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El Piri - Day 3

Scratching from the ride/race was not an easy decision. I had never 'quit' on a physical event before in my life. I had invested over 6 months of dedicated training to this ride. ''Giving up'' was betrayal of much of what I believed in.

However I had my body to look after and it was clear that I was either going to break myself or the bike or both if I continued onward and attempted to finish the ride.

I informed Nick W-W at breakfast that the potential of me scratching which I had mentioned the previous evening was now a reality.

I handed over some kit to him that we had agreed to share for the ride and which he would hopefully not need (pump and chain repair kit), said our goodbyes, and off he rode to tackle the 27 km hill to start the day.

Scratching from a ride in a small provincial Spanish town is one thing. Getting home to the start in Girona was another. This was not a town bursting with infrastructure and the nearest train station was either 95 km down the road or up over the mountain that Nick W-W had just started to climb. In fact when I notified James Hayden that I was withdrawing from the ride, he stated I might just want to do the climb with Nick W-W as there was a train station at La Pobla de Segur.

I thought about it for all of about 5 seconds and then decided that push come to shove I would rather cycle 95 km on a Spanish road than over 40-45 km on a rocky steep 4WD track.

Looking online it seemed there was a once-a-day bus service run by ''Alsa'' (Spanish bus company that I was to discover makes Ryanair look professional) that passed through the town as it made its way from Andorra to Barcelona. I would catch that I decided all the way to Barcelona and then catch a train from there up to Girona. It was due to pass through the town at 3.45pm so I booked myself and my bike a ticket for the journey and set about to while away the hours until its arrival. Not an easy thing to do in a 1 horse Spanish country town. Checking out of the hotel and sleeping on a park bench occupied 2 hours. Lunch was another 2 hours.

Keen to make sure I didn't miss the bus I was ready at 3.15. The scheduled 3.45 arrival time pushed out to 4 pm before the bus trundled down the main street and stopped alongside me. It was one of those enormous cross country buses which can sit about 80 people. The driver opened the cavernous like luggage compartment in the belly of the bus which had no other suitcases in it. Looking at my bike he said '' No fold ? No take ''. Repeated this 3-4 times and despite my increasingly vocal protestations steadfastly to take the bike unless it could be folded. Nowhere in the booking process did it say the bike had to be able to be folded. After less than a minute he stepped back into the bus, shut the luggage compartment and drove off. I don't speak any Spanish but I am pretty sure he understand the sign language I was speaking.

Now I am stuck.

3 options.

One - do the 27 km climb (and in all likelihood a very technical descent on the other side) and ride the 45 km to La Pobla de Segur where there was a train station.

Two - cycle the 95 km along a major Spanish road to Manresa where I knew there was a train station. NO rocky tracks or impossibly steep climbs involved in this option. Just black tarmac, a scorching sun and lots of traffic.

Or three - ...........hitch a lift.

And this is where beauty of humanity and life stepped in.

Having Googled ''Is it illegal to hitch in Spain? '' and not having received a definitive yes/no answer I walked about 100 meters up the main street to where there was some shade and stood roadside near a turn off and then took off my front wheel and lay it on the ground in front of the bike. Just to really reinforce the image that I was in trouble. I quickly made the decision I would give myself an hour of trying to hitch a lift with before I would commit myself to cycling the 95km to Manresa.

I had seen a few camper vans pass by whilst I was waiting for the bus, and gave hope that one would stop for me. I would also stick my hand out for any semi-trailer or van or SUV with bike racks that came down the main road.

I kid you not. I had been standing there less than two minutes and less than 6 potential bike carrying vehicles had passed by when a small white van pulled up. Winding down his passengers window the driver asked me something in quick fire Spanish which I can only imagine was '' Where are you going?'''. I responded with a hopeful question ''Manresa ?'' . He shook his head and said ''Solsona''.

I had no idea where Solsona was. All I knew was that it must be closer to Manresa from where I currently stood so I eagerly nodded and said ''Si'' about 5 times to reiterate my point that I would be happy with Solsona.

The drivers passenger got out of the van and between the two of us we manhandled the bike into the back of the van and lay it atop 5-6 recently extracted radiator heaters. Clambering into the front seat I jammed myself between the driver and passenger and off we set, with me quickly Googling where Solsona was. It was 50 km down the road and almost half way to Manresa. Result !

Over the next 45 mins and with the help of the microphone function on Google Translate I had an informative conversation with the two men I was now sharing a seat with. The driver was Javier. His passenger was his apprentice and his name was Edu. They were two heating engineers who lived in Solsona and were on their way home from having installed a heating/cooling system into a house being built in Andorra. That was 45 km up the road from where they had picked me up.

With Google Translate microphone working overtime we talked football, cycling, where we were from, who we were, and basically covered all the necessary subjects including why was an Aussie hitching a ride in the middle of the Lower Pyrenees and trying to get to Manresa. Pretty soon the conversation turned to how I actually planned to get to Manresa which was 50 km further on from Solsona. Javier, already disgusted with the bus driver for not taking my bike, made the astute observation that I would probably struggle with all the bus operators if he were to drop me off at the main bus station in Solsona. I shrugged my shoulders and responded by saying that I would either cycle the remaining 50km or pay for a taxi (if there was one) to get me there. Within moments Javier had his wife on speakerphone and again in quick fire Spanish had a 2 minute conversation with her. Concluding the conversation with his wife, he grabbed my phone and using Google Translate said in almost triumphant tone - '' I will take you to Manresa myself'' .

I was floored. He'd already driven 45 km when he picked me up. He was then driving another 45 km to his home town and now was prepared to drive me an additional 50 km to Manresa which for him was a 100 km round trip at the end of his day. All this for a complete stranger.

Arriving into Manresa we dropped off his apprentice, parked his company van in the factory compound and transferred my bike to his own personal van and set off for Manresa.

Again, Google Translate microphone got a good work out. At one point I diplomatically enquired how I could possibly repay him for his generosity. His response ? (And this is the exact translation from Google Translate).

'' You give me nothing. I do this because my hope is that if you saw me in your position in your country you would do the same for me. And this is the world I want my two children to grow up in ''. (A 3 year and also 9 year old)

Seriously. I almost cried. Even recounting it now makes me emotional.

A simply beautiful turn around in my fortunes. Derived from a complete stranger who had his heart and soul in the right place.

Arriving into Manresa I was determined to pay hm something. He steadfastly refused to accept anything.

Just an astonishing piece of generosity. I was quite emotional by this stage and gave him an all encompassing man hug whilst thanking him profusely for his kindness. Waving him goodbye I sensed we might meet again. It was one of those sliding door moments in life.

From Manresa it was 1.5 hour local train to Barcelona and I arrived about 30 minutes before that Alsa bus had been scheduled to arrive which gave me unlimited pleasure. I was tempted to walk over to the bus depot and give the driver my verbal thoughts but decided against it on the basis that the last train to Girona for the day that allowed you take bicycles on it was due to leave in 15 mins.

1.5 hours on a local train (again) and I was back in Girona. It was 9 pm Monday night.

Killing time in a non-descript Spanish town in the Lower Pyrenees was an exercise in patience. This being my view from the park bench where I enjoyed a peaceful two hours.

The well signposted (insert - sarcasm) Alsa Bus stop in the middle of the main street.

Waiting for the bus

The white van being driven by Javier that trundled down the main street of Organya and transformed my day and reinforced my belief in the good of humankind.

Javier's personal van that we transferred the bicycle to and drove to Manresa. Which for him was a 100km round trip.

The man himself. Javier Alcaraz Tarifa.

View from the train en-route to Barcelona.

Rewarding myself for having arrived back into Girona. One for me and one for Javier that I also drank.


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