Ax-Les-Thermes to Puigcerda - From Munich to Spain to France - CycleBlaze

May 13, 2024

Ax-Les-Thermes to Puigcerda

Another Big Day of Climbing

A busy thoroughfare followed by a worthy ascent.
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As already mentioned we have revised plans and are headed to Puigcerda by taking the somewhat busy N20 and climbing over the Col de Puymorens to get to Spain. We think the alternative route through the Tunnel de Puymorens (suggested by komoot) will not be allowed and even if it is allowed, neither of us looks forward to riding through a 16 k tunnel. 

In keeping with a big day our intention was to get on the road by 9:30. Sometimes I feel it’s a miracle we ever get out of town. The packing drama this morning occurred because Dave wanted to install a quadlock phone mount to my bike/phone to replace a cheap rubber mount we had brought with us from home.  He had bought several different parts for this new unit at the Shimano store in Carcassone. There he had asked that I hang on to the new phone mount which I then stored in my miscellaneous bag where he knew where to find it.  Turns out there was another piece that attaches to the back of the phone. This morning we’re all packed up, panniers are closed, the new phone mount is attached, and we’re ready to get on the road, when Dave comes up from the hotel garage to report he needs the additional part that attaches to the back of my phone. I have no idea what he is talking about but he is sure I have it because I had the Quad Lock bike attachment. I had zero recollection of this item and doubted I had it, but in consideration of marital harmony, I opened my panniers and checked in my miscellaneous bag. It wasn’t there. I proceeded to pull apart everything in both panniers looking for it to no avail. Dave then agrees he had better search his stuff too. He sat back down on the bed, pulled both his panniers apart and finally finds the missing piece stashed in a side pocket, where it was placed with no particular rhyme or reason (that Jill, at least, can see). Problem solved, we repacked our panniers and got ready to get on the road. But no…. just as we’re leaving (again) I inquire if he has taken his Miloxicam, a daily medication for his wrist inflammation. Generally it’s not even on my radar to inquire because he is very good about remembering, but for some reason, my prompt makes him realize he hasn’t taken it so…. Sit back down on the bed again, reopen the panniers, dig around for personal kit (etc, etc). 

Finally, on the road with good weather to enjoy. It was a slog up the N20 with a lot of traffic, and car speeds of 70 to 90 kph, and either no shoulder or a tiny (1-2 ft in width) shoulder.  Usually on a busy road like that I turn up the battery so I can pedal as fast as I can to get through it, but I couldn’t do that today because we had a lot of elevation to negotiate and I needed to nurse my battery. It wasn’t as steep a climb as the last two days, but we climbed 800 meters in elevation riding 22 km through Mérens-les-Vals and L’Hospitalet, right to the border of Andorra and Spain.  We then spied a bakery which amazingly was open so we happily purchased Oranginas and a croissant and settled at a picnic table to replenish ourselves before the climb up the Col de Puymorens.

The scenery-beautiful . . .
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The traffic on the N20-very busy!
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We got to enjoy a respite from the highway for a few kilometers.
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Yeah. Yeah. I know. Another water fall . . .
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It was while we were seated at a picnic table enjoying our snacks that we met Susanne. She asked if she could sit with us because the other tables were full. Susanne lives in Grenoble, France but she was Argentine by birth and her family fled Argentina during the coup (I’m pretty sure it was the one in 1966; Argentina had a bunch of them) and settled in Boston where she and her husband lived for 4 years. They moved to Paris where she had 2 children and was widowed when the kids were 9 and 11. At some point she moved to Grenoble where she said she had a very good life. A few years ago she became reacquainted with a man she had known in Buenos Aires when they were teenagers - 50 years ago — and they now have a long distance relationship; she spends 3 months a year in Argentina and he spends 3 months a year in France. In fact, she was driving to meet him in Barcelona when we met her. (As a meaningless aside, when I met Dave in Mexico City in 2015 I was still working in Portland and he lived in Denver. We did the long-distance thing for 4 years before I retired, and I think very fondly of that time.)

Our lunch stop with Jill conversing with Susanne.
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Our lunch companion.
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After our nice visit we continued on our way and immediately passed by the entrance to the 16 km long Tunnel des Puymorens. I can clearly state it does NOT allow cycles as a sign so indicates! We headed up some immediately steep pitches to the col which was complicated due to road construction. We thought the tunnel would peel most of the traffic off the steep road to the Col but in fact there was quite a bit traffic until the final intersection.  We saw some road cyclists in full road kit and these riders looked like they were training hard. There were no cycle tourers though. 

Definitely did not want to go through that tunnel even if bikes had been allowed.
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On our way up to the col.
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It was a signature ride and hopefully Dave’s pics do it justice. We were up in the middle of nowhere. At  the top we stopped to gawk and met Walter and Marietta from the Netherlands who were doing a hut to hut hike on the Camino Bonheur. They had hiked up from Merens that morning (a mere 2800 ft of climbing) and were carrying small packs containing a week of dehydrated food and all their clothes, such as they were. We felt quite put in our place.

At the top!
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Walter & Marietta
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Karen PoretDutch strength ;)
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2 days ago
And the splendid views just keep coming!
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The descent was wonderful, not too steep,  and we powered down 22 km in short order. We were suddenly in Spain, the houses were all stone and a walker on the road said “buenos dias” to me instead of “bonjour.” As we approached Puigcerda, 5 km from our hotel, we saw a sign saying “route barrier 3 km”. We winced but every self-respecting cycle tourer knows that those signs are not for bicycles and about 80 percent of the time one gets through, one way or the other. We did, but it wasn’t pretty, as the pics show Dave lifting our bikes over mounds of concrete. We found out later that this is a border between Spain and France and during Covid one of the governments blocked it so cars could not go through. Obviously there has been some random modification of the barrier so bikes and peds can get through, albeit with determination.  We don’t know why the two countries have not removed the barrier. Curious.

A particularly difficult border crossing.
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Suddenly it appears as all the buildings are made from stones.
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Puigcerda was, unexpectedly, a very nice town of 9,000. During WW2 it was the terminus of a route where Jews, escaped POWs, and downed pilots were able to cross the border from occupied France into Spain. After riding over the Col de Puymorens, it astonishes me  to think of the hardship people endured having to hike over that pass. Sadly, that issue goes on today all over the world with people having to flee….

Our hotel, Villa Paulita, was lovely. It was a small-scale spa hotel, and when we arrived Daniel at check in mentioned the possibility of a massage. I instantly grabbed it and Monica, who spoke not a lick on English, was available in 45 minutes for a massage.  Massage customs vary all over the world; in this case, a new variant was her offering me a disposable bikini bottom to cover my lady parts! (Hey, we travel to see how others places do it!)

Our hotel, Villa Paulita.
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It being Monday (same for Sunday and Tuesday, truth be told) very little was open for dinner. Daniel wrote down the 3 places that he thought would be open and we walked downtown with no particular expectation other than to get food fuel. We had a surprisingly good first Catalan meal at the weirdly named Kennedy’s Restaurant and enjoyed the first crack at different dining customs: tomato bread on the table, late dining, and a menu in Catalan.  We stuck out like a sore thumb as the only English speakers in the restaurant until 10 Aussies walked in as a group. They were from the Whitsunday Islands in Australia and were cycling from Barcelona to  Geneva.

Aussie, Aussie, Aussie!
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Stuart GarrettLooks like the weather is in our favor!! At last!
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1 week ago

A great day. Why we tour. 

Today's ride: 52 km (32 miles)
Total: 589 km (366 miles)

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