As I headed south and began to pick up a hint of spring in the wind, I believed that my hard times were behind me and that new and good things were up ahead. Feeling good on the motorcycle, passing through the towns along the Bay of Bayonne and seeing spring flowers in window boxes on houses; all the beauty of the road healed the loneliness of the previous months.
It wasn’t long before I reached the Spanish border north of Bilbao, the heart of the Basque country, Pais Vasco. All of a sudden, I was hearing Spanish instead of French and it felt warm and familiar. It was getting dark as I passed through Bilbao. Men in berets were on the corners and sidewalks, people going home from work. The road was thick with trucks and diesel fumes which actually smelled good to me.
On the other side of town, I found a place to stay for the night and had a meal served by a Spanish girl about my age. Boys she might have known were not staying in hotels, however modest, or riding a new motorcycle. They were in school or, more likely, working. And my blazing red hair stood out. We had a couple of words as I tested my Spanish. Luckily, I couldn’t remember how to say, “Will you marry me and have my babies?” My upbringing, thick with fairy tales, gave me the ability to see things as they should be, or could be, or would be but rarely as they are. This has its own beauty in the realm of feeling. And so, with the Spanish waitress, I could imagine all her feelings for her without her help, and was almost persuaded to settle down right there. But I pulled myself away, tragically, and with scenes of Romeo and Juliet playing in my mind, I fired up my steel horse and pointed her south to Madrid.
The early spring weather was still cold even in Spain and I found a mountain range between me and my destination. In the Sierra de Guadarrama, north of Madrid, there was snow on the ground in places but the sun was out and not much wind. I passed through piney woods where sunlight cut through the dark straight trees and made the forest floor glow. At the crest of the mountains, I could see the road to Madrid stretching out before me.
A blast of warm air hit me and the cold was gone as if I had suddenly entered a different world. The sun sparkled and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky as I started my decent. The road itself was new, with long gentle curves and not car in sight. With all the hard miles left behind, I cranked the throttle and flew down that mountain at a hundred miles an hour yelling at the top of my lungs “Yahoooooooooooooo!”
Before I knew it, I was traveling through the outskirts of Madrid seeing signs that said, “Veintecinco Anos de Pax,” ( twenty-five years of peace), a reminder that Francisco Franco’s fascist rule had kept order for the twenty-five years since the Spanish Civil War.