In the spring, summer and early autumn of 2003 I embarked on a epic solo bicycle ride through Europe. The goal was to cross every border on mainland Europe, starting in Portugal and ending in Norway, 40 countries and 7,000 miles, all by ‘bike.
I’ve been clearing out my PC’s hard drive and found some stuff I wrote about it shortly afterwards
Here is a taster;
“Day 11 Andorra at last! What’s it like? Like Lakeside shopping centre with mountains. The shops are huge with an amazing amount of choice. Confusing for me after all those tiny Spanish village shops that appear to just sell oranges, dog food and a chainsaw. A good old ride to get here over a 1725m high pass. Tomorrow, France.
The camp-site wasn’t the most pleasant it must be said. It was next to a busy road and a fast running river. The weather wasn’t brilliant either with a bit of rain around and cloud wreathing the mountainsides. What was good was meeting some fellow Brits. Gerry and his wife Chris were heading south in an old VW camper and had stopped to stock up with food. They were the first of a certain kind of traveler I was to meet again; the sort who had cut the ties of property and family and were just adrift in the World. They worked at campsites in the UK, but only for as long as it took to save up enough to head off again. They were vague about where they were heading and kept talking about Morocco, but they had no real plan it seemed, and would go wherever their whim would take them. The next morning I had breakfast with them in their camper, and then it was time to do a bit of admin and steel myself for the climb ahead. I monopolized the radiators in the camp-site’s wash-room to dry my hand-washed clothes and brought as much food as I dare. It wouldn’t do to be carrying to much weight on the climb. Searching for an internet café meant I could have a look around Sant Julia de Loria and it was amazing what you could buy it what was quite a small town. Half price high tech mountain bikes anyone? Or a Ferrari at €10,000 off list? Maybe my next trip should start off in Andorra with all new kit purchased there.
Then quite late, after midday, I set off. It was a steep climb almost straight away. Andorra is basically just one big valley easily accessible from the Spanish side but leading up to Port D’envalira, the highest pass in the Pyrenees. The border with France comes shortly after that. Apparently Andorra has the highest life expectancy of any country (83.5 years), and I’d have to say any amount of walking, or cycling, here would give anyone a healthy heart. It’s all pretty steep.
Once past the Capital, Andorra la Vella, it became an almost constant low gear slog. The cloud seemed to ride up the valley so soon there was bits of cloud above and ahead, and bits of cloud below and behind. The patches of snow that were on the mountainsides above became patches alongside and I could see deeper snow by the roadside ahead. I saw my first skier, who looked a bit lost having come down the valley to find she had now run out of snow. I suppose she would soon have to climb, like I was. Up, up and up again. Saddle-soreness wasn’t going to be an issue, I was out of saddle all of the time and pumping hard. My knees held, my legs strained and I breathed deep. It felt exhilarating. If you don’t do much cycling that might seem a bit odd, most people seem to think of climbing as the worst bit. In fact it’s one of the best because of the challenge. And this particular challenge was always going to be the biggest of the ride. It was so early on, when my body hadn’t adjusted to daily cycling, it was easily the highest pass and the potential for bad weather was the greatest. By now the occasional spots of rain had became occasional flakes of snow and instead of supermarkets there were hotels and shops selling ski gear. Ever upwards. By the time I got to the tunnel into France the snow was quite thick alongside the road. It was fairly obvious that I wouldn’t be allowed to use the car choked tunnel, and who would want to when there are mountains to climb?“You must go that way”, said the policeman at the tunnel entrance, pointing almost vertically upwards. The road could be seen zig-zagging up through thick snow banks before disappearing into the cloud. Time to heave-ho and pump those pedals just a little longer. The snow banks were now as tall as me and flakes were starting to settle on my gloves and jacket. But the road was clear and I was generating enough heat of my own. After a while I could see the outline of a radio tower, then I came to a petrol station and it was pretty clear there was no more up to go. I stopped a while to add some layers of clothing and to reward myself with some chocolate. Then it was downhill towards France. A few days later the 2407 metre pass was closed due to snow.
Despite the extra clothing I got an instant soaking on the descent. The speed picked up so quickly a couple of cars were seriously getting in the way on the first few hairpins. Pas de La Casa, and the obligatory duty free shops, flashed past and I was in France. Coming out of the cloud revealed a wider valley with the road still going steeply down. Poor brakes, and the bike weaving around because of the extra weight, tempered any speed craziness, but the computer still registered 75 kph (47mph) a couple of times. The 20 miles from Sant Julia to Port D’envalira had taken almost half the day. The 24 miles to Ax Le Themes had taken just 55 minutes.”