It's been long, way too long, since the last post, and much, much has happened since. Photographs are pouring in from TPC riders to confirm that it was indeed steep, grey and rainy. You'll have to trust me about the cold and wind. Emails have been exchanged, one of particular note since it recounts the denouement of the Trans Pyrenees drive to Barcelona by Merrill and me:
"After we packed up our bikes and had the nice farewell dinner, I went into town with Pat for “a pint of Guinness.” Pat got a kiss from a young lady in the pub as a prize for untying her shoes. Enough said. No Irishman has just one Guinness, so we stayed at the pub foe awhile and got back to the hotel near midnight.
The next morning most went to the airport for the trip back to wherever, but Phil and I were bussed into San Sebastian, Spain, in the morning to take the train back to Barcelona at 4 pm. The problems started when we were dropped off at the wrong train station (thanks, Mike). We walked to the correct station. I had my bike box and suitcase and backpack, so it was a bit of a schlep. We got to the station, checked in with the ticket person, showed him our luggage and asked if we could leave it and visit the city until 4. No, there are no places to leave luggage. Fear of terrorists leaving “bombas.”
So we schlep all the stuff into town. Found a small hotel that would hold our bags, but wanted us to rent a room in order to do so. Finally got them to agree to hold our stuff for the day -- 40 euros. Shared 2 ways it was manageable, and we enjoyed strolling around the lovely seaside town, drinking (more) beer and eating (more) tapas.
Picked up the bags at 3 to get to the train station early to check in – don’t want to miss the only train to Barcelona. Went back to the ticket window, showed the tickets and were told to wait until a half hour before the scheduled departure. Okay – had some (more) café con leche and (more) pastry and waited. Half hour before departure we went to the gate with our luggage, got our tickets stamped as “usado” and waited for the train with everyone else. I had a pre-assigned seat in car 4. The train arrived on time. Now the fun begins.
Everyone else boarded car 4, and Phil and I waited at the end of the line because I had my bike box. As I was boarding, the conductor came running up waiving his hands and telling me something in Spanish I couldn’t comprendo, but clearly he had decided I wasn’t getting on that train with my bike box. I tried to explain that the station agent had looked at it and didn’t say there was a problem, and also the person who stamped my ticket “usado.” That I had a seat. That I could see plenty of room at the end of the coach to put my box. That the guidebook said that bikes were okay on the trains. That I had to get to Barcelona and had no other way to get there. That my wife was expecting me and she had no phone to tell her I wouldn’t be on the train. That I had just bicycled across the Pyrenees and was totally exhausted.
Of course he couldn’t understand a thing I said, so the doors closed in my face and the train left with me and my bike box and luggage standing all alone on the empty platform with tears in my eyes. Compadre that he was. Phil decided to suffer with me and refused to board, despite my entreaties -- he had a plane to catch the next morning. We'd show them!
We went back to the station to see if there was a “plan B.” Or at least to get our money back. The line at the only ticket window by now was out the door, so what next. Okay – We’ll rent a car and drive to Barcelona. There was a rental agency right next door to the train station. Of course it was Sunday, and they were closed. Ask a taxi driver where to get a car. Find one that speaks a little English, and of course he says the airport, which is a 40 euro cab ride away. Okay, we go to the airport. Stand in line at Avis. Finally get a car to rent big enough to hold the bike box and luggage. It is in space 8. Schlep to space 8. No car. Go back to Avis and get in line again. Turns out the car is in a different lot. Finally get the car. Map is only of the local area, and directions out of the airport are impossible to follow in the dark and drizzly evening. Ask for help. They now speak Basque, which is completely unintelligible.
Finally get out of the airport and find the “freeway” which is anything but free. Every half hour there is a toll that got as high as 10 euros. 7 hour drive. Dark, drizzly, no map, signs in Spanish or Basque or Catalan (like I'd know the difference), cars and trucks flying past at 150 km per hour. Phil navigates and I drive. The halt leading the blind.
Get to Barcelona around Midnight. Big, dark, strange city. Signs still all in Spanish or Catalan. Now have to find Phil's hotel near the train station. Circled the roundabouts several times, but eventually found his hotel. Thanks, Phil, for sticking with me.
Now I need to find my hotel, which is in the old part of town with limited access narrow twisty streets. No navigator any more. Look for the nearby large plaza, but it is unrecognizable because a bandstand and tents have been set up for a big festival. Eventually find the plaza and go into a lot that says “P” for parking. By now it is 1:30 AM. Down a long curving ramp. Gate at the bottom won’t open without a special card that is sold only during the day. Reverse gear up the long ramp and circle the area looking for a place to park. Finally find one in a long line of parked cars about a half mile from the hotel – I think. Squeeze into the parking space and write down the street name so I can find the car in the morning.
Too tired and confused to try to find the hotel, so ask a cab to take me and my luggage. He refuses – not far enough. Tells me to walk “directo.” So I walk and look for something – anything – that looks familiar. That time in the morning it is a little scary. Strange people in doorways as I roll my bag along the empty sidewalks. Finally find the hotel, wake my wife and am too wired to sleep. The room is about the size of a large closet, so I keep her up to listen to my stories.
Finally get to sleep and awaken early to go get the car and find a parking lot. We go to the street I had written down, and that long line of parked cars that were there Sunday night are gone, and traffic is flying down the street. Now we have to find a police station to see where my rental car had been towed and how to get it back. Found a police station, and when I said “towed” they thought I said “stole.” Sounds similar, I guess. They sent me to another station to make a report, but they finally figured out that it had been towed, and they sent me to the car “deposito.” Another taxi ride. Wait in line with the other “estupidos” at the “deposito” and get out the credit card (again). First have to find the rental car contract (left in the car). By now I have paid enough to own the car.
Pay the fine, towing and storage charge (mucho euros) and they release the car. Now what. Can’t drive to the hotel, because the streets there are closed. Could go 20 km to the airport and return the car (the rental was for one day), but I had the bike box and would need to taxi back from the airport and back again in the morning. It was mid- afternoon by now and we were hungry (tapas and beer again). So we find a parking garage (write down the streets where it is located, dummy) and decide to leave the car overnight. Try to call AVIS to tell them not to report the car stolen, but can’t get through (or don’t understand the phone system).
Next morning we allow 4 hours to get to the airport and on the plane. Get to the airport after an hour of traffic (morning rush hour) and find Avis. Wrong Terminal. Leave the car at the AVIS office there anyway and bus to the correct terminal.
When we landed in SF I kissed the ground."
Sorry not to have been there with you Merrill, supporting Group C to the bitter end.
Emails are coming in almost daily from Thomson tours advertising 2010 ride packages, giving poignancy to the question most frequently asked of me by family and friends: Are you going to do it again? If they mean by 'it' the Trans Pyrenees Challenge, probably not. If some other 'grueling challenge', the best term I can think of for what we went through, the answer is possibly. It would have to be somewhere where the sun do shine though. Suffering SAD in September is just too soon. If I do go, the question is: will PaulT be there back from his hip setback? Will George be there with his spanking new Specialized itching to climb? Rich Pearson is a good bet since he is truly a stud, having climbed the Mont Ventoux 3 times from 3 different approaches over 98 miles in 7 hours on the same day two days after crossing EFI of the Pyrenees.
I'm writing this from Staten Island, where there are no mountains or sheep. But there is rain, following me wherever I go. I will go out into it, walking tall, proudly, chin up high, never giving in, or up, for I am a survivor of the Trans Pyrenees Challenge, a conqueror of the pain in Spain.
I promise photos in the days ahead.