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El Piri - Day 2 113 km

It was a fitful nights sleep. Head hit the pillow at about 12.15 am and it took me a good hour to get to sleep. Primarily because I was trying to get my heart rate back to near normal levels.

The good news to start the day was that the hotel we had booked also served breakfast. Knowing what we did about Spain and shops on Sunday (almost all closed) we were determined to stock up on calories before heading out.

A Spanish breakafast in a provincial town comprises of a plate of meats and a piece of toasted bread which you then liberally spread a fresh tomato over with some garlic. If you are a vegetarian - good luck.

We set off about 9 am by which time the sun had truly started to rise and immediately we were cycling up a large valley towards the higher ground. The route was basically a narrow walking track for the first 8 km that hug the side of the valley hill and weaved itself through trees and rock falls and man made tunnels.

Eventually the narrow track gave way to another rocky 4WD track and we followed this ever upwards. Being passed by a pristine almost-new Range Rover was a unique sight. I don't think I had ever seen one off road. Given it was a British number plated vehicle also added to the uniqueness of the moment.

I was struggling. There were sections of the 4WD track that seemed impossibly steep. I either was carrying too much gear or simply didn't have enough gears. Given I was actually carrying less than I did for Badlands and other bike packing trips I concluded, as I had yesterday, that I simply had the wrong mechanical set up. It was disheartening. Increasingly so.

The 4WD track eventually left the shade of the trees and as we struck out above the tree line the views across the valley were magnificent. Wide open expanses of green fields with massive grey cliffs towering all around us.

The summit was a lovely geographical saddle. Situated in open fields between two towering peaks. Then it was a white knuckle descent down the other side. There were a lot of Sunday hikers about and weaving our way through them was almost as delicate as looking to avoid the many large rocks that lay on the path. The bike was taking a hammering as well as my body.

Reaching the bottom of the descent we hit tarmac. Here we were undecided whether or not to press onto the nearest town which was about 5 km on course or wether we pop into a service station which looked as though it was 2 km off course. We chose the latter and spent the next 2 km rolling downhill, off course, looking for a service station that didn't seem to exist. We gave up the search 2 km down the hill, did a u-turn, and climbed 2 km back to be on course and continued towards the nearest town which happened to be Gosol. Here we were spoilt for choice and selected a lovely taverna with tables overlooking the square and communal fountain and indulged in a lunch of every thing Spanish. Olives, bread, salad, meats (me) and our new choice of drink which was alcohol free beer. Nick W-W had suggested this the day before assuring me they were jammed full of carbohydrates. The taste and texture of the beer was a welcome relief from the sugary taste of Coca-Cola and the benign nature of water.

However, despite the respite of the taverna and beer, I wasn't enjoying this ride at all.

Interestingly I overheard another rider talking to his table and his sentiment seemed to mirror mine. When his dining companions asked him why he was thinking of dropping out he replied '' I am simply not enjoying this. And the thought of doing this for another 4 days and 500 km is not appealing in the slightest. ''. I felt his pain.

Post lunch it was back onto another dirt track that seemed impossibly steep and rocky at times that was then followed by a descent that in my mind seemed to be the worst of the last 36 hours. It was very very technical and I spent almost all of it out of the saddle standing on my pedals to use my legs as suspension in the hope of avoiding damage to my spine. Of course that takes its toll on your feet and by the end of the descent my hands were almost numb and the balls of my feet were burning from the pressure they had endured over the last 30-45 mins. The only consoling factor was that Nick W-W echoed my observation about the severity of the descent and the impact on body.

Back onto tarmac we head back up the side of another valley and it was on this climb that the strain on my lower back as I forced the pedals over started to occasionally flare up and manifest itself with rods of sharp pain at the base of my spine.

Of course the tarmac didn't last long and we were then thrown onto another dirt, rarely used, 4WD track that weaved itself upwards and upwards. Thankfully through a forest which provided some respite from the late afternoon sun.

As the track summited we were met by the organiser of the bike ride, James Hayden, and his media officer who was filming riders as they emerged from the tortuous climb we had just done. I asked James where the ''fun'' bit of the ride was. He blithely answered, ''at the end-of-race party on Friday night.''

Thanks for that.

The descent that followed though was the quickest and most enjoyed of the ride. Mostly becuase 90% of it was on a quiet wide country road and also because it lasted for about 15km.

By this stage the shadows were getting longer and we eventually bottomed out in the valley of the town of Organya around 9 pm. Just the 12.5 hours on the bike today.

Our original plan had been to make it to La Pobla de Segur which would've put us at the 345km part of the ride. However between Organya and La Pobla de Segur was a 27 km climb. Not something either of us wanted to entertain given it was now 9 pm and we decided that staying in Organya for the night seemed to be the prudent thing to do.

Despite the wonderful descent of the previous hour I had already started to feel as though this was a task too far given my bike set up. The feelings expressed by that fellow rider at lunch played large in my mind about ''not enjoying this''.

I was incredibly slow up hill (at one point, according to one of my ''Dot Watchers'', my riding companion was 7 km ahead of me) and the strain on every sinew of my body was starting to tell. My spine hadn't enjoyed the previous two descents either.

 You are widely advised against scratching from a race in the depths of physical and mental exhaustion. Never scratch from a race in the dark they say. Wait until daylight to see how you feel mentally. And if you can have a decent nights sleep all the better to make a rational decision. On that basis I let Nick W-W that I was considering withdrawing, but that I would sleep on it and let him know at breakfast the next day.

A Catalonian breakfast.

The loneliness of the solo bike racer. The chap on the right had arrived into the hotel at 6 pm the previous evening (versus our midnight arrival). Had enjoyed a leisurely dinner, washed his clothes and was now enjoying a lazy breakfast before heading out to get smashed on the next section of the ride. I was envious.

Aside from the terrain the first obstacle of the day was a heard of a dozen cows. Roaming freely trackside.

The rarely used 4WD track that seemed to go on forever spat us out above the tree line which afforded great views. That scar on the mountain opposite is similar to the track had just spent 2 hours on.

The views on the morning ride were pretty spectacular. I will give it that.

One of the very few riders I passed on the ride. Patrick from France. He was on a mountain bike set up and happy to just plod along at his own pace with a very wide range of gears and front suspension. I envied him.

Some of the gradients we were encoutnering were hike-a-bike for me. That means it is quicker to push the bike up the hill than to ride it.

Late afternoon views form the village where we had just ridden through. This was as we were about to launch into the last long climb for the day. Already I was starting to think about withdrawing.

Reaching Organya this was the climb that we had originally planned to do at the end of Day 2. A mere 26.9 km of climbing. Wisely we had decided to delay it until Day 3 .

The boy on descent...... photo credit @lloydjwright


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