Yesterday, I took the first bite of my chorizo sandwich and was abruptly transported back in time, to the summer of 1941 in post-war Spain. Chorizo grease dripping from my hands, taste-buds overpowered by the intense, smoky flavours and… bam! Memories that weren’t even mine, from places and times I had never known first-hand, started flooding. I guess I’m making it sound as if I was having lunch in the back seat of a plutonium powered DeLorean. In reality, all that happened was that my brain was short-circuiting the bike+food neural path again, as I suddenly remembered that one of my favourite cycling stories features prominently a chorizo sandwich very much like the one I was having. It involves not only bikes and food, but also one of the greatest Spanish writers on the 20th century and his infalible recipe for absolute happiness. It is, ultimately, a love story and goes as follows:
Miguel and Ángeles are teenage sweethearts. They have met in Valladolid, a historic city in north-central Spain where they both live. But when the summer comes, family plans take them in different directions and they find themselves separated by 94km and a mountain range. Miguel is spending the summer in Molledo (Cantabria) – a small community in northern Spain not too far from the Cantabric Sea –, while Ángeles has joined her family for a vacation in Sedano, a town 50km away from Burgos in the Autonomous Region of Castilla y León. None of their families are particularly stricken by poverty, but two years after the end of the Spanish Civil War, extreme frugality is the norm. Unable to save enough money to buy train tickets to visit Ángeles, the prospect of passing an entire summer without her haunts Miguel. Luckily, he has a bike.
In the early hours of a summer morning, Miguel packs two shirts, a change of underwear, a toothbrush and a chorizo sandwich in his pannier, and sets by bike to Sedano before dawn. He’s never ridden such a long distance before, but the first stretch is flat and kilometers go by easily. Shortly thereafter, though, stand the Hoces de Bárcena, and the first climb begins. In the top of the col at Alto the Reinosa, Miguel stops for lunch. Having just left behind an excruciating 2km uphill section at 9%, his humble chorizo sandwich tastes like maná from the heavens. He resumes his pace invigorated and with a full stomach and, as he rolls his bike downhill and feels the wind in his face, can’t contain the exhilaration any longer. With open arms he shouts into the air: “I am the happiest man on Earth!”. Ángeles is waiting for him at the end of the road and he is getting closer with every pedal stroke.
Miguel will repeat that same route back and forth throughout that entire summer. Always a chorizo sandwich in his pannier. Always the same exhilarated cry of happiness in the downhill. And then, throughout five other summers to come, until he and Ángeles finally marry in 1946. Cycling will be also present at their wedding, in the form of a bike called “Velox” – Miguel’s wedding present to Ángeles. He will grow to be Miguel Delibes, a prominent journalist and newspaper editor, and one of the greatest Spanish novelists of the 20th century. Ángeles will become the mother of their 7 children and his one and only love. The summer of 1941 will stay forever in his mind, not only as one of the happiest moments in his life, but also as that definitive time when his bike evolved from a sport or a hobby to a true mode of transportation. Cycling will continue to be a passion fo the rest of his life.
Miguel died in 2010. At least, officially. For those who knew him, his melancholic detachment from life had already started more than 30 years earlier, in 1974, when he lost Ángeles to cancer. After his death, his children and grandchildren still ride the same Molledo to Sedano route every summer, as a tribute to Miguel and the love for bikes he instilled on them . They call the ride MAX, the same nickname that Delibes used to sign his cartoons with. The M stands for Miguel, the A for Ángeles and the X – the unknown – stands for their future together.
I hope all of them are still packing chorizo sandwiches for lunch.
- A loaf of nice, rustic bread
- Spanish Chorizo – If you are located in Vancouver, Oyama in Granville carries Chorizo Pamplona, the variety of chorizo every children in Spain loves the most for their sandwiches.
- A bike
- Arrange bread and chorizo into a sandwich.
- Tuck sandwich in the back pocket of your cycling jersey.
- Call your sweetheart or best buddy and convince them to go with you to climb the highest mountain around.
- Take a rest once you reach the top. Eat your sandwich. Happiness ensues.