The familiar joy of journeying through an unfamiliar landscape
A journey on Catalan gravel
By Chris Hargreaves
I entered the Manchester Airport departures terminal conscious that Jochen was already en route. He was travelling by car from his home city of Hamburg in Germany to our destination, the medieval Spanish city of Girona.
The week prior to our respective journeys had seen the usual flurry of messages: discussing equipment, dissecting our route and wild weather predictions. Thankfully, once we arrived at our destination the first day’s dawn welcomed us with a cloudless sky over Girona’s old town. Unforeseen delays meant we had arrived at our hotel in the early hours, and so the next morning we both felt the need for a pre-ride coffee. With this caffeine hit reviving our spirits we guided our laden bikes to the car ready for a transfer to Rupit, a village to the west of Girona.
Having performed one last check, a final tightening of the luggage straps and filling of our bidons at the village fountain, we rolled down a gravel trail with our shadows sharp and distinct against the sand and grit beneath our wheels.
We rounded a bend out of town and suddenly the view opened to reveal towering cliffs that fell away vertically, exposing the valley floor below. The distinct sound of running water could be heard as the trail descended steeply to a river crossing – rivulets of fresh mountain water ran between folds in the bedrock before reforming to disappear over the edge.
From here the route began to climb which forced both Jochen and I out of the saddle on the steeper sections of the trail. With us gaining elevation quickly, the air began ringing with the sound of bells from the sheep grazing in the mountain pastures.
We soon reached a plateau with the trail ahead flattening as it entered a forest. With the floor strewn with pine needles and criss-crossed with tree roots, our pace picked up and our grins widened. After the recent need to only ride locally, we experienced a sudden thrill of the undiscovered in our charge through the woodland.
Having paused to take a drink in the increasing heat, we heard the rumble of ferocious thunder. Sure enough, moments later, the first raindrops splashed onto our bar bags. Cameras safely stowed, we continued down a series of switchbacks accompanied by the pitter-pattering of rain on the overhanging trees.
Respite from the weather came a little further down the trail as shafts of sunlight punctured the rain clouds. The gravel then switched to rough stone cobbles as we entered the outskirts of Tavertet – a small town perched vertiginously on the edge of a sheer wall of rock. This ring of cliffs framed our view across the valley and on towards distant mountain peaks.
We soaked up the panoramic vista as we freewheeled downhill to a rocky shelf where we would set up camp in anticipation of our evening meal. Now that the rain clouds had blown away to the east, we could see lights coming from the isolated farmhouses on the distant valley floor that mirrored the stars appearing above our heads as the light faded from deep indigo to inky black.
The light from our head torches guided our movements as we finally unpacked our bags. With the tent pitched, the harsh roar of the stove’s gas jet signalled that it was time to eat. Hot food revived our tired bodies as we contemplated the rolling delights of our route and revelled once more in that familiar feeling of riding a loaded bike, and the joy of journeying through an unfamiliar landscape.
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