Monday was our first full day of biking and even though we biked longer and climbed higher, I found the route to be easier than the half-day route the day before. My biking gloves felt otherwise and had disintegrated by the time we arrived back at the hotel at the end of the day. I spoke with one of our trip leaders, Lulu, about my glove problem and she personally drove me to a nearby cycling shop to purchase a new pair. Seriously, Backroads is amazing.
On Monday we biked 38 miles with a total elevation gain of 2,296 feet as compared to 20 miles with an elevation gain of 1,969 feet. The white portion of the map below is Spain and the green portion is France. Note the small Spanish region within France. Officially, Llivia is considered a Spanish enclave within France. It is about five square miles and inhabits between 900 and 1,200 residents. It is situated less than a mile from the Spanish border and is connected to the rest of Spain by one narrow road.
Our route started in Spain, crossed into France, crossed back into Spain, crossed back into France, and crossed back into Spain one final time. We did this without passports, customs or immigration thanks to the Schengen Area (aka Schengen Zone).
You can read about the Schengen Area in detail here but the long and short of it is that there are 26 European Union countries that have abolished passport control and other border measures to allow for free movement between the countries in the Schengen Area. For example, if you fly into France, you can travel to Italy without having to go through customs and immigration.
At one point while we were in France, we zoomed by the Odeillo solar furnace which is the world’s largest solar furnace. Per Wikipedia, a solar furnace is a structure that uses concentrated solar power to produce high temperatures, usually for the industry. Parabolic mirrors or heliostats concentrate light onto a focal point. The temperature at the focal point may reach 3,500 °C / 6,330 °F, and this heat can be used to generate electricity, melt steel, and make hydrogen fuel or nanomaterials. The solar furnace at Odeillo opened in 1970 and it dominates the vista.
Peter has no memory of passing the solar furnace and I have no idea how he missed it because it was gigantic! Shortly after the solar furnace “ride-by”, we made a pit stop in a little village somewhere. It was cute and deserted.
It was at this point in the trip when mini-groups started to form within our group. I was wondering when this would happen. Peter and I had been riding with a couple from Seattle, so I guess that was our posse. The four of us led the pack for the entire trip. Other members knew one another from past trips so naturally gravitated to one another.
The feedback we heard from other members was that this group was one of the best groups they have ever toured with. From what they explained, with every trip, there usually is always one crazy person or one person needing to be the center of attention or one person always having to buy bottles of wine or one overly demanding person. Our group was cohesive, non-demanding and very easy to get along with. Even the guides commented on how great our group was and thanked us for being so easy-going.
Having just stated that we were a great group, I personally felt as though I did not fit in with the group. It wasn’t because I’m not a doctor or lawyer or director of a division in a large company or member of TheLadders.com. I felt this way because of my age. I was the same age as their children and felt like I had multiple sets of parents in the group. This was nice because people were always looking out for me but at the same time, it would have been nice to connect with someone in my age group.
Back to biking…
We ate a gourmet picnic lunch at a local farm in Sainte Leocadie and I tried to befriend the cream golden retriever of the farm but he only understood French, so all I could do was pet him and he was more-than-cool with that.
As for the scenery and architecture of the region, I loved it. The architecture of the homes was a mix of homes one would see in the mountains of Colorado and in Tuscany. Everything looked new and probably was new considering this region of Spain is where a lot of people have holiday homes.
When we arrived back at the hotel in the early evening, we were delighted to hear that the hotel had switched out our mattress but I’d find out later that the new mattress was only slightly better than the original mattress.
For dinner, we shuttled to the entrance of the hilltop village of Meranges where we were greeted by a black and white German Shorthaired Pointer. We walked down the narrow cobblestone road to the restaurant, Can Borrell. Peter was blown away with his meal. My meal was just OK. I settled on the veggie lasagna because the other items on the menu were a bit too adventurous for me.
After dinner, we shuttled back to our hotel and reviewed the snapshot for the following day. I then took an Ambien tablet given to me by one of my group parents and I was dead asleep within 20 minutes of taking the pill. Ambien is magical. Absolutely magical.