Sunday, July 23, 2017

The Best Bike Ride in Andorra

As I mentioned in the last blog, Wednesday was the day that everybody but RandoGirl and I were leaving Andorra. Most were going to France -- for a few days in Paris and/or watching a Tour stage -- but some were flying out the next day, back to the states. Mike, Patty, Steve, Joyce, and Karla were sans bicycle now, and so they left that morning after breakfast. Meanwhile, RandoGirl, Connie, Jill, Zita, and I drove our cars over to Massina to ride up to the Port de Cabus.

After we found a place to park our cars, we biked up CG-4 to Erts and began the 16K ascent. It was early enough that the temperatures were still cool, and for once the grade of the first few kilometers were mild.


Just before the ski resort Estacio de Pal, some sections kicked up closer to double-digits. The road was very quiet, however, and shady ... plus, after the rides we had done earlier this week, 10% felt almost flat.


I stopped at the overlook to get a picture of the Storm in a Teacup sculpture. The next few kilometers really were almost flat, so I stopped more times to smell the roses.



At the top, the road crosses into Spain and becomes dirt. I went down the dirt road far enough to ensure that I could say that I had ridden my bicycle into Spain, just as I had ridden my bicycle into France the day before.


Most of the cows grazing on the hillside behind me were wearing cowbells -- a surprising cacophony in such a desolate place.


After everybody reached the top and had spent time enjoying  the view, we started back down.


Along with being the nicest climb of the week, it was also the nicest descent. I barely touched my brakes for the first part, and generally had a blast roaring through sweeping turns and cruising through the little town of Xixerella. We all paused in Erts to regroup.


Then we rolled back to our cars and loaded up the bikes. On another day, I might've then climbed from Erts to Estacio de Arinsal -- another ski resort.


But RandoGirl and I were hungry and opted for food, instead.


When we got back to the hotel, everyone except Connie, Jill, and Zita had checked out and departed for France. We helped the three ladies load up their bikes and wished them safe travels, and then I cleaned RandoGirl's and my bicycles, checking the tires and brakes. RandoGirl and I spent a quiet afternoon before going to the only disappointing restaurant of our trip. During dinner, we planned our ride for the next day -- I would leave early and ride my bike down to Sant Julia de Loria to climb the Collada de la Gallina. RandoGirl would drive down later that morning, and when I finished the Gallina loop we would together climb the hills on the east side of town -- either La Rabassa or La Peguera.

It was a great plan. I wish that it had worked out.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

There Should Be a Funky Coll Medina

Monday, our route took us over the Collada de Beixalis, down towards Anyos, then over to Ordino to climb the Coll d'Ordino and descend into Canillo. From there, we would just take the main road back to the hotel in Encamp.

Juame, from the hotel, had given us a bicycling guide for Andorra, published by the tourism department. It contained a map of the country that you could use to find the prime cycling routes, and then broke down each kilometer of the these routes to show the average grade.

When we reviewed the profile of the Collada de Beixalis, it became clear that this route would be harder than the previous day's climb. We decided to try anyway, but had just left the hotel when Karla's bike developed a mechanical issue. She, Mike, and Patty decided it was a sign that they should go hiking; the rest of us went on.


 The Collada de Beixalis begins really steep, with one section that averages 12%. I was glad that I had a triple-crank on the Lynskey, but even then had to shift my weight forward to keep the front wheel down without having to stand. After the first couple of kilometers, I decided to stop to take a picture of the folks behind me ... and also to breath.


Here's Connie and Zita, with Encamp in the background. It was about this point that the road got easier, with most sections under 6%, so we paused a bit to smell the roses.


Soon, Steve and Joyce came up, accompanied by Jill and Carol.


Steve and Joyce had been forced to walk a few kilometers. But ultimately, we all made it to the top.


The descent was a blast, with long straight sections and nicely banked switchbacks, and soon we were all at the bottom. We stopped at a cafe for a coffee and snack, and then went on to Ordino. I'd hoped to find a bakery there for something fresh, but did not see one and so we started up the Coll d'Ordino.


Here's the view back towards Ordino.


Zita and I hit the summit about the same time. Here's RandoGirl getting to the top.


Next came Connie ...


... and then Jill.


Steve and Joyce had some cramping issues, and again needed to walk a few kilometers. But eventually, again, we all got there. It was now well after noon, so we soon began heading down.


I stopped on the way to get a picture of some Andorran art ...


... and for a picture of Canillo. This city had another one of those sky-car things that would take people to a ski resort on top of a mountain.

At the bottom, Steve and Joyce could barely stop their tandem. We quickly diagnosed the issue -- their brake pads were all but gone -- and decided that somebody would drive back up to ferry them and the bike to the hotel. CG-3, the road from Canillo to Encamp was a little busy, but it was all downhill so there was no trouble keeping up pretty well with the cars. I must add, however, that the cars on the busier Andorran roads were very well behaved and comfortable with bicycles, and I don't think that I was ever passed in a manner that I would consider aggressive or thoughtless ... unlike what we frequently get in the USA.

Eventually, we all got back to the hotel and got the bikes put away. It was clear that there would be no more cycling for Steve and Joyce, but Mike and Patty's tandem was also having issues. Bottom line: Andorra may be a good place to ride bikes, but it does not have a lot of tandem-friendly routes. The climbing is just too difficult, and the descending can quickly become treacherous.

The group went out to Borda Vella again for another excellent dinner that night, and most of the team there decided that the next day would be better for hiking than cycling. Connie, Zita, and I still wanted to ride, however, and we drove north to enjoy two of the more flat routes -- Vall d'Incles and Coma de Ransol.


Vall d'Incles isn't really one of the main cycling routes, since it's just a short out-and-back through a quiet valley. The three of us rode easily, taking in the scenery.


At the top of the road, it becomes a hiking path along a cold mountain stream. Connie and Zita took off their shoes and dipped their feet to see just how cold the water was.


As we headed back out, I told them that they should go ride the Coma de Ransol, but that I was going to continue up the main road to the Port d'Envalira, and then descend into France.


This route was a long steady climb through the small ski resort towns in the northern part of Andorra, on a road with a good shoulder and thoughtful cars. The grade was relatively mild, but it still took me almost an hour to ride the 15 km to the top.


I decided that it would be wrong to make Connie and Zita wait around too long for me, so I just went about half a kilometer down the other side so that I could get a picture of France, and then headed back. When I reached the car, they had not returned; thus I went down into Ransol to find a place for us all to eat lunch. When I got back to the car this time they were there, and we all went to the restaurant that I had found.

During lunch, I told them about not quite getting into France and they immediately volunteered to drive back up to Port d'Envalira so that I could do the last part of my ride. We parked near the above sign and I quickly descended into France.


There were lots of folks from France loading up their cars with duty-free goods, which is one of the main sources of revenue for Andorra. Just passing through the border town of El Pas de la Casa you could tell this, with buses trucking in shoppers and stores of almost every imaginable type.


The climb back up was again pretty easy, and less than 5K.


Zita had taken a nap, and Connie had gone for a little hike. We loaded everything up and headed back to Encamp.

Since everybody other than RandoGirl and I would be leaving the next day, we went to one last dinner together at Borda del Tremat. The owner, Sonya, was happy to see us again, and we overindulged in almost every way. I had ridden hard that day, and even had some leg cramps during dinner.

During the past two days, I had feasted on incredible views, arduous climbs, and gleeful descents. The next day, we decided that those of us who still had bicycles would do one last route before folks had to leave. That route turned out to be the best one of the trip.