By Ashlin Barry
My parents and my grandparents taught me that a good ride becomes a great ride when you add an element of adventure to it. Some of the best moments I’ve had on a bike were when I discovered a new area, pushed my physical limits, or ventured off the planned route. A few weeks ago, as we rode through the countryside outside of Toronto, Dad asked me what had been my most enjoyable day on a bike. I answered without hesitation, that it was a day in the Catalan Pyrenees, when we rode, hiked, and picnicked with some close friends.
That adventure started in the morning with pastries eaten in the car, as the mist rolled over down from the peaks into the valley. I sat in the passenger’s seat, calm and content, buckling my shoes, and clasping my helmet for the day’s adventure. We arrived close to the town of Camprodon in the Catalan municipality of Ripollés, close to the French border in the Pyrenean mountain range. I stepped out of the car in to the crisp and fresh high altitude air. Up there, at 988 meters, the air felt cleaner than in Girona, the small town where I was born, and where we were back visiting old friends. We rode through the mountain towns of Villalonga de Ter and Setcases to arrive at the base of Vallter.
As the slope increased, the ride got harder and the air was thinner as we gained elevation. The climb had been straight up until this point. We began going through tight switchbacks, each turn of the road felt steeper. Rock facades rose on my right while the mountain gave way to the valley and river to my left. The clouds in the sky felt closer and the temperature felt like it was dropping. Approaching the halfway point, we passed groups of cows walking down the mountain and my legs began to hurt. I tried to stay focused as I looked over towards the green trees and layers of mountains in the foreground.
Towards the end of the climb, in each of the last dozen or so switchbacks, were names of all the most famous bike races in Europe. At the end of the ride I felt a sense of accomplishment. Changing into my clothes I was astonished at how fresh the air was on the mountaintop. After the ride we hiked up the trail leading to Gra de Fajol, the highest peak in the area. We stopped for a picnic lunch on the way up and at a refugio (mountain houses that welcome hikers with good Catalan food, drinks and lodging) for snacks on our return. The refugio provided some shelter from the elements and had friendly hosts, who entertained us with stories, insight and history of the region. We were also greeted by sheep and horses, that ate grass from our hands, on the flatter sections of the hike. At the very top of the mountain I couldn’t see more than two meters with the clouds blocking our line of sight but on a clear day, I’m told you can see into France and out in to the Mediterranean Sea. To get back down the mountain we strapped on our helmets and cycling shoes, and bombed down, out of the clouds and into the valley. Descending the mountain and getting back just in time for dinner ended the day perfectly. It’s a day, I would love to relive, and if possible, a climb and hike you should all try.
- Route Distance: 49.7 km (doesn’t include the hike)
- Elevation: 1768m