I previously posted about how to plan a bike trip. Now I get to tell you how your plans can go wrong.
Back in the spring, I was starting to look at where to go next. I had a few possible trips in Europe spec’d out, and I was comparing airfares between them. I noticed that the cheapest options connected through Barcelona, so I looked at what the airfare to Barcelona was, and booked tickets to go there in September. It turned out there was an appealing bike route in the region north of Barcelona, called the Vies Verdes or Pirinexus. The route forms a giant loop, and our plan was to do roughly half of it, starting from Ripoll up in the mountains down to the coast, and along the coast for a few days, ending at Figueres.
Over the summer, I reserved rental bikes with a shop in Barcelona. It was a complicated process. The rental shop’s reservation system got prices wrong at first, and then a payment link never came, so I ended up having to enter it again. Once the bikes were reserved, I started reserving the hotels for each night along the route. The plan was to bike up bikes the day we landed, bike off the jetlag and see some sights, and then catch the train to Ripoll the next morning.
Then the bike shop informed me that the day we planned to pick up the bikes, September 24, was a public holiday, and they would be closed. The first leg of our trip, from Ripoll to Olot, was expected to involve a mountain pass, and I wanted to allow plenty of time for that. I worried that if we didn’t pick up bikes until 10 AM the next day, we wouldn’t have as much time for that leg of the trip. I also wanted to bike around the day we arrived. So I went back to square one, trying to line up another bike rental.
I found a place that charged about the same, and looked to have what we needed. Having been burned once already, I contacted them and confirmed that they would actually be open that day, that they understood what kind of bike we needed, and that they had bikes of that type in our size.
We arrived in Barcelona on schedule on September 24 after a 2.5-movie flight, and went from the airport to the bike shop. They had a bike for me that was okay but not in great condition, and for my partner, they had pulled out a city cruiser. It had a gear guard, swooping handle-bars, big triangular seat, etc. And it looked like it had probably been in storage for a decade. The shop owner didn’t handle it well at all. Rather than admit the error and helping fix it, he tried to convince us that this bike was what we had reserved, despite the evidence of our own eyes. When it became clear that they had nothing to offer, we left to get lunch, check into the hotel, and start looking for a back-up plan.
I spent much of that day contacting other rental shops. A lot were closed for the holiday, and others didn’t have what we needed. By the end of the day, our best bet was to show up at the first shop I’d talked to the next morning, and hope they still had bikes for us.
We did also get out for a walk through Parc de la Ciutadella, and see some of the festivities.
That shop did not have any bikes for us. At that point, we had checked out of last night’s hotel, so we were standing on the sidewalk, calling around a few more places that had been closed the previous day. Finally one of them didn’t have bikes in our sizes, but knew of another shop in Girona that might. I had pretty much exhausted our options Barcelona, so I gave them a try.
We quickly changed plans for the day. One way or another, we had to get to Olot that night, where the next hotel was reserved, or forfeit what I’d already paid for it. But biking from Olot to Girona was the plan for day 3, so we decided to try biking Girona to Olot. Compared to the Ripoll-Olot segment we’d been planning to do that day, this was going to be even longer and more uphill.
We took a train to Girona and found the bike shop, and got some lunch while they finished getting the bikes ready. It was a relief to finally get on the road around 2:30 PM, and the first section was mostly nice and flat. But we were clearly headed up into the mountains soon.
It was nearly dusk by the time we struggled up to Coll d’en Bas, the high mountain pass. By the time we reached the next town, it was completely dark. At that point the trail involved tight corners and narrow bridges, and the rental bikes’ headlights were more for being seen than for seeing, so we went the last 10 miles into Olot on road. Luckily the hotel was still open to take us in at 9 PM when we arrived, and then we got a well deserved plate of kabob meat in the town square.
From here, the plan was definitely back on track, and I could just literally roll with it. After breakfast at the Olot market, we mostly retraced yesterday’s course. Except this time it was mostly downhill, and we could see things, and the first 10 miles of the path were new to us. Even as we went down into the Ter valley, the mountains were never far. (That’s a pun because this mountain is called El Far.) The day’s ride ended up back in Girona, with plenty of time to walk the city walls. The hotel put us in a room with a balcony overlooking the cathedral, so for dinner we sat up there and had flatbreads from a nearby bakery.
For breakfast we hit the public market in Girona too. (Public markets are great.) The first bit of riding took us through a lot of farms and office parks. By now we were also in the habit of getting sliced meat and cheese at a grocery to snack on later. Catalonia had some excellent varieties of these things. In the latter half of the route, there were some nice rolling hills down towards the sea. We reached the Mediterranean at Sant Feliu de Guixolles. The day ended at Platya d’Aro, a beach town with a bustling strip.
The next morning, we were mostly off the Vies Verdes and on the Pirinexus route. For one thing, it’s not as well signed, and uses some busy roads instead of designated bike path. The start of the route took us up over a ridge to the next beach town, Sant Antoni de Calonge. The terrain was quite varied; sometimes it was well-maintained gravel paths like this, with mountains in the distance. Other times it was dirt roads that were quite disused and difficult to bike. There’d be deep ruts, rocks sticking up, overgrown weeds on either side. Most of the day we were making our way gradually towards Montgrí castle, which you can faintly see in the distinct on the center hill above. The approach to the town below, Torroella de Montgrí was a bit grueling. Flat ground, but difficult dirt roads, carving a sawtooth pattern towards the destination. We had picnic lunch in the town and then climbed the hill to the castle. Mid-afternoon may have not been the best time to climb it; it was very sunny and hot. The castle was impressive up close though, and offered a vantage in every direction. We could see all the way back to El Far. After that, we were getting really tired of the bumpy dirt roads that the Pirinexus route made use of, at least in that area, so for the last few miles to L’Escala, we switched over to the main road. The traffic was a little much, but the pavement was a real improvement. For dinner we found a rostisseria, a regional type of rotisserie chicken.
The hotel in l’Escala provided breakfast, which was a pleasant surprise; hotel breakfest buffets these include someone slicing a leg of Iberian ham.
The original plan was to continue on the Pirinexus route as far as Castelló d’Empúries, and then cut across to Figueres, and take the train back, with bikes. But because of the change of plans at the beginning of the trip, the bikes now had to go back to Girona, which was a stop on the same train line. Also, we were still pretty tired of the types of roads the Pirinexus route used, and didn’t have high hopes for the next segment being better. So we decided to change plans.
Even though we’d been riding two days since Girona, we hadn’t entirely been riding away from there, to it was only a 25 mile ride back. We took our chances with Google’s suggested route, and it was a very mixed bag. Some of it was single-lane paved road, which is absolutely perfect for riding–cars can’t just rush past you at speed. Flaçá was pretty quiet on a Sunday, but there was a nice bakery by the train station. Closer to Girona, we ended up on the C-66 highway, which was…not an ideal road for bikes to be on. At least the last leg into the city itself was back on bike paths and along the river.
We turned in the bikes and took the train back to Barcelona, where we checked into a hotel in the Gràcia neighborhood.
We climbed Montjuïc, which was a nice hike up and a nice overlook over Barcelona. We tried going down the other side, only to find that it was a longer walk than expected. I feel like I might have made that mistake before too.
I did a lot of reading that day; I was in the middle of “The Warrior Moon” and used all my phone battery on that.
There was also some biking I wanted to try in/around Barcelona, so we rented bikes again, just for the day. The first stop was Park Güell, which was already a rather hard climb. It was too full of tourists, and we weren’t sure what to do with the rental bikes, so we moved on. Then we climbed to the Carretera de les Aigües, a mostly flat route across the side of the Collserola ridge. It was a great ride, though it was also really sunny and hot. From there, we followed the Ronda Verde, a route around the perimeter of Barcelona. It’s fairly well marked, but it takes a lot of abrupt turns, rather than following any straight course for very long. Eventually we turned and used the bike lanes along one of the main avenues to get most of the way back to the city center where the rental shop was. That night, we went down to the beachside Barceloneta area for pizza and a sunset, and some wandering around the gothic quarter.
The next day, we went to the zoo in the morning. In the afternoon, we took the bus back up to Park Güell and walked around a bit more. That night we walked around the Gràcia neighborhood again and got some excellent gelato.
I really enjoyed a lot about the trip, though I may have had enough Barcelona for another 10 years. Maybe I’ve been reading too much Carlos Ruiz Zafón, and remembered it as a gloomy, damp, mysterious place more so than the bright, sunny, hectic metropolis that it is. For me, the best parts of the trip were certainly covering new ground outside the city.
I’ve been really fortunate to be able to do these trips, to Denmark and Taiwan and Catalonia. To be able to afford the flights and the lodging and the logistics and the food. To still be in good enough health to travel by the power of my own body. To have a life at home that we can step away from for 8 or 10 days at a time. To live in an age of global travel. I don’t want to do this kind of thing too often and start to take it for granted. Though there plenty of other places I want to see while I still have time and am still able to, other experiences to have.
Where to next?
I didn’t really mean to start planning my next trip so soon, it just kind of happened. Biking season is officially over for me, so I guess I’m daydreaming of future opportunities.
I started looking at Eurovelo routes. Some of the major ones follow major rivers, starting from their headwaters in the Alps to where they join the sea, and I was curious about how far up to the source you could start.
It turns out that the Rhône and the Rhein (one branch anyway) start less than 30 miles from each other, on either side of Andermatt, a Swiss skiing village that’s also close to the source of the Ticino, Reuss, and Aare rivers. So I figured that might be a place to start, regardless of which river valley would be the best to follow. From there I worked out a route that I hope to go on next summer.