Saturday, August 31, 2013

The Splendid Surprise of Company

Up until now, I had never traveled with anyone on my bike tours.  It isn't always easy to convince others to sign up for a bike tour for their holiday.  The idea of pedaling 100 km a day with weight, camping and crossing your fingers in hopes of a hot shower at the end of the day, and being "okay" with sweating incessantly as you sightsee isn't for everyone.  So I've always set out on my own, and never really known anything else!  And to tell you the truth, I've never felt lonely, because you are never really on your own! You always end up meeting other people, whether they be other tour cyclist, curious and hospitable elderly couples, families,....there is always someone to talk to and keep you company at different moment through out your trip, and when you encounter them, it is an rewarding moment.
Take for instance Day 4 of our trip on our way to Montpellier.  Prior to my departure I had stopped by Espaibici in Barcelona to get a few last minute items for my bike.  The guys at the shop were asking me about my trip when they told me they were expecting a Japanese tour cyclist shortly who was cycling throughout Europe selling coffee on her bike.  It caught my attention, first because it is such an unusual project, and second, because it is so rare to run into Asian cyclists.  Well here we were on day 4,  450 km from Brcelona, desperate for a lunch stop on our way to Montpellier.  We randomly chose to stop in the next closest village on the map to see if there was a supermarket.  Sure enough there was a Spar and to our surprise there were two bikes parked outside, fully loaded, and one with a coffee shop bumper sticker.  What are our chances of finding these two cyclists in a small village, not to mention, one happened to be Rie, who was on her way from Berlin to Barcelona, selling coffee on her bike as she rides.  We didn't know each other at all, but the simple feeling of empathy and pride brings you together even if your visit only lasts ten minutes  There is a common understanding and respect amongst cyclists that acts as support and encouragement when you encounter one another.
We had the same feelings when Vicens and I decided to use the Warm Shower network to host  us in Castellane.  Claude, aka "Pere Noel" told us he would gladly host us at his camp site in town.  We were getting excited thinking that maybe he would let us stay in a bungalow for a discounted price.  However, we barely had our bikes unloaded before he had prepared a giant 4 course dinner for us, putting us up in his luxurious apartment, and made us feel like we had known each other for years.  Not to mention our visit coincided with that of 2 other cyclists and the 5 of us had the most enjoyable dinner and evening sharing stories and learning about one another.  In the morning, we had a "petit dejourner royale" as I called it, spoiled with fresh baked croissants and baguettes, homemade jams, yogurt, and delicious coffee. 
For the start of The Loong Way Home, I've been fortunate to be accompanied by Vicens for the first week.  He deserves a prize for his patience and companionship.  I can be rather stubborn and bossy at times, and he's been the most easy going companion.  It took us awhile to get in our groove and figure out our daily routine.  It's a shame that he has to head back now that we've developed a certain understanding traveling together.  I've been spoiled with good company, a photographer, and entertaining conversations.  We've had burping contests, and played trivia, hum, and make funny grunting noises as we climb.  It's been a fun way to set off on my loong way home! 
We'd occasionally get a few strange looks from people we encounter, especially if we tell them how far I'm cycling, but for the most part, two tour cyclist don't seem to make the heads turn like a solo female tour cyclist.  I can't wait to see what those Italians say as they see a young blonde woman cycling by with 30 kilos of gear on her bike! Oh boy, let the good times roll!!!
Dinner at Camping Les Lavandes (Castellane) with Paul, Marc, Claude, and Vicens
Random encounter with Rie on her way to Barcelona selling coffee on her bike
My loyal trip companion: Vicens
Lac de Ste Croix

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The "Breaking-In" Period

At this stage of the game, I'm in the "breaking-in" phase of my bike tour.  Remember the last time you bought a new pair of shoes?  I am always so excited to wear them, but I never do a proper job of breaking them in.  I try them on a bit at home, look in the mirror several times to reassure myself of the new purchase, decide which outfit(s) they match, and then usually wear them all the next day with a big smile on my face, regardless of the fact that they rub on the back of my heel or the top of my small toe!  By the end of the day, I usually have a blister, but I know that the pain is temporary until my feet adapt and get used to the new shoes.

This is exactly where I am with The Loong Way Home at the moment.  My bike (which I have yet to name) is comfortable, but I don't quite have the correct fitting.  I'm adjusting the seat a few millimeters up, down, then forward, and back, the meantime my bum is getting tougher as the Brooks saddle gives more and more to the shape of my bum.  My hands are building up calluses as they adjust to their position on the handle bar.  And the weight, well, that is about to change as I send a good 10 kg worth of gear with Vicens!

Camping, this is an art in itself which I have yet to fine tune.  From the time we roll-up to the campsite to getting all the gear unpacked and the tent pitched, air mattress inflated, sleeping bag prepared, showered, and clothes washed, it is a good hour or more.  In the morning we haven't managed to collect everything, pack up, eat breakfast and be on the road in less than two hours. And your body needs some time to adapt to sleeping on a 5 centimeter thick air mattress, in a tent that is as wide as I am.  The first night we were treated like VIP at Camping International Calonge and we wanted to celebrate so we stayed up dancing until 1am.  The second night we didn't see the town disco next to the camping and woke up at 1am to the night session.  The following night a windstorm hit us.  I managed to sleep soundly with my earplugs, meanwhile Vicens thought a hurricane was passing through.  We took refuge in a hotel in Montpellier and night 5 we both had our first restful night at a campground.

Then comes nutrition.  Right now it is hard to pedal longer than an hour and a half without stopping for a second breakfast.  And every time I see a fruit stand my mouth starts to water and I crave a fresh piece of fruit (or 4 or 5).  My body is in a bit of as shock, trying to figure out the best way to fuel itself for all the riding.  And making dinner isn't an easy feat either!  You have to figure out how to make a delicious meal all with just one pot and chopping veggies in the bottom of a tupperware. I have to admit a few nights we've given in and just gone out to eat!

Navigation, at this stage in the trip also has room for improvement.  So far we've managed to ride on paved and unpaved bike paths, canal paths, small rural roads, local highways, and yes, a freeway!!!  After riding in France all summer long, I still don't understand the logic behind the French road system.  One minute you are on a small rural road with a wide shoulder and a bike stencil and the next thing you know, you are merging onto a 4 lane highway.  We end up riding on the "yellow" or "white" roads on the Michelin maps, but at times we can't help but take a "red" road which is much busier.  And we definitely try to avoid all those roads that look like an undulating snake, because we all know what all the switchbacks mean.

When my bum is no longer sore, and my hands have a few more calluses, I won't have to stop to eat every two hours. I will also manage to pack up my gear in the same amount of time it takes to set up, and then, I say that I have "broken-in" my body to the life of bike touring and will be ready to roll for kilometers and months to come!

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Day 1 & 2

235 km of the 24,000 are behind me!!!! What an incredible first two day! Arriving at the jardinets at 8 am with so many friend to see me off...teachers, students, friend, the Gracia guys. After the goodbyes it was like a normal club outing towards the Maresme. Vicens and I were accompanied until Canelles and even did our normal breakfast stop in Arenys. Then the two of us headed off solo, but not for long as we randomly encountered another club member just outside of Tossa, on his moto, who acted as our personal photographer for another 20 km. The road was hilly from Tossa to Sant Feliu but with my granny gear I faired rather well!
Albert met us just shy of Sant Feliu and took us all the way to his camping where there were another handful or two of friends waiting. We got the VIP treatment at International Camping of Calonge!  Somehow we managed to stay awake and dance, closing down the disco at midnight.

Susanna, Jordi, and Nora managed to wake up early to see us off as we started off day 2 mentally prepared, ready for lots of climbing as we opted to cross the French border at Ceret.  Vicens had done it before and had fond memories of the road....ah the road...... he failed to leave out the part that there is a gravel section for 2 km going downhill. Rather than taking a picture at a conventional border crossing with the sign of the entering country ours was on a gravel path that had a height restriction out of all things. The descent was a rather uncomfortable silence...the type when you know you've made a mistake but know you are stuck with it. Not to mention we got caught in our first downpour accompanied by a thunder and lightening for the last hour of our route to Ceret.

After taking refuge in a cafe, sipping a hot chocolate, and making a plan if action for the night, we decided we'd had enough bad luck for one day and were optimistic it would stop raining so we could camp comfortably.  I  went ahead and pitched my tent under the picnic area while Vicens pressed his luck under the dark clouds....actually he was really just embarrased to use the picnic area for a campsite! In the tour cycling world there is NO SHAME!!!
We've learned our lesson early....those small rural roads aren,'t always what you think...and although cyclist look for roads with no traffic, sometimes it could be a sign that there really isn't a road!!! Vicens has resigned from drawing routes-it's now become our nightly activity during dinner.

Day 3 has to be a easier if we stay off dirt paths and keep dry, although it can't be as entertaining as today! 
We have yet to get a good nights sleep....who would have guessed the disco in a small French village is right next to a municipal campground...what a rude awakening we had at 1am!!

Crossing the border in a unique way!
Susanna made it up in the morning to see us off!
Ceret after the rain storm
First country: Spain, now on to France

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Tick Tock Tick Tock....Tomorrow it is!

The test ride,....probably should have gone out during the day and climbed a hill!

Actually, today it is as I sit here and write this blog entry. Needless to say with all the trip preparations I haven't been sleeping well, or rather at all!! All I want to do is get on my bike and ride--The last load of laundry is in the washing machine, the house is clean, the panniers are packed, and my clothes for tomorrow are set aside. Compared to all the errands I've been running, pedaling 100km a day is going to be a huge sigh of relief!! Let the fun begin!

La famosa, jaja!!!

David y Miquel de Espaibici ayudandome hacer los últimos ajustes
And it comes to a whopping 15,42 kilos without the Panniers @Velodrom Studio 

How do I feel? Nervous, excited, ready, and....HEAVY--the bike weighs 40 kg (88 lbs.) fully loaded.  As a friend told me today, all I have to do is pretend I've gained about 30 kg.  I put on new tires, have my GPS, a tail light, and even managed to find a place for a bell.  As they say in Spanish, soy una globera total!!

I can't thank my family and friends enough for all their support and encouragement.  I've had total strangers approach me on the street and congratulate me after reading the article in the newspaper, and Despite the emails from my website and messages on my facebook page, reality still hasn't set in.  Hard to believe I'm leaving Barcelona after 10 years.  I always said I'd go home when I get bored, but that word just isn't part of my vocabulary!  I just need a break to follow a crazy dream I have...and if I don't do it now, I won't ever do it!  So instead of saying goodbye, to all my catalan, spanish, and ex-pat friends, think of this as a fins despres, aqui a un parell de anys!  Un beso muy fuerte a todos y gracias por apoyar "la guiri" tanto!

La despedida! I didn't take one photo, but got a picture with everyone!

David, Missy, y Lola

Friday, August 9, 2013

Cantabria or Oregon?

Collado de Hoz. Photo courtesy of Pablo Moreno

There was something so familiar about Cantabria. Green hills with tall mountains in the background, streams and rivers flowing all around and hiking paths galore! If it hadn’t been for the occasional “cocidos de muntaña” and “tortillas de patatas rellenos”, I would have thought I were in Oregon!

After the hectic schedule of the Tour de France and the bitter hospitality in France, being in the north of Spain was paradise! With a later ride start time, we could sleep in and sometimes we finished the rides so early, we had the afternoon free for sight seeing. The roads were empty except for all the livestock, amphibians’ crossings, and the sporadic “abuelos” out for their daily exercise (why they choose to walk on the road when there are loads of trails, I don not know!). With the Picos de Europe always by our sides we rode from Villacarriedo to Pola de Leña, with only one van hour and a half van transfer. Some of the most picturesque climbs included Puertos de Lunada, Lagos Covadonga, Collado de Hoz, and the painful and grueling climb up the Alto de Anglirú (a constantly climb with an average slope of 12,5%, although some sections were as steep at 24%0).

There's a first time for every thing and on the Trans Cantabria there were a lot of first time experiences. With sweaty palms, for the first time, I had to drive the sag van, not to mention on the Anglirú- yes, manual shifting! It was also the first time I stayed in "Paradores", both in Fuentes De and Cangas de Onís, and the first time I double-fisted beer and an ice cream! It was the first time I heard someone refer to a "Spanish Tortilla" as a potato quiche after their first bite, and the first time I had to enforce the "no beer stop" with the B Group unless our hotel was within 5 km! Obviously it wasn't the first time I had women clients, but I must say I had excellent female companionship on the roads during the trip! What good times we had on the Trans Cantabria! 
The B group with ride leaders Martin and Melissa-another climb! Photo courtesy of Pablo Moreno

Cantabria is a cycling paradise and definitely a place to return to explore even more! Now it's off to the Alps-the mythical climbs await!

The Picos de Europe surrounded us most of the time.

When you can't choose between an ice cream and a beer......

Photo courtesy of Pablo Moreno