Pensioners on the Pirinexus
People do amazing things on their bicycles. In a few weeks, cyclists at the Sea Otter Europe event will head out from here to ride 360 kilometers over dirt tracks and mountain passes, into France and back to Girona in 15 hours. We are not that amazing. We took 6 days for the same route and we took a rest day on the beach as well. We certainly had a awesome ride. Karen says that “the Pirinexus is the most fun you can have on a bike”. It is a signed route that links up all kinds of terrain and lacks only one thing-traffic.
We had some difficulty getting a clear description of the character of the route from the internet. Our best move turned out to get advice at a local bike service, Eat, Sleep, Cycle
which direction to ride the loop. Thanks to their input, we had one of the best descents ever on day three; 50 kilometers and 5000 feet of serpentine descent. It would have taken an extra day for us to go the other direction.
The first day had 54 kilometers of greenway to Olot. It follows an old railway so a long steady grade on packed dirt and sand. The route goes through cuttings in the hills and lots of towns before climbing a pass and descending to our hotel on the edge of town. It was one of the best places we have stayed in several months of hotel and Airbnb stays, with a lovely garden and a delicious Plat de Dia served before our bedtime.
The next day we were back on paved roads and climbing over a couple of passes to the next town. It was not a long day but we managed to make it longer by blowing past our planned hotel stop and figuring it out 8 kilometers later. This was after we rode around closed road signs and Karen left her tire marks and foot prints in the fresh cement they were trying to warn us about. We had a few other “pensioner” moments during this tour; we managed to leave a phone behind at our breakfast cafe on day one and had to ride back 5 km. to the start and begin again.
It was St. Jordi day here in Catalonia and the streets were full of flowers for the ladies and books for the men. The streets and the restaurants were full of people. We were invited to share a table with a local woman and she told us that the yellow and red roses (red and yellow are the colors of the Catalonian flag) signified the loving nature of the Catalan people and the books a sign of their culture. She said that Catalans are a warm and cultured people.
We certainly found that to be true when Karen left her wallet outside a grocery store in Olot. After we discovered the loss that evening, our hotel host got on the phone to her friend in Olot, who went to the grocery store, got the wallet from them (which some kind person had turned in to them) and had her husband (a police officer) drop it off on the way to work the next day. Thanks to the help and care from these strangers it was back with us in time for breakfast and we are so grateful.
We continued on paved roads up an 18 kilometer climb to the highest point on the route where it crosses the Pyrenees and descends into France. We weren’t quite done with the ”pensioner” moments as I missed a turn on the way down and we did some unnecessary climbing before settling into the long and winding road down. It was a dreamy and relaxed roll down and down into the French town of Céret, where we sat in Picasso Square and relaxed with the traditional glass of rose’.
The riding in France past Céret is mostly on paved bike paths, sometimes on old railways and generally separate from traffic. The next day we climb over the Pyrenees again back into Spain. It was a steady and occasionally steep climb until we reached the border. Suddenly we were on full mountain bike terrain, with rutted roads and 22 percent grades up and down. The route planners in Spain are very creative and go to great lengths to keep the route off of the main roads. There are bits of single track, places where you dive under the freeway and emerge into parking lots and bits of bike infrastructure that lead you through the many towns along the route. The route tread varies from moment to moment.
Once we reached the Costa Brava in Spain, we followed gravel roads that zigzag through the ancient towns. The riding is generally pretty flat; not as scenic as the French Pyrenees but lots of fun.
We are ready for a rest day so we roll down to the coast and stay a couple of nights in an Airbnb. We spend our day reading at the beach and find a place that actually serves a ”proper” breakfast. Finding something besides coffee and croissants for breakfast is challenging.
The next day of riding is more of the same, dirt roads that wind all over the place and seem to want to take us through every possible town. After 60 kilometers the route goes back to the sea and we have to contend with some traffic for a while to get to the hotel.
The varied track of the Pirinexus.
On the final day the Pirinexus redeems itself with more Vias Verde, (greenway) and we race the rain clouds back to Girona.
The Pirinexus is an incredible tour. From high alpine meadows to the beaches of the Mediterranean, the tour packs a lot of interest in a short distance. I only wish it was longer. Now we have to figure out what to do next.