Lady CoMo of the Pyrenees

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Pyrenees Day 20 Sort to La Seu d'Urgell

Day 1 Girona to Olot

Aug 27, 2012. Spain. The first day, a big day.

We were late getting away – to be expected. There are last minute decisions to make on the first day: what to leave in, what to leave out, how to pack, which route to take. I broke my pump while packing by tugging too aggressively on the hose.

Pyrenees Day 1 Girona to Olot Packing for 4 weeks

With map in hand and Lady CoMo fully loaded, we decided on our route. We would take the Via Verde, an old railroad bed that is now covered in hard sand. It is well spoken of.

We walked Lady CoMo to the street. With a kiss for luck Mary gave the count: “Uno-dos-tres!”

We were pedaling.

Unfortunately Girona was just off the margin of our trip map, so we were relying on the hotel tourist map for directions. It took over an hour to find the Via Verde. It starts within one kilometer of our point of departure.

The Via Verde is stop-and-go all the way. Traveling fully loaded it is very difficult to build momentum, especially going uphill under a broiling sun.

When we left Girona in late morning the temperature was already 33 degrees. It did not get cooler throughout the day. The water bottles were drained twice. We had brought no food with us and had to stop at a supermarket for cheese and meat.

At Angles we pulled over for a cold orange juice at a bar. It had taken two hours to cover 20 kilometers. That was when we abandoned the Via Verde for the highway, which has a good shoulder for cyclists.

Pyrenees Day 1 Girona to Olot Packed for 4 weeks
The day was a constant uphill climb except for the final coast into Olot. The gradients of the hills varied from 3 to 7 % which, while not dramatic, were enough for our unconditioned legs to feel the drag of our luggage.

When we reached Olot we realized we had another equipment issue: we had forgotten to bring a corkscrew.

First words in my diary: “It was a tough day.” Mary needed Bag Balm for a blister.

Day 2 Olot to Borreda – Aug 28, 2012

The first order of the day was dealing with equipment issues.

Olot has at least two bike shops. We passed one on the way into town; the second is in the city centre. It proudly displays its best carbon frame bike in the window, and the owner was able to pull up a very respectable hand pump that fitted a Presta valve, so we were in business. Also, Mary found a serviceable corkscrew in a “china” shop, i.e. a euro store.

We were good to roll and our efficiency had improved over the day before – it took us only half an hour to find our way out of town.

Pyrenees Day 2 Olot to Borreda Leaving Olot

The climb out of Olot may not have been brutal but we found it tough – we were still not in shape, and there were probably 17 km of constant gradients between 5 – 7%. However there was no need to push ourselves. We took our time and stopped for rests and snacks along the climb.

Coll de Coubet , the top of the climb, was our first coll of the ride. It was all downhill from there!

By early afternoon we had reached Ripoll. We had a choice – we could stop early or try for Berga, our intended destination for the day. We decided to go for it.

The exit from Ripoll was another 8 km climb. Well, why not? In Europe, as a general rule of thumb and based on our limited experience, you ride down into towns and you climb up out of them.

We were getting tired when it started to rain. Mary made the call at Borreda, 20 kilometers short of Berga. We pulled into the last roadside bar in the village and asked about a hotel. Borreda has no hotels.

However, a local patron in the bar put down his beer and cigarette and insisted Mary accompany him in his car. He drove her through village streets so narrow his side mirrors beat on the stone walls, and knocked on doors until he had found us a bed for the night.

Pyrenees Day 2 Olot to Borreda Borreda

We spent the night in an apartment above the local bar. The end of the bed was precariously balanced and would fall off if slightly shifted. That was okay – it was on Mary’s side and she sleeps curled up anyway.

A young man with very good English helped us order supper in the bar. On his recommendation we had the landlady’s specialty – pigs’ trotters that had been slowly stewed and were succulent beyond belief. They were stunningly good. As Mary said, ´´This is food to cycle by.´´ If ever you are in Borreda and need a good meal, find the village church and go to the bar at the back of the local grocery store.

Pyrenees Day 2 Olot to Borreda Food to cycle by, food for thought

Spanish olives are amazing. It was our third time having them and each time they were excellent.

That night I squeezed the rain water out my gloves – it ran black.

The church bells outside our room stopped ringing for me at 2:00 am.

Day 3 Borreda to La Coma

Aug 29, 2012

Our breakfast dining room was a patio table outside our hostess´ grocery store. We had her excellent coffee, superb croissants from the local baker, and a local yoghurt from the grocery fridge.

The morning started on a long downhill run. It would have been cold the day before in the rain with the inevitable twists in the road and climbs out of valley bottoms.

Pyrenees Day 3 Borreda to La Coma Leaving Borreda
Berga is a crossroads town of some size. We reached it by late morning, navigated our way through the roundabouts, and stopped just outside town to check the map.

It was early for lunch but Mary checked with a restaurant behind a hedge to see if we could get a bite to eat. I was hoping for a fried egg. “They don’t open until 1:00,” she said, “but they will see what they can serve us.”

Lady CoMo was wheeled under the patio arbor that was being scrubbed and polished. L’Estany Clar is a restaurant of arched stone ceilings, flag floors and old timbers. Tables were set with linen and crystal. We ordered simply – an asparagus soup for Mary and a half-portion cordon rouge for me (they suggested the half-portion).

The black-shirted waitress brought us an appetizer of chicken croquettes and a tomato cube topped with the thinnest shaving of parmesan (exquisite). These were followed by five cubes of cheese served on slate platters (heated on the right side only), to be eaten from left to right (ending with brie and roquefort), each with a specific condiment (marmalade, organic salt, shaved walnut, volcanic salt, strawberry jam). Mary´s soup arrived as an architectural presentation of asparagus spears and crisps inside a bowl, into which the waitress poured the soup. My cordon rouge was (vegetarians close your eyes) a rare tournedo topped with a thin slice of Soreno ham and a very thick slice of foie gras that melted in the mouth. The only deficiency was wine – we were cycling and stayed with water. The total bill was 35 euros. Not bad when the expectation was a fried egg.

Pyrenees Day 3 Borreda to La Coma Left to right

One of the joys of cycle touring is the discovery of the unexpected. Our meal at L’Estany Clar was a highlight not to be forgotten, and the warmth of our reception was genuine. The hostess wanted to know about our trip and our destination for the night. She recommended us to a hotel in La Coma run by her husband´s family and brought it up on Google maps – we would be able to wave to her grandmother´s house as we passed.

“To invite someone to your house means devoting yourself to ensuring his happiness the whole time he is under your roof.” Brillat-Savarin

L’Estany Clar surpassed all expectations. They could have quite reasonably turned us away. Not only were they not open, my but cycling singlet did not exactly meet the dress code for fine dining. We learned later that evening (in La Coma) that L’Estany Clar was awarded its first Michelin star last year. Chapeau; their star is well deserved.

Pyrenees Day 3 Borreda to La Coma We're headed that way

The road out of Berga is another climb of 8 or 10 kms followed by downhill dips into valleys. We took a break at a roadside restaurant for freshly-squeezed orange juice – orange juice always seems to be freshly squeezed – mixed with a touch of carrot juice and apple. Now who would have thought of that?

By the time we reached San Llorenc do Morunys, our original objective for the day, we were tired from climbing. After a roadside stop we decided to carry on to La Coma – it would get us a head start for the next day. That was when thunder started in the clouds and sounded stereophonic in the mountains. We donned our rain wear.

La Coma was 7 uphill kilometers away. By halfway, rain was stabbing through the sleeves of our rain jackets. Runoff was sluicing down the road gutters in torrents. When we reached La Coma itself, hail was bouncing off our helmets – it was larger than my thumbnail. We sought shelter in a bus stop. At the hotel (Hostal Fonts del Cardemor) I had to drain water from inside the sleeves of my rain jacket.

Pyrenees Day 3 Borreda to La Coma Hail, hail, the gang's all here!

At dinner we asked our hostess how far we were from the top of next day’s coll. Her husband thought for a bit and said about 20 kilometers. But that was impossible! The climb is only 10 kilometers on the map and we were supposed to be halfway there. Needless to say we had taken a wrong turn at San LLorenc. The road we took to La Coma was not the one we wanted.

The hair dryer did double duty drying our clothes that night.

Day 4 La Coma to Solsona – Aug 30, 2012

We had some thinking to do.

First things first. Had we been on ¨schedule¨ yesterday we would have found ourselves in a hailstorm at 1,500 meters on a mountain pass in leaky jackets with no refuge. In other words, we would have been in trouble. So, first things first. We needed new jackets that are truly waterproof.

Second things second. We needed to reconsider our distances. Our route was planned based on days of up to 80 kms, but the long, steep climbs were grinding us down. By the end of a day we were tired.

Third things third. We needed to check the map. The road we were on would take us to Andorra, which was not the plan.

We waved to grandmother’s house on our way out of town and returned to San Llorenc de Morunys. Aided by a phone call from our hotel hostess we found good waterproof jackets at a sports store in bright, hi-viz green, as well as lunch provisions.

Pyrenees Day 4 La Coma to Solsana San Llorenc

Pyrenees Day 4 La Coma to Solsana Looking back on San Llorenc

Then we set off for Coll de Jou. The view back on San Llorenc is very special. It is situated in a valley on a long lake of a colour of blue that you see only in mountains. There were plenty of rest stops to save the legs and enjoy the scenery. About 2 km from the top Mary insisted (quite rightly) that we don our rainwear – clouds were rolling in. By the top of the coll we were in the clouds and rain was pelting down. But we were dry in our new high-viz green rain jackets, so we were happy.

Pyrenees Day 4 La Coma to Solsana Rainwear

There is an intersection of three roads at the top of the coll. I followed the main road of course and we started a steep descent with lights flashing. I rode the brakes on gradients of 9-10%, alternating between the back and front brakes.

Pyrenees Day 4 La Coma to Solsana Picnic shelter

A third of the way down we picnicked under a scrubby pine to shelter from the rain – freshly baked bread, sliced pastrami (or the Catalan equivalent), an orange, and butter. Two thirds of the way down we stopped at an ancient hostal of crumbling stone for soup, coffee and a bag of chips. Coffee is superb everywhere in Spain. A local at the table next to us was finishing off a plate of well-stewed lamb, washed down with red wine which he drank straight from the decanter. I think he was known at the bar.

Pyrenees Day 4 La Coma to Solsana Local lunch

By the time we reached bottom our rainwear was packed away. We rode rolling hills down to the main town where we stopped and checked the map. We had gone wrong. We were in Solsona. We wanted to be in Coll de Nargo.

I had taken the wrong road at the top of the coll. We had come 25 km south when we were supposed to go 25 km west. In other words, we were at 50 kilometers from our intended destination.

Then it started raining again.

Mary, to her everlasting credit, did not say a word although, later that night when consulting the map, she did ask, ¨ Where else are we going that we might not make it to?¨

Solsona, by the way (and thankfully) is a lovely town. Hotel La Freixera is one of the ¨petits grands¨ hotels of Catalonia. This is a group of independently-owned hotels, each of which has fewer than 15 rooms and which promote local, artisanal foods. Our hotel, which was built in the 1400´s, was very tastefully outfitted. There are times when a man does not ask the price.

Restaurant Fermit, just steps away from the hotel, is also of note. One would not choose it for ambience (wooden tables and football on TV) but the food was very fresh and prepared with care.

When all was said and done? ¨We had a good day.¨

(Reader notes)

This report has been broken into four pages:
Page 1 – Girona to Solsona (Spain) – Days 1-4
Page 2 – to Lourdes (France) – Days 5-12
Page 3 – to La Seu d'Urgell (Spain) – Days 13-20
Page 4 – to Girona (Spain) – Days 21-26
There is a navigation link at the top and bottom of each page.

Click on "View Details" in the embedded maps to see altitude, temperature, speed, time, etc.

Click on the embedded photo for a larger image in Flickr.
View all embedded photos here either as a slide show or individually against a black background (they look much better).
View extra photos (lots) here.

Click on highlighted text to view action-packed videos. Bring your own popcorn.

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4 comments on “Lady CoMo of the Pyrenees”

  1. Patrick wrote:

    Wonderful Kern. You chose a great place to go cycle touring, and the right time of year: quieter and cooler, even if still hot. Your article should inspire anyone contemplating cycle touring in an exotic location. It comes over as a great, shared adventure. What gorgeous scenery and fine photos too (I really enjoyed the slideshow). Your decision to invest in Lady CoMo turned out well, despite the brake issues. Would it be possible to fit an extra set of (caliper) brakes operated by the rear rider? (or perhaps just a rear drum brake).

    I tend to find it stressful setting off for a day's cycle touring without knowing where we are going to sleep, but – especially in a mountainous region where you aren't sure how far you will cycle – I can see how the ad hoc method gives essential flexibility and in some ways more fun. A small super-lightweight tent and couple of sleeping bags (expensive) might not add too much load though. Well done with the hills mountains, down as well as up. Sombrero! No wonder you saw so few cycle tourists.

    French petit-déjeuner is not really supposed to be breakfast as we know it, nor even a meal, but only keeps you going until le déjeuner when the whole country shuts down for a few hours and bouffes. No use to cyclists!

    Incidentally, the photo of Puigcerda is interesting (to me). I camped there circa 1963 on a school trip when the place was a filthy dusty nondescript town in the middle of nowhere. How things have changed – it looks lovely now.

  2. Hilary wrote:

    What a fantastic trip Kern! I've only cycled for a few days in Spain but that was long enough to discover that it is very very hilly!

    On the tandem each inch of the road was a shared experience: the views, the hard pushes, the water breaks – every part of the ride was lived together. We were more than two people and a bike; the three of us (we include Lady CoMo) were an integrated unit. In other words, we were having a great time.

    I loved this comment. The three of you are very lucky to enjoy such a level of togetherness. Its great to hear that the tandem has worked out so well.

  3. Kern wrote:

    Patrick wrote

    the place was a filthy dusty nondescript town

    That is very interesting. It says a lot about how much Spain (and a lot of other countries) has transformed itself. We did not see a single town or village that would fit this description. Our impression was one of cleanliness and maintenance everywhere (ruins notwithstanding).

    Re: Route planning. I should have mentioned that our outbound route was based on Cycle Touring in Spain by Harry Dowdell (Cicerone). I plan to do a future comparative post on touring books and will include this one. In the meantime, it is recommended.

    Re: photos. Mary took a lot of the photos from the saddle (that's why there are interesting angles). I had a helmet camera that my son brought over the night before we left. It was incompatible with Mary's iPad so we had no experience or feedback using it until A&A arrived very late in the trip. I will write a review of this later as well.

    Please don't mention the rear brake idea to Mary ... it might not be such a good idea 🙂 ...

  4. Chris wrote:

    Wow, Kern. What an epic tour. It has taken me several days to get through it all and I'm exhausted just reading your post. Excellent photographs.

    I'm glad the pair of you only managed to fall off, rather than out with each other. I almost always take a wrong turn whenever I am travelling through anywhere unfamiliar, so it's a good job there was no blame thrown around. It is difficult to imagine a more testing experience than being bound together for four weeks of of a holiday with even the slightest of bad feelings surfacing.

    You may be right about that rear brake, Kern 🙂

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