As I drew closer to Solsona, the stunning vista of the Pyrenees, and within them, Andorra, stood in front of me for a second time. Almost mesmerised by the snowball-like clouds suspended above its peaks, it was difficult to imagine that we’d come full-circle, arriving at this very same spot just six weeks earlier.
Freewheeling over the last remaining rise, I wondered how a poorly placed professional cyclist might feel as he grinds out the last few days of a major tour. I can remember a handful of spectators cheering on one solitary rider, who belatedly appeared at the bottom of the Col des Saisies. It was the third-last stage of the 2009 Tour de France and the last climb of the day. At least five minutes behind the group in front of him, all he would have seen as he braced himself for the long, lonesome climb was a steep gradient and the few lingering spectators heading back down the road. While the race leaders up ahead had the podium to strive for, his only reward was to make it cross the finish line. But it wouldn’t have made the balls of his feet ache any less or stop his pores from dripping with sweat. An occupation as much as an elite sport, he was more than likely looking forward to packing his bags and moving on to the next event.
Hardly competing, and certainly receiving no imbursement for my toil, it dawned on me that I had more in common with the cyclist than I ever would have imagined. To start with, we were both riding alone, while the distances, the terrain and nature’s elements were all very similar.
Having cycled around France a few years earlier, I still remember the exhilaration I felt as I pedalled the few remaining kilometres towards the medieval town of Langres. The sense of achievement was instantaneous. But far more enduring was the experience itself; our closer understanding of the people we met and an appreciation of their turbulent history, unique culture and spirited way of life. And our journey around Spain was of course, just as enlightening.
Roz and I met up in Solsona for one last nostalgic glimpse of its Old quarter before heading home. Almost as impressed with its waste disposal bins as its Portal del Pont (Bridge Gateway) and 14th century Gothic cathedral, Roz had become charmed by Catalonia’s mélange between old and new. Given the opportunity she would have gladly stayed longer.
As for me, leaving Spain was hardly a closed door; more than likely a window of opportunities to come. There was the prospect of returning to the Italian Dolomites next summer before cycling around its border neighbour Slovenia.