After a nice night at Sylvain’s in Zaragoza I headed out to complete the next stage of my trip towards Geneva.
I got out of the city far more comfortably than I got in as I’d been given a cycle map of the area. It wasn’t long and I was riding along on the N11 with a great tailwind. I was flying.
It was nice to be experiencing such a day in the middle of winter.
Definitely still in Spain too…
Later on I passed into Catalonia, and that evening I stayed with some Catalan Warmshowers.org hosts: Pep and Yolanda.
Pep was kind enough to let me stay in his farm cottage outside the town of Alcarras. This was where he and his family spent the summer, in winter they lived in town.
The cottage was very nice and peaceful and Pep made me up a log fire.
I’d originally planned on staying one night but Yolanda said she was interested in hearing about my trip so I agreed to stay another day. This also meant I got rest and to avoid some potentially very strong winds the next day.
The next morning Pep came to the farm to do some work and I offered to help. I’d expected to be gathering eggs or somesuch. But no I was helping Pep and another friend unload and smash terracotta bricks from a trailer to act as a flood preventer on a track.
I can safely say cycling does not prepare you for manual labour.
Later on Pep and Yolanda were kind enough to take me for lunch and I was reminded that in Europe lunch is a serious undertaking. Three delicious courses and some beer and wine later I was feeling pretty sated.
That evening I got to meet their lovely children who were a lot of fun.
I rode out early the next day once more on the road to Geneva. Once again I was lucky with the wind, a strong breeze blew at my back.
Originally I’d planned to turn north here and cross the Pyrenees via Andorra; this was now no longer on the cards. I’d checked the weather in Zaragoza and there was heavy snow forecast in the mountains, which wasn’t something I wanted to get involved with.
It was obvious I was in Catalonia. Catalan flags flew from many windows and atop many flag poles. Pep had been very much in favour of independence and it seemed many others were too.
That day I’d remain on secondary roads that wound through areas which had marked the border between Christianity and Islam in mediaeval times. There were many castles left over from this period.
Annoyingly the road I was on was blocked completely at one point with a sign in front diverting traffic to the highway, the highway I was prohibited from using.
This meant I had to try and use other roads and finally mud paths to get round the blockage. I was rather surprised I managed it but if Europe has one thing, it is lots of minor roads.
After some tough hills and luck with turnings (my map is too large scale for secondary roads) I reached Sant Joan de Vilatorrada where I was to be hosted by Josep.
Josep ran his own bicycle touring company and he had a lot of interesting bikes. Including one with an internal hub and an internal chain which I had never seen before.
Josep like Pep was also in favour of independence for Catalonia.
The next day when I left I discovered that whole towns would declare their support for independence to the whole world. Or that piece of the world that happened to be passing.
Not long after I left Josep’s I ended up on a tough climb that took me a lot higher than expected through some beautiful countryside. It was clearly a popular route as a lot of other cyclists went past me as they went much faster up the hill.
At the top there was a cracking view… as you’d hope.
Once I’d reached the top of the pass it was time to head down into the valley where the town of Vic sits. As it was a bit nippy this meant I needed to put on a few more layers to avoid freezing on the descent.
In the valley I had a decision to make. Whether to turn for Girona or take a short cut up into the mountains a bit towards Olot. I opted for the mountains and an adventure.
On the map there looked to be a nice secondary road that I could take all the way to Olot, one that gently curved through the mountains.
When I reached this road it turned out it was barred to cyclists, probably because of the nice tunnels smoothing it’s passage. Anyway, this meant I had to take some rural roads that didn’t gently curve through the mountains but instead zig zagged like a man fleeing a crocodile up around them.
It was peaceful and exquisitely beautiful, if very tough at the same time. I also wasn’t sure how long this way was so I was a little worried I might get stuck on the mountain that night. Further my cycle computer has stopped giving accurate info, making distance estimation even harder.
Needless to say, after a while, I reached the top, which was a relief. I could now freewheel down towards Olot.
This I did, though I chose to stop at Les Preses, the town before, as I saw a sign for a campsite. This turned out to be the most comfortable place I’d camped in over year. The site had wifi, good hot showers and comfortable grass. The only downside was that it was
a freezing night and it was the coldest I’d felt camping on the whole trip.
For dinner I’d had a US military MRE – Meal Ready to Eat that had been given to me by someone in Florida. This was an interesting pack and contained everything you need for a three course meal with coffee, including the heat. You just needed to add water. It was great for camping and was very easy to prepare.
The next day I headed out feeling pretty chilly and rode the short distance to Olot. This was a really pretty town and it was nice to ride through it.
I treated myself to a chocolate croissant on the basis that once I got back to the UK the quality of pastry would be dropping.
The rest of the day I spent making towards Perpignan in France. I rode on some lovely secondary roads as I headed down towards the coast.
The Franco Spanish border is now unmanned and I just rode through it with no fanfare. That said it was probably one of the most obvious borders I’ve crossed. Obvious in that it sits close to the top of a mountain pass and is still overlooked by an early modern fortress. You have a real feeling of passing into somewhere else as you ride up and over the end of the Pyrenees.
Pretty much the first sign I saw when I got to France was advertising snails for sale, which reassured me I was in the right place.
After the border I carried onto Perpignan and passed quickly through this ancient city.
Not before picking up some silk socks, which the internet had assured me, that when coupled with a second thick pair would solve my problems with chilly feet.
That night I camped on some unused land in the town of Bompas. I don’t know if it was a warmer night but my feet were certainly toasty!
The next day they did not remain toasty long as I rode out with rain for company.
That day I was to reach Beziers as I’d found a warmshowers.org member to host me. I was a little worried I’d reach there too soon as it was only 90km away and I’d gotten up early as I was camping.
I needn’t have worried, shortly after setting out the wind kicked in. It was like a wall pushing me back to Spain. I ground on not convinced I’d make it to Beziers at all at the rate I was going. It wasn’t just windy it was wet too and I was miserable.
Then just when I thought things couldn’t get worse it started to snow. Then the snow turned to freezing rain and the next thing I know I’ve got drops of ice flying at me horizontally. It was like being pricked by needles in the face continually.
As it started I couldn’t stop as there was no shelter as I was riding between towns on a kind of causeway. So I had to put my head down and just make the best of it.
I was being blown this way and that and frozen all while in the south of France.
Eventually I reached a town and the worst of the wind was blocked though the snow continued a while. I had to put my fingers in my mouth to warm them up.
I was tempted to stop then and get a hotel room. I had no idea how long the storm would last. In the end I just kept on riding and the snow stopped even if the wind didn’t.
Carrying on round the coast I reached another town and decided to stop for lunch to dry out and warm up.
Here I was reminded why France is famous for its cooking. For $15 I got three delicious courses, including a cold buffet as a starter that let me pile my plate high with delicious meats, rice and so forth and for the main I got a delicious cut of steak with real French fries… Dessert was a great apple tart and I got to eat as much bread as I wanted (2 baskets). In the UK I think it would easily have cost twice as much and tasted half as nice.
Up till then I’d been having a pretty rubbish day, that meal took the edge right of it.
Unfortunately even without the edge on it the day still held the blunt instrument of the wind, which pummelled me the next few hours as I rode towards my destination.
I was also reminded that in France I could communicate again. I don’t speak any Spanish but have enough French to get by. Before Spain I’d had about four months of being in countries where I could get by in the language, as I rode through Japan and the USA. Spain had been a bit of a culture shock when I suddenly had to remember non verbal communication skills that had grown rusty.
That evening instead of arriving at 15:00 in Beziers as I’d predicted, I turned up closer to 19:00 feeling bedraggled and exhausted. Luckily Jean Luc and Dominique, my hosts, were very hospitable and got me warm and comfortable very quickly.
I then got to have some wonderful French home cooking.