Figueres - An Autumn by the Sea - CycleBlaze

December 4, 2018

Figueres

The remarkable thing about cycle touring is that you never really know what lies in store for you from one day to the next.  Each day holds the potential to be uniquely different and memorable - not just in comparison to the day before or even the rest of the tour, but from the rest of your whole life.

Today was such a day.  After three days of blissfully beautiful cycling, today happened.  Not a bad day exactly, and not one you’d regard as possibly the best day of the tour; but certainly a candidate for the most interesting and memorable.   Sui generis.

Today began serendipitously enough, with breakfast at Poppys and another engaging, informative conversation with our host Paul.  Besides offering interesting conversation and companionship, he fed us two more pieces of information to add to Ceret’s appeal.  First, it’s very easy to get around by bus and bike: bus fare in the region is only one euro, and bikes can just be stashed in the hold.  And, there is a lively, well developed English-speaking community here.  Many of the arts are presented in English, and there is even a bridge club.  

More and more irresistible.  Time to hit the road, before we break out the checkbook and do something foolish.

Our inn, Poppys, is the beige building on the right. Our room is on the 2nd floor, left. Stay here, if you know what’s good for you.
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We leave France today, with our destination Figueres just across the border at the base of the Pyrenees.  Our ride begins by backtracking a few miles along the EV8, which as we saw the day before yesterday is a beautiful ride.  It’s especially fine today: sunny, warm (near 70F), slightly downhill, with a slight tailwind.

Soon enough we turn south, cross the river, and head into the foothills.

Leaving Ceret over the Devil’s Bridge, hopefully not for the last time.
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After backtracking a few miles we come again to Cinderella’s castle.
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🎵 Cool desert plant of the day 🎵. Hey, wait! We’ve fallen into the wrong journal! Help! Jeff, GET US OUT OF HERE!!
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Bill ShaneyfeltChuckle!

You can eat those purple prickly pear fruits! They are good! (Someone in Mexico might benefit from that info. but watch out for the glochids!)
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1 week ago
Chris PountneyWow that is a cool desert plant! Haven't seen any with the purple fruits on over here yet!
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1 week ago
Marian RosenbergTo Chris PountneyIt's called Cactusfruit and it's yummy.
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6 days ago
More like it! After our brief detour to Baja we’re back in pleasant French Catalonia, looking south toward the end of the Pyrenees. We’ll be following EV8 through that low gap straight ahead, Col de Panissars.
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At Saint-Jean-Pla-de-Cortes we cross the Tech and turn south, toward Spain.
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We’re still following EV8 as we climb a low saddle of the range that tops out at only about 1,200 feet.  We don’t really know anything about the pass we’re going over, or the quality of the road.  We’ve only come this way because it fits well with a visit to Ceret, and we’ve been really impressed with the EV8 over the last two weeks and trust the route it takes through the mountains.  We only decided on this routing about four days ago.  Had we done our research, we might have had second thoughts.

At first, EV8 continues to impress us, right up to the frontier.  We follow a very quiet, gradually ascending road that climbs through increasingly dry oak forest.  Never too steep, completely quiet, it makes for a delightful ride.  We see only a single vehicle on the entire climb - a postal van, which inches past  us on the narrow road and then annoyingly enough makes a U-turn and passes us going the other way.

We start climbing almost immediately. We’re on a very quiet road, and see only a single vehicle - a postal delivery van - between here and the summit. Beautiful cycling.
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We’re climbing through an old cork forest that looks like it’s not been harvested in many a season.
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Old cork trees are incredibly rutte and ridged.
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I’m not certain of the direction here, but I think we’re looking southeast toward Perpignan.
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Jacquie GaudetNortheast, surely?
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4 days ago
Scott AndersonTo Jacquie GaudetOf course. I’ve always had the wrong mental map of the Pyrenees for some reason, and think of it as a north/south range. It goes back to childhood and I’ve never been able to reprogram myself.
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4 days ago
Jacquie GaudetTo Scott AndersonFor me, it's left-right. I can usually visualize a compass, but sometimes get east-west mixed up. I can only imagine what I will do with north-south should I ever make it south of the Equator.
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4 days ago
He doesn’t look too scary here, but he and his sidekick kept me well back from the premises.
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Hey, I thought we were done with mystery blossoms for this year.
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Bill ShaneyfeltAfter lots of internet searching, I think it may be blue potato bush.

https://www.thespruce.com/blue-potato-bush-growing-profile-3269148
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1 week ago
Scott AndersonTo Bill ShaneyfeltCould be, but if sowhere are the potatoes? We’ll wait for Andrea’s confirmation though - I’m sure she must have this growing in the back yard.
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1 week ago
Bill ShaneyfeltTo Scott AndersonI hope she does.

I nearly gave up on the ID search. My initial thought was that it looked like a nightshade family, but did not use that name till I'd exhausted all the color, etc. descriptives I could think of. My flower search capabilities outside North America are kind of weak.
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1 week ago
Scott AndersonTo Bill ShaneyfeltI’d say your research technique is pretty impressive, and I think you’re spot on here. The photo in your link looks just right.
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1 week ago
The climb to the summit is a beautiful cycling road, all the way to the border. The fun will end shortly though.
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Rachael pulls ahead of me as we near the summit and I find frequent reasons to stop with the camera.  She’s not at the top when I arrive, but the ruins there are striking enough that I have to stop for a closer look.  Feeling guilty about making her wait somewhere down the road, I nevertheless spend a few minutes looking around and walking the short path to the absolute summit and the border marker that stands there.  This is the Col de Panissars, the route the Romans used for crossing the mountains ages ago.  There is no one else up here, and there is no sound other than truck traffic from the highway two miles south.  It is an awe inspiring feeling to stand here, looking over the valley, at the fort crowning the adjacent ridge, and the stone ruins beneath my feet.

It’s always nice to get a summit sign, but it’s better when the elevation is stated too. I’m not sure, but I’m guessing we’re at about 10,000’ here. Note that we’re even a bit below the true summit, and I’ve still got Rachael at hand to perform the photography duties.
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We’re crossing the Pyrenees over an ancient route, the main traverse in Roman times. The Romans called this pass Summum Pyrenaeum. This marker isn’t quite that old though - just an unimpressive 18th century placement.
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We’re at the junction of Via Domitia, the first Roman road through Gaul; and Via Augusta, the most important Roman Road through Iberia. I think the ruins are of a medieval priory from the Eleventh century.
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The eastern terminus of Via Augusta, if I’m correctly understanding what we’re seeing here.
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A few hundred yards later, i catch up with my partner waiting at a bend in the road.  She’s not impatient, but she is a bit vexed.  She’s staring down a steep, rutted dirt/gravel road that snakes through the oak forest, with an awesome view of the valley floor in the distance.  The pavement ended at the international  border, and we’re staring at an unbikable (by us, at least) road down the pass with no visible end.

With no realistic alternative, we start walking.  Slowly.  With great difficulty.  We strain for the next mile to maintain control of our bikes as we cross over the deep sandy ruts, struggling to hold them back and to keep our balance.  Partway down, we come to a minimally marked three way junction and spend some time considering our options and weighing the conflicting information available before choosing the downhill option based more on hope and faith than science.

Well!
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The signage here is confusing - look at all the arrows! Not a place you want to make a mistake. Our GPS directs us to continue forward, but the sign points downhill to Figueres. We decide to heed the sign and hope for the best.
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The XVII century Fort de Bellegarde guards the pass above La Perthus. Its most recent use was as a prisoner of war camp by the gestapo during World War Two.
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Once we cross over into Spain, the road surface degrades immediately. It takes us an hour to cover the next mile, walking steeply downhill over a deeply rutted gravel road.
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You can see here how steep and difficult the descent is from Rachael’s body language.
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The video of our descent is sped up of course - we’re not technical riders and aren’t even close to being able to bike most of this path.  It will give you the general idea though.

We chose right, thankfully.  Eventually, our road ends beside the train line, at the point where it emerges from a tunnel beneath the pass.  We’re elated and relieved to find pavement, but are quickly sobered up again when the road passes beneath the tracks and turns to dirt again.  It’s more like a road than a goat trail now though, and we’re able to bike the next mile or two until we rejoin the paved world just outside of La Jonquira.

It seemed too staged and dramatic to kiss the pavement at the bottom, but we felt like it.
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It didn’t last long though. A few hundred yards later, the pavement ended again.
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in La Jonquira, we capture our plane tree photo for the day.
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We enjoy a few miles of smooth, quiet cycling on a short paved stretch of EV8. That’s it though - soon, the fun ends and we’re off pavement once more. EV8 is no longer our friend.
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After a few miles of easy riding, EV8 veers off from the road to a narrow paved path.  Against Rachael’s better judgement, we follow EV8 down this path because that’s what I had mapped out, and it’s shorter.  Sensible sounding enough, but a poor decision - as we discover when we come to a completely flooded dip in the road a mile later.

We’ve really been making terrible time all day up to this point, with an average speed of under 7 mph.  We haven’t even covered twenty miles yet, but it’s after two already and we’re starting to become conscious of the time.  We don’t want to turn back and find a different route, so we decide to test the waters.  I remove my shoes, and tentatively start crossing the stream.  It’s fine, as it turns out - not slick, and perhaps just a half foot deep, so our panniers don’t bottom out in the water.  Once across, I give Rachael the thumbs up and she gamely follows my lead.

W

The fun ends when we come to a creek which has flooded its banks. After some discussion, we conclude it is too far to backtrack this late and the day, and we should try wading.
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Really?
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She’s not smiling.
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We’re relieved to be across of course, but almost immediately the pavement ends again.  For the next half mile we slowly walk our bikes through the muddy track, chewing up precious time as we go.  Then we come to another flooded out section.

It’s at this point that Rachael snaps a bit, and starts laughing hysterically at the absurdity of our situation.  She starts singing a bit nonsensically, says she won’t listen to anything I say any more, but continues on.  What else is there to do?

It’s not that bad, actually.  I take my shoes off and walk my bike through the narrow, oozy puddle; but she finds a manageable spot to ceoss through the weeds beside the road.  Soon after, thankfully, we’re back on pavement again and stay there for the remaining nine miles to Figueres, arriving not long before 5, not long before sunset.

We’ll be here for three nights.  I have a pair of day rides lined up, but you can be sure that we’ll look carefully at those maps before setting out tomorrow.

Beyond the flooded creek, the pavement ends and we tease our way through the mud. It’s great - no cars!
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Oh, come on. Not again!
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This isn’t funny. STOP STARING AT ME!
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A mile later we say our regrets to the EV8, as it turns to the coast and we bend inland. The next few miles to Figueres go fast, fortunately - it’s not far from sundown.
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We’re staying at the upscale but friendly four star Hotel Pirineos for the next three days. A bit posh, but it’s fine with us - we feel like we’ve earned a bit of pampering.
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We have a lot to celebrate tonight: New country! Surviving the EV8! 5,000 kilometers! 5,000 likes on the journal! Odd how persistent our 1♥️/km average is. Thanks for your continued interest and support.
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For the foodies amongst the crowd, here’s how Rachael celebrated the evening: with sea bass, asparagus and potatoes.
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Today's ride: 35 miles (56 km)
Total: 3,129 miles (5,036 km)

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Comment on this entry Comment 4
David MathersOMG you guys are a couple of tough nuts! After watching Rachael's video I would have been calling in the SAR rescue team! I know there are some great roads to come and the Costa Brava is spectacular. Really enjoying your blog.
Dave and Anne Mathers
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1 week ago
Scott AndersonTo David MathersNot sure about the tough part, but nuts for sure! Thanks for following along, thanks for the encouragement.
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1 week ago
Jen GrumbyWow .. what a day!! I'm very impressed with how you both rose to every challenge. Rachael - I'm especially impressed that you took the route of laughter at the absurdity .. I think I would have been in full ugly-cry meltdown mode.

The first video shows the gnarliness of the road very well .. and love the choice of song to go with it.

So glad you eventually 'got what you needed' with a comfortable place to stay and a good meal. Hope you're able to get some good rest over the next few days.
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1 week ago
Rachael AndersonTo Jen GrumbyWhat made me laugh so hard was that when we hit some pavement we got 50 yards of down and then 50 yards that we had to push because it was 20% and when we reached the top we were back into the the gravel and sand. One thing for sure we won’t forget the ride. Thanks for all your great comments. You’re the best and a lot tougher than I am.
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1 week ago