The Madrid road system was designed in an unusual way. Someone with a nasal infection sneezed on to a piece of A3 and a committee said, "Yep, looks good. Let's build it!" There are thick, angry streaks of red, chunky strands of yellow dribble and thread-like splatters of white. They all come together to make a city that it is almost impossible to penetrate on a pushbike. Madrid is protected with a titanium hymen of motorways and dual carriageways.
Back in Priego de Cordoba a few days earlier, I spoke to the world's friendliest tourist information bloke. When he realised I was English he almost burst. I thought he was going to open with a song. Foreign visitors must be a rarity around these parts. After dealing with Priego business, I asked him if he had a map of a bike-friendly route into Madrid. "It's difficult," he said, "it's all motorways." Yes, I know. That's why I need a map. "Maybe you can use the ship tracks." Eh? My bike's never been much good in water. "They're what the farmers used to use." Now I was really confused. When it dawned on me what he actually meant, I was even more worried. Not ship tracks, but sheep tracks. Would my only way into the city really be the way that the sheep get in and out? Do sheep really get in and out? I mean, what would they go there for? There hasn't been a decent sheep movie in years, not since Madonna's 80s ovine porn, Crazy For Ewe.
Luckily, a few days later, I found a map and so, using it and the directions offered by ViaMichelin.com, I set out to capture the capital. Unfortunately, the initial route suggested by ViaMichelin wasn't on my map but I thought I'd give it a go. This was the first track.
It looks to me oddly like Kenya. Pushing a heavily laden bike with thinnish tyres through three inches of sand isn't much fun. I doubt UniCycle54 Africa will be happening any time soon. Desert wasn't one of the obstacles I'd envisaged on my way to Madrid. Once through the Sahara, I got lost in little villages, incoherent in industrial estates, hazy in horrible identikit housing projects and mystified in massive business parks. But finally, without ever having to sneak illegally on to a motorway, I turned up at a hostal in Fuenlabrada, a suburb of Madrid about twenty-five kilometres from the centre. Stage One had been, eventually, a success.
City suburbs aren't the most exciting of places and so I thought I'd google Fuenlabrada to see if it is threw up anything interesting. I did. The first thing was that, almost twenty-eight years ago to the day, Chelsa's rubbish striker Ferdinand Torres was born here. Even better, last summer, another Torres - Father Andres Garcia Torres - was removed from his priestly role here for allegedly engaging in homosexual behaviour. The fun element to this story is that he actually offered to have the width of his anus measured to prove that no one had been up there. Is that scientific? Anyway, if the priest's claims were true, it looked like neither Torres had recently scored.
Although not entirely free of the motorway force field, the next day's Stage Two involved an early morning leap from suburb to suburb, inching ever closer to the centre of Madrid. To begin with, everything went well. Too well. I was basically heading north and compasses are great for that kind of navigating. But then my compass started acting bizarrely. I'd turn a corner and it would suddenly point south. So I'd turn around 180 degrees and it still pointed south. Impossible! I cycled in circles for a bit until I'd completely lost my sense of direction before admitting that I was buggered. Now I had no idea which way lay the centre of Madrid. All I was sure of was that it was fifteen kilometres away. And for all I knew it could be fifteen kilometres upwards.
And then I saw, like a motorised Buddha, a fat man in a car. I cycled up to his sagely window. He called upon the wisdom of ages and prophecised that if I turned left and then left again, I would be on the Road To Madrid. And He was right, and I finally reached Nirvana.
* * *
I won't bore you with the details of how I eventually escaped Madrid. I got very lucky. The highlight was when I wandered accidentally into a secret government base. Well, I say accidentally. I saw the Prohibited signs but thought it was the right way. It wasn't. It was a centre for phytogenetics, which basically involves stitching pigs' heads on to the bodies of human infants. Probably.
I bet you thought I was going to tell you how cool Madrid was and the wonderful things I did there. They really were wonderful. But now I've run out of room.
Note to self: In future, perhaps less stuff about anal measurements.