Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Barcelona to Montserrat, day 2

Drinking a beer.  A nice, cold beer.  This is necessary.

Today's ride (see route here) falls in to the truly epic category of rides.  What I thought was going to be a 4 to 5 hour ride turned out to be a 7 hour adventure over every kind of terrain Spain could muster.  I suppose that is what I get for not knowing the area.  I didn't know that loosely labeled "road" I swear being created out of nowhere just to mess with me was part of the route, nor did I realize I was riding on a goat herder's dry riverbed at one point.  I did know I was climbing one mountain, but did not know I had to cross two others.  Oops.

Today's ride from Barcelona to Montserrat was amazing.  I loved every second of it.  90 miles, 7000+ ft elevation gain, three big mountain climbs, perhaps 20 miles of dirt roads and single track.  Were it not for the GPS on the iPhone I'd still be somewhere out there in the Spanish countryside.

It all started around 10am when I headed north from La Rambla towards Tibidabo Mtn overlooking Barcelona.  The climb up Tibidabo is what most east coast US cyclists long for when they watch stages of the Tour de France.  It has it all, but it's a small dose, and easily accessible.  A switchback road winds it's way up the side of the Mtn offering amazing views nearly the entire time - if you can manage to take your eyes off the front tire as you grind your way up the road.

The road is called bv-1462 and 1468 and is a required ride, in my opinion, for anyone living in or visiting Barcelona.  It's a great workout.  If all you can do is that climb, descend the other side before returning to Barcelona.  There's a cute, old, Spanish town in the valley where you could grab a bite to eat before returning to the city.

Below is a view overlooking Barcelona from near the top of the climb.  It was hazy and the sun wasn't friendly, but it's quite a sight.

Atop Tibidabo, there's a grand church called Sagrat Cor overlooking the city.

A fun descent awaits you on the other side of Tibidabo.  If you keep your fingers off the brakes you will learn the limits of your tires while getting some practice on your technical descending skills.  It's fairly realistic to launch yourself off the mountain in a few spots if you don't pay attention.

After the climb and fast descent in to Molins de Rei, my adventure truly began.  I didn't really know how to navigate this particular section and decided to follow a mountain biker on to...  I don't even really know how to call this thing.  It had a few signs offering distances and towns, but it's definitely not a road that cars can access.  I think it's maybe a multi-use path system still being developed to connect Barcelona to other towns.  I'll let the photo do the talking:

This is the tamer part of the path, and it's definitely not ready for a road bike with 23c slicks.  Thankfully I had tubeless tires so didn't have to worry about pinch flats.  I can't say I'd recommend this to anyone unless you enjoy your own private hell as much as I do.  Huge holes everywhere, stream crossings, descents over very rocky and root laced terrain - it has it all.  It'd be manageable and fun on a 'cross bike with fat tires, but it's ideal for a mountain bike.  I'm still amazed I didn't break something on the bike, or end up walking a very long ways with a ruined tire or wheel.

About halfway up the adventure trail I had to navigate my way through a bunch of goats being led by a dog and it's owner down a mostly dry riverbed.  I needed to get to the other side.  The goats refused to be polite and let me pass, and made me eventually give up and walk through them for fear of crashing in to one.

I eventually made it on to a paved road again, and finally got a good view of my goal - Montserrat.

Montserrat is a little over 4000ft high, and has paved road access to near it's summit.  Nestled high on one of the sides is a Benedictine Abbey where some think the Holy Grail from Arthurian myth was hidden away.  You can see the abbey below if you look closely.

The climb is relatively easy, but long at nearly 10 miles, and gains quite a bit of elevation.  I think the avg grade is about 7% once the climb truly starts.  Leading up to it there is a long, steady drag at a lesser grade, but I had a wicked head wind making it more challenging.

The peaks of Montserrat have some very interesting shaped rock formations.

The descent was FAST, very windy, and with the tight switchbacks it was pretty sketchy at times.  Deep dish wheels would've been terrifying.

And then it was back to the mud and rocks and river to take me back to Barcelona.

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