Sun 19th May
The mountains, the coast and Spain.
The few towns I went through in this region were beautiful and felt noticeably different from the other French towns I had been too. I could feel the Catalan influence in these parts. Perhaps enhanced by the days of the refugees into France.
The previous night, I had advanced into the mountains. There was no ascents as such, but as I left the canal, the grassy fields, trees and greenery thinned out replaced by roads and rocky grey mountains. I was excited by the change in the scenery as this was a variation I hadn’t witnessed yet.
I came across a few pleasant hills, but nothing like the ascents I had feared. Before long, I had to get down for the night.
Fields had come back into view. The roads were quiet and I found a spot with some shelter from the road. I setup, looked around at the mountains and wind turbines in the distance and watched the sun go down.
For the first time, I really understood why people loved camping. It was all about picking the right spots.
When I set off in the morning, I didn’t know what would was ahead as the range is vast and I was probably in the foothills. As much as I loved the scenery, I headed towards the coast via Perpignan as planned. I heard that it was incredibly windy in this area of France most of the time, but as there was no alternative at this point, I had to brave it and found out for myself. Bordeaux already felt far away.
As I headed east, I had a few brief climbs. I started to get the mountain bug. The challenge and rewards of the mountain passes seemed like something I wanted to do on this trip.
After a small climb, I got up onto a plane. I stopped peddling when I reached the top and began to cruise along, quickly picking up pace. It was a strange feeling, like I was on a conveyor belt, accelerating, going faster and faster.
I checked the speedometer and I got up to about 40kph, without pedalling. It gave me a small rush and felt like the fastest I had been so far.
I was glad I wasn’t going against it and thought about what might happen at the coast when I change direction.
After the rush, I checked my top speed (one of many features I rarely use) and I had got up to 58kph, without pedalling, on flat. It was scary and exciting to think what nature could do. The mountains were on my side for now…
Before I reached the coast I passed through another village, full of stone buildings and people as the local market was in full swing, midday Sunday. Candlesticks to bikes and working mopeds filled the streets on makeshift tables. I fancied a mooch, but decided to keep moving and soak the atmosphere of this unique place. The sun was shining and people were out en mass, enjoying their day off.
I could see the coast from the hill I was on, and took in another small achievement. I had started on the north coast, gone to the west, and made it to the south. To top it off, I was a few miles away from Spain and planned to enter later that day.
My cycle across France would be over.
When I began planning, I had no idea if I could do this kind of trip. I had no experience and hadn’t trained as much as I’d have liked. If I got stuck, or if my body gave in, my back up was to catch trains or duck out altogether if things got serious. And here I was, on the other side of France, in just over 4 weeks.
It felt good, but I didn’t have a profound sense of achievement I had anticipated.
There were clouds in the distance again, thick, dark clouds. I was moving away from them, but later in the day the had shifted and loomed in the distance. I was hoping I wouldn’t have a repeat episode of the canal quandary.
I had high expectations for Perpignan. A romantic sounding place. The south of France by the sea, a recipe for a city with a visit. Unfortunately, it was run down in most places and home to kebab and pizza takeaways and kids mauling around in packs on their days off. It didn’t feel safe or pleasant. A far cry from the ideal I had in my head.
Shortly after leaving, the rain caught up with me. Despite the thick and dark back clouds, when it broke it wasn’t as heavy as I’d expected.
As I got into more rural areas and closer to the boarder, I the rivers I saw were completely dried up and had been for a while as things had started to grow in their place. It was the same all over the area. It made me think why the river stop. The thought stayed with me. What kills a river? Or why?
The GPS took me on a ridiculous course on roads that didn’t exist. Anger and frustration where starting to mix with tiredness. I kept on and finally I got to a giant bridge running parallel to the road I was on, the toll highway. I followed it and could see the booths in the distance. I was finally there.
I got through, it was about 8 o’clock in the evening and starting to get dark. There was no one on boarder control and for the second time entered a country without being checked or searched.
‘ESPAGNE’, announced a blue sign surrounded by yellow stars. I’d done it. Spurred on by the achievement, a new wave of energy passed over me and moved as fast as I could to try to get some distance between me and the boarder.
I immediately started noticing all the little differences from country to country. The colours and typefaces on the road signs. The names of the roads and highways. The much-loved D roads became GI roads, and the A highway become N highways. The little things.
The first town I entered, La Jonquera, was remarkably different to anything in France. The Spanish identity was already present. It had a long, wide, modern road, which the small town was built up from a service stop-off for truckers. The sense of space was enhanced by the long open road and buildings along the side of the road, like an audience at a race track. It reminded me of Los Angeles, not that I’d ever been, but it was similar to the image you conjour up when you think of LA. Vast highways, square buildings and desert.
The mountains changed from greys to sand and dirt colours. Much of the greens also faded away now I was south of the mountains.
I had put enough distance in and it was time to stop. I left the road and followed a small trail up onto murky wood chippings and found a spot. By now it was almost darkness, so I had to act quick. As I was setting up the tent, I heard dogs. German Shepherds by my guess. I hoped they would remain locked up overnight and not be on the loose. Before long, I fell asleep.