Tues 11th June.
A slave to Andorra.
Every once in a while you get blessed with the perfect spot. Quiet, beautiful surroundings, good views, soft ground, no stones, no neighbours etc. This was one of those rare occasions. I was in a green field with long grass and more mountains over looking the scene.
One of the first things I saw once back on the road was a mum and her daughter getting out of their car to go for a walk in the area. At 8am on a Tuesday, this seemed unusual, but it was good to see mother and daughter doing outdoors things together to start the day.
My plan for the day was to make it to Andorra, where I had agreed to stay with a host Aina there. I had always been curious about Andorra since a first heard about it years ago. A tiny country between France and Spain situated in the mountains. I don’t know why, but it really appealed to me and my curiosity had grown every since. I would never go there solely for a holiday, only if I was passing through and had the time, which was the case, so I figured I had to go.
Because there’s only really only two roads going in and out of the country, one from France and one into Spain, it meant going in, having a look, then going back the way I came, which put me off, but I’d probably never get the chance to go again, so I was going.
I studied the map and the area around the entrance to Andorra had a few passes, from around 1500m to 1900m, so my estimation was that the entrance around 1000m. I was currently at 600m, so not too bad a climb. I also knew the capital there was 800m (the highest capital in Europe) so assumed there wouldn’t be much variation in heights there. How little I knew.
As soon as I started there was a slight uphill, it was quite pleasant and consistent. I got to a small tourist town, shrouded with hotels and ski resorts, yet it kept its identity and uniqueness. I stopped briefly to have a look and fill up on water.
After this was the start of the climb to Andorra. The town was just shy of 800m so by my estimation I didn’t have much climbing to go. The landscape became more stripped back, rural and green, with a road going through the mountains and a drop to the right, guarded by a barrier. I kept moving and climbing. Nothing too unusual.
There was a tunnel that went directly to the entrance of Andorra, but there were two problems with it, it was for cars, and it was shut. Naturally the tunnel and whatever advantages it offered were out-of-bounds to me. This got me thinking, why was there a tunnel. Perhaps the road was problematic and the tunnel was a better solution. My curiosities grew.
A few hours later, all I had done was climb around the bendy roads. There seemed to be no sign of an end, or that I was getting close. I took a break in a little power station, ate and relaxed in the sun. I was currently at 1600m. The highest distance I had reached so far. I looked ahead and there was plenty more hairpin roads ahead going further and further uphill. It felt like a cruel caricature of reality.
This looked bad, certainly more challenging than I thought. This much uphill would impact the time I had planned to spend in Andorra. Should I not go and stay in France? I thought about it, but there was no way I could not see the country of such curiosity because of some hills. I decided to stick to the plan and take whatever was coming my way.
I reached 1800. There was no sign of any break from the hills. This was insane, I could never have comprehended this height from the maps as there was nothing to hint at the altitude here. I was furious, but powerless. I kept riding, slow, constant, pushing, breathing, not getting put down by the never-ending roads ahead.
I was sharing the road with plenty of cars, driving around me, hour after hour while I toiled upwards. Giving me space, but never acknowledging what I was doing by climbing this monster. At first it didn’t bother me, but the further I got, the shorter my patience became.
I began to feel like more and more of an inconvenience to them while the amble up easily in their cars and I break through some barrier of personal achievement.
I can’t describe this frustration with fellow road users any better than this, but it became a really bitter ingredient in the already sour cocktail. I cursed a lot and just wanted space to struggle without worrying about potentially getting impaled by other road users.
1900m. I thought if I could get to 2000m that would be something. Sure enough, 2000m came with more to go. The main difference with this, compared to a Col, was with the Cols you always know how high they are from a map, so you know what to get your mind and body ready for. With this, I was completely blind and had no indication whatsoever as to how long it would last.
I was irritated at 1600m but proud, now I had gone through the threshold and higher than I had expected to on the tour.
Once I had been in that of constant state of uphill, you break through a mental barrier and the finishing height doesn’t matter matter. It could’ve been 3000m and I would’ve got it done, I just took time.
Finally, the entrance to Andorra was in site. I went through customs and the first location in the country was like an airport mall that had exploded and turned into a town over time. Duty-free everything and streets that smelled of cologne, with booze, cigarette and tourist shops to follow.
To top it off, it looked like it was made out of lego, which added to the obscurity of the place. Exhausted and proud I parked up, and as usual found a McDonald’s (even here) for wi-fi and food. I splashed out and for the first time got a whole meal, with coffee and ice cream. I polished the thing off in no time. It tasted unbelievably good.
Signs for the pass dictated there would be more climbing. Although I didn’t believe it was possible, the signs said 2408m for the final height of the Port D’Envalira. With the adrenaline still going, I got back on and finished it, stopping twice to plunge my head into snow on the side of the road.
Finally, I was at the top. The highest I’d been and (hopefully) the highest I would be on the trip. I couldn’t help but think if I went into Andorra now, it meant doing this all again tomorrow. I toyed with not going, but I had to see what it was about.
I took in the surroundings and relished the achievement. Then after one last hesitation, I pushed off, bracing myself for a huge descent.
When I was at the top, I hoped the stats were wrong and where I was staying wasn’t 800m, praying for a smaller climb the next day. Alas, it wasn’t to be and after descending around 40kph (often reaching 60kph) for an hour without stopping through the beautiful hills and towns of the country, I finally made it to where I would spend the night. Exhilarated.
My host was out and had organised for me to pick the keys up from a neighbour. She was at a conference and would be back later. I showered, ate, listened to podcasts and fell asleep before she got in.