the icecreamist

wednesday james and I rode north out of girona with the view to tackle two serious climbs - the rocacorba and the mare de deu del mont. the rocacorba is a category 1 climb according to the official way climbs are ranked in five categories. the second hardest. it’s 13.3km long and has an average gradient of about 6.5% with 15% ramps.

we got a little lost on the way out there through st gregori and ended up on a mountain bike trail to rocacorba. after a few kilometres of that; grinding away on a wet, stony trail, we finally reached a junction. looming high above was rocacorba with its large iron red & white comms tower. we could keep going or take another trail down hopefully to some sweet black tarmac to take us up there. we ummed and ahhed but eventually decided to take the route down as our road bikes were simply not cut out to climb hundreds of metres on an MTB trail.
the descent was quite slippery but we made it down and there was indeed a road going to rocacorba’s summit. we headed up, quickly moving into climbing mode. some people ride climbs together but we were both of the view it was better to find your own groove on a climb. in silence. I’d been doing a lot more riding than james so slowly moved away from him as we ascended. soaked into the activity. became the road, the pedals, my thighs, the trees, the wheels, the insect that flew into my mouth. the oneness thing. being the bike. all that. I thought I would like to see the dalai lama in lycra riding the passes of tibet. managing suffering and evoking inner stillness – was there really much difference between riding cycles up mountains and being a total tibetan bodhicitta yellow hat man? there probably was quite a lot actually…

anyway, after about 45 minutes I was there. rocacorba. I lay my bike against the sign that details the climb’s stats, sat down and took a long slug of water and opened an energy bar. james arrived soon after, chugging up the final slope with his characteristic bobbing style.

‘that was awesome,’ james said.
‘yep.’ the view out to the snow-capped pyrenees and the costa brava and the lake where banyoles was, was pretty special too. a light breeze. spanish sun. some workers were doing something to the tower and a man drove up in  a pick-up and joined the others.


‘let’s go.’
we descended, james pushing it and then coming off at low-speed around a deceptively tight bend. he almost contained it but a little final fish-tail threw him off. I was close behind and almost went off the road myself, but had cut speed enough to stay upright (just).
‘they could do with a sign there,’ I said.
james was ok and the bike too and we continued albeit more cautiously, as if we had become wiggins in the rain.
the 13km descent passed through forest until we bottomed out and passed dan martin and another garmin-sharp pro cyclist coming from banyoles. when we arrived there we found a lake-side café-restaurant and had lunch and a coke.

we discussed going onto mare de deu del mont. this was rated 'hors categorie' – the most difficult of climbs. we had already covered 65km including a tough category 1 climb. james had never completed an HC climb. I had done just one – mt ventoux in provence, france – last year. I had climbed that mountain VERY slowly. it was another 20ks to the mare, then a 19km climb at about 5%, with the final 3k at 10%.

‘I dunno – it might be too much,’ I said.
‘I’m doing it,’ said james.
I liked this aspect of his personality. we were here now and in pretty good shape. was there a good reason to NOT do it? no… james had ridden across australia twice. I had run marathons. we knew a little about what the body could deal with, usually a whole lot more than you think it can.
‘yep. let’s do this,’ I said, finishing my coke.
we let the sandwiches digest a little then set off, driving into the wind going north, through the green fields. we could see the mare ahead of us, to the left, all green and mighty. strong smell of cow dung.
then we were at the turn off and were glad for its gentle welcome – just 2-3%. after a couple of kilometres I moved ahead slowly again and continued for about the next hour and a half, up into the forest, in the zone, as the road bent upwards more severely.
beginning an argument I knew I could not lose with tired and lactate-filling legs. I simplified it: stopping is not an option. it really wasn’t. a deer ran in front of me for a while. a nice distraction from the painful cacophony my legs were creating.
‘shut the fuck up guys,’ I muttered at them. ‘I’m trying to ride here.’
the top was more barren, but nothing like the bizarre ventoux bald rockiness. I saw the road snaking above to the mare’s own comms tower. the gradient was at 10% now and my speed slowed to 7-8km/h. grinding then. the mind having an animalistic conversation with the body. becoming aggressive and resolute. everything fades away. just body, machine, road…mountain. will.
and then you are there. the suffering is over. for now. sit down on bench. two motorbikers sit on another bench pointing at things on the vast horizon.

same routine. drink. eat. it is cold. I put on my arm warmers and spray jacket. james bobs up the crest soon after, me videoing his arrival. there isn’t much to say. we both know the satisfaction the other is feeling. it’s the purity of the action. it’s why cycling is a beautiful sport.


‘welcome to the HC club,’ I joke.
james just smiles, eating and drinking. a couple of pictures are taken.


then we descend and ride back to girona slipstreaming each other. 140kms, 6:40 in the saddle. an awesome day.


thursday morning we meet for a group ride at the girona cycle centre. there are about a dozen of us including a women’s british road champ and neil, the old man of garmin's dan martin. garmin is based in girona. james and neil talk about cross-country touring. I chat with jeff, an american who had lost his job due to the recession and decided to do some cycling in europe.

 we follow shop co-owner and ride leader dave walsh out to llaggostera then tackle a climb toward the costa brava (canyet de mar).

at the top of the 9k climb some go on but most return. our legs jellified from yesterday, james and I choose to return. one of the spaniards riding with us, juan, hits the asphalt at 40km/h right behind me as we descend back to llaggostera with dave, a downhill MTB specialist, setting a fierce pace.

juan’s ok but his right elbow is quite badly mincified. his yelp and the harsh slap of metal (or carbon) on road and then the thud of body on road stays with me as I descend the remaining 8kms. my wheel had slipped slightly in the same tight, gravelly spot and I knew I could have gone too, but you can’t let these things play too much or you might as well stay inside watching the giro d’italia. like most things, there is risk, but it is minimal. juan said it was only the scoend time he had ever come off his bike.

we stop and have coffee at llaggostera and dave tells us some things about girona cycling and why he prefers shimano to campagnolo gear. ‘it’s just easier to work with,’ he says. there are cyclists everywhere in the café terrace. there are cyclists everywhere around girona.
then we head back and part ways. an afternoon to relax. watch a little giro. explore girona. we both agree girona is a truly awesome cycling place.
the icecreamist

that said, I think that cycling may be just a guise for james to be here in girona. sure he has been keen about all the riding we have been doing and was the one that pushed to do the mare after we had completed the rocacorba on wednesday.

but I think what he is really here for is ice cream. he has been studiously researching all the ice cream stores in town and after dinner tonight led us to a store he said supplied ice cream to the best Michelin star-rated restaurant in the city.
unfortunately the ice creamery had just closed as we arrived leaving james to look forlornly through the gated windows at the ice cream smorgasbord inside. I knew we, or he, would be back before we left girona.
returning through the old town we passed another ice cream vendor, with brightly coloured flavours on display in the chill cabinet.
‘look at that – shit,’ said james.
‘you’re not really here for the cycling are you?’ I ventured.
james walked on. he knew there was no need to answer that question. he also knew good ice cream when he tasted it.
'if i lived here i'd work in that shop,' said james. 'put that in your blog.'



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