The End of the Road

It was with a mixed emotions that we joined the Friday night commuters cycling 8km down the Avinguda Diagonal to the Sagrada Familia, Barcelona’s iconic heart. We pedalled slowly, taking in the moment, reluctant to leave our saddles as we came to the end of our journey.

“Though the roads been rocky, it sure feels good to me.”
Bob Marley

After descending from the Pyrenees earlier in the week, we enjoyed three interesting days in small, historic Catalan towns – Solsano, Cardona and Montserrat. Firmly part of Catalonia, signs of the independence movement are everywhere – from the many yellow and red striped flags hanging from balconies to the extensive use of Catalan as the main (and often only) language in hotels and restaurants. A referendum is muted for September 2017 and it seems, from our brief visit, that the independent spirit is even greater here than it is in Scotland. Interesting times!

We joined the All Saints Day celebrations in Solsano on November 1st by tasting the macaroon pastries and sweet wine that families traditionally share that day to honour their ancestors.

image

Another Catalan food that Andy really liked was a breakfast of pa amb tormaquet. This is lightly toasted bread rubbed with lots of garlic, squashed tomatoes, olive oil and salt, eaten with Iberian ham and cheese. Delicious! Clare would really have preferred a big bowl of muesli.

image

Cardona is famous for its salt mountain and the impregnable hill top castle built to protect it.

Mined since Roman times, there are 300km of tunnels and galleries running through the salt mountain with tours, of course, conducted exclusively in Catalonian. The castle is now a Parador – a chain of state run hotels that both protect historic buildings across the country and make interesting, unusual places to stay.

Even more spectacular is the monastery at Monserrat, perched precariously 740m up jagged limestone cliffs. Now served by a road, a railway and a cable car it has become one of the biggest tourist destinations in the region with beautiful walks, hotels, restaurants etc. There’s an iconic bike ride up the hill, climbing 600m from the valley below but we quickly agreed to take the funicular railway this time, with all the other sensible people.

In the mountains we had always worn our most serious cycling gear, including the proper padded lycra shorts and tops we had carried through France. It seemed necessary somehow! Now it was back to the favourite old shorts (still held up by safety pins) for the final ride down to Barcelona.

We always thought that last day of cycling from Monserrat to Barcelona would be the most dangerous and so it proved to be, dodging large trucks and speeding cars much of the way. Barcelona is bordered to the north west by a steep, rocky range of hills so all the main roads, rail links and industry are concentrated into two narrow valleys, one to the north and one to the south.

We chose the slightly easier southern route but tried to get off the highways and onto minor roads as much as we could. Unfortunately, the geography often made this impossible so for much of the time we were squeezed into a narrow space between the crash barrier and the trucks. It’s not much fun (especially in tunnels) and needs a lot of concentration. We slotted into our preferred formation of Clare in front and Andy protecting her rear, put our heads down and pedalled furiously. We’d have been a lot less comfortable on roads like this earlier in the trip.

Our attempts to get onto the minor roads meant several more ‘dreadful detours’ as they sometimes morphed unexpectedly into rough tracks. A white line on our map could be a busy dual carriageway through an industrial estate or it could be a winding narrow track that disappears into a footpath. From the map, it’s impossible to tell which is which so it becomes a game of chance.

Our mountain bike practise in the Pyrenees proved invaluable as we negotiated dried river beds and camino (pilgrim) paths. It meant walking a few sections but by this time we were well past caring as we felt safe and anyway, the end was now in sight.

Cycling in Spain has been a bit more challenging than cycling in France as there are a lot less cycle paths, the roads are busier and the highways can be quite narrow. However, most drivers are courteous and the road surface is smooth with very few potholes (helped I suspect by lots of EU money).

So we were relieved to reach the suburbs of Barcelona and the dedicated cycle track down the Avinguda Diagonal was a lovely way to arrive.

We’ve pedalled 2200 km (1375 miles) from Bath to Barcelona, climbed 17,800m and spent 143 hours in our saddles. All with the hairdryer, pillow, pilates balls, beard trimmer, colouring pencils, keyboard and other bits of excess luggage.

After taking some celebration snaps at the Sagreda Familia, we hit the Barca bars to celebrate with our friends, Mark and Susie, who were in town for a conference. They’ve been on biking holidays to Nepal and South America so we happily swapped cycling tales until the restaurant kicked us out in the early hours.

We fly back to Bristol on Wednesday which means that our last task is to pack the bikes (and everything else) in cardboard boxes so they survive the relatively quick journey home.

image

When we got to La Rochelle a month ago, we said there were 3 reasons we couldn’t yet call ourselves real cyclists:

  • We like long coffee stops
  • We don’t have a clue how to fix the strange squeaks on our bikes
  • We haven’t been up a real mountain yet

Well, we still like long coffee stops and the squeaks have got louder. But we’ve now been up four mountains (three more than we expected to!) So after several glasses of wine, we agreed that we might just start to begin to think of ourselves as real cyclists – so long as Andy doesn’t always have to wear lycra shorts and Clare doesn’t always have to clip in on both sides!

Clare and Andy

Note: Our final post will include some general reflections about our journey plus a few tips for people who, like us, are new to cycle touring but might be thinking of giving it a go.

Please let us know if there’s anything you’re curious about.

41 thoughts on “The End of the Road”

  1. The end of the road or would you say the journey has just begun for you guys. Your thoughts , if any, on that.

    Well done 👍🏻 seems too mild. Waiting for your arrival back home in Bath and hoping your stories retold would warm up many a chilly evening here.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. So excited for you both what an amazing achievement. “We can and we will, watch us” You did it the B2B the hardway. Those pesky potholes, mountain obstacles and busy roads all added to your story’s humour. A great read thanks for sharing. The girls say you’re truly inspirational.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Dear both, I am curious to know how come after cycling through France and Spain in the heat of summer. Up hill and down dale that you can both look like youthful teenagers again. Did you stop for a miracle at Lourdes on route? Xx

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Definitely call yourselves true cyclists, part of which are the essential long coffee stops! I keep looking at that photo of the macaroons, they look delicious… can’t get them here, I may have to make some now!! Wonderful blogging from you both, thanks for sharing the journey.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I feel that you’ve carried me along in your panniers, amongst the safety pins, beard trimmer and hairdryer. I’ve seen the good times and felt the pain of falling onto the mountain roadside. I’ve delighted in the scenery and smelt the macaroons. “Chapeau!” Clare and Andy. True cyclists, raconteurs and an inspiration to us all. Look forward to seeing you both. XX

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Kudos to you both. An amazing journey and thanks for sharing it with us. Thoroughly enjoyed it and you are both now officially expert cyclists (and think what you could do if you give up on fishnets and single clipping!)

    Just remember: ‘Cycling is life with the volume turned up’

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Great achievement, well done to you both. I will miss your blogs, so you need to start another epic as soon as possible! Bay of Bengal to Kathmandu anyone!?

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Wish I had my cycle back. You are real cyclists because
    – you tackle mountains in Lycra
    – you enjoy coffee stops
    – you prefer ‘dreadful detours’ to main roads
    – you seem to have solved the puncture problem
    – you took and used Pilates balls
    Not sure about the safety pins and hair dryer.
    Thank you for the blog, we have enjoyed every minute.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I want to know how Clare managed to cycle the whole way with only one pedal clipped in?! Surely you couldn’t pedal through the full 360 degree stroke … but at least you didn’t fall off! Xx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. She did fall off twice! Luckily, she has SPD clips on one side and a flat pedal on the other side. She uses one of each. They’re actually quite nice for gentle touring. But she loses a lot of power up hills!

      Like

  10. Congratulations Andy and Clare. Its been lovely to keep track of your travels. Only a few years thenour last child will be off and hopefully so will we. Dawn and Richard x

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Karen and I share your disappointment at the end of your journey. We have loved your tales, and pictures and now will not know what to look forward to in our inbox. We have loved following you. Peter

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Wow, wow, wow!!! Congratulations to you both on completing an amazing adventure. Wonderful achievement.
    Really enjoyed following your progress with the excellent blog updates.

    See you back in Blighty

    Stuart

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Deepest respect guys, you really are proper cyclists now, even if Clare is still the one clip wonder!! Amazing achievement and such an entertaining blog – when does the book come out??! See at Twickers on Saturday Andy.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Finally finished reading the last two or three entries on the blog. Mixed emotions here too…have really enjoyed reading it, but a little bit glad that I don’t have to be so envious any more ! Sounds like it was an amazing adventure and I am full of admiration, not just that you did it, but the style with which you did it and recounted it for all of us stuck back here at home. Cannot ever see my Claire being up for this, but just maybe I might persuade her to do a shorter version some day.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Neil and thanks for being so encouraging along he way. I’m sure Claire would love it. Good idea to start with a shorter trip, and I recommend France as its so cycle friendly. See you Saturday. Andy

      Like

  15. Awesome stuff 😀 ~Can’t believe I only just discovered your adventure and it’s already over…this one at least 🙂 Congratulations, look forward to hearing more in the future ^_^

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s