Studio Velo Spanish Adventure: Day 6 - to arrive in this world

To wake in Catalunya, in the Spanish countryside with coffee brewing and your breakfast being whipped up by a professional chef, is to have arrived--in my estimation.   After breakfast we were off on a twenty minute jaunt to start our ride start in the countryside.  While the 9 women on the ride were rearing to go, Colin was fluttering around looking for this, looking for that--hairbrush, mascara, foundation--and we ladies had fun harassing him. 

Most of the menfolk had been tasked with dropping a van at the ride destination in Roses for the benefit of beaching and beers post ride. Colin, Steve, Marni, Rachael, Petra, Sandy, Mo, Nina, Deanna, Jasmine and Sarah set off at a very civilized pace through some beautiful back country roads.  The landscape was open and wild, and was very reminiscent of the hinterlands of Mexico.  Given the similarities, the Spanish must have felt right at home when conquering the Americas.  Despite thousands of years of civilization, it is heartening to know that such truly wild (except for us riding through on a finely paved road) expanses still exist.

As Colin and Scott had warned, the creamy dreamy pavement of Spain gave way instantaneously to a bone rattling, kidney disheveling descent just about the moment we crossed the border into France--similar to the way that the pavement disintegrates on Sir Francis Drake the moment you cross into Samuel P. Taylor State Park.  After the not insignificant climb, we felt we deserved better.  My brakes were howling like a tortured hyena.  It had gone from bad to worse by the time we got to the bottom where we regrouped at the old fashioned water pump conveniently placed in the middle of precisely nowhere.  This clearly used to be “somewhere”, for a critical (and beautiful) piece of infrastructure such as this was surely an important crossroads in days of old. 

While waiting, the antique roadie who had crested the climb with us flew by in a rather precarious state.  He was covered in blood, fairly pouring from his helmet, down his face and front.  Petra attempted assistance with a hearty “Hey!!  Are you okay??” but to no avail.  He rode off into France, never to be seen again. 

We hooked up with the rest of the crew at a cafe in a beachside town in France, and began another big climb, reunited once again.  The pace had inexplicably picked up again now that the men were back...alas, these were gorgeous climbs and one was always assured of having inspiration to try harder, or a friend to endure with should the legs fail to respond.  Lunch back in Spain was fabulous, though too large for the ensuing--you guessed it--CLIMB.  This climb was accompanied by a fierce, hot, hellish headwind that made me want my mommy.  Fortunately, Ron was there and offered his wheel to Nina and I for the entire suffering duration until at last we were in Roses where Ritchie and beers and the beach and my bikini awaited.


Again, “Esta es La Vida”.  This is the life.

Tomorrow:  Last day :(  we ride Roca Corba outside Banyoles.  Apparently the local Spanish and French pros train here.  Maybe I’ll be at the cafe....







Studio Velo Spain Adventure: Day 5 - Mare de deu & Chocolate Cake

While the hardcorians opted to ride up to the monastery, 50% of us were more of the relaxarian type.  We hit the beach in Sant Marti de Empuries.  Mark, Petra, Mo, Sandy, Jerry, Rachael and Marni, set off properly outfitted with towel, sunscreen, book, a fistful of euro and an eye for the nearest chaise/umbrella combo.  Within 200 yards of the parking lot after a quick 20 minute drive, we found our paradise and set up shop.  10 euro each felt like the best money ever spent for this view of the Med.  Families with children frolicking in the surf, lovers strolling in their own amorous universe, tan and rotund old men, topless ladies of varying shapes and sizes--all were represented.  

After a difficult couple of hours reading, daydreaming (about not being on a climb in 100 degree heat), we collectively yawned, stretched, and decided it was time for lunch.  A quick stroll up behind the multi-hundred year-old church and voila--three beautiful restaurants to choose from.  I suspected our choice would be the “fleece the tourist” variety, but it was utterly delightful and we spent a full two hours perfecting this new level of “I’m On Vacation”.  After lunch and a quick walk around town, it was back to our spots for a full-on snooze-athon. 

With all the work we had done, we clearly deserved a nice dinner, so after a couple of hours back at the villa (how I do love saying that--“back at the villa”...), we headed into Bascara for Chef Ritchie/Chris’ only night off.  Bascara is at the confluence of France and Spain and the cuisine is reflective of the location.  Our dining room held one beautiful long table with high-backed chairs and a view out onto the narrow town streets. 

Ritchie/Chris ordered white, rose, and red for us to try, and the tapas began to flow freely.  We had calamari, bread, grilled local veggies with goat cheese, clams, and mussels.  We had our choice of turbot (white fish from the Med), fillet of another white fish from the North Atlantic, grilled rib-eye, or braised pork.  I chose the pork and was not disappointed.  Ron had the rib-eye, and therefore I had a taste of that as well.  Also fabulous. 

There had been the equivalent of a whisper campaign all week regarding the chocolate cake at this place.  When it came time to order dessert, Scott implied that there were only just so many of those crown jewels available, so you had better really want, and furthermore DESERVE to have this chocolate cake.  The other options were orange cake, local ice cream (torrone--hazelnut), flan, a goat cheese/honey dish and maybe one other that currently eludes me.  The orange cake was drizzled with heavenly chocolate, was moist and beatifically orange-y.  While the chocolate cake was indeed good, I have to saw that mine was better.  Scott later admitted that the shortage in the house was actually on the orange cake rather than the chocolate, and that he and the waitress were in cahoots to herd us into choosing appropriately.  

Properly stuffed, we headed back to the villa and retired to dreams of more climbing the next day.

Tomorrow: RocaCorba.  Apparently it is going to be a torture-fest for our final send off.

Studio Velo Spanish Adventure: Day 4

Today we started our ride in Bisbol, about 30 minutes from the villa.  A quick cortado at the cafe across the street and we were off.  Ritchie led us out as Colin had “forgotten” his helmet and shoes...

 Busy city streets quickly gave way to charming farm roads, and then to a gentle yet mature climb winding through the forest of the old country.  Scott, Eli, Ron, Mark, Bill and Mike had ridden directly from the house and were due to catch us at any minute.  I looked over my shoulder and saw someone coming at me as if he were descending versus climbing this hill.  I said “Hola!” as he flew past, he smiled, and I thought “I wonder if that’s a Spanish pro rider--they train out here”.   As the blur faded, I realized it was Scott. 


We descended into the first of several beach towns which were reminiscent of Venice Beach and other Southern California beach town mob scenes.  Progress was slow but amusing--dodging pedestrians, locals, tourists, kids, parallel parkers, car doors, backer-uppers, roundabouts, etc., etc., etc.  Roundabouts can be a bit hair-raising for the uninitiated.  And that’s when you’re in a car.  On a bike it is a sort of white-knuckle affair where you take a quick look, try to recall the “rules” that apply for this yawning 400-yard radius of intentional chaos, and gas it into the breach while mentally crossing yourself in the hope of some late-breaking divine intervention.

We were miraculously spit out the other side unscathed and arrived at the best beach town where we had lunch watching the locals and the beautiful blue Mediterranean.  Some of us swam before getting back in the saddle for the second half of our day.  Every inch away from the coast saw a tiny tick upward in the mercury, but as the views seemed to be competing with one another, our attention was elsewhere. Around each corner the new view handily outdid the last one every time. 


To this point, the fun rollers and the scenery had combined to create a delicious harmony.  Only now did Scott inform us of the 8K climb we were about to face.  And it would be steep.  And it would be hot.  And there would be no shade.  It would still be beautiful, I just wasn’t mentally prepared for it.  It went up and up and up, and as Jasmine so accurately described it later that evening, “...and then there was the boat ramp”.  Just when you thought it was over, a wall of pavement materialized in front of you, resembling--well--a boat ramp.  A couple of swear words under the (heavy) breath, and we all huffed it over the top to a long descent into Llagosterra. 

 We reconvened at a glorious fountain in town, some of us (me) opting to take the van back, and more than half of the crew opting to ride the rest of the way back to Bisbol.  It was fun watching the hammerheads sprint for the town line from the comfort of the air-conditioned van.

 Back at the villa, pool and beverages were once again enjoyed by all.  Chef Ritchie/Chris prepared his best dinner yet, in my estimation.  Sole, roasted carrots with onion, garlic (balsamic?), braised rabbit, pasta fabuloso, and bread.  Ritchie showed us how to expertly bone a fish, and since there were extras on the table, well, we just had to keep trying it over and over and over.  And since waste is sinful, we had to eat it all as well.  Dessert was a peach over a Greek yogurt panna cotta that was muy deliciosa. 

Tomorrow:  Options--beach day or ride up the really steep hot mountain to the monastery. 

50% chose to ride, 50% chose beach. 

I’ll be the one under the umbrella with a parasol in my drink. 

Studio Velo Spanish Adventure: Day 3

Left out of yesterday’s post was mention of the raging wildfire that started in France, crossed the border into Spain and began working its menacing, unfocused march toward--well, everywhere.  We saw it beginning around 2:00 in the afternoon, a massive plume of smoke initially misinterpreted as a herd of thunderclouds.  A second look confirmed that this was a rather large conflagration, and as we rode back toward the villa via van or bicycle, the orange tinted gray smoke became increasingly ubiquitous.


After yet another splendid dinner (lentils with sausage, a caesar salad, bread, sausage/potato/onion, and eggplant/zucchini/garlic), someone realized that the flames had made it over the ridge and were now visible with the naked eye--flaring, leaping, advancing.  It made for an intensely beautiful (if vaguely concerning) sunset.

Fast forward to the actual beginning of the day 3 post.  Change of plan.  The ash on the ping-pong table and the acrid smell of smoke hanging heavy in the air turned the mountain ride of day 5 to the mountain ride of day 3.  We loaded up and headed to Castleforrit de la Roca, assembled and were off in a jiffy, after a quick “cortado”, Catalan for “spankin’ good espresso and milk”. 


Another gorgeous climb with a maximum of two polite cars per hour, dreamy roads, epic views, and the perfect dose of camaraderie to get you up the quite grueling climbs.  The first descent ended too quickly (as descents are wont to do), and up we went once again.  A quick stop in the town of Beget for spring water dispensing from an iron spigot backed by old (ancient?) stone masonry was like something out of a travel brochure.  Again with the climbing, another disproportionate dollop of descending, and we arrived at lunch.  It was a luminous affair under an ivy trellis with an adorable 8-year-old in pigtails serving our cokes and bocadillos that made the previous three sweat-filled hours worth every searing pedal stroke. 


After lunch, there was an option for a mind-bending climb up Valter.  Enthusiastically opting out, I joined 10 others less masochistic in persona and Scott led us down the most delicious downhill I have ever deigned to delight in.  No cars, open sightlines, my Cyfac whirring like a precision top beneath me.  When we coasted into town, we headed for the cafe of earlier cortada fame.  We reveled in a few well-deserved beers as we awaited the return of Marni, who had flatted on the descent and was provided assistance by the Spanish police (and Mike and Scott too). 


Pool and cocktail hour(s) at the villa remind one that yes, we are in fact on vacation in Spain, and that all is well.

“Esta es la vida”.   This is the life.  Indeed. 

Studio Velo Spanish Adventure: Day Two

The day dawned thankfully hazy and not too hot.  Chef Ritchie had whipped up eggs, potatoes, homemade muslei, fresh fruit and yogurt for the morning feast.  Five alpha males set off at 8:30 to get some extra miles in before our planned meet up spot in Olot.  The balance of us prepared for the ride in a leisurely fashion and hopped into the vans at around 9:45.  In a masterful piece of choreography, the alphas arrived mere minutes after we had suited up and rolled into the square, having already clocked an impressive 35 miles. 


Our group of 17 riders was an energetic force wheeling out of town for our first climb that began after about a .003 mile warm up.  The road turned upward--as did the heat--though to be sure, I was once again thanking whomever controls the weather (Scott?  Colin?) that it wasn’t 105 or any other obscene three-digit number that the first week was cursed with. 

 The grade was relatively gentle--4% to 6%.  And the roads?  The roads need a full poetic praise-filled paragraph all their own.  As any half-cognizant person is likely aware,  Spain, like her erstwhile Greek cousin, has found herself in a bit of a financial bind of late.  She can’t pay the rent, the phone company is gonna cut the line, and the German landlord is knocking with increasing fervor.  Unemployment is rampant, street protests flare and swirl, accusations fly.   But the roads?  They are perfect.  Like butter.  A pothole is a most unusual creature, and I imagine that should one appear on a Spanish thoroughfare, the locals might gather around stroking their chins in a thoughtful pose considering the aberration before them.  These people know how to prioritize their spending.  No job?  Go for a ride--the roads are great! 


The landscape was reminiscent of Southern California (the good parts--Santa Barbara, etc.), but with the occasional thousand-year-old castle thrown in just to keep you on your toes.  Ron, Rachael, Petra, Deanna, Scott and I crested the climb together and there was much rejoicing.  We picked up James on the descent, and oh-what-a-descent.  Again, the roads smooth as silk, the only potential hazard the ill-placed cow splatter which I assume would be rather slippery at 40+ mph. 

 A bit of a hand-gesture misunderstanding at the bottom of the descent led half of us to head for the town square and wait for the others, while the others were wondering why we were so god-forsaken slow, and where the heck were we anyway?  They say that 90% of human communication is non-verbal (or maybe its 56%, but in any case, “they” say it’s a lot...).  While this is probably true, a nod, a wink, and a point “that-a-way” from Colin as he rides in the 100% percent opposite direction might have dictated an actual verbal exchange in this particular case. 


In any event, we soldiered on and after another beautiful-if-challenging climb, and another grin-inducing descent, we found our troops assembled at a delightful long table in town brimming with water, beer, pizzas, salads, and a plethora of happy SV patrons.  Except Mike.  He was still “out there” somewhere.  He was eventually retrieved and brought back into the lunch-fold.  After lunch, half of the crew jumped into the van, and half needed yet more pedaling so rode home with full bellies and cramping legs.  These people are made of steel.  I enjoyed the steel of the van that carried me back to the pool. 

Tomorrow:  To the coast!