La Vuelta a Cadiz

23 November 2017

Four 1994 alumni undertook a Hertford-inspired bike ride to Cadiz this summer. Nick Jefferson wrote this piece about it:

'Friendship is precious, not only in the shade but in the sunshine of life; and thanks to a benevolent arrangement of things, the greater part of life is sunshine.’
Thomas Jefferson

You can’t have too much Jefferson, thought Neil Tubman, Sam Tomlinson and Tom Fletcher as they stepped off the plane into the uniquely intense sunshine of Southern Spain.

This was La Vuelta a Cádiz; four 1994 matriculands undertaking a Hertford-inspired bike ride from one side of Andalucia’s magnificent Cádiz province to the other.

For context, imagine someone deciding to make a low-rent, roadshow version of Top Gear-meets-The Trip to Spain. Then imagine that they record that show on a day when all the C-list cast members have costume-fittings related to their pantomime commitments, and their understudies have to stand-in.  

That.
On Dave.
Long after midnight.

The tone was confirmed by the arrival of the specially-prepared cycle shirts, whose unforgivable printing and translation errors were no laughing matter.

And so it was that Sam ‘Samantha’ Tomlinson, Neil ‘El Hombre-Cubo’ Tubman, Tom ‘Tengo Flechita’ Fletcher and Nick ‘El Jefe’ Jefferson set out one sunny autumn morning, ably guided by local expert, Javi ‘Maestro’ Sanchez.

Fuelled, as so often on this trip, by strong coffee and bread rubbed with raw garlic and tomato, the motley crew began with a climb through a cork forest to the stunning fortress town of Castellar de la Frontera, before cutting across the Parque Natural de los Alcornocales to palm-fringed Tarifa, where the Mediterranean meets the Atlantic.

Here, at the end of the first day, The Pillars of Hercules had, by this point, taken on a new, and quite disturbing, meaning for certain members of the group as they came to terms with the physical – and highly intimate - reality of cycling.

Nonetheless, refreshed and rejuvenated by a night out in Europe’s kite-surf capital, the rag-tag bunch departed early the next morning for Medina Sidonia, whose supposedly Phoenician origins produced a veritable quiver of excitement, especially for the tiniest of arrows.

The golden hills en route were hot, twisted and uncomfortable – much like the snug lycra that clad the gang themselves. But valiantly, they pushed on past pueblos blancos, toros bravos and Quixote-style windmills, stopping only for T-bone tuna steaks and lashings of red wine, the odd, ensuant ‘heavy spit’ and the occasional much-needed ‘Hutton’ (the liberal and unapologetically vigorous application of chamois cream).

Whilst seasoned athlete Samantha, for whom the ascents were alarmingly faster than the descents, scampered effortlessly to the top of the second day’s final climb, elsewhere the cracks were beginning to show. Literally, in the case of one pair of ill-advised bib shorts.

Nevertheless, the remaining men battled their own individual, not inconsiderable and in some cases downright peculiar, demons in pursuit of that all-too-fleeting moment of elation at the summit.

That, upon arrival, El Hombre-Cubo voluntarily chose to put himself in the recovery position for his post-cycle siesta says it all. But clearly it worked - for come the next morning, no one could catch him as he raced back down the very same hill wearing a look that can only be described as gleeful vengeance.

Kilometre followed kilometre and before long El Puerto de Santa Maria and the welcome ferry ride across the bay of Cádiz suddenly seemed a realistic prospect and not the absurd pipe dream of just an hour before.

So realistic a prospect, indeed, that Tengo Flechita clearly decided it was all too easy and, notwithstanding his ongoing and growing knee pain, manfully upped the ante by rubbing chamois cream into his eyes in order to deliberately cause a serious allergic reaction; a plan which met with considerable success.

Numb and weary, then - and in one case hobbled and virtually blind - the small band of brothers finally arrived in the ancient city of Cádiz, much like Sir Francis Drake before them.

With Mr Tomlinson gunning for an early flight, Messrs Tubman, Fletcher and Jefferson were left unsupervised to unwrap the night in their own inimitable way.

And so after the last glass of sherry had been mineswept, the last ‘note’ squawked out of a karaoke bar that had long since been emptied (in record-breaking time), there was a moment for quiet reflection.

Here, at this global crossroads, where Europe ends and Africa begins, at the very edge of the old world and the gateway to the new, what had this group of firm friends learned?

Tired and emotional, an ethereal spiritual unison presented itself to the men.

Once again, they found themselves drawn to the words of the author of the Declaration of Independence, and the third President of the United States:

‘Walking is the best possible exercise.’

Jefferson, as ever, was right.

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In recognition of the friendships that were formed at Hertford College and the shared love of cycling  that emerged under its auspices years later, Neil Tubman, Tom Fletcher, Sam Tomlinson and Nick Jefferson donated to the College the cost of an additional rider.