I’m going to be honest: for my first few days in Zaragoza I have been lacking a bit of life. I didn’t jump into the adventures I thought I would when I was planning for my trip. Instead I’ve been lounging around my house, Skyping friends, reading, and walking around my neighbourhood which although is beautiful, I know I am doing as an act of avoidance.
What am I avoiding exactly? I’m not too sure. Pain of leaving my boyfriend behind? Maybe. I’ve gotten over my first horrible night (I cried probably six hours throughout the night as well as on the plane while eating gross airplane food) and have come to a realization that I have to stop pitying myself. Or maybe I’m just afraid of failure; failing as an au pair, failing to bond with anyone in the city, and failing to have the great adventures I came to Spain for.
That all changed today, thanks to my host dad. A few days ago it was rainy and windy outside, so poor little Hannah stayed indoors the entire day. When my host dad found out, he planned a bike excursion for us the next day. I was fine with this because he doesn’t know enough English that I have to keep up a conversation (I’m socially awkward), it would allow me to bond with the people I am living with, and it sounded like a nice, easy ride.
What I was not expecting was to bike straight up a bumpy mountain on one of those fancy cycling bikes, trailing hundreds of meters behind my host dad. But alas, when my host dad asked me if I liked cycling I thought, with his bad English, he just meant bike riding. Like leisurely suburban bike trail bike riding. Like scenic oh-lets-stop-and-take-a-picture biking. But no, he meant cycling: spandex-wearing, getting on a thin bike, leaning low to the handlebars, and taking on a huge hill with dangerous terrain cycling.
I think he found out I wasn’t a serious cycler when we took off on a straight path and he instantly shot off, leaving me in his dust. He showed me the quickest way to bike to Parque Grande, a huge, beautiful park only ten minutes away. I was very grateful but kind of wondering why we went through so quickly. We rode back and then he asked if I wanted to go through the mountains. Knowing my current fitness level, which ranges from a walk to the fridge to a walk to the grocery store, I politely declined because I had already ran in the hills earlier that morning (not a lie…although it really was an hour and a half walk with a five minute period of brisk jogging). However, he misunderstand me and took it as a yes as he turned the corner and headed for the hills.
Oh no. The first little incline wasn’t too bad. It was a relatively smooth dirt road, a bit difficult but not impossible. I can do this! I thought to myself, but broke off mid-thought as I saw the next huge rocky incline that took us straight up the mountain. My host dad, who rides this trail several times a week, barely broke a sweat as he steadily began to climb. I, on the other hand, pushed with all my might and only managed to ride a few feet. It was grueling. I started on the right side of the road but after a minute I somehow made my way over to the opposite side.
After climbing one quarter of the mountain I called to my host dad that I couldn’t do it, so he encouraged me to keep going. I was physically exhausted so I ended up getting off my bike and walking to the top, where I was greeted by the best view I’d had since coming to Spain. Beyond the mountain were rolling hills dotted with quirky-looking trees and larger mountains off in the distance. I could see over my entire neighbourhood and could trace the path leading towards the city centre. It was gorgeous, and then I looked to my left and saw a huge Ikea sign, which was part of Europe’s biggest mall. Ah, commercialization at its finest.
After biking through an extremely rocky trail on the mountaintop, it was time to descend the hill.
“Going down is much easier, right?” I asked jokingly.
“Easy?” My host dad said, looked very amused.
He pointed to huge scars on his arms and legs that I had assumed he got from wrestling a clan of bears or bullfighting. Seriously, these scars were nasty.
“Not easy.” He said and headed down the mountain.
Ah. The first half of going down the mountain was pure hell. There were enormous rocks everywhere that you couldn’t avoid no matter what. They shook my whole body and made my veins feel like they were about to explode as I watched my arms grow red as I picked up speed. I finally understood why he offered me a helmet before we left the house; I was sure I was going to crash, crack my head open, break my arms, and be forced to use my international health insurance card (which gives me anxiety because I fear it won’t work and I’ll be stuck with an enormous hospital bill).
I survived the first half thankfully. The second half led onto the paved road, which was awfully steep and winding. I rode the break the whole way down because I didn’t want to fly out onto the street at the bottom or, you know, die.
As terrifying as it was, as I flew down the winding road and turned every curve I felt something I hadn’t felt in almost a week. It was the exhilarating feeling of overwhelming happiness, of the wind blowing through my hair, of the hot Spanish sun beating down on my back, of wanting to laugh out loud, of just being alive.
It was living in the present. I was no longer living in the past, distraught over the good memories I had with my boyfriend. I had abandoned the alternate universe I also escaped to, imagining the summer I would have had if I stayed at home, got a well paying summer job, and spent every free moment with my boyfriend and friends. The only thoughts of the future I briefly had was that I needed to feel this freedom again, and I needed to feel it often.
I felt nothing but the immediate present, which is the best way to live. That’s where the adventures are.