Update on Banjo: He doesn’t have cancer!
Today’s route: Girona to Berga
Today’s distance: 130 kilometers / 81 miles
Today’s elevation gain: 2,261 meters / 7,419 feet
TOTAL DISTANCE: 130 kilometers / 81 miles
TOTAL ELEVATION GAIN: 2,261 meters / 7,419 feet
We start in the middle of downtown Girona, Spain at an awesome little bike shop called Bike Breaks, which is owned and operated by a professional cyclist and his wife. They, along with their staff, are working diligently to get us on the road as quickly as possible.
We’re an eclectic group of twelve: one support van driver and eleven cyclists ranging in abilities and ages. The youngest is 25 and I appear to be smack dab in the middle—15 years older than the youngest and most likely around 15 years younger than the oldest. Only one of us has traveled with her own bicycle. The rest are renting from Bike Breaks, so as anxious as we might be to get on the road, we’ve got a lot of small details to get in order.
The staff is attentive and efficient, adjusting saddles, installing pedals, making sure everyone has water bottles and a helmet. The owner asks our fearless leader Paul, who I met in Ireland last August and who graciously invited me to join this group, how far we’re riding today.
“We’re headed for Berga,” Paul replies while still looking down at the chain he’s busy greasing. From what I can tell, I’m the only one who notices the shop owner’s double take of incredulousness. He’s not exactly being rude. We’ve got 81 miles to cover and who knows how much elevation to climb. It’s an ambitious undertaking and it’s nearly 10:00 am for goodness’ sake. We should have started hours ago but the bike shop didn’t open until after 9:00 am, so here we are.
Paul continues nonchalantly. “We’re riding for a week, ending in Bilbao.”
And now I can’t possibly be the only one who notices his response because he lets out a bit of a laugh as his eyes widen. I love moments like this, when people who actually train for outrageous things see a bunch of relative amateurs try something equally audacious and their gut instinct is disbelief. Can these guys actually ride to Bilbao in seven days?
Because it really is a ludicrous idea. Eleven amateur cyclists tackling the Spanish Pyrenees, where professionals go to train and live. Eleven weekend riders, who don’t even really know each other that well, trudging over 500 miles together, climbing somewhere north of 40,000’ inside of one measly week? I love it. I love it so much to be looked at like I’m crazy for attempting something radical.
I glance around and notice everyone in the group remains confident and collected. It is in this moment that I know I’ve found my people.
The owner laughs and shakes his head. Perhaps there’s a part of him that wants to believe we can do it. Maybe he’s impressed with our gumption. We all make our way out to the square in front of the shop for a group picture. Grinning from ear to ear, we’re all either genuinely excited or genuinely stupid. Either way, we’re in this together and we’re as ready as we’ll ever be.
On our first moderate climb out of Girona we fumble a bit to find our stride. Cycling pros pass us repeatedly on our left as we get to know each other’s skill level and figure out who should be setting the pace. At the top of the hill we take another smiley group photo and I sip on a Gu gel. I can’t help but wonder if any of these packets have made their way out of my dog’s intestines.
It doesn’t take long for us to reach sweeping views of early spring countryside. More than 30% of Catalonia is protected by its government as a natural park system. Today we’re cycling through the Garrotxa Volcanic Zone, the Serra Cavallera mountain range, and the Serres de Milany-Santa Magdalena i Puigsacalm-Bellmunt.
To put it simply, the road to Berga is stunning.
Paul owns Wild Atlantic Cycling, but I never actually rode with him while I was in Ireland. He was driving the support van the day I joined the group from Galway to Westport. So I don’t find out until we hit the steepest part of the day’s climb that he’s the kind of cyclist who never loses his breath. He’s the kind of cyclist who coasts effortlessly up hills while blabbering ad nauseam about who knows what, and the whole time he thinks you’re engaged and able to respond.
He might be asking me something about the U.S. because his wife and kids are currently on a tour of Chicago. Or is it New York? Honestly I have no idea because all I can process is breathing and jet lag. Breathing and jet lag. Oh my god this is already so hard and I’m so tired I can’t see straight. That’s literally all I’ve got.
Except wait, now he’s making fun of me for having a granny gear, but I don’t have a granny gear. A granny gear, for the uninitiated, is a third tiny chain ring, which gets you into a super low gear. Beginner bikes have them. Heavy touring bikes have them. My speedy 2018 Cannondale Synapse road bike with Ultegra components and sweet disc brakes, however, decidedly does not.
This perks me up and I attempt to put Paul in place. “I don’t have a granny gear,” I barely squeak out between huffs and puffs.
“What?” he asks.
I have to wait until I level out at the top of the hill to catch my breath and try again.
“I don’t have a granny gear!” I yell this time with way too much oomph. But Paul is thick skinned. He can take it. We set a rule for the rest of the week: if he’s talking and I’m not responding, he needs to stop talking.
An hour after lunch the team wants to stop for a coffee. What is this, afternoon tea? Am I cycling with hobbits? I’m stressed about getting to Berga before dark so I continue on alone. We’re all using Wahoo GPS route trackers so I won’t get lost, but I am getting extremely tired.
It doesn’t take long for the group to catch up and overtake me. One by one they pass and I try to stay positive. This is the most elevation gain I’ve ever climbed in a single day and I know the jet lag is a legitimate strike against me.
Paul lags behind to lend encouragement. Starving after twenty more miles, we stop for a break at the only little store we can find. The language here is a mix of Spanish, French and Catalan. Friendly locals try their best to figure out what the heck we want. Paul is dying for peanuts. I will literally murder someone in exchange for a bag of potato chips. We stumble our way through a ridiculous conversation with outrageously patient old villagers who seem to have stepped out of a time machine from the past.
Five minutes later on the sidewalk, we laugh as we stuff our gaping maws with Lays potato chips, mini Oreos, peanuts, Cokes, and pork rinds for the meat eater. We’re in agreement—this is what it’s all about.
When we hit Berga we are instantly lost off course. The Wahoo routes are programmed to get us into town but one thing no one planned for was specific directions to each hotel. Local teenagers tell us which way to go, which involves carrying our bicycles down a flight of stairs. Bikes precariously hoisted to our shoulders, stepping carefully so as not to slip in our cleats, I ask him, “Hey do you remember that time in Berga when we had to carry our bikes down the stairs?”
This is live action memory making. This is everything I love about being on an adventure.
We’re the last to arrive at the hotel. Everyone has kindly waited for us before setting out in search of dinner. We twelve wander for far too long in search of a restaurant open on a Monday night in this tiny town and settle on a bar called La Tosca where we are the only diners.
My second hotel room in Spain confirms I am indeed back in the Land of Twin Sized Beds, but I’m too tired to care. (Seriously though, how do adult Europeans find it normal to sleep in child-sized beds?) I am exhausted and I am happy. Unfortunately I am also over-caffeinated from all the Gu gels and Cokes, but no bother. I’ll drift off to sleep eventually.
Sending blissful buzzy love from Berga! ❤ ❤ ❤