lungs were bursting and the legs struggling on more than one occasion and as you can see from the photo, not my most composed of poses as I was forced to get off and walk on one particularly steep hill.

The next dose of reality kicked in on the way back just 5 miles from my apartment in Mijas. This part of the route would be the finish for every single one of the six (SIX????) routes I had planned and one (too long) section of an almost 3 mile climb stayed at 12-14% for much longer than I was happy with prompting a serious inner debate concerning the fact that I was hating the climb and would have to do it at the end of EVERY long ride this week.

The level of exhaustion I felt at the end of a ride much shorter than many I had done in the previous 2 months did surprise me and I quickly decided to put in a recovery day before my next ride thinking that maybe if I ensure I plan a route rather than leave to chance, I won't hit any unexpected nightmare climbs . For the record, here is the Strava page of the ride and an elevation graph of the final climb which I would have to keep revisiting and it continued to mess with my head as I tried to get to sleep that night.

I was still pretty positive after a day of rest and recuperation and set off on my second ride, still hopeful that a visit to Ronda by bike was possible by Friday. As the ride progressed I was feeling good and tackled a long climb up to my planned lunch stop at the Hillside town of Alozaina, with relative ease.

What happened next didn't exactly help.

This town I imagine doesn't see many foreign visitors and the only bar I found was very much a "locals bar" pretty busy too but I was happy for the experience. The waiter came, I explained in English and in Spanish that I'd like an Omelette/Tortilla if they sell them. His reaction seemed to be that he hadn't a clue what I said and then he said something in rapid fire Spanish that I assumed was him saying what he thought I was ordering and I caved in and just said "Yes OK".

God knows why I didn't use the translate app on my phone but I drank my much needed water, refilled my bottles on the bike and waited to see if what arrived resembled anything like what I ordered !

I did say they were busy but after 50 minutes of looking at my watch every time he appeared I eventually asked for the bill ( in Spanish of course) and it came - One Euro for the water !!!

I had waited and wasted almost an hour for a meal that was actually never ordered. Who knows what he said to me when I tried to order, probably suggesting I sod off to somewhere that might understand me but he also must have wondered what the hell I was doing just sitting there with an empty glass for almost an hour.

So emergency rations for lunch it was, and after a hot and sweaty few hours the banana was VERY ripe and the flapjack VERY mushy - and that was lunch, sat on a rock somewhere along the route.

The countryside though was beautiful and I cycled among yellow carpeted fields of spring flowers which I later found out to be Bermuda Buttercups, plus thousands of Orange Trees/Bushes, I've never seen such an abundance of Oranges and I fear most would go rotten on the ground on which they would probably fall because they were ready to be picked and were already falling and lying in the dust, such a shame. But it all made for a lovely ride and with 40 miles gone I was feeling good.

After 40 odd miles though fatigue began to take over. The terrain after the town of Coin was testing and I had that feeling that I'm sure all Road Cyclists have had at some stage and that is, that the ride is maybe 10 miles too long, but there is nothing you can do other than just suffer the remainder of the ride, reminding yourself that you cycle because it's fun and at times like this - it's NOT fun.

Not only that , but that awful final climb that I struggled on just before Mijas on the first ride had to be tackled again.

REALITY BEGAN TO WELL AND TRULY HIT ME as that climb got nearer and nearer.

Why was I struggling so much ?

It's no different to France in September is it?

I did all this and more round here 4 and a half years ago and I'm a much stronger cyclist these days so why ????

I wasn't of the right mind set to provide any answers to those questions but you can be sure that plans for the rest of the week were being re-hatched in those last 10 miles

The Antenna Climb ? - DON'T BE RIDICULOUS !!

95 mile loop to Ronda and 10,500 ft of climbing?? - ARE YOU BLOODY MAD BILLY BOY????

I was at least still clinging on to the idea of finishing the week with the El Chorro ride - I've done it before after all I told myself.

The final damn climb inevitably arrived and as you can imagine I hated it passionately and finally arrived in Mijas exhausted again and absolutely clear that another rest day was vital tomorrow because I had zero energy and power in my legs by the end of this ride.



The day after the rest day my ride was possibly my easiest ever - Down the steep hill to the coast at Fuengirola then along the flat coast road and promenades to give my bike back. I had TOTALLY over estimated my fitness level and here is my take on it all.

  1. Thinking that this week after my layoff since my Surgery was the same as tackling France in September after a long lay off - WRONG !! In addition to my post surgery lay off I still had the previous 5 months of virtually no cycling (apart from the France trip) ”in my system" and was no where near as fit as I even was at the beginning of my France adventure.
  2. I cycled here 4 years ago and did the 80 mile ride to El Chorro then and am a stronger cyclist now. - WRONG !! Obviously - not only for the reason just given but also, that was nearly 5 years ago . Something that's difficult to accept for the "older cyclist" is that regardless of how much more I cycle now than 5 years ago , I am naturally losing fitness through ageing and that 5 years for someone in their 60's is plenty opportunity to see fitness drop regardless of how much you do.
  3. The big mistake though was forgetting that France was a multi day trip across a country with a group of 19 doing the same. It is so different on many levels to what I planned this week.. For a start if you don't finish the ride or even start the ride the next day you might not have a bed for the night - quite the incentive !! AND you'll never have that awful feeling I was getting that you have to do 'That horrible climb again" because each day was a new day with a new terrain and getting ever closer to a pre defined end point is a great motivator.

When it comes to getting through a physical challenge I'm a great believer that we should see it as more of a mental challenge. The reason world class athletes in any sport excel is largely down to a level of mental strength that allows them to ignore or minimise the level of physical challenge in front of them. Generally I think I'm pretty good at that , it's often what gets me up a hill when all I can think of is "Why am I doing this?"

BUT - returning to the comparison of this week to my journey across France.

It feels easier to keep going when you know others are with you , it might be pride but it matters not, you just tend to keep going when others are too. I recall going up Trappings Hill in Yorkshire with a group and it was killing me but I was digging in, applying some mental strength . Then ahead one of the group had stopped and it was like I had been given permission to stop, my pride intact because I wasn't the first - and I stopped.

In a group you have the Camaraderie providing constant encouragement and equally it is just a little easier mentally when you realise that the others are struggling too but seeing them carry on makes you dig deep mentally and keep going

I HAD NONE OF THIS ON THIS WEEK IN SPAIN AND FAILED TO UNDERSTAND THIS WAS WHY I FOUND IT HARDER THAN I EXPECTED BUT ALSO WHY I FOUND IT EASIER TO THROW THE TOWEL IN . But to be clear, with my realisation that I'm still in a post recovery phase of my Back Surgery - throwing the towel in was the right thing to do , I just couldn't understand why initially.

Over the last few years I've made a few videos on my Youtube Channel devoted to self motivation like this one here and one thing I say time and again is that if motivation is lacking, avoid solo cycling. Ride with a friend, join a club or enter a sportive event because the benefits of increasing motivation and your mental strength are huge.

AND MY SPANISH LESSON THIS WEEK WAS EXACTLY THAT - Something I knew but had forgotten, but no harm done because I also made another dumb mistake and that was getting carried away and overestimating my level of fitness.

But hey, It's early season after all and I still have a bike ride to Ronda to do...... one day , I'll be back !!!

Bill Ross


An ordinary bloke who discovered cycling as a way of fighting off negative effects of Arthritis and Anxiety.

Through my Videos, Website, Blog & Social Media I hope to inspire & motivate other “Ordinary Folk” to appreciate the physical and mental health benefits of cycling, push their boundaries by defining their own meaning of “adventure” and of course discover the power of Cake - The Essential Cycling Fuel !

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