Bikes and trains along the Spanish Coast
We rode our bikes a final 20 kilometers into the train station in Girona. Somehow we have managed to complete a 300 km circle and we are back where we started with a strong sense of deja vu. How did we get here again? Like life, a series of decisions that seemed like a good idea at the time.
Once there, I noticed that there were no trains to Barcelona, which is crazy since that is the biggest destination around. A little digging and I found that there had been a mudslide and the trains were stopped before Barcelona. This was a real problem for the thousands of commuters who ride every day, but also for us. Fortunately, we were able to apply money to the problem and get a taxi ride with our loaded bikes crammed in the back. A couple of hours later, we made our connection in Barcelona Sants and rode the train to Tarragona, a bustling town on the Mediterranean.
Riding European trains with loaded touring bikes is sort of great and sort of hard and horrible at the same time. Spanish trains are pretty relaxed about bicycles as long as you get on a local train, but when the train pulls in and you have to figure out which designated bike car to board it can be a couple of difficult minutes. Sometimes it’s easy but other times you have to hoist your bikes up the stairs quickly and cram in after them, along with all the other people that are boarding. It always seems to work out but we had a really tight fit on the leg to Tarragona. Once you are on the train you can relax a bit unless other bikers need to get in as well, and we all have to rearrange things. Getting off is usually easier although a fellow cyclist inadvertently locked his bike to Karen’s bike and we had a few stressful moments when he couldn’t find his bike lock key at our destination.
It often seems that there is a festival in any town we come to in Spain and Tarragon was no exception. Thanks to a cycling English teacher we met on the train, we avoided the city center hotels and found a quiet place to sleep. The party went on all night, complete with devils and giants and music, along with the fireworks.
Later on we caught our own fireworks with an evening thunderstorm In Mora dEbre.
We rejoined the European Divide route in Gratallops, a small town in western Catalonia. We spent the rest of the day trying out sections of the route and seeing how difficult it is. Some sections were really nice and some were not so much.
The landscape has become much drier and more varied. Instead of trees and rocks along the trail we are riding through stone terraces and olive groves. We are also encountering the smells of rural Spain, from breathtakingly strong pig poop as fertilizer to earthy green smells that we can’t identify. There are rotting grapes as well as workers harvest the last of the grapes.
From Mora d Ebre we follow what must be some of the steepest paved roads anywhere in the world. Karen’s bike computer said there were grades of 31%. We did a lot of pushing.
Then it was on to the famous Via Verdes of Spain, the abandoned railways left over from the Spanish Civil war. The riding is incredible, winding through gorges and terraces and all at a very reasonable grade. There are lots of other riders to chat with and we have the unique experience of riding through lots of tunnels. We met a young German couple traveling with a one year old baby in a trailer. They had been cycle touring for 5 months and it was great to share stories. The were very inspIring and made wild camping in Europe sound really easy. If they can spend 200 nights out in multiple countries, it should be easy for us Pedaling Pensioners.
We also learned that the abandoned rail stations were part of the civil war effort. They were built away from the towns to serve the military and the numerous ruined buildings we passed had actually been bombed by Franco’s fascist regime in the 1930s and never rebuilt. Catalonia was a big part of the resistance and there is a still a strong movement towards independence from Madrid. We ride past stone walls that may be a thousand years old and camp under ancient olive trees.
The Via Verdes led us to the town of Horta de Sant Joan. Several months ago we were having dinner with some friends in Winthrop, Washington and Dale mentioned that a mutual friend of ours, Jo Shreve Ruoss, lives in Horta, well known as a place where Picasso spent time in his youth. Since our route passed through this small town in rural Spain, we spent two nights in a great guesthouse and we were able to make contact and spend time with Jo and her husband Carlos. Karen and Jo had a great visit where they laughed and shared stories as if no time had passed at all since they had last seen each other.
Jo lives on a small farm with 500 year old olive trees and almonds whose harvests were affected by climate change this year.
What are the chances that two friends from Winthrop in the 70’s could reconnect in Horta de Sant Joan, Spain?
We have been on this trip for about 3 weeks. We’ve covered some hundreds of kilometers and climbed some hills. It also feels like we’ve done a better job of connecting, even if just for a moment, with the people we have met, whether it is an old friend or a fellow cyclist in a tunnel. My language skills are not any better, but I am trying to approach each encounter, no matter how short, with joy and appreciation. It even seems to work over the phone when I am calling hotels. Well, except for the guy who hung up on me.