Lady CoMo of the Pyrenees
Day 21 La Seu d’Urgell to Puigcerda – Sep 16, 2012
We started the day with three possible plans. During the day we made three mistakes. All things considered, the end result was not bad.
Plan number one was the road not taken. I stared and stared at this road for hours. I must have burned a hole in the map. It is a road so small it does not show on Google maps. I will name the towns on the route in sequence: Fornols, Tuixent, Gosol, Saldes. It skirts the south side of the Cadi Moixero and has the greatest potential to be a spectacular ride.
From a cycling perspective it was an ideal route, even if the riding would be hard. But it would probably take two days to ride, and we could not confirm there was a hotel anywhere along it. I know Mary would have gone for it – she will take on anything if there is a decent room and a good meal at the end of it. But I could not confirm shelter of any kind other than mountain refuge huts and we carried no sleeping gear. In the end I had to admit it was too risky.
Plan number two was the Tunel du Cardi. This is a big tunnel that slices through the mountain, apparently at a 6% gradient (downhill from our perspective). However we were wise – we asked at a bar beforehand and found that bicycles are definitely not allowed in the tunnel.
By default that left the third option, which found us in Puigcerda.
Our mistakes were all food-related: the hotel had a poor breakfast, we carried a limited food bag, and we stopped at a restaurant that served a poor lunch. The latter was a surprise – it was the first time we had a poor lunch in Spain.
The sky was cloudless for the entire day and it was very hot – above 30 degrees for most of the day. There were a number of short tunnels on this road. We always put our lights on for tunnels. We had come through one and were turning off our lights when a convoy of Porsches passed by. It must have taken 5 minutes for all of them to pass. Very strange.
Around midday we stopped to put on our lights for another tunnel when we noticed a mountain stream just off the road. We wheeled Lady Como off the road, took off our shoes, and cooled our feet in the babbling water. It was delightful.
By the time we rolled into Puigcerda I was spent. We had been climbing most of the day at those good old grinding gradients of 4-5%. The next pass would climb to 1,800 meters. We needed a day´s rest.
Day 22 Puigcerda (Rest day) – Sep 17, 2012
A rest day.
Anita and Andrew arrived from Ireland with a rented car, and Andrew brought a replacement set of brake pads. We would have a sag wagon for a few days.
Day 23 Puigcerda to Ripoll – Sept 18, 2012
For the first time on any of our tours we rode with support. A&A took our panniers and we kept a top bag with essentials. It was a new experience.
I don’t know whether it was the weather, the rest, the lack of weight, or just the gradients, but somehow the day’s ride seemed easier. Or maybe our legs were getting stronger. We took the N260 route out of Puigcerda and started climbing. The climb never lets up but is never too stiff.
There is an alternate route that goes through the small towns in the valley, but from above the traffic down there looked heavier. Also, from above we had beautiful vistas up and down the valleys. We may even have been able to see Andorra. To the west and south we had a long distance perspective of the Serra Moixero, the high range that is skirted by the-road-not-taken. We would have been on the other side of those mountains had we tried that road.
A short distance from the top we stopped for a snack at a crumbling stone ruin built on an outcrop. It was not large in its time – three men with outstretched arms could have touched opposite walls. The corners were of dressed stone while the walls were made of rounded rocks; loopholes and the entrance arch were shaped with thin stone shards. It would have been outpost to defend the pass and signal up and down the valley. It was a place to let one’s imagination run wild: the labour of building it, the bitterness of winter for its guard, the scanty provisions, and the deadly purpose of its loopholes.
At the top of the pass is a truly ugly resort that was evidently intended to be a luxury spa, complete with a massive room of blue-tiled baths designed to be a Roman bath experience. It was fronted by two utterly hideous bronze sculptures of male torsos. The resort may be a casualty of Spain’s banking crisis, but damage has been done to more than pocketbooks – it will always be a visual blight. The crumbling stone ruin had so much more character.
The descent of the N260 was as gentle as its rise. We were able to go for stretches without riding the brakes and could actually make time. We were over the last high mountains of the trip. For a couple of hours we could look ahead and see our destination.
At Paroles a woman literally filled our bowls to the brim with a homemade soup that warmed the soul.
In the valley bottom we could once again enjoy our big chain ring and had a good ride into Ripoll.
Our arrangement, to rendezvous in Ripoll, had only one flaw: Mary and Anita had not fully tested connectivity. So, after a day’s riding we found ourselves sitting on the terrace of the Hostal de Ripolles with no change of clothes and no way to contact our support team.
It all worked out in the end, of course, though it was a bit of blind man’s buff to make contact. It was dark and lightning was flashing by the time we walked over an arched, cobbled bridge from the car to the rooms.
The hotel restaurant was packed with locals (always a good sign) and the food was excellent. Maybe we should have stayed in one-star hotels more often.
Day 24 Ripoll to Baynoles – Sept 19, 2012
“It is a day with character,” Mary said at one point.
The morning started with more connectivity issues. Our flight was leaving in four days and we wanted to register for an upgrade. Air Canada’s web site and Mary’s iPad did not see eye to eye, to say the least. What a frustration.
And breakfast was poor. Maybe we shouldn’t stay in one-star hotels more often.
Ripoll was a pleasant surprise. One of our route objectives was to avoid riding the same road twice, and Ripoll was the first town we revisited. On our first pass it looked a bit shabby, but that was because we missed the old town centre. The centre (like most Spanish towns we saw) is really quite lovely.
The climb out of Ripoll goes at 6% for about 6 km and then levels off. We started in long sleeves and soon worked into a sweat. Even though we had no panniers we were putting out the same effort as before – we were just riding faster. After the stiff gradient we paused for a break and a snack to restore the spirits. A&A caught up with us and we started playing leapfrog. I confess that Mary and I were showing off just a little for the cameras.
We were repeating the only section of road on the entire trip, riding from Ripoll to Olot. A&A once again were our sag wagon, but this day they chose to stay with us. We would leave them and ride at our own pace; they would come up behind us in the car, taking pictures, and then scoot ahead to get some action shots as we came past at strategic turns. It was like having a support group, a cheerleading section, and an official photographer all in one package. It was great fun.
Also, Andrew (who is a bit of a techno-buff) had a Sony 3D video camera to film us – very cool.
And the first shall be last
Coll de Coubet was our first coll of the tour, and it was also our last. It seemed easier from this side, and it probably was. The top was shrouded in a cloud, but A&A had a great picnic laid out including olives (I love Spanish olives). For the descent we put on our flashing lights and green,high-viz rain coats – the temperature at the top was down to 12 degrees. Anita got a great video of us rolling off into the fog, never to be seen again.
Again, the descent was sensible and we were able to make distance without having to cool the brakes too often.
We were riding without a plan. This had the advantage of total flexibility, and the disadvantage of indecision. When we rendezvoused with A&A outside Olot early in the afternoon we needed to commit ourselves.
The decision was made – it was on to Baynoles through the Volcanic Park of Garratoxa. Andrew plotted the route on his smartphone GPS, Anita drove the car, and we followed them through the streets of Olot. It was the fastest we have ever managed to get from one side of a town to the other.
The road through the Volcanic park is a very nice, quiet road that dips and climbs through treelined valleys. If we were to do this tour again I would likely start on this road, although it does have a climbing section that would be tiring to unconditioned legs.
By the time we rolled into Baynoles A&A, our support team, had chosen the hotel for the night with rooms overlooking the lake. It was surprising how much of a stress reliever this was. Deciding on rooms night after night had become a real chore. It was great to be able to simply arrive in a town and check in without having to think.
And now we had a conundrum. We were only 25 kilometers from Girona. Our route had one too many days of contingency. What to do with an extra day? Should we continue to ride, or go to Girona one day early with the view of having an extra day in Barcelona? Ah well, better one day too many than one day too few. We were down to the last two panels of our map.
Day 25 Baynoles to L’Escala Sept 20, 2012
The decision was made. We left for the coast and selected L’Escala more or less at random as a destination. The GI5xx out of Baynoles is a delight. It crosses rolling hills that dip into valleys and climb to hilltops. It was perfect under a cloudless sky; tall trees shaded the road with dappled light. The GI6xx, on the other hand, is a faster, straighter road. It is more of a highway and the landscape is not nearly as pleasant. It is a road to be avoided if better alternatives are available.
And so we had gone from the mountains to the sea. When we arrived at the Mediterranean A&A had chosen rooms for us again. We arrived in enough time to catch the afternoon sun on a seaside terrace with the smell of the ocean and thrum of the surf close by. It was a fitting finale for what was, for us, an epic ride.
The day’s ride had not been difficult. It was like a physical and emotional cooldown after riding as long and far and hard as we could in the time allotted. In the end you must walk away from a trip, if only because you have no other choice. Except for the first few hours on the Via Verde, we had no doubts or regrets about our choices. All the cares of the world slipped away when the pedals were under our feet.
That night, after supper, Mary and I walked down to the rocks and listened to the tide come in under the stars.
Day 26 L’Escala to Girona Sept 21, 2012
The equinox. The finale.
A&A left at 6:00 am to drive to Carcassonne for their flight.
Some things are not meant to be rushed. The daily packup was instinctive. We took our time.
We wanted to avoid the big road of the previous day so we hip-hopped across country, stopping to check the map at each crossroads – no more contingency was left in our plan. The roads were mostly flat through farmland.
Mary kept checking the altitude – she got a kick out of starting at 4 meters above sea level and climbing to 34. We chatted about the ride, the route and the day. One good thing about traveling in foreign lands is that it makes one realize how good things are at home. A brief stop at Vesges for a lunch with freshly-squeezed orange juice was followed by more relaxed riding through farmland until we hit the N11.
Then all hell broke loose.
Every car, every truck, every motorcycle bound for Barcelona that wants to avoid the toll on the expressway barrels down the N11. One transport after another flew by just inches from the shoulder. We looked at the map and at each other in dismay. ”I don’t think we have a choice,” said Mary, “We have to go for it.” So we did.
In the end we only had to ride the N11 for 3 kilometers, and there was a stop light in a town that slowed traffic. We took the first exit to North Girona and breathed a sigh of relief.
There are probably better routes into Girona, but the city itself was just off the margin of our map so we couldn’t see them. Mr. Garmin guided us through the intersections to our hotel. We stopped within meters of our point of departure. It was not a soft landing but at least it was a safe one.
Cooldown was finished. The ride was over. It was time to pack up and go home.
It was a great, great trip.
P.S. The secret of Spanish olives: they are stuffed with anchovies!