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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.¨
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
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