28.47 miles; 2092 feet
Having flown into Girona with bikes in cardboard boxes, the first task after breakfast was to build the bikes. Luckily the hotel had a very swish basement with a gym and swimming pool, and a whole clean white room for bikes and bike assembly. Much better than using the pavement outside. With bikes assembled and packed up, we set off on the journey at about 11.00. But we didn’t plan to leave Girona until about 14.00 – so we pushed the bikes through the old town, revisiting the cathedral cafe (where we had been with Catherine and Daniel in 2005) and eventually having a long, fixed menu lunch nearby. The first of many!
The first part of the route followed a good, beside-the-road, bike lane out of Girona.
Having crossed the motorway, this deteriorated a little into what was at times a sketchy gravel track, before joining the bed of the old railway line that we were to follow for the rest of the afternoon. This was mainly a good surface, though never tarmaced. The weather was hot and sunny – high 20s – and there were some stormy rain clouds threatening over the mountains to the north.
Soon after Angeles we crossed the river Ter (whose valley we had been following gently upstream from Girona) and we had our first refreshment stop at a cafe below a hydro dam where the river leaves a gorge. Our route set off north from here up a side valley. After a short section of road, we rejoined the rail trail, now climbing at about 4% most of the time. It was still 15 miles or so to the col, and nearly 2000 feet of ascent. And this was our easy, introductory, afternoon! The reality of crossing the Pyrenees by touring bike began to kick in, as the weight of heavy bikes on a rough surface in the heat took its toll on our legs. Luckily, the rail trail was deeply shaded most of the time, and there were other cyclists to entertain us. We played ‘leapfrog’ with one guy, who abandoned his female partner when we overtook them in order to overtake us – only to wait for her, and be overtaken by us again … and again ….
At one point we abandoned the trail for a shortcut along the road. This was a mistake, first because it was steeper, and second because there was no shade. And miles of this kind of climbing to come over the next two days! We got back on the rail trail at the first opportunity. Just before the col the road and the bike trail swopped places, with the road taking the old rail tunnel underneath and the bike trail taking the abandoned road over the top.
We reached the top in good shape and descended just a little to our first campsite about 3 miles short of Olot. This was just ok – no food on site, so we picnicked outside the nearby swimming pool where we we able to drink beer until it got dark. Thunder rumbled but there was no rain.