This was the day we expected things to get tough. We had the Pyrenees between us and Spain, and I had been particularly concerned that my bike’s gearing might not be low enough. (For the technically minded, I had a 48-36 combination of chainrings and the largest sprocket on the back was 28 teeth.) There is a cycleway that would have taken us south to Perpignan and through some great scenery but as we didn’t know how rough the surface might be, we decided to brave the main D6009 road. We had a tailwind and made great progress for 23 miles then stopped for a coffee and refuelling. A short distance later, the chain came off my bike and wedged itself between the crank arm and the chainring. We managed to fix it but ten minutes after there was an odd metallic tinkling sound. We pulled over. Some bolts had worked loose and my inner chainring had fallen off. It was dangling inside the outer chainring and there was no chance of finding the special bolts to fix it back on. For a moment, I thought this was going to be the end of the ride. It was Sunday – no bike shops open and in any case, none were likely to stock the parts needed to fix the problem. Using Richard’s last cable tie (cable ties are essential things to take on any extended bike ride) and some white insulation tape that I carry with my tools, we taped the errant chainring to the bike so that I could at least ride on the large one, the one that produces higher gears and makes hills even more challenging.
The next few miles were on the flat and we enjoyed a helpful tailwind so made good progress. We were on the main N11 for our climb from Le Boulou on the French side of the Pyrenees to the border town of Le Perthus. I’d been dreading this but it turned out to be less demanding that I’d thought as Richard and I battled slowly up the climb. Relieved to be at the top, we stopped for chicken and chips to refuel.
Our destination for the day was Girona and we still appeared to have time to get there as we left Le Perthus. However, the wind changed direction and it wasn’t long before we were head-down fighting to maintain a decent speed. We stuck with the main road and it was busy but we couldn’t countenance the prospect of being sent into the wilderness again by Google. There were long steady climbs relieved by the following descents. The headwind drained our energy and our speed so it was about 8:30pm and just beginning to get dark when the road, at least for us, was ended abruptly with a “no bicycles” sign. It was becoming a major dual carriageway. Worst still, the original old road was blocked by cones because there was major construction work in progress. We didn’t know which direction to take and, to make things worse, the battery on my headlight was flat, so I had no front lighting. Looking across the junction, we could see a hotel. We were ten miles outside of Girona, our original destination, and had covered 96 miles by the time we reached the door of the hotel, slipping four miles behind schedule with one day to go.
The hotel looked closed but when we used the intercom, we were greeted by a woman who came out onto a balcony and asked what we wanted. We explained our predicament and she tried to tell us which road we should take but we were unconvinced, exhausted and ready to find a bed for the night. Our host opened the hotel, made us filled baguettes, salad and fresh fruit for dinner and asked us what time we wanted breakfast. It was an extraordinary welcome considering we were the only two guests at the hotel, arriving at nearly 9pm on a Sunday evening. She could so easily have simply turned us away.
The following morning we had a 7:30am breakfast of coffee and croissants then headed over to the road junction that had so confused us on the previous evening. There was a construction worker at the entrance to the blocked road. We asked him how we could get to Girona and he told us to ignore the “no bicycles” sign because just a kilometre along the new road it joined the old one and we would be fine. So that’s exactly what we did.