As I write this, I’ve spent 3 serene weeks in Murcia, Spain. Combining long talks with my mom and quite a bit of pub time. I’d like to stay longer. A sensation I haven’t felt since I left home at the age of 17. Normally, when I’ve been back, I find myself more of a stranger, feeling misplaced and detached from this place. But somehow that changed. Nothing has changed in the context. It is all a matter of me being sensitive enough to appreciate and admire the many aspects of the individuals that surround me here. And the very specific but authentic local culture. I’m working on my connection. I’m glad to see it flourish.
Words and photos by @jimbo.safi
But how did I end up home with a feeling of actually belonging here for the first time in years?
We need to rewind a bit. Contrary to what I generally hear from people doing endurance sports like cycling, I stay away from the bike when I feel a need to make important decisions, think clearly, and remove the surrounding noise.
People tend to stay in shape to remain positive and even get time to think, I feel that the status of riding constantly and being fit delivers, can hide many of the issues and realities. The continuous generation of dopamine covers up a lot of deep and humble reflections. For me at least.
Injuries and surgery kept me away from the bike for a good 4 months in late 2023. That gave me the chance to work with myself without the pressure of also riding. To grow and connect with people outside the sphere of cycling. Beloved ones not riding.
But those months also created a longing for fresh air hitting my face, and music blasting while being in full endurance mode. To see if I could connect some dots between where I was and where I wanted to be. Also, I promised my mom that I would be home for Christmas.
I’ve never connected with myself on the bike as I did this time. I needed this. A long ride, the medicine, to get deep into specific thoughts. I dedicated a pillar of my life to each day of riding between Bienne, Switzerland and my origins in Murcia, Spain. 1600 kilometres of disconnecting myself from where I was and reconnecting with where I came from.
Getting far on a bicycle – and not arriving back home - is magical: you become a humble and tender being that, together with the dopamine you generate, makes you connect with the people you meet along the route in such a special way. It makes you admire places with a beauty you’d never do when driving a car. Life seems like a fairy tale to you while you look like a homeless dog through others' eyes.
Overnighting is a huge part of these journeys to me; if I’m not visiting someone, you’d find me sleeping and jet-boiling outside - ideally on a green meadow under the stars but often in a scary dilapidated factory somewhere in the outskirts of a city no one has ever heard about.
Getting out of Switzerland following the Jura Mountains, crossing France, and then following the Mediterranean coastline from Barcelona southwards until Murcia - an agricultural region highly influenced by the Arabics, known by its wealth of Mediterranean food, endless sunlight, beach and mountainous natural reserves and the warmth of its people. Vitamines.
The plan was to jump from one friend's place to another thus the distance per day was dictated by the density of my friendships between Bienne and Murcia.
Connecting Switzerland with Barcelona was a missing link to me for a while. I rode from Madrid - once my home - to Barcelona, took a bus from Barcelona to Switzerland, and then rode until Bratislava. Taking a bus felt like cheating back then so now I’m glad I’ve connected these dots on my bicycle.
Still recovering from a fever, I hopped on the bike on 13 December at 5 pm to do 100 km of riding in heavy rain and temperatures at around 0 degrees to get to Lausanne. Then I put in 230 cold kilometres until reached Grenoble, with rain on and off as well as road closures and the odd detour.
The day after the sun came out. I made it to Montpellier after 300 km. I had prepared with a package of Mediterranean kit waiting for me. So I swapped from winter attire to a lighter selection of kit. Eager to smell the sea. I teared up to the first salty sensation of the ocean while listening to At Home by Slow Pulp. 270km later I was in Girona, swapping, making the transition from quiches lorraines to bocadillos de tortilla, accompanied by intense knee pain.
I got on the bike to do the last 100km push to Barcelona, hitting the 1000 km mark.
After two days of rest in Barcelona and visiting a specialist, I tried to get on the bike to ride the last 600 km. I literally couldn’t complete a pedal stroke; the pain was so severe.
It was dumb to continue. I took a train to Murcia.
I had already covered the rest of the route on another occasion and I’m sure I’ll complete it many other times. Somehow it ended up not bothering me. It mattered more that I made it back home to Murcia for Christmas.