Bike Touring in Spain
It took some convincing, but as part of our first year anniversary trip to Spain my wife and I planned to do a point to point bike tour in the Catalonia region, home of the winter training grounds for many professional cyclists. After arriving in Barcelona we were to catch the train to Girona where we would spend the night and begin our tour the next morning. After a long day of travel we were exhausted by the time we got to Girona but were immediately enchanted by the town. The old city is encircled by a mostly still standing wall that has been incorporated into the architecture of the town. The gastronomic delights awaiting us were also plentiful and we took full advantage of recent currency fluctuations to see how far our dollars would go. On to the tour. We rented bikes from Bike Breaks/The Girona Cycle Center, which is the type of shop everyone wishes they had in their hometown and is reason enough to start a bike tour in Girona. Staffed by a variety of ex-pats and cyclists they have anything you could possibly need to plan your trip – excellent maps, guides, advice and a variety of pre-owned clothing sold on consignment for the professionals who train their and frequent the shop in the winter. We chose sturdy hybrids to handle the variety of terrain we’d be on and the souvenirs we’d pick up along the way (panniers are a must on any cycle tour that passes through wine country!).
The first two days had us climbing over the mountain range outside of Girona and towards the famed Costa Brava. While the terrain and headwinds made the riding challenging at times (especially on upright hybrid bikes) we enjoyed the beautiful countryside, the friendly locals and the cheap wine and tapas that fueled us in every town we passed through. After all, this was bike touring, not a training camp. Wine stops at 11am are perfectly acceptable.
Day three is when the trip got… interesting. The forecast called for heavy rain in the afternoon. Not a problem we thought, we would just wake up early and arrive at our destination before the worst hit. Our host in the converted farmhouse we were staying that night had other ideas as she had a lavish home cooked breakfast spread laid out for us. Naturally, I had to show her my appreciation by “sampling” everything, but we did eventually manage to climb back on our bikes and set out more or less on time.
The overcast sky that greeted us up on departure was not very reassuring but we remained confident we could reach our destination before the worst of the storm hit. As we rolled through the pastoral countryside of Catalonia ominous storm clouds began to roll in, followed by thunderclaps. The scientifically proven method of counting the “one thousands” between lighting and thunder indicated that the storm was getting closer. The road we were on appeared to be the dividing line between clear blue sky on the right and tightly bunched black ones on the left. I crossed my fingers the GPS would tell us to turn right and we could give the storm a run for the money… 400m later it indicated its indifference to our situation by blinking left. With little choice but to oblige we made the turn. Not 30 seconds later giant, cold rain drops begin to beat down on us.
We pulled over under a large tree to rummage through our panniers for protective gear. All I came up with was a thin wind vest (my eagerness for the trip left me expecting only fine Mediterranean weather) and I could not conceal my envy as my wife pulled a Goretex raincoat from her pannier and zipped up. Receiving only an eye roll in return for being unprepared on a trip I planned she set off. A nearby bolt of lightning reminded me what every third grader knows: hiding under a tree during a thunderstorm is not a prudent course of action, so I saddled up and sped off after my wife. Soon my teeth and hands were shaking uncontrollably. The map seemed to show a sizeable town 5km away, which felt like 50 under these conditions. Our eyes constantly scanned the roads for friendly pickup trucks that might give us a ride into town, but none emerged and we slogged on.
My teeth chatter must have been audible, because my wife even offered me her rain jacket (I admit, I thought about accepting). Finally we arrived into a town and rushed into the first café we found, leaving our bikes to the elements and chancing that no one would take on the misery of stealing them to ride in these conditions. I stuttered some Spanish at the waitress and eagerly awaited a coffee cup that I had every intention of coiling my entire body around. In the meantime, I used the bathroom and discovered something that quite literally warmed my soul: an electric hand dryer. I was soon stripping off layers of clothing that I one by one ran under the drier again.. and again… and again.. I’d start shivering again as soon as the automatic timer turned the dryer off so I continued to punch the start button looking for my next fix. Other restroom patrons flowed in and out giving me looks I could only identify as a combination of shock and commiseration.
Eventually I faced reality: I wasn’t really going to get any warmer or drier and I had to reassure my wife I had not collapsed unconscious in the bathroom. We returned to our soggy saddles. The skies finally started to clear and left us with only the road spray to contend with. Upon arrival at our hotel we were ushered inside, mud laden bikes and all. Fortune finally favored us as our room was prepared despite being fashionably early for check in. A hot bath soon eased my contorted face back into laughter as we contemplated the large amounts of tapas and cava we earned from our tribulation.
Our final day of the tour dawned bright and sunny. Despite yesterday’s ride we did not want to leave the Costa Brava and our morning routine was telling. We walked along the beach and lingered over breakfast before finally dragging ourselves onto our bikes. Our route had us heading due north through Catalonian wine country before cutting back south to the town of Figueres, where we would catch the train back to Girona. As usual, I had an ambitious schedule planned that included stops at local wineries and a tour of the famed Salvador Dali museum in Figueres.
Once we got on our bikes we were immediately buffeted by the famed Mistral wind, blowing from the north at what felt like 100km/hour. The one drawback of point to point cycling: when you get stuck with a headwind there is no avoiding it and no return trip to benefit from a tailwind. It was a struggle to maintain 10km an hour (yes, kilometers) on our hybrids. We inched our way towards the midpoint of our ride where a café beckoned us with locally produced cava and Jamon Iberico. We were at a literal and figurative crossroads: continue battling the Mistral and risk miring the last day of our trip in frustration or toast to a successful adventure and take a shortcut to our final destination. As I didn't want this to be the final bike trip of our marriage, the answer was really quite easy.