2 - 7 July 2017
This section covers the 325k from the French foothill of the Pyrenees in Quillan up to and through Andorra and down into Spain. I had considered doing a long ride through the Spanish part of Pyrenees all the way to the Bay of Biscay. However, the high temperatures, additional 10-12,000 elevation metres climbing and poor quality roads (a problem with the fragile rear wheel) made me change my mind. Instead, I did a fairly short loop through the Spanish Pyrenees and then to the French border at Bagnères-de-Luchon (half way between Bay of Biscay and the Mediterranean). Lots of climbing every day navigating 1-2 passes between 1,400- 2,400 elevation metres in between descending to valleys at 6-700 elevation metres. However, despite the extensive climbing, I found the Pyrenees less spectacular than the Alps – I think because I appreciate rugged steep snow-capped peaks while the Pyrenees were predominantly “round” overgrown hills.
Itinerary and weather
From Quillan, it was a long rolling uphill to Col de Chioula – partly along a river through a narrow gorge and partly through open valleys, where a fierce headwind made it hard work. A steep downhill to Ax-les-Thermes at 700m and an even longer climb up to Andorra at altitude 2,411m. From there, it was 35k downhill to the Spanish border at 1,200m with detours to a couple of valleys. Very hot with temperatures around 40C and little wind - at least the dry heat made it more manageable. Andorra is a “peculiar” country where almost all activity takes place in the “main street” – taking a sideroad implies immediately leaving the hustle & bustle for lovely farmed valleys, also offering great hiking (reminded me of recently built American towns with their strip malls along mainstreet and nothing behind).
In Spain, I rode south to Adrall, west to Sort and north to the French border. Constant long ascends or descends between mountain passes (highest 2,072m) and valleys (around 600m) more often with 8-10-12-15% changes in inclination making the Pyrenees steeper riding than the Alps. The road mainly went through remote mountain areas (overgrown with bushes and forests) passing few towns and villages. It was still very hot with 35-40C and little wind though some day a strong headwind at the same time cooled and slowed me down. At night, temperatures dropped to pleasant 16-18C, so sleeping was never a challenge.
Roads and drivers/people
In France, nothing changed compared to my previous descriptions. The road quality was still an unpredictable mix of good and bad changing ever so frequently, and the drivers were still speeding but being cautious when overtaking me. More people greeted me than on the last stretch from Monaco but I have a feeling, it might have been tourists rather than locals.
The road quality in Andorra was generally great, however sometimes a lacked a shoulder on the big main road through the country. Being wide there was room to ride it, but it was busy and people were speeding impatiently by occasionally honking at me. At least I was going fast downhill all the way – climbing the other way could have been unpleasant.
The Spanish roads were more often bad quality being poorly patched, cracked and potholed. It didn’t matter much riding uphill, but the many downhills were risky going 50-60-70 k/h despite frequent braking. When little wind, recurrent rim-cooling were required while strong headwinds cooled the rims lowering the risk of exploding tires. Besides the heat and poor roads, riding in Spain was a pleasure as there was little traffic and drivers were cautious when overtaking me on the curvy roads. The Spaniards were generally also very friendly smiling or nodding at me - a gratifying change from the indifferent French.
Despite riding in the mountains, camping was unusually difficult. In France, the forests were accessible but full of hikers and mushroom pickers and in Andorra, the valleys were farmed and fenced off. In Spain, the problem was (again) steep slopes and rivers on both sides of the roads. In the end after long searches, I of course always found useful spots though the boggy/humid areas implied swarms of flies and mosquitoes and subsequently showering in repellent.
I had a flat tire but no broken spokes. The latter, likely because I made frequent spoke adjustments especially after the steep downhills were the wheels took hard beatings on the bad roads.
My problem with the dynamo charging cable continued breaking by the soldering. In Andorra, I unsuccessfully spent hours looking for a shop to have it fixed (bikes, cars, electronics, etc.), so I had to continue using tape until it’s fixed.