Sep 6, 2010

Running into the sky in Perpignan, France

After a long train ride from Geneva, I finally arrived in Perpignan, France. I was tired and a little perturbed after standing in a crowded train car attempting to hold my bike up. I thought to myself, “How amazing will it be to finally start traveling by bike.” After two days of travel, I was tired of trains and long flights. **By the end of my trip, I was ecstatic to catch a train back to Geneva**

My train arrived in the center of Perpignan. I had a host set up outside of the city, but like many mistakes I made on this trip, I failed to realize how far outside of the city he lived. Looking back now, I wish he would have said “Pedal to the mountains, then pedal up the mountain.” Instead, I had a list of confusing directions. Being that it was my first time attempting to ride anywhere on my converted race bike / touring machine, it did not go well. I ended up lost, following my GPS, which was set for traveling by car. While I flew down the side of the freeway (incredibly unsafe decision) at 30mph, I was starting to get seriously scared. If bike touring was like this, I wasn’t going to survive one week of this trip. Lucky for me, I found an exit and proceeded on an alternative route. Unlucky for me, the navigation function on my phone drained my battery and I was now lost and without a phone. Because I was relying on my phone for EVERYTHING, I started to feel like I was screwed. It was now getting dark. Fuck. **After this mishap, I started to rely solely on paper maps and written directions**

Nothing in the last month went as planned. Everyday, I found myself in a situation where I had to think on my feet. If there is one lesson that I learned in the last month of traveling, it is to live everyday minute by minute… to never stress out over little disasters… and to truly believe that everything will work out, no matter how bad the situation seems.

Lost and confused, I did what anyone would do. I found a bar. Now, I know that I was only a few kilometers away from my host’s home in a small village that lay in the foothills of the Pyrenees. But, at the time, I had no freaking clue where I was! I sat at the small local bar, ordered a beer, and asked if I could plug my phone in. After a few beers, my phone was alive and I was able to continue into the mountains. As I climbed higher, the homes became more and more beautiful. When I arrived, I was greeted by Matt, a short, corky British guy in his 30s. Staying with Matt ended up being an amazing decision. His home was nestled deep in the Pyrenees. It was equipped with a small basement apartment and swimming pool. It took some time to truly get to know Matt, but what I uncovered was a selfless, strong willed, well educated guy with a lot to share. Matt was also a brilliant chef and didn’t mind cooking for me both nights that I stayed with him.

The next morning, I jumped on my bike and headed towards the sea. With my speedo, goggles, sandals, and towel strapped to my bike rack, I flew down the mountain towards the sea. Matt had given me directions to a more private beach called La Plage de Paulille, about 20 miles outside of town. I made him promise me that there were no big sharks in the sea **there weren’t any sharks, just lots of fish** The water was chilly, but the sun was hot. I definitely liked swimming in the crystal clear Mediterranean water. Avoiding snorkelers ended up being the most difficult task. The water was calm and I started to enjoy swimming with the fish. The ride back into the mountains was much more difficult, but I was excited to be riding in a new place. The roads were steep, narrow and winding. Each small village I passed through was a welcomed change to the steep mountain roads. Back outside Sorede at Matt’s house, he had just finished up work and wanted to go for a mountain run. I assumed there were some decent trails in the area, so I gladly went along. I should have realized what the run would be like when Matt said “we’ll basically run up the mountain for 6km and then run back down.” Up we went indeed.

The dirt switch backs had us climbing faster than I thought was possible. The road was steep and it was difficult to keep a running pace. Every time the road twisted back towards Perpignan, we were greeted with the most amazing view of the region. As we stumbled higher into the sky, the view became increasingly more beautiful. When the dirt road ended, a narrow and rooted single track trail began. It snaked its way higher into the mountain. The terrain became technical and Matt’s short stride started to benefit him. I had never seen anyone run technical terrain like Matt did. Jumping over rocks, climbing ledges, and running through roots like a football player running through tires. I tried to stay as close as possible. Towards the top of the mountain, we weren’t even running anymore. The trail was so steep that we used our hands to climb the rock ledges. Looking up, I could see the feeble ruins of a thousand year old watch tower. We climbed towards the sky. Once we reached the summit, I was greeted with one of the greatest sites I had ever seen with my own two eyes. We could see for a hundred miles in both directions. We looked down on the Mediterranean Sea with Perpignan, the Pyrenees and all of France on our left, and the Spanish countryside on our right. I took a few deep breathes, spun around and screamed into the night as the wind nearly knocked me off the stone ledge.

“Are you fucking kidding me!?! Matt! This is the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen in my life!” He laughed and nodded his head.

The next morning, I packed my bags and started the 160 mile trip to Barcelona. What was waiting in Spain was a totally different type of adventure, but it wouldn’t even be three days before I had myself repeating the exact same phrase that I screamed on top of the mountain that night outside Perpignan.

Cheers from the Pyrenees

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