This post spans 7 days biking, and the rest of the time working at a HelpX host in Balaguer and partying in Barcelona.
3 weeks ago, we left our campsite in Vinaros, Spain. It was a similar story to the rest of the campsites in Spain – suited for RV’s, with Shania Twain playing in the morning while the ‘residents’ work out. Most were over 60, and were shirtless (men) or in some strange one-piece bathing suit (women). Needless to say, it was fun to hang out.
We woke up that morning to leave Vinaros, quickly realizing that we had been over-served at the local watering hole the night before. We took all the energy we could muster and sat up.
It took an hour to pack the tent and get to the road. Fast-forward a few hours and we’re starving. We take a right-turn down a big hill, which was a relief on such a long day of climbing. We must have gone 2km before we found the city. It was a beautiful town right on the coast, with the hill we just descended from in the background.
Our first stop was the fruitaria (fruit shop) on our way. We sat outside and chomped on peaches, grapes, and some juice. Finally, we had enough blood-sugar to run on, and we switched our bodies fuel source from ‘will and hope’ to something sustainable.
After a bit of a break, we needed to head north. Our plan was to be at Jordi’s (our host in Balaguer) in 5 days. Muy facil.
We heard from some people on the streets that we could skip Tarragona and go north-east through Tortosa. It didn’t take us any convincing to change our plans and shave 60-100km off our trip! We headed to Tortosa, where we were unable to find a place to camp. We decided to head onward, toward Flix, to find a suitable place to sleep. Somehow, we were able to push our bodies and our near-200lbs of gear into the coolest little town we’ve ever seen – Benifallet. It was dark by the time we got there, after riding along the old train path, through the dark and long tunnels through the mountain. I was a bit freaked out, but didn’t let it show.
We saw the sign for Benifallet, the old train station, and assumed the town would be north. Wrong. 5km later, we asked the only other person we saw on the path. He guided us back to the station, then to the skinny washed out dirt road that lead to the highway. From there, it was just a few short km to the city.
It was strange entering it; with a river separating it from the rest of the land. It seemed like a moat, and once we finally approached the north and only entrance, we were delighted to find a nice hill to coast down, and into town.
The bar we stopped at to eat was an old pension, a bar for retired people to play games. By the way — people in Spain play some weird games with some strange cards! We still need to figure out how to play on of these games…
At the bar, we met a Brit who told us we could sleep next to the river. Later, we heard from another Brit that anytime people pass through, they sleep by the river.
We took their advice and headed down after we ate. Cute green area next to the river, under some lush trees that gave us a bit of protection from the noise of barking dogs. A perfect night sleep, in a great town. If I was going to buy land in Spain, it would be there. We heard you can get a very livable piece of land for 8000Euros in the mountains. Mark my words — if 2012 really happens, you’ll find me here.
The next day, we headed north planning to get as close to Lleida as possible. Nothing too eventful on the ride, except for the CLIMBING. It was ridiculous. I felt like I had someone pulling my Jake Break. The headwind begged us to stop riding, turn around, and get the first flight home. Our average speed was so slow, we were hoping to find some kind of magic portal or tunnel to disappear into.
Alas, no oasis. No pot of gold. After we reached the top of the mountain, we found another to climb. Then another.
Possibly half the time was spend walking with our steeds, looking like a boy in heels with my bike shoes on.
Finally, we arrived in Flix. It was a good-sized city, a perfect place to eat … except for the HUGE NUCLEAR POWER PLANT! There was a bed of crops in every direction, spawning from the cooling tower, and our logic got the best of us. If they mostly use local foods, these can’t be too healthy!
We pressed onward to find someplace to sleep that wasn’t in the radiation field. Mistake.
It was a LONG 64km to get to our final destination in Maials. The map made it look like a big enough town to have a supermarket or at least a gas station. Wrong. We did, however, find a nice bar that made us some fish fillets and fries. Some local guys took me for a drive in their car to show me a place we could sleep for the night. It was a crop field next to the big industrial building in town. Looked good, so we hung out in town for a while longer.
The bar-woman kicked us out for a siesta, and we headed to the next bar down the street. A real bar, because all it served was liquids.
After the smallest cup of tea I’ve ever had, we went back to the first bar for seconds, this time pizza. Yum.
That night, we went biked down the the field to sleep but noticed there were big irrigation trenches around it. Pretty much impossible for me and my 8435987 foot long bike to traverse. We decided to camp behind 3 big steel boxes — like the ones on boats that go around the world. We locked our bikes up and slept on the concrete in our tent.
At 4 or 5 in the morning, Kristen woke me up with that heart-stopping gasp. There was a car infront of us, headlights on, just sitting there. We freaked a bit, but they finally moved on. The Sandman came quickly, and took us back to dreamland for the next few hours. At 9ish, we got up and packed up. There was a security guard walking around, kind of checking us out. We exchanged pleasant “hola”‘s, and went on our way.
The next day, we’re in Lleida. Some more climbing, but nothing too bad. We get to the town and realize that it’s a national holiday. Wait… this was Sunday. The next day was the holiday.
Either way, we are starving. Our first plan is to find a place to sleep, as our map indicates there is camping in Lleida. We wanted to get online and email Jordi, telling him we were close and coming a day or 2 early. But… everything is closed.
No camping in Lleida, a couple of mountain bikers tell us. The closest camping is 15km north. Kristen was done biking for the day, so we looked for alternatives. We discussed our choices over way too many delicious pastries from a french shop in town. Waaaaay too many.
If I gain 50 pounds in France, you’ll know why; tiramesu!
We heard about the hotel across from the train station, and that they offered free WiFi in their rooms. 50 euros later, we’re in the comforts of a hotel with a warm shower and a soft bed.
In the morning, we made the coast down to Balaguer. All of the climbing we did finally gave us a relaxing day to coast. We must have descended 3km that day. Beautiful!
We arrive in Balaguer a bit early, as Jordi wasn’t available to meet until after his holiday dinner with his family. We look for his place anyways, just so we are certain during daylight where it is.
Somehow we wrote it down wrong, but with enough friendly people to aid us, we found exactly where he lived.
The rest of the day, we played in the park, throwing our Frisbee, and swinging on the vines of a Weeping Willow (Seriously. People there just tie them together and sit down, then swing. Who would have thought of that??!).
At 7:15, we buzz Jordi. An apprehensive “Hola?” greets us through the loudspeaker and we declare “Hola. Dos Americanos!'” The password worked, and he came down to meet us.
We pulled our get upstairs to the apartment, and he took us for a tour. Our bedroom was nice, with a twin-or-bigger sized bed and a mirror. Not too much there, but just enough for us.
Here’s a map of the distance so far:
Pictures to come. We need to figure out where we put them!
Also, I’ve added a Twitter widget on the right side that will update where we are. What that means is even if we don’t post a big, long post like this, you can still see where we are in a mini-blog post. Look to the right, or go to http://www.twitter.com/bikes
Casey & Kristen
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