Update on Banjo: His skin condition has been correctly diagnosed–it is dreadful but curable. Still at risk for surgery due to the packets. Gah!
Today’s route: Berga to Balaguer
Today’s distance: 127 kilometers / 79 miles
Today’s elevation gain: 1,609 meters / 5,281 feet
TOTAL DISTANCE: 257 kilometers / 160 miles
TOTAL ELEVATION GAIN: 3,870 meters / 12,700 feet
Eight months ago when I went to Ireland to cycle the Wild Atlantic Way I was a fresh faced wee little sprite, a mere 39 years old. Something very serious has changed for me since then. Has this ever happened to you guys? I’ve crossed over into a new decade. I’ve . . . turned 40.
My post-ride routine used to be chocolate milk, some ice cream, and a high-five-holy-shit-I’m-awesome feeling of satisfaction. Now all that celebration has been replaced by a hot bath with Epsom salts, Aleve anti-inflammatory pills, a generous application of Icy Hot muscle rub, some kind of hemp oil supplement my sister gave me for pain, and an ice pack for my busted knee. That’s right, I hauled a 3 lb. bag of Epsom salts and seven one-time use ice packs a third of the way across the globe in my suitcase because I turned old.
Also this morning my spring allergies kicked into overdrive so I’m tossing in a daily Zyrtec and a Vitamin C tablet. It’s a miracle I can even stand up.
Suffice it to say, I’ve never cycled back-to-back rides like this before. Up until now, the day after a strenuous ride has been a luxurious day of rest. Not so in the Pyrenees. We’ve got just as many miles to conquer today as we did yesterday. The one saving grace is we got on the road by 8:30 am. It may or may not have taken us three attempts to find our way out of the city, but whatever, we made it.
Naturally, we’re climbing uphill out of Berga. And not so naturally, I can’t stop saying cacahuate. It’s the Spanish word for peanut and it’s too much fun. It’s distracting me from the constant stress being applied to my quads. Distraction is an important tool for me when I need to sit back into a climb and let all thoughts of ever finishing disappear from my mind. If all I think about is when I’ll be done, then the task takes forever. But if I can replace that thought with something else on repeat, then I can develop a rhythm that starts to feel like progress.
Sometimes I count pedal strokes or seconds. Sometimes I sing a few lines from a song over and over. This morning I just keep saying cacahuate. It makes me laugh though, so I’m not holding very steady as we roll along the foothills that will lead us up into the actual mountains.
For Wild Atlantic Cycling’s Mizen Head to Malin Head tour, Paul came up with the nickname MizMal. It’s a widely used term now but he claims ownership of the original idea. It occurs to Mark, a tall lanky Scotsman/elementary school gym teacher, that since we’re now riding Girona to Bilbao that makes this ride GirBil.
And *poof* just like that we’ve nicknamed ourselves the Gerbils.
I spend most of the morning with Andy, the other Scotsman I met last summer. I’m still working to find my stride but once we’re moving I actually feel stronger than yesterday. Andy and I pace each other well, taking turns in the lead. We’ve got four people ahead of us and five behind. Today we are the most average gerbils in the clan (go ahead and Google that one) and it suits us just fine.
We pass long swaths of green terraced hillside with family villas that could be small castles.
At the top of a long winding hill we have our first glimpse of snow covered mountains rising in the distance. We pass the standard European countryside churches and cows.
And then something quite delightful happens. We find ourselves on a truly amazing descent. It’s not steep, maybe negative 2.5-3% grade. Just enough to gain speed but still feel in control enough to take a sip of water and look up at the scenery as we coast by. This new road is peaceful and lined by trees on both sides. Not a single car passes us as we descend for miles. It goes on for so long I find myself laughing at how lucky we are to experience it.
The last part of the descent gets steeper and we merge onto a road with traffic. For me, the intensity rises quite a bit. Steep descents are just as challenging as steep climbs. You work different muscles and your mental stamina comes into play at a much higher level. At top speed, a tiny rock in the road could send you skidding into a guard rail if you’re not paying attention. By the time we reach the bottom I need a minute to calm my nerves.
Stopping for a snack can be hit or miss. On the one hand it’s important to stay on top of your calorie intake but on the other it messes with your sense of forward motion. All of a sudden our momentum crashes and we realize we’re in desperate need of real food. We’ve passed dozens of signs indicating towns, yet none of them have had any signs of life, and there is nothing in front of us that looks promising.
Andy sends out an SOS over social media and we soon receive messages from the folks ahead of us about a restaurant option in a town called Ponts. (OK, let’s go ahead and say the only restaurant option in Ponts.) Just as it starts to drizzle we hit the main drag and see two bikes leaned up against a wall. We’ve caught up to Mark and Ciarán (pronounced Kieran)—who have apparently been left in a cloud of wet dust by the speed demons, Claire and Sam.
It’s clear as we sit down that our waitress doesn’t speak a word of English, but I manage to eke out, “Soy vegetariano,” and “Por favor, es posible para no carne, no pescado?” She points to something on the menu and says patata. Yes please! And I end up with a perfectly delicious potato pancake type thing.
Oh if you could see how quickly a group of otherwise civilized adults will gorge on whatever is placed in front of them after they’ve ridden over 60 miles before lunch. The men have comically large chicken breasts on each of their plates and, while my potato thing could honestly use a little ketchup, I’ve devoured the vast majority of it by the time the waitress comes back to check on us.
As we head back onto the road as a foursome, the drizzle continues to spit and the real rain begins to threaten. For the last twenty minutes we are hit by a full storm. We arrive in Balaguer, soaking wet satisfied little gerbils. I toss my bike into the support van, grab my suitcase, and rush up to my hotel room. The first thing I do is get a hot bath running. Then I root through my suitcase to find my bag of Epsom salts before even taking off my helmet or my cleats.
Within minutes I am relaxed and refreshed, slathered in Icy Hot, ready for dinner. This is going to be an amazing week.
Here’s me and Andy–rained on but happy–on our way to Balaguer.