April 17, 2012 § 2 Comments
We rose before the sun partly due to necessity, the weather forecast was worrying and partly because we were excited. Most of our stuff was still wet but it got packed anyway. When we left our fingers were frozen from the water and the 7C temperature outside. Even my trick of filling my water bottle with hot water didn’t help my hands because it cooled down too quickly. The hill out of town quickly got our legs warm again but the wind at the top made sure nothing else was comfortable.
We stopped at Blanes for breakfast at a bakery. We confused the staff when we each ordered enough for 3 people, they though we were trying to change our original order. Eventually we had our coffee and our 11 croissants. They got the message when we came back for seconds. It was delicious and we were finally warm.
From there the terrain flattened out and we found ourselves back on the N-II heading for Barcelona. We kept an eye out for the signs with the distance to Barcelona. 72km…69km…53km…45km. I started organizing to meet my sister at the Sagrada Familia, our final destination. I told her we were 20km away and then past a sign saying ‘Barcelona 35′, oops, and then we hit a lot of red lights. This was quite frustrating but being able to see Barcelona in the distance was fantastic motivation. I had finally managed to get into my highest gear and I didn’t want to change out of it. This meant I did all the up hills at high speed to the surprise and confusion of some of our fellow cyclists. For the last few kilometers we stuck behind a couple of locals on their racing bikes because they seemed to know where to go. They were very nice, guiding us through the streets and through the red traffic lights no one stops at. Eventually we reached the forum, a place we had been on our last trip to Barcelona and all the puzzle pieces came together. Having seen every centimeter of road between the two cities makes you see them in a different light.
From there it was an easy ride to Sagrada Familia but we hit every red light. This may have frustrated me under normal circumstances but I was in a pretty good mood.
Finally, we pulled up in front of the Sagrada Familia where my sister was waiting for us.
Distance covered: 1880km(1168.2mi)
about 230km further than we expected
Total time cycling: 103.01 hours in 19 days
we planned to do it in 15 days
Average speed: 18.39kph
Max speed: 70.13kph
April 17, 2012 § 1 Comment
The day started with an uphill from the entrance to the campsite. One thing we noticed about spain is that they build their roads at much steeper angles. The hills are therefore shorter but a lot harder. This got us warmed up and ready to cover some distance but just when we reached the top my camel pack hose came loose and started pouring water all down my back and over our tent. After some faster action I had all the contents of my bag spread over the road and the leak under control.
We made it to Llanco a lot faster then expected but we saw some spectacular bays along the coast.
At Llanco we found a supermarket which opened as we pulled up so we bought all their freshly baked croissants. After finishing them off and restocking on energy drinks we head out of town, inland. The road through the mountains wound up until it spilled into a green plain. From the crest of the pass we could see the dead straight road all the way to Figueres.
At figueres we wandered the streets which were full of Italian school groups. The Dali museum gave us a moment to pause and contemplate the interesting art pieces outside the front.
Our break was a bit too long and we had lost all momentum so when we set off again down the N-II towards Girona we had some trouble setting a good pace. Eventually we stopped in a little town called Bascara where we bought ourselves a Xappatas each which we filled with Chorizo and cheddar cheese.
While we were eating a slow procession of cars drove past, hooting and blocking traffic with signs up demanding that the road be made safer. This didn’t encourage us too much since we still had to do 20km on it.
At Girona the sun was shining and all the main attractions looked fantastic.
The center of town was a maze of little alleyways, all of which seemed to be one ways in the opposite direction we wanted to go. Eventually we negotiated our way a bit further along the river but when we turned around we were surprised to see dark clouds looming. The forecast we had seen said the day was going to be sunny with no clouds and no wind. So far the wind has been blowing all day, against us, which wasn’t fun to ride into but at least it was blowing towards the big clouds. We figured that this was a good sign an ignored the clouds and continued.
Leaving Girona we spotted a Decathlon so we stopped because Flavio wanted to get some horns for his handlebar. Upon leaving the city the landscape turned into vivid green fields with picturesque farm houses.
After Llagostera the road became very steep and had us struggling to get into our lowest gears and to find our spare chocolate. Near the top we stopped to contemplate the clouds behind us. The wind was still blowing towards them but it now looked like they were raining heavily on the towns we had passed through.
The clouds looked like they were moving east, out to sea, so we kept moving but we weren’t worried. We then had a very long downhill all the way back to the coast. We arrived at the coastal town called Tossa de Mar. We may have planned this leg just to get this photo…
We slowly wound our way through the small alleys, packed with designer shops, souvenir shops and tourists, down to the beach. Our break to admire the pretty bay was interrupted when we turned around.
The huge clouds covered the sun as they loomed over us so we made a run for it. We made it 1km up the road.
We took cover under the awning over someone’s front gate. We readied our bikes for the downpour, the clouds looked like they were only going to get worse, and took off up the hill. The first campsite we came across was closed so we continued. We came across a sign for a big campsite which looked promising so we turned off. The road went 650m straight down a steep hill. When we got to the bottom we were very disappointed to find it was also closed. Very disappointed.
We were already wet and cold so we decided we had nothing to lose and set off up the hill. We must have set some record hill climbing speeds on the way up. We continued along the main road for a lot longer than expected because we didn’t want to descend any more hills incase the places were shut. Eventually, at Llorell de Mar, we took a chance and turned off back down the hill. It was open.
A lot can be said for Spanish hospitality. If three drenched, muddy cyclists showed up at your complex, offering them a self contained apartment which, normally, is only available for a minimum of three days would not be too appealing. But they did. Legends!
When we walked in, squelching shoes and all, the first thing we noticed was that all the towels were white….oh….sorry! We fire up the gas stove and huddled around to warm our hands. When we were all showered and warm we set about drying all our gear, most importantly, our shoes and socks. Two methods were adopted; holding the shoes over the stove until they steamed and microwaving the socks and inner soles. Don’t laugh, it worked but it didn’t help the smell in the room. Flavio had developed a fantastic glove tan and took a moment from drying his shoes to show me.
We spared the generous hosts any more hassle and brought out our sleeping bags instead of using the linen provided. It was the least we could do.
April 13, 2012 § 3 Comments
After a night of rain we were up before the sun and were surprised to find that our tents were dry. Our shoes however, we’re not. At 8C, cold feet was not fun. From our campsite we could look down into the back of the African zoo where a few Wildebeest we roaming around. This made me feel a little nostalgic but then I realized I was in the south of France and this was pretty good too.
We set off as soon as it was light enough. For the first time we stopped for breakfast at a proper bakery where we bought three croissants, four pain au chocolat(chocolate croissant) and one pain au raisin. The freshly baked pastries were delicious but they only made us hungrier.
Not far from there we reached the top of a hill and caught our first glance of the Pyrenees, the mountain range which divides France from Spain.
We now had a tail wind which whipped us down the other side and onto the flats.
We passed a sign welcoming us to the French-Catalan province.
About 100m after that there was a loud thunk followed by hissing and a metallic clicking sound. I had a puncture. The reason I have never mentioned punctures before was because, believe it or not, we never had any. Me and my brother were very surprised we didn’t get more but never mentioned it incase it we ginxed it. Well, it finally happened and quite dramatically. A bolt had gone about 4cm into my tire puncturing the tube on the way in and on the way out the other side. It left a very clean hole so it was easy to fix.
By now our wet shoes were driving us mad and when the sun came out Flavio made the most of it, including a prayer.
From there we had an easy run with a back wind to Argeles-sur-Mer. We stopped to sit in the sun and enjoy the scenery.
After getting lost on the way out of town we managed to get into the Pyrenees. However at the first town, Colliour we took a wrong turn and ended up climbing the mountains. We got quite high.
Near the top we stopped to have lunch with a view. After laying around for a bit we eventually got up and made the final push to the top of the mountain. The initial downhill was quite interesting since there were no guard rails and quite a big drop. Once we got down to the lower parts we let loose.
Then came the second spill of the trip. Coming around a corner Flavio hit loose gravel in the center of the road and slid of the side where he did a spectacular front flip after which his bike landed on him.
Where Brands is stand is where Flavio became airborne. Btw, I did see if he was okay before taking a picture of him.
Flavio showing is he is alright; there was a large amount of the local flora wedged in his pants. As we continued down towards Banyuls-sur-Mer we hit a new record top-speed of 70.13kph!
After climbing the last bit of hill we continued along the coast until we got to the Spanish border!
We made our way to a town called Colera(took me a while before I tried the water) where we found a nice campsite. Since we made it to Spain we decided to treat ourselves to a couple of beers and restaurant food. Then we went to sleep happy.
April 13, 2012 § 1 Comment
Since the reception at our campsite wasn’t supposed to open until 9:00am we though we could sleep in a bit. So we did. A bit too much. By the time we got on the road it was already 10:00am and we only got 3km before we stopped for breakfast at a supermarket. Not a good start and the wind was starting to pick up.
After a 1000kcal breakfast with redbull we set off determined to make up time and avoid any unnecessary stops. We stopped, unnecessarily shortly after when Brands took the first spill of the trip. We happened to ride through the markets and as we were looking around the car in front of me stopped very suddenly. A second later I found myself balanced on my front wheel looking down onto the car with centimeters to spare. My erratic braking didn’t go so well for the others as Flavio swerved to avoid me but Brandon hadn’t seen any of it and slammed on brakes. He wasn’t as lucky as me, he went over his handle bars and landed in a dramatic roll.
He wasn’t injured at all. As we stood around chatting about how impressed we were with our front brakes (after all they did lift us and our 15kg of baggage into the air) a shopkeeper came out to ask if he was alright and we noticed that on the other side of the road was a bus stop full of people staring at us. Flavio proposed that we ride passed them with our helmets out because we must have put on quite a show. We decided it wasn’t worth trying, our helmets have holes in them.
From there it was a dead straight road to Beziers. Beziers turned out to be an amazing town. The direction we came from took us through the commercial area so we weren’t very impressed. I was quite surprised when I looked between the houses to see a bridge across the river. The surprising part was that there was a barge on the bridge. It was in fact a canal…on a bridge…over a river. Cool. However, it was only once we cross the river and looked back that we got the best view.
We sat in a park across the river for a while admiring the view.
The ride to Narbonne was quite nice. The low rolling hills were a nice change to the flats of the previous days. At Narbonne we enjoyed a slow ride through the town center while Flavio looked for a French flag to add to his collection of flags. There are a surprising number of Henrys in Narbonne.
On the way out of town a large dark cloud caught up with us. The stark contrast with the clay-colored soil was beautiful.
April 13, 2012 § 3 Comments
According to our original plan on day 15 we would be in Barcelona. Instead we woke up in La Grande Motte. It was overcast, cold and the wind was already blowing. Our tents were damp and had to be dried with our hand towel before we could pack them away and set off. This took a little while so we only got going at about 9:00. The main road through the town is lined with huge umbrella pines which looked very nice but kept the road in shadow and the wind channeled straight at us. The wind was icy and cut straight through our clothes so we stopped and covered up some more.
We had initially planned to do the 23km to Montpellier and have breakfast there but we were disappointed to find the road we wanted to take was a highway and no bikes were allowed. So to get to Montpellier we would have to continue passed it and come at it from the other side. We didn’t have enough time or energy to do all the extra distance so we decided to leave it for a future visit.
One of the interesting things we had noticed on our maps was two thin strips of land running parallel straight through the lakes. One of them was supposed to have a road on it so we decided to give it a go.
It turned out that they have built a canal straight through the lakes. We saw plenty of barges going passed all day. It seemed a bit odd to us to build a canal through water but it was quite interesting to see.
When we had passed the point of no return the wind which had been freezing us all morning picked up, slowing us to a crawl. We got to an island which connected the canal with the beach so we decided we had had enough of the muddy roads and the wind so we headed for the beach. Going down to the beach we had a tail wind and were glad that it was finally in our favor. We should have known better.
When we got down to the beach we were shocked to find that there was no road, not even a dirt path. This meant that we could either head back to the canal or go along the beach. We tested the sand and had to push our way out so we set off back to the canal. Now the wind was howling and we were all struggling.
Then we met another legend of our trip. While we were struggling through the mud an old guy on an equally old bike casually overtook us and, in no time, was out of sight in the distance. We were all quite surprised but he obviously did this a lot, we followed in his tire tracks and started making better time.
Eventually, after what seemed like a whole day of riding, we reach Sete a very pretty town situated on a hill amongst the salt lakes.
From Sete to the next major town of Adge there was a nice bike path right next to the beach.
When we got to Adge it was already 6:00pm. The constant wind had finished us so we stopped at a supermarket to buy dinner. Unfortunately, we took so long there that it was already 6:45pm by the time we went looking for a campsite and campsite after campsite had already closed so we couldn’t check in. Eventually we found one where the guardian was still there and he let us set up camp and sort it out in the morning.
April 10, 2012 § 2 Comments
We finally had a reasonable start today with no problems to try to fix and no supermarkets to distract us. We made our way out the little town and straight up the hill. It felt like a long climb for that time of the morning but we were in good spirits; we had a tailwind!
We made it over the mountain and down to Martigues quite quickly. From the top of the hill we were hoping to get a glance of today’s main attraction, Camargue National Park. Instead in front of us was an industrial zone which reached as far as we could see. A little disheartened we made our way to a supermarket for breakfast.
The industrial zone turned out to be as bad as it looked. Standing outside the supermarket you could almost taste the smog so we made a quick escape wondering how anybody lives there. All the roads leaving channeled down to one big road. We cruised at 30kph, pedaling becoming a simple formality with such a strong tailwind. Then we had to turn off, our new route didn’t agree with the wind, sometimes we ended up cycling into it.
After negotiating the endless trucks heading down to the ports we finally made it the the national park. There was no immediate change in scenery. Suddenly our road was interrupted by a river and we found ourselves on a ferry which was free for cyclists. We were starting to like this place already. When we got off the boat we went and found a map and a place to eat. My phone battery was running low so we had to figure out the rest of the route before we set off.
Once we were sure where we were going we set off. We immediately hit a dead end but found another way around. When we got out of town the wind picked up and we relaxed and started to enjoy the views. Then we came up to a sign which said the road was closed. That would mean backtracking against the wind so we squeezed passed the sign. The reason the road was closed was that it was now for pedestrians so we were glad we didn’t turn back.
Soon the road went from tar to dirt and the from dirt to potholes. There we so many there was no way to avoid them so we had a very bumpy ride. After a couple of kilometers the road was the only dry land left, there was shallow sea water all around us. We saw flamingos, lots of them!
The road smoothed out and without pedaling we were cruising at 16kph thanks to the wind. Then the road ended. We had reached the beach. From there we had to ride on the sand. We weren’t too sure how far it was or if the sand would get softer but we let air out of our wheels to increase the surface area and hit it at speed. It turns out that thanks to a salt crust on the top as long as you keep up the speed and don’t turn too sharp we could manage.
This area is obviously a popular spot with the locals since there were tyre tracks everywhere, mainly in circles. But soon the tyre tracks disappeared apart from a single pair which went straight down the beach. At this stage the wind was howling and blowing sand everywhere but it was amazing.
The beach went on forever and the landscape was so foreign it was a surreal experience to ride along there. Eventually we got back to civilization where we sat down for another lunch, hiding from the wind behind a wall.
From there, with our tailwind still blowing strong we had a smooth ride all the way to La Grande Motte were we found a campsite. We had a quick stop at Aigues-Mortes to look around the town center which is still surrounded by its medieval walls. Very pretty.
The rain has finally caught up, so we’re in for an interesting night.
April 10, 2012 § Leave a Comment
I’ve lost track of how many days of cycling we have done, so I’m just going to say this is day 13. Our trip computer says we have been cycling for 68 hours.
We started off today at 8:00, hoping to make up for our short trip yesterday. The obvious starting point was to find a seat for my bike. We headed up the road to Hyper Casino, which is actually a supermarket. Whether its supposed to be a gamble when you buy something there has been a topic in our discussions. Either way, they didn’t sell bicycle seats so I bought 20 croissants instead. I finished most of them.
We had no luck at any of the other supermarkets but we did find a sports store. The problem was it was only going to open an hour later. We decided against wasting more time and hit the roads. It was one long uphill which eventually brought us to a pass at 347m.
From there we had some serious downhills to Aubagne, we even overtook a bewildered looking guy on his scooter. We saw a sign for a Decathlon and immediately set off to find it. It wasn’t that easy but we got there eventually. Within 5 mins I had a new seat, handmade in Italy. Having done 60km standing up I was very happy, a big smile plastered on my face.
Brandon decided to get an extender for his handlebars because his neck was still giving him trouble. This took a lot longer and soon everyone knew about our trip. A guy who was chatting to Flavio was especially impressed. He said he was part of the French national cycling team, we are not sure which one and that he was surprised we had made it so far on ‘such shit bikes‘. We appreciated the compliment but we are now quite fond of those shit bikes.
From there we weren’t to sure whether we should cut across to the coast and avoid Marseille or to check out the city. We hadn’t heard many good things about it so far and more people at the decathlon had warned us about getting more parts stolen if we stayed there. However, it’s one of the major cities on our route and also one of the most famous of the mediterranean so we decided to have a look.
On the way in we bought a few baguettes and strapped them to the back of our bikes.
One thing we have noticed is that the stereotypical french person always walking around with baguettes is so true. We see hundreds of people carrying baguettes every day.
When we arrived at the center we were surprised by the immaculately kept streets and fountains. The mixture of culture was also very clearly visible, this place obviously didn’t have a simple past. We sat down at one such fountain and had a baguette with pâté each.
After our refreshing break we made our way down to the port.
Having seen a bit of Marseille we set our sites on our destination. La Couronne just happened to be the right distance so off we went. Leaving the city through the northern suburbs was a little different. Normally, when we ride passed people look up to see who we are, here people looked up just to stare at our bikes. The buildings got more and more run down as we went. We saw a high heel shoe in the middle of the road near a bus stop but no one seemed to notice, our bikes were far more interesting. We ended up seeing a lot more shoes lying around, no wonder no one though it strange. Eventually we were on the edge of town facing a large hill but we didn’t mind.
It was a long climb but there were some nice views back over the city. The terrain here was completely different to what I had expected, steep rocky hills with low sharp looking bushes. We could have been in the cape in South Africa.
We finally got to the top but we ended up on a large road for the downhill. We thought the best way to avoid the cars was to match their speed so we tried. It was a 110 zone so no luck, maybe next time. Once we got down to the coast we had a pleasant ride along it until we found a nice campsite. The manager was a young guy who was very friendly and spoke excellent English. Soon, we were settled down for dinner and he popped round to give us free beers. Legend!