Friday, December 8, 2017

Cycling Through Catalonia

While in Spain, I spent my last week cycling through Catalonia. This wasn't a bike trip for counting miles or conquering hills. Rather, it was a bike trip for learning the "contours of a country," as Ernest Hemingway would say -- for learning the region's landscape, culture, and people.

Bromleigh, my Brompton, and I spent one week cycling through Catalonia.

To give my cycling trip structure, I decided I would cycle to the north to see Salvador Dalí's Museum in Figueres and to visit his home in Port Lligat. Along the way, I would stay with Warm Showers hosts. This would allow me the opportunity to experience home life in Spain and to have conversations with the locals. (I was particularly interested in learning personal viewpoints about the political situation in Catalonia.)

A few days before I left for my trip, I reached out to a handful of Warm Showers hosts to check their availability. Within two or three days, I had heard back from my hosts. My hosts' locations dictated the towns I would pass through.

I didn't spend any time researching the route. Instead, the day before I started my bike ride, I simply asked Google Maps to find me a cycling route that passed through these towns:
  • Llinars de Valles
  • Salt/Girona
  • Figueres (to see Dalí Museum)
  • Roses (to see Dalí's home in Port Lligat via a bus trip)
  • Palafrugell

I converted the Google Maps route to a GPX file, uploaded the file to the Backcountry Navigator app on my phone, and was on my way!

I wasn't sure whether Google Maps had a good grasp on bike routes outside of the United States. I later learned that Spain had awesome bike routes and that Google Maps was well aware of these routes. Well...for the most part. But that is part of the adventure, right?

Here is the route I cycled:

My loop through Catalonia.

The first day of my bike trip, I had planned on cycling from my AirBnB in downtown Barcelona to Llinars de Valles, where my first Warm Showers hosts were located. I checked the forecast the day before I left for my ride. Though the weather for my first two weeks in Spain had been splendid -- unseasonably warm and sunny for October -- a massive storm was forecasted to roll through the region starting the next day.

My AirBnB host in Barcelona, Marc, knew I was setting out on a bike trip the next day. Like most non-cyclists, Marc was shocked I was going to ride to Dalí's museum and house. Concerned for my well-being, in light of the forecast, Marc knocked on my door. In his broken English, he handed me a timetable for the train and urged me to take the train to Llinars de Valles. Though he didn't have cycling experience, he knew that Barcelona traffic would be hellacious given the storm. I wasn't fond of bailing on my first day of riding. I decided I'd wait until the next morning to see just how bad the storm was before committing to the train.

When the time came for me to roll out of Barcelona, the weather was an absolute shit-show. Not wanting to give in too easily, I decided I'd ride to the train station and see how that went. Though it was only a 1-km ride from Marc's house to the station, I got soaked on the ride. The weather had made my decision for me; the first day of my bike trip was going to be a train ride. I took comfort in realizing that this was a perfect opportunity to experience train travel with my Brompton in a foreign country.

The train ride went smoothly. Thanks to the storm, my forced experiment in taking my Brompton on a train proved to be an easy one. After a 90-minute train ride, Bromleigh and I found ourselves in Llinars de Valles. It was a short and less-aqueous ride from the train station to the home of my Warm Showers hosts.

Though Bromleigh and I were wet, we were thrilled to have started our bicycle trip. 

I had never relied exclusively on my phone before for navigation on a bike trip. I didn't even have a bike mount for my phone! I was a little concerned I might get frustrated, having to stop every few minutes to pull out my phone and check on the next turn. Fortunately, I tend to be pretty good with navigation. After a few kilometers of riding, I was quickly able to superimpose the GPX route onto the landscape; I was comfortable traveling a few kilometers and trusting the turns in my head.

I didn't have a bike mount for my phone.
This forcing function helped me to memorize the next few turns
and to overlay the GPX mapping of those turns onto the landscape.

Whenever I stopped to verify my route or check on the next few turns, I took advantage of the pause in pedaling to take a deeper look at my surroundings.

A stop to check my route allowed me to take in
the simple beauty of views, such as this one.

Part of my route followed the EuroVelo 8. The EuroVelo is a network of fifteen long-distance cycling routes that cross Europe. The EuroVelo 8, known as "The Mediterranean Route," starts in southern Spain and ends on the island of Cyprus. Along the way, the route passes through France, Monaco, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania, and Greece.

Just below this sign, which reads "Xarxa de Cicloturisme" ("Bicycle Network"),
is a maroon sticker of a bicycle.
This sticker indicates the route for EuroVelo 8.

There were a few sections of the Google Maps route for which I opted to take my own creative liberties. 

This section was closed due to flooding...

...and this road ended abruptly in grass and fencing.

While I don't know Catalan, I inferred from my knowledge of Spanish
that I was about to enter a road in bad condition.

Fortunately, thanks to having detailed maps of the region on my phone, I was always able to figure out a workaround. The workarounds added a few kilometers (and sometimes had me illegally riding on the highway), but I was always able to pick up the suggested route and continue along my merry way.

Google Maps routed me on a number of trekking paths (think "Camino de Santiago"). The paths were beautiful -- no traffic, relatively flat, and in decent shape.

Google Maps routed me along well-marked paths
that criss-cross the Catalonia region.

I had no complaints riding along this beauty.

The landscape was tremendous.

I cycled past hundred of lovely structures, such as this stone building,
adorned with greenery (or perhaps more aptly, "redery").

The skies were pure blue, punctuated with cottony clouds.

My eyes were pleased to see mountains give shape to the distance.

Tall grasses lined many of the paths.
Winds rustled through the grasses and tickled my ears.

This picturesque vineyard made me feel as though I was cycling through a movie set.

I cycled alongside fields of fruit trees.

And I rode through rice paddies, too, that were teeming with swoops of cranes.
I spent at least fifteen minutes riding through a 0.1 km stretch of paddies.
 As a few rotations of my pedals brought me closer to the cranes,
the cranes would flap their wings and relocate themselves an equal distance away.
We continued our dance, like the magnetic norths of two magnets.

Bicycle-themed artwork on the side of a country barn made me smile.

As did this one-way, low-traffic road with a dedicated bike lane.

I was in love, and I felt every reason
to express my emotions in the path.

Me, in my happy place.

Even the pedaling along paved roads was grand.

I loved cycling alongside the many rows of trees.

The landscape was screaming "SUBLIME"!

Ok, maybe not everything was sublime. There was one stretch that was a bit farcical. If I was riding a mountain bike, there would have been no reason for pause. Let's just say that Bromleigh was a wee bit out of her comfort range.

These few kilometers were one big puddle right after another...
interrupted by pockets of thick, wet sand.

Another bike had easily passed through this trail.
(Bromleigh's dainty tireprint is on the right.)
With the weight of my heavy toosh on Bromleigh's saddle,
she refused to ride through the sand.
And so I dismounted, and pushed my stubborn girl til we got to firmer land.

I sure did have a good chuckle. Just eight months prior, I had been pushing my Hayduke through thigh-deep water in Baja. Bromleigh would have drowned in this water!

Pushing my mountain bike through deep water in Baja.

And here I was in Spain with Bromleigh, getting our panties all tied up in a knot about a puddle and some sand. One thing is certain: The steed on which you travel sure can make all the difference in the world!

As I pushed Bromleigh through the wet sand, we came across signage for Ruta Termal.

Signage along the puddle and sand-plagued path.

The sign explained that, back in the day, the route along which Bromleigh and I were walking was the most important route of communication between France and Spain. The sign reads: "Formerly, the road became dangerous to pedestrians, as the road at this place was infested with gangs of thieves and bold and cruel bandits, who kidnapped, robbed and mistreated everybody who passed through."

I let out another audible laugh as I thought to myself, "Ah, so that's why this section is the gangs of thieves and bold and cruel bandits can more easily kidnap, rob, and mistreat me and Bromleigh!"

I laughed even louder when a few hundred meters down the path I saw this sign:

At least we won't get shot!

My GPX tracks showed that I'd need to ride on the shoulder of a highway for a few kilometers. Though many highways tend to have wide shoulders, I hadn't been looking forward to this riding. As I crossed over the highway on an overpass, about to merge on to the highway, I checked out the shoulder. The shoulder indeed seemed to be plenty wide.

The shoulder along this highway is wide enough for comfortable bicycle travel.

But then I noticed something. Look at the photo above more closely. There is a frontage road running alongside the highway! Sure enough, when I zoomed in on my GPX route, I noticed that my path was on a road that ran just beside the highway. Score!

I had the frontage road all to myself.
Even the frontage road had a decent shoulder!

Of course, it always takes some getting used to signage in different countries. As is common across Europe, I encountered a number of roundabouts. Some signs were straightforward about the roundabouts, but others were less straightforward. It was more than once that I exited via the wrong tentacle and rounded-the-about once again.

A little sympathy, please. 
This sign could benefit from some clarity!

As I was approaching an ingress to the highway (which I was not to take), I was momentarily puzzled by this sign. Pedestrians are allowed on the highway? And bicycles? And tractors? And cowboys without cowboy hats? Wait a second!

In my country, we strike a red line through things
that are not allowed on the highway.

If you know me well, you know that I'm fascinated by roadkill. I slammed on my brakes and circled around to get a photo of this roadkill. This was, by far, the most camouflaged roadkill I have ever seen!

If it weren't for the bloody head, I don't think I would have spotted this kill.

As I was cycling along, it momentarily seemed as though I had come across another roadkill. A kitty!

A poor dead kitty in the middle of the road!

This kitty wasn't dead! It was as alive as could be! And as cunning as could be! Miss Kitty knew that if she lay as-still-as-can-be in the middle of the road, then the naive cyclist would stop for her. Such an actress was she!

As soon as I stopped, Miss Kitty walked over to the side of my bike
and let me dote on her with plenty of I'm-so-glad-you're-alive ear and chin scratchs.

I enjoyed taking photos of my bike.

Here is Bromleigh, early in the morning, atop a bridge crossing a calm river in Roses.

And here is Bromleigh riding with three cycling friends she made
at a park where we stopped for lunch.

I tried setting up the timer on my camera to snap an action photo of me riding Bromleigh. Alas, the 10 seconds on my camera timer weren't sufficient for me to run back to the bike, kick out Bromleigh's rear wheel from underneath her, mount the bike, and start pedaling towards the camera.

Bromleigh and I need some practice with the camera timer.

The camera timer worked just fine with still shots. Here is a photo of everything that I brought to Spain: me, my bike, my Brompton T-bag (the bag on the front of my bicycle), and a small Camelback backpack.

This is everything I brought to Spain.

Me again, and all my stuff.

Though I traveled lightly, I wasn't entirely limited by what I could carry. Bromleigh carried a whole kilo of mandarins! Though sand may not be her forte, she's a strong girl!

There ain't nothing Bromleigh can't carry!

I carried plenty of fuel with me, too. I enjoyed multiple stops each day to refuel.

This snack was suggested by another vegetarian cyclist
who had pedaled through Spain.
It was edible.

This pumpkin-stuffed ravioli with fresh mozarella cheese and cherry tomatoes
was even more edible.

But the absolutest, mostest enjoyable of all my fuel was provided by a guy named Gerard.

Gerard, riding Bromleigh.

I hadn't planned on biking through the town of Palfrugell. But when I was perusing possible Warm Showers hosts and came across Gerard's profile, I said to myself, "Self, you GOTTA stay with this guy." And so I did. Just take a peak at Gerard's website, A Cop de Pedal, and you'll understand why. [For the quickest sugar rush, translate the webpage to English, click on the "Tail drawer" menu (the seventh menu from the left), and then select "Pictures."]

As you can see from his website, Gerard has pedaled all over the world, captured brilliant photos of his journeys, and published awesome articles about his trips. But his awesomeness doesn't stop here. Little did I know he is also a whiz in the kitchen! Lucky me got treated to this dinner:

A fresh salad, the brushetta-type of bread common in the region,
and a TO-DIE-FOR omelette.

Oh my gosh, and there were leftovers, which Gerard insisted I take for my bike ride the next day!

This was the happiest moment of my entire bike trip...

I'm about to sink my fork into Gerard's leftover omelette.

And this was the saddest moment of my entire bike trip:

I'm needing to accept that only one bite of omelette remains.

Gerard wasn't my only Warm Showers host to prepare an awesome meal. My other hosts prepared lasagnas, and salads, and breads, oh my. Alas, Gerard's visit was the only one in which my camera showed its shy face.

My ride through Catalonia was splendid. I definitely got to learn the contours of Catalonia -- its landscape, its culture, and its people. Thank you to all of my wonderful Warm Showers hosts -- José Luis and Clara, Joan, Carme, Gerard, and Fran and Clau -- for your wonderful hospitality. Thank you for sharing your homes, your food, your customs, and your conversation with me. You, my new friends, have showed me that the people of Catalonia have huge hearts.


  1. Wonderful blog Sarah! Thanks for sharing it with us!

  2. Wow! Spain has been on “my list” for some time - this post has moved it up on the list. Thanks

    1. Oh good! You are becoming quite the worldly traveler, my friend! :)

  3. Thank you for sharing, Sarah! I'm glad you made it there after all. Its sounds like it was a lovely adventure!

    1. Thanks, Melissa, and thanks for your support. In another post, I'll write about my thoughts on the political situation.

  4. Great Pictures and commentary. You are a natural writer.

    1. Ha, thanks, Bill. When are we going to write our book together? :)

  5. As always truly amazing photos and a great story. I have come to understand the really true cyclists know there is simply a time (albeit VERY rare) the bike is NOT the right option! And though Bromleigh may not be a puddle swimming sand diva, she is for sure the perfect choice for a train ride.

    Dont you love finding frontage roads, or those original routes before they invented mulitlane highways?? Sounds like a fantastic trip, and I am glad you met yet another kitty!

    1. Thanks, Tony. Bromleigh may not be a puddle-swimming-sand diva, but she's a kilo-of-mandarin-carrying-train-riding diva. That's fo' sure. :)

      You're absolutely right. Frontage roads sure beat highways. But I still prefer the quiet dirt roads the best.

  6. Wow such a nice adventure with great photos! Loved reading your post. Thanks for sharing! One more route added to my todo list :)

  7. Thank you very much for the chronicle of your trip. I loved Sarah. I am also passionate about cycling and I have a Brommie with which I have made some cyclist trips and I share your travel philosophy. Congratulations.

    1. Thanks for reaching out, Rafael. Bromptons are great -- all the world around! :)

  8. I like this foldblog... me gusta el sitio...
    cyclehugs from Brazil... cicloabrazos del Brasil...


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