Day 21Big day today. Longest so far in fact. 131 kilometers of hills and wind. Nice views and more windmills than I could count. As I headed towards Reus, and the sea, I slowly started to lose elevation and gain some warmer weather. As I came over the top of the last hill of the day, I saw my first glimpse of the Mediterranean. Significant because I´ll be following it for the next couple of months as I move across Europe. Also I sign that I was officially out of the mountains, atleast for the time being... Another awesome couchsurfer, this time it was Andres. Real laid back, down to earth, Andres and his tenant showed me around town and we grabbed some beers and chilled. My first day in Catalonia, Andres explained the pros and cons of their independence movement and answered all my stupid questions like, what language to people speak here haha.
Day 22Barcelona here we come. I woke up excited about getting to Barcelona and I ended the day excited to be in Barcelona, but the part in the middle wasn´t quite as much fun. Rain, wind, cold, heavy traffic, and lots of industrial zones were the defining features of today´s ride. Add to that a decent climb into the mountains, and today was slow. Of course all is well that ends well, and the ride into the city center of Barcelona provided to be much more enjoyable than my treck through Madrid into its downtown.
So I´ve made it to my second major pit stop. Feels good. Two days off in town and then heading out towards Marseilles.
|Couchsurfer Andres and his tenant, Diego|
Couchsurfing is the way to go. You meet people, get the chance to learn about the surrounding area, live like a local, and save a lot of money too. I love couchsurfing, and the people I have met during this stretch from Madrid to Barcelona have all been inspirational, incredibly hospitable, and fortified my faith in humanity. You´re constantly interacting with people, socializing, and doing new things, which is fantastic, but also exhausting. There is something to be said for having the occasional night when all you do is eat dinner, drink a beer, and then fall asleep watching TV. Also, I have a decent amount of work I need to take care of related to graduate school applications, and its pretty rude to crash at someones place and then ask to use their computer for the next 6 hours... Therefore, I´m going the hostel route for my time here in Barcelona.
Day 24I am approaching this trip in segments. When I left Lisbon the only thing I was concentrating on was getting to Madrid. From Madrid, I was just trying to get to Barcelona. Today I worked on how to get to Marseille. Its always kind of strange, sitting in a comfy chair on the computer drinking a beer, and planning the next several hundred miles of exhausting bike riding. Its fun. After spending all day yesterday more or less at the hostel trying to get caught up on work, it was nice to have the chance to go check out the city today.
|Fixing up the bike a bit|
Day 25My original schedule called for 3 days off in Barcelona, but I decided 2 would suffice and I hit the road today. So I officially caught up one day, only 5 behind now... I saw a lot of bikers on the road today, which usually seems the indicate the route will be scenicly hilly, with not a lot of traffic. To my surprise, neither of those 2 things were true. But the riding today was fast. Gentle grades and decent weather conditions made the miles melt away. Got into town ahead of schedule. Its sad to think its my last night in Spain, its been a great country.
|Got a little confusing outside of Barcelona|
Day 26Yesterday and today I have been seeing the weirdest thing. Out in the middle of nowhere, miles away from towns, sitting on dirt roads tangential to the highways, are prostitutes. Well atleast I think they are, because it seems unlikely that a farm girl would be wearing high heels and a short skirt, and trying to get my attention while I'm biking by... And not just one or two, I've seen atleast 15. From an economic stand point, it makes no sense to me. Why go out in the middle of nowhere? Anyway, I've been finding it really strange.
Made it to France. Bittersweet. Spain was really fun. Also, I just left the only country on the trip where I can speak the language, and now I'm looking ahead at several different languages that I know nothing about, followed by a couple of countries where I'm honestly not even sure what they speak (although its probably safe to assume I don't speak it). On the flip side, its really nice to be able to cross another country off my list. Spain was no gimme either, a solid 18 days and some good mileage. 2 down, 12 to go.
Right off the bat, France lost some points in my book because they didn't have a "Welcome to France" sign at the border I crossed. What the hell. What kind of country doesn't have a sign at the border... Also, France at first glimpse is looking like its going to be considerably more expensive than Spain and Portugal. At the supermarket alot of things were almost twice as expensive, and I payed much more for a room tonight than anytime before. So far I've only
really been to one town, small sample space. Have to see what the rest of the country is like, but this probably will be the most expensive country on the trip. Great for France's economy, not so great for me...
Day 27Today was the windiest day of my life. Comically windy day. At points it was in my favor, other times it blew perpendicular, but most of the day it just seemed to blow straight at me. Unlike rain or a steep grade, you can't really tell when your about to hit wind, and, more importantly, you have no idea when its going to stop. For this reason, it can mess with your morale. It's an invisible force which makes biking on a flat road feel like an intense mountain climb. It was supposed to be one of the easiest days of the trip, a straightforward 65 kilometers, but man, it was frustrating...
When I finally got into town for the night things started shaping up better. I found a cheap hostel, an atm, and a French sim card for my phone. Now that I have a working phone here in France, couchsurfing becomes much more pragmatic. Sent out requests tonight at the hostel, I believe I'll have places to stay for the next couple of nights. Tough day, but futures looking good (assuming the wind dies down).
|It was pretty windy...|
Day 28No wind and relatively flat terrain made today's 103 kilometers seem easier than yesterday's 65 kilometers. Funny how that works. Got into Montpellier, interesting town, old school center with new development expanding outwards fast. Met up with my two first couchsurfers in France, Lisa and Oona. Cool apartment, good conversation, and delicious crepes. Couldn't have been better.
Day 29Rainy start to the day, but things cleared up fast. Time went by on the bike relatively quickly today. About to get to town tonight when all of the sudden my bike got really wobbly and I started to lose a bit of control. Immediately had to stop, and I quickly realized that part of the rack had broke. Being the good boy scout I am, I packed a spare part. Unfortunately, this was the second time this happened, and my spare was the piece that had just broke... Uh oh. I wasn't sure what to do. I could ride, but with rack partially broken it was hard to balance the bike and I was at great risk of doing more serious damage to the rack. I sat there on the side of a roundabout for 20 minutes running through my options. Finally I came up with an idea. I was going to use zip ties to secure it until I could get a replacement part in Marseille. Only problem was, I didn't have any zip ties. As luck would have it though, as I started walking down the road, I immediately saw a huge Target type of store. Bought some ties, and to my great relief, it worked. Not quite like new, but I'm pretty sure it will get me to Marseille. Met up Marjorie, my couchsurfer for the night. She is a graphic designer and artist, and her apartment was decked out with all sorts of cool artwork she had made. To bed a bit early, start tomorrow a bit early, sounds good to me.
|Left over crepes from last night, delicious|
Day 30On day 7 it rained basically all day. Well if you take out the word basically, you'll have today. Literally not a second without rain. In fact, as I write this at 11 at night, it still hasn't stopped raining. The rain gets you wet, but what really gets you drenched is the all the backsplash. You get some from the bike tires, a bit from passing cars, and every time a truck drives by its like someone's shooting you with a supersoaker. I'm talking CPS 3000, for those of you who know your supersoakers. My basic goal when it rains is to just stay dry enough to avoid health problems, mostly hypothermia. Gladly, that goal was reached today. One consequence of the rain is that I have a higher chance of getting lost. Usually when I'm not 100% sure which turn to take, I bust out my phone and look at the map. When is raining, however, my hands are wet and my phones going to get wet as soon as I take it out of my bag. If you've ever tried to use a smart
phone when the screen is wet, then you can probably relate to how difficult that is to do. Im guessing its not good for the phone either. Anyway, so when its raining, I'm disincentivized from looking at the map and I take more guesses as to which roads to take. Today I took a couple wrong turns, none of which cost me too much time, but one of which led me onto a multimile interstate bridge. Not my best moment...
Despite the weather, I actually made pretty good time today, and arrived in Marseille way before dark. My first impressions of the town were not great, flooded streets and lots of honking. I found some shelter and pulled out my phone find a place to stay. While there, a man started talking to me. Turned out he had done a big bike trip from Germany to France back in the 80's. He, Armand, ran up to his apartment and brought down a book his friend had made to document their trip. He was a great guy and he invited me up to have a coffee at his place. We talked about biking and he told me his life story. Suddenly Marseille seemed friendlier.
So another leg done. It wasn't without its challenges, but I made some new friends, learned some things, and finished on time and under budget.