||908 miles (1461km)
||12943 metres (42463ft)
As the first train pulled into the station a little after 7:30am I figured that it was about time to get up. As it doesn’t get light here until 8am I pondered the day ahead. It was barely 16 miles (25km) to the border/peak into Andorra proper. Within this distance I had to climb 1400m, this meant on average a little under 1 in 20 climb if you’re from the UK, or a little over 5% if you are continental! Either way, in the UK you would have warning signs on the roads for such slopes. My concern is that on this trip and this bike, over the past two weeks I’ve figured the comfortable limit is a little under 4% (1 in 25), this was going to be much steeper. So I set off with a plan, that was to cycle based on height, I’d try to cycle a climb of 300 metres before a break, then 2 stops at 200 metres and the stops at every 100 metres gained. Being fresh I managed to stick with the first goal but then the road started to get ridiculously steep in places and what didn’t help was the amount of traffic and the older cars that seem to be on the roads of France and Spain. Clouds of burnt petrol and diesel were blown in my face so I had to stop else I got a lung full of this choking air and could barely catch my breath.
But then at a junction I saw that two different roads both went to Pas de la Case, so I followed the GPS and took the N20 instead of the N22. This was probably a mistake as I suddenly hit an 8% gradient (1 in 12.5). So for about 400m I had no option but to push as my weight wasn’t even enough to move the bike. From this point on, the gradient meant I was stopping wherever there was a place to pull off to the side of the road, at times I wanted to stop between these points but it wasn\’t safe to stop on the narrow road which I suppose did push me on further to find a safe haven. I think the other route (N22) was longer but less steep over this section for any future cyclists reading this and want to do the trip!!!!
As I was getting higher I could feel the air getting thinner which made it harder for my body to get energy and oxygen to my legs. Then as my legs were about to give in I saw the French border post. I mistakenly thought that after passing this that I had entered Andorra as there was a big Andorran flag, but no I’d been duped, it was another 1.5 miles away at the end of a hard climb. The final stretch was quite tough particularly as it actually looked flat due to the geography not giving the eye anything perspective to compare against. But this part was quite life-affirming, as my target came into view it became apparent that this route was occasionally part of the king of the mountains route on the “Tour de France” and there were 10s of licra clad cyclists doing the route downhill. Some stopped as they saw me, some cheered, whooped and clapped as I tried to cycle up the mountain into the border town of El Pas de la Casa, others looked shocked at the bike I’d done it on. The difficult thing for me was that I desperately wanted to stop to get my breath but with the cheers I felt I had to keep pushing but then as the road curved to the right there was a blue sign with the familiar ring of twelve gold stars with the name Andorra in the centre of it. I cycled up to the sign and that was it, I’d done it.
I entered the last country I had left to visit in Europe, Andorra, I’d now completed the set. It’s hard to describe the feeling you get when you complete a challenge like this and I should be used to it with other challenges I’ve done. It’s not a sense of euphoria that you might expect, or even a sense of achievement, but a little sadness or almost disappointment. I’d learnt a lot about myself in the last 14 days, I’m amazingly stubborn and will try to finish everything I start no matter the stress and strains. I even pushed myself harder than maybe I should have as if you take off my non-cycling Dover to Calais day when I took the ferry and the fact that I didn’t set off until a little after 12:30pm on the 28th and arrived here just before 12pm today, I’d actually cycled the distance in just under 12 days! I was aiming for 18 given the bike. But I was sad, yes I’d had hard days, days I just wanted to stop, mornings I just wanted to stay in bed and evenings I wanted to destroy the bike, but each day I felt alive and the next day more alive than the last. It’s hard to explain but the journey was the experience, the adrenalin and the journeys end was just that, the end of the experience and the high….
I suppose it was also not a great town to experience at the climax to such a journey. The town, El Pas de la Casa, is a day tripper place for the French as it’s tax free. Sadly this attracts a fair number of “interesting people” to the numerous shopping centres particularly for the booze! It’s a shame people only visit this place for beer and spirits as the views on the way here and from the town are beautiful.
So, slightly deflated I rested in town and had lunch with the knowledge that I still had one last challenge to keep me going. It was to climb the remaining 300m to the highest pass in the Pyrenees, Port d’Envalira which lies directly above the town. At up to 8% and failing legs, the lunch did not help, I took many stops to get my breath but after slowly winding my way up I was there, at the top of the Pyrenees on a 1920/30’s butcher’s bike!
I know people will have cycled from London to here before, and done it a lot quicker, but I reckon I might be only one of a very select few who have done it in a unique way on a butchers bike and without a support team. So what are the stats….
It was 895miles (1440km) from London, and in total I climbed 12,943meters which is the same as cycling up (all from sea level) Mount Everest plus Ben Nevis, Mount Snowdon, Scaefell pike and Kinder Scout (my local hill!).
GPS record of the climb from Pamiers to Port d’Envalira with the ever increasing steepness towards the peak.
But there was one final decision to be made, I was at the peak. I could cycle back into France or I could head further into Andorra and to Barcelona. Amazingly my trick with the spokes appears to have worked so my wheels may hold together but the gears aren’t great but they did not get any worse on this hardest day of all…. What to do….
For more detail on route click HERE.
(© google maps)