Friday, August 29, 2008
July 21 Bagneres-de-Luchon FRANCE to Sort SPAIN 113 K / 70 Miles, Col Du Portillon & Port de la Bonaigua
I just had to do it. Take on the Spanish Pyrenees. I was just going to Climb the Col du Portillon into Spain and 20 kilometers later be right back in France, but I decided to cycle across the Spanish side of the Pyrenees. Wild, spectacular, high desert, wilderness, with very few towns, lots of incredibly challenging climbs and scintilating descents. I started the day climbing Col du Portillon under overcast skies and the climb is mostly in the trees, so it wasn´t a favorite on my list of climbs but it did have a few 10% sections that got my attention. 5K from the top I´m in cloudy mist and once at the top I had to put on my front lights for the descent. And there was not one sign saying you were leaving Fance or entering Spain. What´s that about? The road N-230 & C-28 had good shoulders all the way to Baqueira where they disappearded as the climb up to the Port de la Bonaigua began. What a climb. The first sign I spotted said 12K and 6% to the top. What a beautiful climb. About 2K from the top a carload of folks going slowly past on a hairpin turn broke into applause for me. I just smiled. The descent to Esterri d´Aneu was 20 kilometers of just fantastic and glorious scenery. Even though the Spanish Electric companies have thrown up a gazillion power lines, it just couldn´t ruin the specially carved out mountains. In Esterri I stopped at a Spanish version of a Boulangerie and had "something". It looked like pizza without cheese. It had a bunch of diced up "somethings". And it was topped with a big sausage link. It was good. I had 2 pieces. I made it to the town of Sort where the campground had more French & Dutch vacationers than Spanish.
Posted by Mike Simmons at 1:05 PM
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
Another perfectly blue sky in the Spanish Pyrenees. In fact I would be blessed with 4 perfect days in a row. Not a cloud. In the afternoons it would get pretty hot. But at the high elevations I was cycling at the air was cool. At the 6 or 7 tunnels I passed through I could stop and the air was coming through the tunnel so it felt like standing in front of an air conditioner. Cool, eh!!! The Spanish campgrounds are not as nice as the French ones. And they are not in or near the center of town. They are placed on the outskirts. I love the way the French system melds so well with cycle-touring. EXCEPT FOR ONE THING. France, as well as Spain, and I guess all of Europe, shun the dryer. You know, as in washer and dryer. Not one campground has had a dryer. And many have no washing machines. They all have plenty of wash basins to do your clothes by hand. Then you hang them to dry. This may work well with car campers who have 2 weeks worth of clothes for a one week vacation. If it rains you just grab some clothes from deep in your car trunk. But a cycle-tourist has 2 cycling shorts, 3 shirts, 1 hiking pants, 2 pair socks....get the point. You gotta clean ém and DRY THEM. But you can´t. So what'ya do? Enough ramblings! Today I had two Cols to climb. I started the day drifting for about a mile through the town of Sort taking in the noises. The Spanish are noisier than the French. Kind of like Americans. Or is it that the French are just quiet. Once I drifted across town I turned left and started a 21K / 13 Mile climb. Good Morning Spain!!! It was at the top of this climb I realized I had entered hardcore wilderness. High desert, very few towns & they had no stores. The descent off Coll de Canto was gorgeous. I stopped in Adrall for water, asked a young lady for the supermarket so I could get water, she says there is no market but "uno momento" and runs into her place and comes out with a 1 1/2 litre bottle for me. Nice people. The next 20K was on more of a main road/C-14, but its´ saving grace was that it had a 3 foot shoulder and was downhill. A super scenic route. A few times the sheer rock faces would encroach on the roadways and the 3 foot shoulder disappeared so I had to be extra diligent not to allow myself to get caught in a blind spot to traffic. Thankfully there was not much traffic. Then I turned onto an especially spectacular road, L-401. It started with a 10K climb to the village of Alinya where I found 8 Russian cycle-tourists shading themselves from the sun & heat of the day. We joked about who I was & who they were. And they invited me to sit with them out of the sun. Most of them spoke with me in English, and very well at that! I took a picture of Dima and Sveta by the village water spout. If you read this Dima, send me an email!!! I pulled out of Alinya about 4:45 and WOW, what a ride. Like the Blue Ridge Parkway with almost no cars for 42 kilometers only I´m in the Spanish Pyrenean wilderness where the road hangs off the sides of mountains and it is straight down for 100.s of feet. Sometimes there are guardrails, other times there are 6 foot long stone walls with 3 foot gaps in between (see photo). I guess they figure a car won´t fit between the stone walls, BUT A BIKE WILL !!!!!!!!! Did I mention I saw an "El Pollo Loco" back in Esterri d´Aneu. Like the ones in Southern California. I´m serious. I wish I had stopped now. I arrived at Sant Llorenc de Murony and my least favorite campground yet. Don´t you just love those gravel tent sites? Church bells do something a little different in Sant Llorenc. They ring 4 times to warn you they are about to ring out the time. And as in France the process is repeated 1 to 2 minutes later. ALL NIGHT LONG!
Posted by Mike Simmons at 1:28 PM
Monday, August 25, 2008
Beautiful blue skies greeted me again today contrasting with the dark green pines I would be cycling through all day long. I didn´t have the super big mountain passes today just a few 7 & 8 kilometer climbs that were very beautiful. Again it was wilderness with very few towns and very few people all day. I ended the day entering the "Natural de la Zona Volcania" and a simply unbelievable 15 kilometer / 9+ mile downhill into Olot. Upon arrival I stopped an older road cyclist on his beautiful Colnago to ask directions. Good fortune, he spoke English pretty good and helped me on my way. Then he preceeded to head up the mountain I had just rushed down at 8, 9, and 10%. He was probably 65 years old. I see it all the time. Older guys on expensive roadbikes out climbing the mountains.
Posted by Mike Simmons at 2:26 PM