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El PiRI - DAY 1 178km

''This event twill step back from pushing the limits of the sport, instead it will go in search of fun'' (El Piri website)

Arrived in Girona yesterday, Friday June 14, having caught a flight to Barcelona and then took a hire car Nick W-W had organised and drove the 1.5 hours north to Girona. Arriving late afternoon we had hurried to registration, and once that was done grabbed a bite to eat before going back to listen to the race briefing. As always a lot of very serious looking athletes who seemingly were here for the 'race' . Of mild concern was that many of their bikes had much larger tyres than my own, and their gearing systems looked wider ranged than my own.

Post briefing it was back to the hotel to reconstruct our bikes, hoping that nothing untoward had happened to them in transit from London. Then dinner and the obligatory post dinner gelato and off to bed.

Rising at 6 am this morning it was a matter of finalising packing the bike and then finding somewhere to have breakfast. Very few cafes in Spain open before 8 am so we were blessed that a mere 300 meters from our hotel was one that started serving breakfast at 6.30 am.

The start line was a bundle of nervous energy as 50-60 riders readied themselves for the start of the ride. Lambs to the slaughter.

At 8 am the solo riders were let go and then following them, we, the pairs, were released out into the early Saturday morning empty streets of Girona.

We hadn't travelled more than 200 meters when the device that measures my bike speed and distance broke away from the fork to which it had been previously attached. It's being sitting there safely secured for over 5 years without issue and choses one of the more important rides to eventually break free.

Without it I could not directly read from the small computer on my handlebars as to what distance we had covered or my speed. Not a particularly massive issue as I had a navigational tool also attached to my handlebars and with a few clicks of a button could find out that information. However, it was an inconvenience and mildly annoying.

A portent of things to come it seemed.

The initial part of the route took us through a mix of parkland, bushland, suburban streets and industrial compounds as we weaved our way westward. It had been decreed by the race organisers that the first 9km would be ''neutralised'' . This meant the race proper didn't start until we had cleared a set of traffic lights that marked the edge of the city limits. It didn't prevent the pace from being relatively quick. People seemingly buoyed on by their excesses of energy and forgetting we had 770km still to ride.

Once through those traffic lights we spent the next 20 km on tarmac country roads that were devoid of traffic and made our way towards the main reservoir that serves Girona and the surrounding areas. Near the 30km point and shortly after leaving the outskirts of Amer we struck out onto gravel paths and rocky tracks only accessible by either 4WD or idiots on gravel bikes, before rejoining the main road once again leading up the valley.

At 40 km we had reached the main dam wall of the reservoir and for the next 20 km cycled up the southern side of the reservoir on a gravel track that even a 4WD would have struggled to navigate. Especially given that at about 50km we were forced off our bikes and compelled to carry them over a massive rock landslide that had covered the track.

Shortly afterwards I started to encounter issue with the cleats on the bottom of my right shoe. Newly purchased a few weeks before hand I had clearly not attached the cleats securely enough to the sole of the shoe. Dismounting to look at the problem I noticed that the cleat had completely come away from the shoe, but thankfully was still embedded and attached to the pedal.

Getting the cleat out of the pedal was going to prove problematic given we didn't have the necessary tools to do so. These cleats click into a brace on the pedal with considerable force to enable you to push and pull up on the pedal to create the energy to turn over the pedals themselves. So dislodging it was going to be an issue.

Nick W-W suggested we stop at the next town to see if there was a bicycle shop that might be able to help. In the interim I would try cycling ostensibly with one leg. That idea didn't last long and a short time later we took a look at the problem again and noticed that the pedal brace was double sided. Thankfully Nick was carrying a spare shoe cleat so I attached that to the sole of my shoe, and leaving the original cleat in the underside of the pedal simply used the flip side of the pedal to click in and out of the pedal. Lateral thinking 101.

Again, a loose shoe cleat that then gets stuck in the pedal is not something I have ever encountered before in all my years of cycling.

Two issues in the first 40 km. Not unsurmountable to resolve but irritating.

The reservoir we were cycling around had until recently being at only 5% capacity. Such was the impact of the very long drought this area had been experiencing. However with one of the wettest Springs on record it was now starting to refill to higher levels.

The terrain suddenly got steeper as we left the reservoir behind us and for the next 45 km it was a steady slog upwards on mostly rocky gravel and rarely used 4WD tracks and a small mix of tarmac thrown in occasionally.

Eventually we were spat out onto a more major country road near the town of Rupit i Pruit. Nick by this stage had been cycling some distance in front of me and was already luxuriating roadside with cold can of coke to hand. I unsuccessfully tried to purchase the same and failing dismally to get the attention of the bar owner I decided I would wait until our lunch venue which Nick assured me was a mere kilometre away. Keen to get there ASAP I set off and soon started another long climb which thankfully this time was on tarmac. About 15 mins later and a few km's up the hill I got a call from Nick telling me that the lunch venue wasn't a km from where we had stopped for a coke but was a mere 100 meters or so and he had sat down to order lunch for us both.

In the heat of the day and having just done a climb that I didn't want to repeat I somewhat brusquely turned down his suggestion I cycle back down to where I had just come from to join him for lunch. Instead I suggested we meet at the next village some 4-5 km down the road where I would find lunch and await his arrival.

There wasn't a lot about this day that was going according to plan.

Reconnected post lunch we freewheeled on tarmac roads down into the town of Torello before starting another 15-20 km climb up very quiet country roads. The only saviour being that it was on tarmac.

By this stage I had given up on my sunglasses as the fountains of sweat pouring down my forehead had conspired to dirty and smudge the lenses and seeing anything with them on was proving problematic. So pocketing them in my hydration vest I continued onwards without them. Needless to say, a few km's later and freewheeling quickly down a steep hill an insect of sorts collided with the lens of my left eye ball. Over the next few km's I unsuccessfully attempted to clear the eye and rode ostensibly with vision coming from just my right eye. Partial vision did return but with no fresh water to hand I wasn't going to rinse my eye with either of my water bottles which were filled with electrolytes and salts. It was a case of just battling on and hoping that eventually the combination of wind and natural eye liquid would remedy the issue. It did. About 3 hours later.

Riding one eyed on any surface is problematic. Doing it on goat trails and rock strewn 4WD tracks up and down steep hills is another equation I wish I hadn't discovered.

At about 6 pm and 130km into the days riding with 10 hours on the road already done, we stopped at a delightful taverna in the town of Alpens for what we didn't realise at the time would be our last 'meal' of the day. Seems the Catalonians love their meats. For me not such a big issue. Problematic for Nick W-W who is vegetarian for sure. More cheese and bread for him.

With 45 km still to ride on the day and knowing we had another few big climbs to conquer we didn't dally too long in Alpens. Long enough however to discover there was a quite a community of English people living in the town. Why choose a small non descript town in the Spanish foothills some 130 km from Girona to live? No idea. But it seemed there was a reason.

The next 45 km were hellish. We had planned to get to our nights accommodation in the town of Guardiola de Bergueda

in time for dinner. The terrain had other ideas.

The track became both steeper and rougher and we were now entering a National Park that signalled the Lower Pyrenees. The views were pretty spectacular. I will give it that. Getting to those view points also took a pretty spectacular use of energy.

At this stage and out of water in both bottles I attempted to draw on the2 litre hydration sack that was tucked into the back of my vest. Do we think, given everything else that had occurred today that this was going to be an easy process? of course not. A previously perfectly functioning hydration pack simply wouldn't allow me to draw water from it. No manner of tinkering with either the sack or the tube I was sucking furiously on to draw water would work. Not an insurmountable problem. Simply decanter the water form hydration vest into water bottles. Annoying though.

As we climbed ever upwards the day slipped into early evening and as it turned pitch black dark we passed a well known Refugio. A medium sized structure high up in the mountains that is an establishment that housed accommodation and food. Quite a few riders had spoken of it making it their goal for the first day. We were tempted to go in and have a quick bite to eat / drink but with 20 km still to run and early evening now turning into late evening we decided to press on. It was another 3-4 km climb up a rock strewn hill before we crested and then descended down an equally rock strewn and very steep descent. With all our lights ablaze it was slow going even downhill. Passing two riders who had decided to bivouac just meters from the track half way down the descent. They had clearly had enough.

(My maximum heart rate is 165. I have a Garmin watch that also doubles up as a heart monitor. I have an alarm on the watch that sets off once my heart rate gets above 150 which is roughly 90% of the maximum. On that last climb of the day the alarm was triggered 6 times. Each time I would look down at my watch and my heart was near 155. A clear and very obvious sign of the exertion I was putting it under. A legacy of having to really force the pedals over to maintain forward momentum which in itself is a result of not having enough gears on the bike to make pedalling easier.

Each time the alarm triggered I would stop on track and wait for it to drop back to 135 bpm or lower. This would normally take only 2-3 mins. Then I'd set off again. This exertion was worrying)

Eventually the rocky track we were juddering our way along gave way to a tarmac road and we descended very quickly down a country road that during daylight hours was probably pretty busy, but at 11.15 pm was devoid of any vehicular traffic. We weren't even sure that given the hour, the hotelier would still be awake and willing to take us in. Thankfully he was, and thankfully he did.

We ceased riding today at 11.30 pm. That's 15.5 hours since we left Girona. 178 of the 770 km done. Even had a restaurant been open (there wasn't) I am not sure either of us would have had the energy to eat.

Once decamped into our bedroom, it was shower and sleep.

Post registration and pre briefing bite to eat in the main Girona square

Pre-race briefing. A lot of very fit and earnest looking people.

Post race briefing walkabout town. Girona is split in two by a small river/stream. The city has a relaxed vibe about it and is the epicentre of cycling in Spain given its proximity to both the coast and the mountains. There's probably more cycle shops than there is shoe shops.

Pre-race breakfast at one of the very few cafes to open before 8.00 am.

The start line was inside a small courtyard. Barely manageable given there were only 50-60 starters. He (James Hayden - the organiser) might need to rethink that once the race gains notice and more enrol to take part.

The last traffic light since the start, some 9 km from town. It also signalled (excuse the pun) the end of the 'neutralised' section of the ride and the start of the race proper.

Gullies, 4WD tracks , ravines and rocks were the order of the day for the first 30 km.

Following the valley out of Girona we climbed upwards towards the head of an almighty reservoir that was only starting to re-fill following a very prolonged drought.

Gully, hills, silly cyclist. The day was also starting to warm up at this stage and I was moments away from 'cleat scandal'.

It wasn't all plain cycling. Recent landslides saw an adaptation to 'cycling' necessary.

You can see where the dam levels have come from by the very discernible difference in vegetation.

At normal levels this bridge would be fully submerged.

That's a church in the distance. It, and the town it served was buried under water in the early 1960's when they developed the dam. However the extreme drought racking Catalonia in recent years (''The 1,000 day drought'') has seen an ancient church dating from the 11th century re-emerge from a reservoir. The town of Sant Romà de Sau, west of Girona, had not been seen since it was flooded in 1950 in order to build a dam. It did make me ponder about how many people may have been displaced from their family homes when the dam was built.

Climbing does afford you good views above the valley floor from where we had just come.

Late lunch in Alpen. Look away Mum.

The picturesque village / town of Rupit i Pruit. Where we split for lunch.

The climb up into the National Park reminded me of the terrain of the Blue Mountains just outside of Sydney.

We were headed up there.

As the sun started to set the views got better but the terrain also got a lot harder. It wasn't long after this photo was taken that the heart rate monitor on my watch was triggered for the first time that day.


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