While entering Spain from Andorra, sitting on my bicycle seat, I was naturally filming the scene: the cars stopping, the signs, a word on the video, etc. Until we got stopped by the customs.
I thought at first that it was because I had filmed an area not supposed to be filmed. Officials at military camps and border posts never like to be videotaped. But besides asking for checking my camera and its contents, in a rude manner, the customs officials also look into our panniers and check our IDs. The whole scene lasts between 5 and 10 minutes, not so illogical as every single car from Andorra gets the trunk checked before entering Spain, but still disturbing, as we thought we always look innocent on a bicycle. It went fine because we obviously didn’t carry packs of cigarettes or electronics (I couldn’t help anyway to have socks and a saucisson d’Auvergne in the top of my panniers)(that saucisson that I placed in a pannier not used for saucissons, what a good surprise to find it back!), yet the rudeness of the language of the officials leaves us with a bad first impression at the entrance into Spain.
After this customs check stricter than in airports, I realize that the sun is here and I have a whole new country to cross. And this one is slightly longer than Andorra. It’s my first time in Spain too.
The first town crossed is La Seu d’Urgell.
I am getting a local SIM card here in in the first Spanish town met. Out of the 3 main operators, the first one, Mobistar, doesn’t have offers for internet as a prepaid SIM. The second, Vodafone, has an interesting offer but the shop doesn’t have the SIM cards until next week. As a result, unless I’m ready to wait a few days until the next town that have telephony shops, I have to deal with the third operator, the much dreaded Orange. With which nothing works and credit disappear, for their services I tried in France and Switzerland. This time, it seems to go smoothly, there is a decent offer among the offers with name of animals, and the contract is quickly set up. The shop closes just after my visit, at 2 pm. Yes, we’re now in the country where shops are closing between 2 pm and 5 pm, so I’d better not have my hunger fever at the wrong time of the day.
We cycle east, direction Barcelona via Puigcerda. Actually we’ll turn right a bit before Puigcerda. We have the Pyrénées mountain range on the left and the Cadi-Moixerò national park on the right: it’s a very nice road. When leaving Andorra, we had the choice to go via the plains and the cars, or the hilly way. Despite being a bit sore and satiated with mountains and passes, we took the challenging option, and it pays well so far.
I cycle without my jacket. It seems it is according to my naive thinking that, just by getting into Spain, we’ll get a more clement weather. But it is actually true. The day is going well at the exception of my Spanish SIM not connecting to internet. Orange is really bad in every country.
I find the change in font and style of the road signs disturbing. Spending most of my time on the road, I get used to a certain font and color coding, and there is a real change with the Spanish one. One of the fonts for the city directions looks like MS Comic Sans. There is also less harmonization in the signs, too many fonts and too many colors used. Maybe it’s made on purpose to be more visible from far away for the same font size, but still, it’s disturbing. It’s like moving into a new flat.
We stop to camp around 5 pm. Despite our impression, the temperatures are still below zero. Yet we feel much warmer than in France. It’s important to notice we’re also at 1000 m. Just after setting up the tent, the interior of the outer layer is already covered with ice crystals.
We wake up the next day in a snowflake field near Bellver. The gradient of comfort between being half-asleep in a warm sleeping bag, unaware of the weather outside, and being standing up in the snow trying to pack the gear and fold the tent, is large enough to have an influence on my morning mood, usually not positive without reasons anyway.
We thought it was really warmer than the days in France, but it was minus something outside. We quickly pack the tents to leave, but they are wet anyway.
We stop in Bellver to have some breakfast and find a solution to my Orange SIM card that doesn’t want to connect to internet. I had already 2 calls yesterday with the service desk in Spanish (it was OK until the end where they started talking too fast, and I understood twice that I had to remove the battery and wait 30 minutes. Which of course didn’t satisfy me as a solution). Actually, with a free Wifi hotspot, I find out on forums that the access point name by default needs to be changed. It’s strange that a SIM card needs such configuration … but it works, and on this good news we finally leave Bellver.
It’s still snowing and we stop again in a bakery at the exit of the town for a breakfast extension. We notice the price of the bread is significantly higher than in France.
When we decide to go “for real”, it’s already 12 and we brave the snow. With glasses and a ski mask. The snow falls almost horizontally with the wind. Of course, that’s against us. The sky is a soup of grey and heavy white, diffusing the sun rays in a way we don’t know anymore where the sun is. Because bicycles cannot take the tunnel of Cadi, we must go up and down again. This ascent shall take us until 1777 m high, hence an elevation gain of 700 m. It’s not a small one. The slope begins in the vicinity of Alp, and takes us through La Molina ski resort. It follows the train line Barcelona – Puigcerda.
The sky starts to open and looks finally bluer than grey. The little density of snowflakes falling on us is bearable and it’s a total different feeling than earlier. It sounds like a repetition of our day in the ascent of the Port d’Envalira in Andorra, when the sky opened up during the effort and against our low expectations. At the top of La Molina, we’re at 1700 m and the lifts of the ski resort are running. There are not too many people, but enough snow for skiers and snowboarders to have fun. We’re a bit like UFOs with our bikes in the middle of the scene. The restaurant serves burgers and we fall for one as we think we have almost reached the pass.
The road signs are confusing: Puigcerda is indicated at all turns in various directions. We follow only Ripoll, our goal for the day. It goes a bit higher, as expected, until a sign reading “Coll de la Creueta (1888 m), 7km ahead”. This sign goes against our belief that the pass is at 1777 m, as checked with Gonzalo yesterday evening. And now what? What if the road takes us above 2000 m or higher? Still, we have no other choice than to continue. We still follow Ripoll and the road slightly goes down after reaching 1800 m. It’s never a good feeling when the road descends before reaching a pass, as it feels like wasted efforts: we’d have to climb again this lost elevation, and even more, later on. The road descends, descends again, along the mountain. It feels like surfing it, the scenery is very nice, it would be super enjoyable if we weren’t wondering when are we getting to the 1888 m pass.
At one point, we can see the whole valley ahead of us. Very scenic. Lots of snow and greenery. But we can’t see any exit to this valley. It’s a dead end. There’s nothing but a small village at the bottom of it. We can see the road slightly going down, and the awareness that we’d have to climb all of it at the end of the day. If we can … as it’s already 4 pm. Actually we can’t. Cyril has to catch a train tomorrow back to France, and we can’t get stuck here.
Yet, the maps we have, on Google Maps or sometimes on the local boards, show a 90° turn of the road at the end of the valley, and a continuation to Ripoll without many bends. It doesn’t look like it’s going up again, indeed, but it’s hard to say without the relief on the map. A car going uphill stops to ask us the way to Andorra. Visibly they feel lost on this mysterious road, even though they are on the right way. We take the opportunity to ask where they come from and how’s the road ahead. They reply it’s only downhill until Barcelona. Hmmm …. we’re full of joy, but hard to believe when looking at the valley.
Not before we reach the very end of the valley, two peaks are slightly disassociating from each other. There is a narrow opening between them, and we can finally see where the road continues. It really turns 90°C at the village of Ribes de Freser and keep descending! It’s a feeling of relief and we resume on our super long descent. The slope was gentle since we reached 1800 m and that’s now more than 20 km that we’re descending in the curves of this amazing scenery.
However, it’s almost night and we must find a place to camp. We were trying to descend fast so as to gain degrees of warmth, but it’s too late. We find a shelter just nearby the road and stay there. Our tents, put for drying outside, freeze instead. We fill up the doorway with a barrel and wood plates to sleep warmer. It’s 2°C inside.