Day 14. The final push. (Saturday 11th October)

October 11th, 2014
  Today
Total
Distance 22 miles 908 miles (1461km)
Height gain 1367 metres 12943 metres (42463ft)
Calories 2000 35400

As the first train pulled into the station a little after 7:30am I figured that it was about time to get up. As it doesn't get light here until 8am I pondered the day ahead. It was barely 16 miles (25km) to the border/peak into Andorra proper. Within this distance I had to climb 1400m, this meant on average a little under 1 in 20 climb if you're from the UK, or a little over 5% if you are continental! Either way, in the UK you would have warning signs on the roads for such slopes. My concern is that on this trip and this bike, over the past two weeks I've figured the comfortable limit is a little under 4% (1 in 25), this was going to be much steeper. So I set off with a plan, that was to cycle based on height, I'd try to cycle a climb of 300 metres before a break, then 2 stops at 200 metres and the stops at every 100 metres gained. Being fresh I managed to stick with the first goal but then the road started to get ridiculously steep in places and what didn't help was the amount of traffic and the older cars that seem to be on the roads of France and Spain. Clouds of burnt petrol and diesel were blown in my face so I had to stop else I got a lung full of this choking air and could barely catch my breath.

Which way View

But then at a junction I saw that two different roads both went to Pas de la Case, so I followed the GPS and took the N20 instead of the N22. This was probably a mistake as I suddenly hit an 8% gradient (1 in 12.5). So for about 400m I had no option but to push as my weight wasn't even enough to move the bike.  From this point on, the gradient meant I was stopping wherever there was a place to pull off to the side of the road, at times I wanted to stop between these points but it wasn't safe to stop on the narrow road which I suppose did push me on further to find a safe haven. I think the other route (N22) was longer but less steep over this section for any future cyclists reading this and want to do the trip!!!!

Rest Take a break

As I was getting higher I could feel the air getting thinner which made it harder for my body to get energy and oxygen to my legs. Then as my legs were about to give in I saw the French border post. I mistakenly thought that after passing this that I had entered Andorra as there was a big Andorran flag, but no I'd been duped, it was another 1.5 miles away at the end of a hard climb. The final stretch was quite tough particularly as it actually looked flat due to the geography not giving the eye anything perspective to compare against.  But this part was quite life-affirming, as my target came into view it became apparent that this route was occasionally part of the king of the mountains route on the "Tour de France" and there were 10s of licra clad cyclists doing the route downhill.  Some stopped as they saw me, some cheered, whooped and clapped as I tried to cycle up the mountain into the border town of El Pas de la Casa, others looked shocked at the bike I'd done it on. The difficult thing for me was that I desperately wanted to stop to get my breath but with the cheers I felt I had to keep pushing but then as the road curved to the right there was a blue sign with the familiar ring of twelve gold stars with the name Andorra in the centre of it.  I cycled up to the sign and that was it, I'd done it.

Done it...

I entered the last country I had left to visit in Europe, Andorra, I'd now completed the set. It's hard to describe the feeling you get when you complete a challenge like this and I should be used to it with other challenges I've done.  It's not a sense of euphoria that you might expect, or even a sense of achievement, but a little sadness or almost disappointment.  I'd learnt a lot about myself in the last 14 days, I'm amazingly stubborn and will try to finish everything I start no matter the stress and strains.  I even pushed myself harder than maybe I should have as if you take off my non-cycling Dover to Calais day when I took the ferry and the fact that I didn't set off until a little after 12:30pm on the 28th and arrived here just before 12pm today, I'd actually cycled the distance in just under 12 days!  I was aiming for 18 given the bike.  But I was sad, yes I'd had hard days, days I just wanted to stop, mornings I just wanted to stay in bed and evenings I wanted to destroy the bike, but each day I felt alive and the next day more alive than the last.  It's hard to explain but the journey was the experience, the adrenalin and the journeys end was just that, the end of the experience and the high....

I suppose it was also not a great town to experience at the climax to such a journey. The town, El Pas de la Casa, is a day tripper place for the French as it's tax free. Sadly this attracts a fair number of "interesting people" to the numerous shopping centres particularly for the booze!  It's a shame people only visit this place for beer and spirits as the views on the way here and from the town are beautiful.

Andorra

Andorra

So, slightly deflated I rested in town and had lunch with the knowledge that I still had one last challenge to keep me going. It was to climb the remaining 300m to the highest pass in the Pyrenees, Port d'Envalira which lies directly above the town. At up to 8% and failing legs, the lunch did not help, I took many stops to get my breath but after slowly winding my way up I was there, at the top of the Pyrenees on a 1920/30's butcher's bike!

Top Top

I know people will have cycled from London to here before, and done it a lot quicker, but I reckon I might be only one of a very select few who have done it in a unique way on a butchers bike and without a support team. So what are the stats....

It was 895miles (1440km) from London, and in total I climbed 12,943meters which is the same as cycling up (all from sea level) Mount Everest plus Ben Nevis, Mount Snowdon, Scaefell pike and Kinder Scout (my local hill!).

GPS record of the climb from Pamiers to Port d'Envalira with the ever increasing steepness towards the peak.

over the top

But there was one final decision to be made, I was at the peak. I could cycle back into France or I could head further into Andorra and to Barcelona. Amazingly my trick with the spokes appears to have worked so my wheels may hold together but the gears aren't great but they did not get any worse on this hardest day of all.... What to do....

Top

For more detail on route click HERE.

day 14 route

(© google maps)

Day 14 Part 2. The decision. (Saturday 11th October)

October 11th, 2014

At a little over 2400m above sea level the peak is a bit disappointing for the fact that at the highest point it doesn't have unspoilt views or even just lots of touristy things, but instead four petrol stations and long queues of French filling their cars! Miraculously though, at the peak the busy traffic disappeared almost immediately and so I made my decision.  I needed to get the sense of journey back again so there was only one thing to do, to head down into Andorra and make my way towards Barcelona, the decision was also helped by a few pushy people on facebook!

View

Views

As it had been a long exhausting day, after a few miles winding down the steep curvey roads I decided to stop at Soldeu on the recommendation of a friend. It was barely 6 miles from the peak, a distance that this morning had taken me over an hour and a half to do, but now took less than 12 minutes winding around steep twisting roads. The scenery was stunning but what was more noticeable was the fact that the drum brakes I have on this bike were barely good enough to stop the bike going down the steep bits and they were getting a little hot....


Hotel bruxells

But I was exhausted so as a celebration I quickly found a posh hotel and relaxed. I had planned on going out for a beer but it became apparent that the recommendation I'd been given was a tad seasonal... The ski town was deserted! But my hotel was open and to be fair I was knackered and just wanted to rest anyway, so in the hotel restaurant I ordered a "bloody" steak, something I wouldn't usually have but my body craved it, and had an early night.

Gloves

A picture of what cycle gloves look like after 900miles!

soldau

Day 15. Fifty miles down hill! (Sunday 12th October)

October 12th, 2014
  Today
Total
Distance

100 miles

 

1000 miles (1609km)

1008 miles (1622km) including rolling!

Height gain 1367 metres 14215 metres (46637ft)
Calories 3500 38900

It had been raining heavily all night and it was still raining by the time I had to set off. The rain and wind made it feel very cold but I could at least be thankful that the rain had held off for my journey over the peak yesterday. I decided to set myself the challenge of getting to Barcelona in one day, this would be about 140 to 150 miles, 50 to 60 more than I'd managed in a day so far.  So heading down from Soldeu, apart from one or two short climbs, it was basically another 10 miles downhill before entering Andorra la Vella, the capital.

Andorra church

As El Pas de la Casa had been full of French tourists stocking up on booze, this place was full of Spanish doing the same. Once you find the old town it does have a bit of charm but the modern shopping centres and boutiques make the place a little tacky and characterless..

Vella Vella gov

So I continued downhill for another 5 miles or so until I reached the Spanish border. The border guards ignored me as I cycled past, so I didn't stop and cycled straight through while others in cars were being stopped for contraband checks.  But that was it, I'd cycled from London to Spain!

spain

The scenery was stunning as I followed the river down a series of gorges, every now and again there was a short distance of uphill before a town, or over a small hill which felt all the worse for all the downhill, but it had to be said that I've never experienced cycling 50 miles downhill and probably won't again. I took lunch next to a badly drying out reservoir just after Oliana and pondered where to go next.

spain

View spain

spain

The problem with heading to Barcelona is that there was another mountain range in the way, although at only 800m (can't believe I'm saying 800m is "only"), my legs were tired from yesterday but I decided to continue.

 Hill top

I eventually made it to the peak, but the steepness on a couple of occasions had meant I had to push the bike a little. The gears were starting to go funny again and they were noticeably worse so I figured I should be a little cautious. Then it was downhill to the pretty little towns of Solsona and Cardona, then pretty much downhill, with occasional climbs to the industrial town of Manresa.

Solona

Cardona

At his point I'd done 98 miles in the day and figured that as the crow flies I was just 29 miles away from central Barcelona I could push on and be there within three hours although it would be close to 11pm. But cycling from Andorra on Barcelona in one day would be a challenge I could not miss. So I set off again but just as I got 2 miles out of town, disaster........

For more detail on route click HERE.

day 15 route

(© google maps)