4 lads, 8 wheels, 288 spokes and ~600 beers. The plan resulting from a combination of pub chat, long days in the office, a craving to revisit a heavenly French beach I discovered a few years ago on a fixed gear tour, and a drive to see some new parts of the world. A few days in Barca at the end, a just reward.
The crew? Nathan, Alex, Joe and myself. All seasoned beer drinkers, occasional campers and cycling enthusiasts. Planning consisted of booking flights out to Nantes and back from Barca, then one evening spent looking at maps picking out stops purely based on distance apart rather than local attractions. This wasn't going to be a sightseeing tour after all, just bikes, bros and beer (and pizza).
We got off on the wrong foot following our flight out being delayed by a couple of hours. Our plan was to arrive and have bikes built by 18:00 leaving us time to cover 20-30 miles that evening, following to the delay we weren't on the road till after 8 and light soon began to fade. I checked on maps and found a little campsite about 13 miles away so we headed there.
This turned out great as the campsite was on a vineyard and the owner after charging us €4 each for camping was more than happy to sell us each a bottle of his own wine, €3 a bottle, can't complain. Alex and myself didn't even pitch up that night, just rolled out sleeping matts and slept in our jungle bags (bug nets done up!) From there the journey blurs into 3 parts, France, The Pyrenees and Spain.
Through France we rode through rolling country side and farmland, stopping in picturesque towns with incredible churches to refuel.
From the offset the heat was formidable, hovering around the early 30s throughout the day. We found ourselves frequently routed along off road sections, which was quite fun but slow and hard work. After a couple of days of mixed surfaces and one particularly scenic detour, we realised the Garmin was set to route us on unpaved paths. Although we had enjoyed getting rad and gravel grinding it was quite a relief to be back on the road.
Once set to paved roads the rest of France passed by in a blur of blue skies, golden sands, green forests and rolling fields. High points included camping on the aforementioned beach (Soulac sur Mer), great food, expensive beer and the discovery of a wild weed field.
We arrived in Lourdes (at the foot of The Pyrenees) tired but hungry, hungry for pizza and more adventure. After pizza we observed the ritual which Lourdes is famous for, the saving of hundreds of people from terminal illness by The Baby Jesus and his holy water. It didn't rain a drop for the whole trip apart from while we were in Lourdes. We slept feeling cleansed following a good drenching on the ride back from the cathedral.
We wound our way out from Lourdes and towards our first mountain, Le Col du Soulor. Watching the mountains swell around me as we glided along the valley floor, bigger and bigger... I felt as if I was eased into it. Climbing higher and higher, the world fell away, the landscape evolved, the road wound... The sun pulsed.
There seemed to be quite a shortage of cyclists taking this on and a definite lack of other "tourists". I have no idea how long the climb took me, no garmin no rules etc. I do know that when I got the the top Nate and Joe were waiting for me, beers in hand.
We celebrated too soon as it happened, not realising Col d'Aubisque was a little way up the road still. 3 beers in and feeling capable we continued to the top of the Col, had an overpriced and disappointing omelette then commenced the descent.
The descent, oh what a descent. I've ridden all sorts in my time; BMX racing, DH mountain biking, dirt jumps.... This descent was without a doubt the most fun I've ever had on a bike. Maybe the most fun I've ever had, ever. Hitting 60mph twisting and turning through chicanes and switchbacks, the edge of the road and a plummet of a few hundred feet just inches away from the edge of my tyres. Just incredible.
After more pizza and a bit of a party in a tiny French town that night, the next day we crossed the Col du Portalet which consisted of a 20 mile climb through villages, forests, sparse green lands and eventually desert on the other side. This was a "surprise col" as in, we thought it was going to be a flat day for some reason. Never mind though, we were now in Spain, and boy, was it hot.
The next few days as we closed in on our destination were really tough. We had gone from hot, to hottest. There was one day me and Joe got off track, then ran out of water. Dehydrated, out of water and in mid afternoon heat approaching 40 degrees... We were fortunate to be directed to a public water tap on the edge of the village we were passing. Further down the road we caught up with Nate and Alex who had been provided with frozen bottles of water by a kind local, and had then sought shelter in a kids park. That was a tough, tough day.
It was ok though, it ended in pizza, beer and a cool/breezy camp spot.
We now had 3 days till Barca but decided to make a break for it and get there a day early. We planned a new route and cracked on. Unfortunately the campsite we aimed for after another tough day was closed. We found a safe camp spot next to an RC car and airplane track with a great view of the sun setting over the town. After a few litre bottles of San Miguel and a bag of Cheetos between us, we were content. We were living.
Last day on the road. Undulating terrain and a brutal headwind, even the downhills felt like ups. This was the only day I bonked, and I bonked so damn hard. I was wobbling up the road like a toddler on their first ride without training wheels. I made it through, and then, we had arrived.
750 miles, 10 days, 7 punctures, several kilos of Haribo, a shed load of coffee, tapas and bread, all the beer. We made it. It felt surreal. We made it.
I've already gone over my word quota by about 3x, there is so much more I'd love to share but we'll save that for another time. 4 lads, on their bikes, having the time of their lives.
What a trip.
Tom Uttley @malaysianz
Nathan Hughes @Restrapltd
Joseph Taylor @joseph666taylor
Alex Dyson @a__dyson