Archive for April 6th, 2010

…but you’re not making it easy.  Barcelona to St. Feliu de Guíxols

(76 miles in 7 hours 36 minutes of bicycling)

What a day today!  I started the morning off right with a “free” breakfast at the hostel.  Two bowls of cereal, two “nutella and strawberry jam” sandwiches, two chocolate dipped breads, and two delicious glasses of orange juice.  The wifi still wasn’t working, but they had some desktops that were, so I checked the addresses for some bike shops and also found the address of the Garmin offices in Spain, and they just happened to be right outside of Barcelona!

I left the hostel and began riding through the city, looking for a bike shop where I could purchase a replacement hi-vis reflective vest after losing mine the day I got to Spain.  All of the street cleaners and road workers have ones that are nearly exactly the same as my lost one, and all morning I was toying with the idea of trying to buy one right off their backs. But with a little help from “Nigel”, my GPS, I reached the shop “Bike-Tech”, which is run by a Dutch man.  He was busy working on another man’s bike, who had been biking around the world for five years right now. They didn’t have any clothing in the store, but he gave me the address of two other stores to try.  The first was a really well-stocked outdoor gear store, and I found a reflective running vest that would work for 20 euros. That’s only about three times as expensive as the one I lost.  Lesson learned.  The 2nd bike shop was close so I decided to go there and see if they had the elusive “EuroVelo” map of routes across Europe, including one that goes almost exactly through the areas of France and Italy I’d like. Unfortunately, they didn’t stock the map, leading me to wonder how good this map is if no bike shops seem to stock it.  But at least I had a new reflective vest (and I will try to forget about the slightly different style they had at the 2nd bike shop for only 13 euros).

I followed my GPS instructions out of town towards Badlona, which I was hoping would be nicer than its name would suggest. In Badlona, I stopped at a grocery store and got an entire day’s worth of food for less than $5 (four bread rolls, eight 125g cups of yogurt, 2 liters of water, a package of wafers and a package of cookies, which turned out to be gram crackers with a piece of chocolate on top, like a ‘Smore but without the marshmallow). As I was packing my purchases onto the bike, I noticed that the sky was getting pretty dark. Just as I was pulling into the Garmin building, it started to rain.  Despite the Garmin website saying that this was a dealer for mobile GPS devices and accessories, the women at the front desk told me that they are just a distributor and they don’t sell anything to the consumer, but she could give me the names and addresses of stores in Barcelona who did.  I had a long day of riding ahead and declined that possibility. She sent me downstairs to their technical repairs portion and one of their employees talked to me about my problems.  He disappeared into the back room and came back with another 12-volt car adapter cable for me to try, no charge!  Unfortunately, they can’t sell the special USB cables that let you use the device while charging, and they couldn’t replace my old battery, but I was able to hit the road with hope that the new auto-adapter would do the job.

I decided to ride for most of the day without using my GPS or solar panel, because it was pretty cloudy and looked like it might still rain.  Thankfully the route along the N-II was easy to follow.  At first, there was a Renfe railway line between the road and the beach, which pretty-much ruined the view because of all of the extra fences and power-lines that came with it.  But thankfully that only lasted about 20 miles, and then I was biking right along the curvy coastal road. For a portion, I tried to take my bike on the boardwalk next to the beach, but it was uneven and not nearly as fast as the road, so I resumed my pedaling on the shoulder. The shoulder was not nearly as wide or nice as in Portugal, but I didn’t really have any bad experiences with Spanish drivers passing me too closely, and for that, I’m thankful. I went through a number of small beach towns full of shops that probably really start to increase their business in the next few months.

At about 6 p.m., I passed a large campsite and decided to take a break for some dinner (banana, bread and the last of me Gouda slices, cookies) and I turned on the GPS to figure out where I was going to spend the night.  There were still a few hours of sunlight left in the day, and my goal was to reach Calonge, which was only 15 miles away as the crow flies, but the distance became 30 miles when I mapped the route. That seemed unattainable, but I found listings for three more campsites 6-7 miles down the road and I decided that I would give them a try.  That was about when I reached the curvy, slow-going coastal road of the Costa Brava.  On one side of me, there was a sheer rock-face, and on the other, a cliff with drop-offs of a hundred to three-hundred feet most of the time.  The view was gorgeous, but it was hard work pushing my 100 pound bike up the narrow winding roads.  I would climb for 10 minutes and then have an adrenaline-inducing descent for 2-3 minutes before having to do it all again.  I reached my chosen campsite just before Tossa, but there was no activity.  I asked a gentleman who was just leaving his house and he said it was closed until summer.  “Ok, I’ll just go to the next…” I decided.  Unfortunately, the next three listed campsites were actually on the road out of Tossa to Girona, which meant that I’d need to backtrack for a few miles the next morning, but the sun was drooping lower and lower in the sky and I just wanted a place to put up my tent.

Costa Brava, Spain
Costa Brava, Spain

The next site was also deserted, but across the street was a sign for Touriscampo and there was even a man sitting in the reception office.  “Hola!”, I excitedly called out as I biked up.  He came out and told me that the resort on this side of the road doesn’t allow camping and although they’re the same, the tent side is closed.  I asked if I could just pay him money to put up my tent “por la noche” behind one of the buildings on the numerous grassy spaces on the resort, but he declined.  He suggested that I try “Camping Tossa” which he said was about another kilometer down the road (and still further from my planned route).  His kilometer turned out to be more like 3 kilometers, and that site was also closed.  I now had to bike all the way back into Tossa and decide what to do.  I probably should have turned around and gone back to the open campsite where I had eaten supper in Llorret del Mar, but the thought of backtracking 5 miles through all of those climbs and descents again was not appetizing, to say the least.  So instead, I punched up the next campsite on my GPS and saw that it was 16 miles away.  I have no idea why I decided that it was a good idea to go for it, as the road ahead was going to be at least as hard as the road I had just biked. I had already covered sixty miles for the day, much of it into the wind, and I was starting to hit the wall.  The air was starting to get cool, so I got out my jacket and full-fingered gloves and I put on my newly purchased reflective vest. I took some big gulps of water and downed a few more cookies and wafers for an energy boost, and then started the three mile bike back into Tossa, cursing my luck in Spain the whole way.

When I started the first hill out of Tossa, I started to sweat and overheat, and I had to stop halfway up to remove the jacket and switch back to my finger-less cycling gloves. I tied the jacket around my waist and when I sat back down on the bike seat, it inadvertently gave my butt some much needed padding after a long day in the saddle.  The going was slow and before long I watched the last sliver of sun dip below the horizon.  I turned on my front light and put my flashing red rear light on the back of my bicycle helmet, since the tower of gear on my pannier rack was blocking its view.  I also turned my headlamp to blinking for additional visibility. Up and down the hills I went, thinking about what a quick and terrible death it would be if, in a moment of lost concentration, the bike careened off the cliff, right over one of the low guard rails that were perfectly placed to probably save the bike but not the rider.

Soon it was too dark to see the road and I had to switch my headlamp to steady light. I imagine that this portion of the coast would have been absolutely beautiful to see during daylight hours. I cranked away, watching the road surface creep through the tiny circle of illumination.  Every mile or two I would pass a collection of houses/condos/resorts nestled into the cliffside around little coves, and their lights provided a soft glow on the clouds overhead to give me at least some vision of the road ahead.  It was perfectly quiet though, and it was as if I was riding through a ghost coast.  During the 2 hours and 18 minutes it took me to reach the campsite, only about five cars passed me on that road, and thankfully they gave me wide berth, although none stopped to see where I was going at such late an hour and if I needed any help.

Finally I came around a bend and saw a larger town (St. Feliu de Guíxols) below, its lights stretching for a few miles.  When I reached the main street, there were restaurants and hostels with actual people visible in the windows!  I saw a sign pointing towards Camping Sant Pol.  This wasn’t the site I had been aiming for, which was still another 3-4 miles up the road, but I figured I better see if it was open.  It was just before 10 p.m. when I pushed my bike up to the well-lit reception area, and I was able to pay 11 euros for the night and another euro for two hours of wifi internet!  It took me 30 minutes to set up camp and then I tried to get the wifi working, but didn’t have any luck. I decided that could wait for morning, and I zonked out after one of the most taxing days I’ve had on a bicycle.