The final day is always a dynamic one. At points, the final day seems the most difficult, as the body, mind and spirit to ride are all worn and you beg to be finished. At other points, you fly, and the thought that riding slower is the way to go. The desire to ride slowly and enjoy the last stretch is hard to shake. Mostly, it is always hard for me to keep perspective, to realize that a 300km day is no small feat and that many difficulties and challenges can arrive at any moment, but it always seems dwarfed by the previous 2500km that came before it.
Day of Journey:
Stage 15, Day 19, May 21st, 2009.
305km (10h 45m) + 25km extra in Barcelona
430km (Train and Bicycle – 12h 20m)
Train (100km), Bicycle (330km)
Total Distance Biked:
2758km (15 stages, three rest days)
“I don´t have much time to write now. In Barcelona. Mashed hard these last days. Milano- Monaco, Monaco-Marseille, today Montpellier-Girona”
“Oh BTW, my knees, freewheel and my knees are totally toast. I hard to fixed ride into Girona today, more on that later. I´m happy I made it!”
So What Happened?
Nervous. Anxious. Finished. Those are the words I would associate with how I felt leaving Montpellier. The clouds that were my riding partner foreshadowed the tough day I had ahead. Having only ridden for over an hour I already hit a low-point. I really wanted to be done. My right knee started to get sore from the first pedal stroke and was only worsening. The long flat roads were back. The Pyrenees lie ahead, enveloped in cloud, shades of grays and blues. They looked cold, wet, merciless. I was riding on the highway to what looked to be eternal suffering.
When I rolled into Perpignan, my spirits lifted for the moment. First checkpoint done. I ate an early lunch and spent no time delaying – I was back on the road headed for Spain. I can only describe the feeling of entering another country on a long journey like this: Total and complete release. If I had ever tried heroin, this is how I would probably describe it. At least, this is how I imagine it. In Europe, almost ever country is divided from the other by some puke-inducing climb through the mountains. The desire to get over the mountains, to be able to say “I made it, bring on the next country” is so strong I cannot really put it into words. Often, the climbs over the mountains only get steeper, harder, colder, windier with ever meter you ascend. Yet you push on. And then…it’s the summit and the view. Celebration, relaxation and release. It’s all downhill and opportunity from here. There is something very special about crossing a mountain range to get into another land. These feelings were exactly what was pushing me up the Le Perthus Pass.
I had adopted another cyclist. After passing him climbing up to Le Perthus he was now stuck on my wheel and annoying me somewhat. I will admit it, I am a jerk. There are times when I am fine with people taking a wheel, like when you’re riding in a group, and there are times when I’m not so ok with it, like when you’re exhausted and enjoying the scenery and someone just sits back there. If you slow, they slow, if you pick up the pace, they pick up the pace. They don’t pass you, oh no…cause then they wouldn’t be behind you anymore. I’m sorry if I’m petty, but I find it distracting. So then I get all competitive and childish and try to drop them so I can get back to my scenic lah-dee-dah riding. So that’s what I did, only it took me until the last few kilometers to shake this guy because the first time I slowed after seeing him fall way behind he snapped back up behind me like an elastic so I had to go again. Life’s rough eh? So here I was navigating my way through the traffic up to Le Perthus, blasting up the hill, with some French dude going backwards behind me and as I crossed into Spain, with a little fist pump, to celebrate the fact that I was less than 100km from Girona, I heard a crack. Then I heard a disaster of sounds. My freewheel had totally seized. I was at the top of El Pertus, looking forward to the long coast downhill and now this? This? On the last day? That’s just not fair.
Entering the dominion of Hades. Spain, don’t get me wrong, I love Spain. It’s a wonderful country, with great food, a passion for cycling, mountains, water, architecture and much more. It is also the birthplace and Madrid is the residence of the parents of my partner. So, there are many reasons why both of my long European tours have ended in Spain. With that said, this particular stretch of Highway, the NII, going into Spain was awful. First, the clouds were left on the other side of the Pyrenees and the heat was on. It was blistering out and I was in it. As well there is no downhill from El Pertus, I don’t care what the profile shows. It is a false-flat all the way through La Jonquera, which must be Spanish for border-shopping-hell. Lastly, as if my odyssey was Homer’s, there are Sirens all along the roadside. I am not talking about police cars pulled over, I am talking prostitutes. Every 2km or so, there will be some young lady, or two, standing in the middle of nowhere with a bottle of water who will smile and say something like “hacer calore” (It’s hot). Add to this that my right knee was now so shot that it cracked in a way that sounded like someone slowly grinding fresh black pepper and you get the idea of how I felt upon arriving in Spain.
Other than the fear that I could not ride to Girona, I had little on my mind. At points, my right knee was so painful I stopped pedaling and tried to coast. Other times, I just rode with my left leg. Finally, the extreme pain subsisted a little and I hobbled along to Girona. When I arrived to what I had expected to be a beautiful, charming little village full of pro cyclists I was disappointed. Girona, or at least the streets I explored had little to offer me, and knowing that I could not ride the 100km more to Barcelona, I jumped on the next train.
I was in Barcelona by dinner time. Spanish dinner time, that is, and I rode to get something to eat. I explored the city for hours and then road to the top of the mountain to find a place to sleep around the castle. I didn’t have a plan for a hostel and all of the ones I checked were full, so I wrapped myself up in some junk I found and slept on a park bench up by the Gondola. Ahh…homeless again in one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Well, at least I was done biking. As I fell asleep, I thought of how I could spend my one day in Barcelona now that my trip was over. Museums? Nope. Clubs? Nah. Shopping? Heck no. Biking? Yeah… that sounds fun, tomorrow I’ll go for a bike ride.
Picture(s) of the Day: