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  • Jamie Shannon

Arriving back in France. Five km\h is a good speed

Although I really enjoyed my time in Barcelona, I felt the same way I always feel when in a large city. I felt frustration; with having to share everything with so many people from pavements and the beach to shops, restaurants and even the roads. With most of my time being spent out in the country where people are few and far between, I do tend to get annoyed rather quickly. Apart from this aspect though, it is a very nice place, if a little bit of a tourist trap. I’ll stop my moaning here.

I left early on my third day and began my long and arduous journey through the centre towards the beach. I stopped here for one last look and a coffee on the promenade before following the coast and finally heading north. The city of Badalona began pretty much where Barcelona finished and so I still wasn’t out of the urban area yet even though I had left Barcelona.

I found myself cycling through a huge industrial area in between the two which was filled predominantly with warehouses for clothes amongst other goods. Curiously though, none of them had Spanish names but rather Chinese one’s written first in Spanish and then in huge Chinese lettering directly below. It was a kind of an industrial china town and I was thinking the Chinese do get just about everywhere.

It wasn’t very clear as to where to go next and so I just stuck to the coast as much as possible thus I didn’t go far wrong. I passed through large towns along the coast, stopped by the beach, went to the supermarket before cycling for the remainder of the afternoon, now along the main highway. It was absolutely jam packed with cars, this being July, and so I found myself in one of those rare occasions where, at least at times, I was the fastest thing on the road. A satisfying thought indeed!

I stopped in Loret de Mar by the beach and made some food before looking at my map and realising that the road started to zig zag heavily from here. I already knew this to be the case but I didn’t realise how difficult it would be and so braced myself for some really big and sweaty climbs.

This part of Spain really is like another world when compared to what I have been used to. Everything is on offer here, from fried chicken and burgers to several different supermarkets all advertising their location on giant billboards by the roadside. Temptation was just about everywhere although I was becoming pretty good at resisting most of it. I usually succumbed to cold drinks from the supermarket however, mainly orange and pineapple juice. They are just too good to pass up on.

I began cycling up through the hills on a reasonably wide road and a steady gradient at first. It was even enjoyable as I was passing though small precariously perched towns and lush forest. As I came to the first big town though, and just when I thought that was about it, I began to make my way up again along a small road that twisted and spun it’s way along the coast higher and higher into the hills. The views all the way along were amazing with the coast dotted with lots of little secluded beaches far below that could only be accessed via boat and so were quite deserted. If only I had a boat!

I continued the rest of the afternoon climbing higher into the hills before descended back down another 400 metres before starting the process again. This went on for about three hours and even though it was tough going, the descents on the other side were more than enough of a reward and so on the whole it was definitely worth the slog. Hindsight is great isn’t it? The whole area was spectacularly beautiful and I was feeling content enough at this point that I even made a video.

Because of the nature of my surroundings and the road being hewn out of the cliffs, there weren’t many places to pitch at all. There was an abundance of forest on my left but it was all located on slanting cliffs and so was of no use to me. I did find a small track leading to a tiny clearing however but it was particularly filthy with rubbish and tissues and the like. Apparently, I wasn’t the only person who had had the idea to camp here. It was half nine now and so late enough to feel confident that I would not be interrupted. I proceeded to walk further into the trees where it was clean and decided to camp there.

With some much needed rest I descended the next morning all the way back down to the coast to the town of Sant Feliu De Guixols. I can say now that there is no better feeling than gliding down a lovely smooth road through beautiful surroundings and to be met at the end of it by blue water and a beach.

I cycled on to the town of Palamos and was met by every trapping of the tourist industry all rolled into one; a beautiful beach lined with businesses of every kind watched over by huge apartment blocks with absolutely no thought about their aesthetics at all. It was a bit of a concrete disaster. Alongside this, the town was awash with thousands upon thousands of holiday makers and on the other side of the bay sat a huge cruise ship too. I didn’t stick around too long.

Having made my way out to the start of the road I wanted to take, I was confidently informed by someone that I wasn’t able to cycle it. Not quite believing him, I ventured further on and low and behold, found a sign that proclaimed it was not to be. I didn’t understand it as It as it was a minor road on my map. By the side of it though was a sign indicating a cycle track all the way to Parafugell and so it was this that I took.

This was much more enjoyable than cycling on the road as it wound its way through fields and alongside forest on an almost smooth but sometimes sandy bicycle path.

After an hour and lots of cursing I was on my way again, albeit very carefully. I had found that the reason for my puncture was a huge nail embedded in my tyre and so decided to take the small one lane road that ran alongside the path for much of the rest of the way.

Once in Parafugell, I endeavoured to find the highway that would take me north and inland, but to my dismay could, I only find the southern entrance in the direction of Barcelona. For the life of me and no matter where I went, I couldn’t even come close to finding the northern section. I cycled pretty much the entire town in search of it but could only find another road heading west which was at the edge of town. When I got to the entrance though, there were only signs for the road heading east. Having gone back to ask at a service station about my road, I was told that I should indeed take the one heading east as I would eventually find a roundabout where I could take the one heading north. Sure enough, about 3km’s down that road stood a turn off for the one I wanted to take. I just wished they did it more clearly!

I stopped a little later to make a very late lunch. Looking forward to my avocado that was left over from yesterday, I found it to be a very mushy brown gloop making me very unhappy indeed. I settled for a great big tomato instead. I guess nothing keeps in this heat.

As I cycled on and on, I could make out the start of the Pyrenees in the distance. The land on both sides of me began to fill with an array of greens and forests with the many farms that usually made up the remainder of the view becoming a thing of the past.

As I approached the last town before the border, the road steadily rose and I had an overwhelming sensation that I had just achieved something quite cool actually. I think Spain must be one of the toughest countries to cross on a bicycle what with the extreme heat, particularly in June and July, and I had just done most of it. Soon I’d be in France, easy France, where the heat would be more tolerable and the land was one of gentle rolling hills. I was very happy indeed, and with the land being wild and uninhabited here, I was determined to reward myself with a great camping spot. This became my final task of the day.

I passed the final Spanish town which is basically just one huge truck stop with every imaginable service on offer. It's not a particularly enticing place I must say. Night was approaching and my thoughts turned to finding somewhere to sleep. I was by now extremely tired and was thinking that I should have camped earlier when there were ample opportunities. The spread of trucks and hotels and the like just didn’t seem to end. Cycling around a long bend I saw that the road began its climb through the mountains and this just filled me with dread. There was no way on earth I had the energy for this now, and so quickly looked around. Just to my right, I saw a path winding its way into the surrounding hills and thought what a stroke of good fortune. Good times.

I spent twenty minutes pushing my bike up the switchbacks and found but the tiniest of spaces perched along the cliff edge overlooking the valley. It wasn’t the safest of places with all the rocks and boulders up ahead ready to come tumbling down at a moment’s notice, but there was a large embankment before my tent and so I hoped this would be of some use if that ever occurred.

I spent a hopeless night trying in vain to get some sleep. The wind bashed my tent for the duration and at times almost to the point where I thought the tent pegs were going to rip out of the ground. It was that strong.

As it happens, I was camped perhaps 3km’s from the border and after a tough slog uphill and through the border, I was immediately greeted by all things French; boulangeries, a slightly more ordered and well-structured main street and of course the French language. It felt good to have made it onto the next stage.

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