Archive for April 8th, 2010

St. Feliu de Guíxols to Capmany

56 miles in 6 hours, 31 minutes on the bike.

Today I biked a half-ironman distance in more time than it takes me to bike the full-Ironman distance.  From the minute I started riding to the minute I pulled into the campsite eight and a half hours later, there was a 20-30 mph wind directly in my face.  It was one of the hardest days of biking I’ve had in my life, and on more than one occasion I lost control and had to let out a scream of frustration. You win, Spain. You’ve managed to break me down every single step of the way across your beautiful country.

The wind wasn’t the only thing to contend with though.  The entire day was completely overcast with dark, low-lying clouds blocking out any rays of sunshine that could brighten my mood, if only for a few minutes.  Within the first hour of riding, I started to feel sprinkles, and I had to break out the rain gear- my bright orange Mountain Hardwear Gore-Tex PacLite shell and nylon rain pants, and shoe covers to keep my feet dry.  The rain never really hit like I thought it would, but I ended up wearing the rain-jacket all day (it kept me at just the right temperature and blocked the icy cold wind from hitting my upper-body) and took off the rain pants when I ate lunch at about 4 p.m. in a little town along the way. At that time, I’d only covered about 25 miles, despite having taken off from the campsite four hours prior.  I pushed on, wondering if I was even going to be able to make it to the campsite outside of Capmany before dark.

The wind was relentless.  Gusts pushed my bike back and forth on the shoulder of the road like a rag-doll. At a few points, the shoulder dropped off straight down about two or three feet, forcing me to ride farther out in the road than I’d like, for fear that a gust might send my bike careening right off the road, making my day go from bad to worse.  I’ll find out how hard the Pyrenees are tomorrow when I cross them, but today was basically a six-and-a-half hour climb.  No downhills, no coasting.  Just cranking away in the small chain-ring at 6-10 miles per hour.  I was able to get down into the aero-position on my aerobars for portions, which gave me an extra mile per hour, but I just couldn’t seem to get any speed for any appreciable period of time. It made me realize a disadvantage of long-distance bicycle touring compared to just going for loop rides around home.  On windy days at home, I can ride out into the wind as far as my patience will allow, and then I can look forward to an adrenaline-pumping dash back home at 25-30 miles per hour, with just the sweet sound of the chain purring over the cogs, and the hum of rubber on the road.  On a bicycle tour, if you have to ride into the wind, there is no tailwind on the way home.  You have to either cover the distance or find a closer stopping point.

There was one moment that brought me out of my funk though, and it was when I came over a hill and all of a sudden saw the snow-capped Pyrenees laid widely in front of me.  Until that moment, it had just been a word.  The Pyrenees.  Mountains that I’d have to cross at some point in the future. But at that moment, they were real, and I realized that I’d be crossing them into France the next day. I hoped that the weather would at least be better.

First Glimpse of the Pyrenees
First Glimpse of the Pyrenees

I made it to camp just as the sun was setting, at about 8:30 pm. The wind still hadn’t died down and if the campsite had been any further, I’m not sure I could have willed my body or mind to make it. Putting up my tent in the wind was another exercise in frustration as the ground-tarp kept blowing and sliding out from underneath the tent until I was able to get it completely staked into the rocky ground. At one point, my tent bag started blowing away and I lost the small portion of cord that wraps around the entire tent-bundle to make it easier to get into the bag.  I’ll look again in the morning when it’s light out, but I imagine it will be long gone by then. The only good, nice thing of the day was meeting Birre, a gentleman from Holland who just arrived at the campsite today after spending a few weeks in the south of Spain.  He was impressed with my riding accomplishment today, and he brought me a glass of red wine as I finished wrestling with the tent and getting all of my gear inside before it blew away. We chatted for a few minutes, and then it was time for me to eat my supper in the dim light of my headlamp, before retiring to the bathroom for my daily battery-charging, photo-downloading and geo-tagging, journaling, and route planning.  The campsite had wifi, but it required a pay-account that you can’t set up and pay for right from the access-point, so I’ll have to catch up on email somehow when I get into France. Just after 12:30 a.m. I headed back to my tent, and hoped that my stakes and tent placement would keep it on the ground through the night.  The tent was still there, but something else wasn’t.  The wind had stolen the nylon bicycle bag/cover that I have been using to protect my bike every night, and which I have also used to keep all my panniers and things together on train and bus travel.  I thought back and realized that I hadn’t actually attached it to the bike, only zipped it around the bike as far as it would go.

My heart sank. Spain was kicking me when I was already down at my lowest. I grabbed my headlamp and flashlight and headed downwind, hoping that I would find it snagged on a bush or branch or fence, but the campsite was huge, it was pitch dark with clouds covering whatever moonlight there might have been.  I gave up after 30 minutes of wandering and headed to bed, wondering what my next step would be.  Would I have to see if Bike Friday could mail me a new cover to a bicycle shop in Nice that I could pick up in about a week before leaving France (at a cost of at least $60)?  And in the meantime, how would I protect the

bike at night?  I’d have to find a store that sells tarps, figure out the French word for “tarp” first probably, and then cobble together another solution.  I guess I could have them box up my panniers in a separate box from my bike when I fly home, but in the meantime, what if I have to take another train on my journey towards Rome?  My head was swimming with questions and drowning in sorrow, and I had my worst night of sleep of the trip.