Day 23, it was back to me and my bike and without my friend who had to quit due to knee problems (read about that here).
After a joint continental breakfast with hot chocolate and scrambled eggs – heaven – I took off in direction south while my friend got a massage at the hotel. I had been looking forward to arrive in Sète, the official end of the Euro Velo route 17 which we had been following since Geneva. The trail ended somewhere in an industrial outskirt on a road filled with potholes. Not a worthy end for such a beautiful track. The city itself was too full and loud for me, so I pressed on. Lunch by the sea after a cooling swim is something I could get used to. In Agde I switched to the bike track along the Canal du Midi since I had heard a lot about its beauty. Well, it is very beautiful. Also it’s probably a mountain bike or hiking trail, but far from any normal bike trail. A washed out and very narrow path – my road bike lasted, but my nerves were cracking and I switched to a road as often as I could. Just before it got dark, finally a village with restaurant and camping.
The next day I woke up before sunrise and had breakfast at a nearby market. French cheese even turns the saddest corn cracker into a delicious first meal. Coming into Narbonne seemed surprisingly familiar, and I remembered, I had passed through it on my bike trip three years ago. Then, mixed feelings about the memory of the 25km bike path to Port-la-Nouvelle: a recollection of the beauty of the landscape, the anticipation of getting to the Mediterranean sea versus the horrible condition of the bike track: 25km gravel, roots and loose rocks. I decided to take the train. 15 minutes later I was in Port-la-Nouvelle and cycled down the widest and longest stretch of beach I have ever seen. A bit like St. Peter Ordingen in north Germany but even wider and longer and warmer. I stoped for a swim and, since I hadn’t slept well the night before, nap. As I was drying in the sun, I noticed itching on my skin. Looking closer I discovered sandflies. All over and around me. Remembering the +200 and very itchy bites I had once collected in Honduras within minutes, I very quickly got dressed and fled. It seemed like I couldn’t get to rest that day and also the brutality of the French driving style really got to me. Zebra crossings were ignored by the car drivers, I got almost run over a couple of times and somehow couldn’t get to smaller, more peaceful roads. I was very much reminded of the vulnerability of cyclists and had just decided to re-examen my routing for the next day when, whilst concentrating on not being run over in a big and buzzy roundabout, someone shot at me from the backseat of an overtaking car with an air gun and little hard plastic balls. More than the physical pain was the shock that someone would just do that. In such a dangerous situation. Yes, probably a child (hopefully!). Still, I was mentally done for a moment. I wanted to get out of this area as soon as possible and pushed on till after dark. I arrived in Banyuls-sur-Mer around 10 pm and was lucky to score the very last pitch at the cheap local camping ground. The excitement about the border crossing the next day let me forget about the events of the day and I slept like a log.
Day 25 was hot and full of coastal hill climbs. The border crossing (just 13 km after the camping ground) was exciting for me, since I now crossed into the last country of my journey and also my home for the next year. The border itself consisted of some graffiti painted ruins of times when there were borders in Europe. It is located on top of the pass, and then a speedy roll down to Portbou. Hola España! „Peace“, „Freedom for Catalonia“ and „Spain“-flags everywhere – on the roads, houses, lamp posts, cars … I cycled through the natural reserve of Cap de Creus and remembered the hiking trip I had done two years earlier with my sister and a friend. We started in Cadaqués and followed the GR11 for three weeks along some peaks of the Pyrenees and throughout Andorra. That night I stoped in Torroella de Montgrí to sleep at a caravan parking. Turned out it was a farm which had just been converted into a caravan parking and I was the only visitor besides the chicken, cats and donkeys. After showing me everything of importance (i.e. the shower and toilet in the former dairy hutch), the farmer left for his home in the village – and came back as I just wanted to eat my mini tortilla dinner. His wife insisted of cooking for me, it would have been rude to turn the offer down. They had three lovely kids in a very nice old home right in the heart of the village. They are proud Catalonians but accepted my Spanish since I am German. I was happy my Spanish skills are not enough yet for a political discussion because I was curious and right up for it but also far too tired.
The next day I was tired. I slept well, but I was still tired. Heavy legs, longing to just rest. I had an extensive siesta at the beach and, back on the bike, fantasized about riding at night to make up for the kilometers, and to arrive earlier in Valencia (again, impatience). Also I was somehow tired of finding a spot to sleep at the end of the day. So I thought it would be the best idea to just sleep during the day on the beach and cycle at night from now on. Well, gladly I am old enough by now to read my signs of total exhaustion and stubborn stupidness. Also, this is not my first long distance trip and the feeling of having to prove something to myself is fading. I was convinced I would cycle throughout the night while I watched myself checking in to a Pension and stretching out on the bed. The best thing my autopilot mind could have made; I slept long and deep and gathered tons of energy for my cycle to Barcelona the next day. The pension had seen better days but was clean, had towels and linen embroidered with the initials of the Pension, was family run, had a typical Spanish bar on the ground floor and is the permanent home to quite some people I noticed the next day whilst checking out. It was a welcoming and kind place and triggered some “what-if”-mind games, tinted by the romantic idea of living in a pension and not owning more than I carried. “What if I just stayed here? Who would I be and what would my life look like?”. I moved on.
The wind almost carried me and my still heavy legs to Barcelona. I should and could have taken a day off, but was too impatient – I just wanted to arrive in Valencia and be with my friends. In Barcelona, the apartment of a friend was arranged for me and after an intense discussion with the porter of the building I was not allowed to take my bike into the elevator to get it upstairs, but at least to lock it in the half time guarded foyer. It was Friday night, I had found some interesting parties online but in the end enjoyed the view from the rooftop terrace and having a drink with myself. And my bike, which I had sneaked into the elevator and apartment after the porter was off duty. Really not leaving my bike unguarded in a city like Barcelona.
It was just three more days to Valencia, 380 km, but they were some of the hardest ones to cycle for me. Partly because I didn’t take enough care of myself by taking another off day (since Geneva). Also, because the trail for cyclists on that stretch is mainly the emergency lane on national roads. I had been cycling this part three years ago and still remember the noise and stress but also the adrenaline and excitement of those three days. This time I used Komoot for the navigation and had a little less national roads and more country roads, but still the next two days just flew bye. I celebrated on my bike when I crossed from Catalonia into Comunitat Valencia – the region is incredibly beautiful, but the national pride started to piss me off. Also, it meant I got closer to my final destination.
Day 30 I woke up in Benicasim and just 88 km away from my friends house in Valencia. I had planed to stay at a nice hotel for the last night, but everything I looked into was booked or too reduciously expensive. By accident I found the very cute Camping Florida. Tucked away on a side street close to the sea but very cheap for the Mediterran. It’s lovingly family run by a former cycling racer (in the 70s), his wife and son, who collects old-timer cars. The Rototom Sunsplash Reggae Festival had just ended and the campground was filled with some left over festival visitors. All pretty easy going. I felt extremely sober and organized. On this final day, I woke up early and was in Sagunt (35 km before Valencia) before midday. I stoped at the local camping ground to meet some friends for lunch and siesta. In the late afternoon, accompanied by the magic afternoon light, I rolled into Valencia. 2901 km away from Berlin I will soon move into my own place and set up for my future life here.
Day 23: Montpellier – Colombiers 115.4 km
Day 24: Colombiers – Banyuls-sur-Mer 130,36 km (+ 25 km train)
Day 25: Banyuls-sur-Mer – Torroella de Montgrí
Day 26: Torroella de Montgrí – Sant Feliu de Guíxols 99.28 km
Day 26: Torroella de Montgrí – Sant Feliu de Guíxois 55.41 km
Day 27: Sant Feliu de Guíxois – Barcelona 108.97 km
Day 28: Barcelona – Calafat 150.55 km
Day 29: Calafat – Benicasim / Mas del Frares 147.10 km
Day 30: Benicasim / Mas del Frares – Valencia 88.82 km
I have been asked to discuss my gear, set up and routing. I will do that soon in a separate entry.