After a rest day in Tarbes, we head southeast towards Vielha to cross the Pyrenees.
The lady from the tourist office in a small town tells us that a big storm is coming, so we look for a place inside to sleep. We approach a small farm and although the lady wants to host us, she doesn’t have space. She then drives us to the centre of the village to ask Liliane to host us. She seems more than happy to have visitors and my mum is relieved to have a roof over our head when the storm hits.
We go back and before getting on our bikes again, we’re invited in for a drink.
Later, when we arrive at Liliane’s place, we are immediately sat at their table to join them for dinner. After some chitchat, I get to talk about my big upcoming trip. When talking to other people before, they told me: “So, you are cycling around the world?” And although I never thought of it this way (because it’s one continent at a time, I guess), it pretty much sums it up and it’s definitely an easy way to describe what I’m doing. So I tell Liliane I’m cycling around the world (sounds good too!).
Anyway, we have a great rest in a nice room and when we want to leave she only accepts 10 euro. (She was actually renting out that room.) Bless you French people!
We now soon head into the mountains and slowly start our way up to Vielha, where I buy a map of northeast Spain and where we ask if we can cycle across the 5 km tunnel. Turns out we can, but there are many trucks and no space for cyclists, so they tell us it’s pretty dangerous. The alternative is to cross the mountain pass ‘Port de la Bonaïgua’ which can be compared to the Tourmalet with its 2070m. My mum is not really up for that so we take the bus from Vielha across the tunnel, from where we have about 60 km of descent… Nice and easy!
As I remembered from two years ago, there are fewer villages in Spain than in France. So pitching a tent in someone’s garden in harder, but wild camping is so much easier.
There are also some other differences. When waiting to cross a street we are both thoroughly surprised when cars stop spontaneously to let us cross. People definitely are more tolerant towards cyclists.
And then there’s of course the language. I feel SO ashamed not being able to speak Spanish. It really kills me. I feel like a stupid tourist not respecting local people. At least I can say “no hablo Espanol” and people seem to notice I feel really bad about it. Then again this shame is also a great motivation to learn the language fast. That first night when wild camping I get through the whole, yet simplified, grammar section of my phrasebook.
So although we’ve crossed the Pyrenees to the south, we still had to get to the east. The map I got in Vielha, turns out to be not that good. Cause there was not just one mountain pass blocking our way, but two! Therefore we got to do some climbing anyway (which I really loved!). Time was on our side, so we took it easy.
Wild camping kept to be really easy. So much choice of beautiful spots. You can take the ‘wild’ aspect quite literally actually: the last two nights we heard wild pigs around the tent! They were just curious, and easily scared off.
That way, we gently made it to Barcelona. We both couldn’t really believe it! In the end we cycled about 1800 km, but most importantly, my mum and I had a great time together.
We got there two days earlier than planned, which was good, because I still had to sort out quite a lot of stuff.
It was also only two days before arriving that I found the solution for the shimmying. In the end I put every heavy item in the front panniers (so much that they couldn’t close anymore), pumped the tires to 5 bar and, most importantly, I took the handlebar bag off. This last move actually had the biggest effect. A bit strange, but I can do without it and I’m soooo happy the bike is finally acting like it should!
Finally I believed in it. I believed that the bike and I could do it. I believed that we could cross the whole of South and North America together for the next two years or so.
The feeling I had when flying downhill is hard to describe. You just feel as one with the road and the bike. You feel at home. You feel free. You feel in control. You feel like the road is calling. You feel like you can do this for a very long time, cause being on the road just brings you utter joy and happiness. And you feel you’ve got the spirit to just go all the way.
I feel ready. These three weeks have been an excellent preparation for what’s up next. SO LET’S DO THIS!!!
We visited some sights in the city, but I mainly focused on preparing for South America. First I got another crank set with less teeth, cause I noticed I was already in my smallest gear on 10% slopes and that’s on asphalt and without a lot of food/water. I went from a 48 – 26 to a 40 – 22. We’ll see in a couple of months if I manage to cross the Andes 😉
Then, I ordered some new Ortlieb XL panniers which hold 70l. The plan is to put my existing rear panniers in the front (so they can be heavy yet closed when raining). Then I put these XL panniers in the rear after which I don’t need the rack-pack of 49 l anymore. The latter is quite unpractical anyway, cause you can’t access your rear panniers anymore. Then the tent goes in a small drybag on top of the rear carrier. So that’s the new setup!
It was quite tense though to get these panniers delivered. I ordered them online on Saturday afternoon, and although 24h delivery was promised, they didn’t even arrive on Wednesday (I was flying on Thursday…), and I had to get halfway across the city to find them. The adventure had begun!
I also changed my camera gear. In Belgium, I got a secondhand Fujifilm X100, and although it’s a great point and shoot camera for for example street photography, it has a fixed lens and I noticed I missed a zoom when bike touring. So I went shopping and got a Canon D1300 with standard 18-55 mm lens.
We packed the bikes, went for a last meal together, had a short night and headed to the airport.
Next news you read will be from Brazil! Exciting!