August 2017 – Spain Day 8, Backroads Day 6 Cool Down Loop from Mas Torrent

 The last day of a Backroads trip is always emotional. I am sad about the quality time with Cindy coming to an end. I am sad about not being able to ride everyday like we did this week. I am sad about a great trip coming to an end. I am sad about saying farewell to the guides. I am even sad about returning to a normal caloric intake and reduced snacking. On the bright side, I am happy about getting to see our kids again, I am happy that Charlie’s favorite soccer team picked up Neymar Jr, I am happy that everyone generally came out of the trip without significant injury (although not without some bumps, scrapes and bruises – see below. Ouch!) and not hating me for putting them through something potentially awful. I get a bit teary-eyed writing this…I loved this trip and am grateful to have a fantastic wife and phenomenal friends to be with here in Spain. 

A moment about our guides, Kelly and Danny (far right of the picture below). Here you have a 26 and 38 year old respectively who work for a company dedicated to giving people like us experience-based vacations. These people are make or break to the trip. They hear everything. They listen. They size up capability without you knowing they are doing it. The find out what people like. They share great historical info. But they could also really screw some stuff up if they aren’t good or passionate about making our trip a first rate experience. Kelly and Danny crushed it. They spent time with each person getting to know them. They spent time in grocery stores getting stuff they knew we’d love (e.g. popsicles for the top of a hot climb, sugary treats after a long hot section, ice for our waters, beers, etc). They encouraged people to ride the ride they would love. Long for those who want miles, short for those who didn’t. But here’s the kicker. They never stopped smiling. They greeted us all with warmth, energy, excitement and interest with each interaction. They shared their passions (cycling, travel, Spain, languages, etc.) and listened and learned about ours. Personally I think it is because they have found joy in their lives and found a great way to do what they love. Lastly, they have learned at a young age to live full lives and the value of connecting authentically with people they meet. 

Today was a day of transitions. Short bike ride at a slow pace. A nice brunch at Mas Torrent and goodbyes to Backroads and the Costa Brava region followed by a return to Barcelona. To say there is a heat wave going on here is an understatement. We checked into our hotels (The Serras is pretty swank BTW), strolled the small streets of the Gothic district one last time, ate empanadas and then taxied up to Bobby’s Gin Tonic (what happened to the ‘and’ Barcelona?!?), then walked around the corner to Messi’s Pizza (we were all craving it and it did not disappoint) then back to the hotel rooftop while we watched day turn to night over our last Spanish cocktails for a while.  

Consensus is we do this again. Private trip. Same group. Maybe configure a slower day in the middle of the riding to break it up a bit?  Provence, France?  Basque Countryside in Spain?  Northern and Southern Patagonia trip with Danny and Kelly as guides?  Time will tell. Until then…Buen Noche Espana. 

Full album from our last Backroads day is here. 

August 2017 – Spain Day 7, Backroads Day 5 72K Loop in Costa Brava Region

Costa Brava?  No, Costa BRAVO!  An absolutely amazing region in Spain complete with countryside/farmland riding, seaside beach towns and cliff side coastal towns complete with cliff jumping (just ask Brian and Karen).  So beautiful the pics likely won’t do it justice. So made for bikes that only riding into these places on two wheels can convey the essence. 

The days are running together in a good way so long as you don’t remind yourselves we are nearing the end of a fun trip. My legs remind me regularly that we didn’t just coast across Spain. We rode all over the Northeast region smack in the middle of a heat wave with record temperatures being set daily. I’ll forgo my stance on global warning for sake of the readers. Here are the highlights and observations. 

  • Spain, meet me at camera three, whatever you are doing with tomatoes, keep doing it. I won’t tell Italy yours are better. 
  • We met a guy named Fuji today. One of Danny’s (our guide) friends. He was the world’s number 2 trials motorcycle rider IN THE WORLD for SEVEN YEARS STRAIGHT!  Just out for a morning spin in Spain. Cool. 
  • Spain is Italy with a little less judgment. A similarly relaxed environment but not trying too hard to be that way. Very appealing. 
  • Spain seems to start work around 10am. A huge number of pelotons ride in the morning from 7:30-9:30. Seems dreamy. Maybe they work later to make up for it?
  • Costa Brava reminds me of what Monaco must seem like. The number of luxury cars we saw might have something to do with it. 
  • The extra 5K to the small town of Begur was worth the view of the castle, pirate-evading towers and cool Cuban-influenced architecture. The ride to the top alongside or behind Danny was also really cool. He hardly broke a sweat. Amazing cyclist. Great human. The downhill at 65KPH made it even more worth it. 
  • Picking up Brian on bike coincidentally on our way back to Mas Torrent was a cool way to end the day. 
  • We had fun pool time on this trip – more than I remember in Italy. Maybe too much fun.  Note, I did NOT post a picture of Cindy sleeping poolside here. I’m getting smarter with age. 
  • Jeff pulled a fast one and made some folks weepy with his words last night at dinner. Very kind and heartfelt words were shared by all. There’s a closeness that doing fun hard, stuff can evoke.  Job done here. 

Here’s the pics to our day. 

August 2017 – Spain Day 6, Backroads Day 4 Figeres at Mas Falconas to Mas de Torrent at Torrenti

Only one word should be used to describe today: Heat. As in 34-36 degrees Celcius or near 100 Farenheit. Fortunately or unfortunately there was not much wind. Fortunate because it would have been a headwind as we road towards the Mediterranean Sea but unfortunate as it made the heat more noticeable. 

There were also a few more crashes today. By crashes, I mean moments where riders fell over because they didn’t unclip before stopping. Cindy bruised the entire left side of her body and maybe a bit of her ego. Seibert re-scraped his already scraped knee. No Bueno. 

A word on our Backroads guides. Outstanding humans. If companies want to learn how to hire talent, they should do a case study on Backroads. These folks know how to put their clients in the center. They know the balance of too much guidance and too little. They are smart, fun, happy, super-knowledgable and on top of it all, fantastic cyclists. Everyday I hear a story about how they have quietly gone out of their way to help someone in our group out. We thought our first trip was a fluke where we just lucked into the two greatest guides. Four years later I firmly realize these great people are the secret to what makes Backroads so amazing. More highlights/observations from our day:

  • Riding through tiny, winding, one lane streets in tiny villages made of stone apparently never gets old. 
  • This area of Spain looks a little like Tuscany. Apparently it attracts artists from around the world because of similar colors. 
  • Espresso in the middle of a ride is pretty great. Even in the heat. 
  • Large family-style lunches in town courtyard restaurants is even better.  
  • Riding up 1100 meters in 6km makes for a steep, tough ride. 
  • Apparently manhunts take place in Spain too. We rode through one this morning using heat-seeking devices on helicopters. The helicopter made me get how the pro cyclists feel. 
  • Vicus restaurant in Torrenti makes really special food. Anchovies-stuffed olives…mmm. 
  • Christian at the pool at Mas De Torrent is spectacular at his job. He gets up selling. 
  • This is a really special group of friends. 

Click here for more images from today. 

July 2017 – Spain Day 5, Backroads Day 3 Torre Del Remei to Figeres

The profile on today’s ride is a pretty easy one to describe. Flat for 6k through the fertile Valley in the Pyrenees. Then up for 7K to a nice coffee stop in a ski town. Then way up for 11k through the Pyrenees passes topping out around 6,300 feet.  This ride will make you tired. After that, down, down, down to where we first had lunch and second met our bus to Figeres, the Dali museum and the Hotel called Mas Falgarona. Today, a brief post with highlights and observations.

  • The Pyrenees are spectacularly beautiful. Forested and rising above the tree line, they are a mix of our east coast and western mountain ranges. 
  • I love climbing on a bike – there’s a weird mix of strengthening legs with the balance of fatigue and energy management. It is hard to get all of these right at once. 
  • All sports are humbling. You are never the best. Danny (one of our guides) rode up behind me and made me look like I was standing still going up the climb. However, he could work on his downhill form. 
  • The Backroads motorized bikes are an awesome way for varying levels of riders to enjoy a trip through the mountains together. At times the bikes are like bucking Broncos. Just ask the ‘wheelie queen’ Jenny. 
  • After days of eating amazingly fresh Spanish food, I’m starting to crave a nice slice of pizza. 
  • Spanish wines are underrated. Max our wine guide last night reinforced this point. Here are a few good ones to try. 
  • Don’t ever turn down a chance to enjoy a fresh fig from a fig tree. Amazing. 
  • The Dali Museum in Figeres was super interesting. He was a weird dude. He was also exhumed at this museum last week for paternal DNA testing. As weird as he was, you can’t deny his genius in this painting. 
  • Staying in 500 year old farmhouses doesn’t get old. Even harder when the farmhouses have incredible chefs. 
  • The coffee in Europe is awesome. Nespresso machines in hotel rooms allows me to get over my fear of drinking coffee out of hotel room machines. Tasty. 
  • Having friends select their favorite songs from Spotify and add them to a queue is a fun way to listen to music in a bus ride. 

Click here to view the album from Backroads Day 3. 

July 2017 – Spain! Day 3, Day 1 of Backroads Bor to Torre del Remei

Breakfast near our Barcelona hotel turned into a quick pack of the luggage turned into a faster-than-it-seemed two hour bus ride into the Pyrenees turned into a beautiful picnic with our friends and our Backroads guides (Danny and Kelly) in the quaint backyard or an even quainter restaurant in the village of Bor. Lots of activity for one morning and yet it all went off perfectly.  Especially the not lugging our luggage a mile down the road to our original meeting spot. Thanks for the audible Backroads!  Bor might have had a population of 50 residents on the high side. With our arrival to Bor, the primary reason we traveled to Spain was on!  This reason was to spend time with great friends while eating and drinking our way across the Spanish, check that Catalan countryside. If you don’t know Backroads, they are absolutely amazing at a) hiring phenomenal guides, b) building great trips with the right mix of outdoors, exercise, history and premium hotels and c) the food. This first picnic was in the perfect setting looking at views of the Pyrenees, with an accordionist in the background and of course fantastic local food. Potato quiche, multiple salads from this restaurants gardens, Spanish cured meats and cheeses and sweet desserts. 

After the meal, bike fittings, a safety demo and the route review we all pushed off. 400 meters nicely downhill followed by our first real climb right out of the gate. The slopes/grades were big (10%??) and cold legs, full bellies and decent heat and elevation made for a challenging half hour or so of climbing. After that we enjoyed the fruits of our labor with much downhill through farms, villages and even a golf course. Along the way we even saw a couple of gliders cruising on the wind currents off the huge 10,000 foot mountains on both sides of the valley. Planes. No engines. What?!?!  The short option on this first half day ended at the Hotel Torre del Remei after about 15 miles. The long option offered another 7 miles or so with a pretty sweet uphill leading to an even sweeter view before bombing back downhill to the hotel. The up was hard because you could see exactly where you were going the entire way. Mentally difficult. 

Once back to the hotel, the Backroads team literally takes over all of the bike chores doing everything except dismounting you from your bike. The offer you food, beverages and of course bike and hotel details.  After spending some downtime around the pool with snacks and beverages, we clean up and met behind the hotel on the terrace where we see the sun slowly disappear into the mountains while sipping champagne, eating more meats and/or cheeses and chatting about the day. Our guides asked us to share what we wanted to get out of the trip. Some of the responses:

  • Celebrate an anniversary
  • Spend time with good friends/spouse
  • Miles (not me, I promise)
  • Share one of my biggest passions
  • Experience a new country
  • Etc…

We then made our way inside after noticing a couple being ready for this large group to pipe down already so they could enjoy their romantic meal on the terrace, where we had an amazing meal!  Torre del Remei wins a lot of awards, primarily because of their food and it did not disappoint. Foie Gras (or “meat butter” as Seibert described it), a lobster stew, braised goat (the local specialty) and seared monkfish to name a few. Of course it was surrounded by a plate of the best olives I have ever eaten, phenomenal bread and amazing dessert choices. This place, even though it kind of reminds me of the place in Fawlty Towers (without the awful service and chaos), was an amazing hotel in the Spanish countryside.   Tomorrow: big ups as we cross into France, then back to Spain (Llivia), then back to France and then back to Spain. 52 possible miles and nearly 10 miles of climbs to be had if you want them. 

Click here if you want to see the rest of the pictures from our day. 

July 2017 – Spain Day 5, Backroads Day 2 

Hills. Headwinds. More phenomenal food. Historical farms. We left Hotel Torre Del Remei around 8:45 after breakfast and the route review to enjoy a nice, flat and downwind 10k before swinging in the local bike shop. Those descriptors won’t be used much more in this post. After this peaceful section the rest of the ride consisted of some pretty good work. Uphill. At times sharply so. We rode through more cool villages and with incredible views all day. At the top of the first climb we were rewarded with a steep fast descent where I saw my fastest speed on the bike of this trip: 65K. Cool. 

After some lumpy headwind filled riding we arrived at lunch at the 18Cent farm. Typical Backroads style, lunch was awaiting on a picnic table with amazing freshness, local foods, wine and good desserts. After lunch, the museum owner (?) provided us with a tour and all of the details of this 300 year old farm and farmhouse. Then it was back to the bikes where we embarked on another 37K and another healthy climb of 11-12K. Hot but fair this climb felt much better to me than the large one from earlier in the morning. The best part of the climb was the screaming fast descent which followed the first climb in the opposite direction. Super fun. 

Then 10-12K of headwind work back to Hotel Del Remei. Maybe the hardest part of the 50 or so miles. The reward of this section?  Pool and a cold beer. 

Cindy is struggling through a stomach bug. Bummer. She’s a trooper having ridden 30 miles with it AND still making it to dinner. Dinner was unreal. Danny and Kelly arranged for a van to take us up to the town of Meranges where we walked the old farm village (population 60!) and then to meet the chef who would serve us an amazing 5-star meal (Michelin rated) at Can Borrell. So. So. Good. 

Another great day. I’m so grateful to be able to do this and even more so with great friends. 

Click here for more pics in the Flickr album. 

July 2017 – Spain! Days 0-2 Barcelona

The day finally arrived. I’m not sure whether it snuck up on me or took forever to get here. Probably a little of both. Cindy and I have been looking forward to this trip to Spain for a very long time. Our first time in Spain and our second time riding a Backroads trip. This time we convinced eight other friends to join us for the ride. While fun to experience Spain with our friends, I think we are a bit nervous on what we signed them up for. 

Cindy, me, the Smiths and the Shias flew over the pond on Thursday night. As is normal, I slept pretty well getting 4 hours of sleep, albeit in a upright position in cattle-class. Cindy slept for maybe 30 minutes, also her norm. The fun part of the plane ride for me is the movie watching. I loved “Lion” a movie with Dev Patel. Incredible story (based on a true story) and soundtrack/music. My second movie “Fences,” not so much. The play didn’t translate to the big screen very well and the subject matter was tough. 

Upon arriving, and after watching what looked like a 14 yo fail at pulling up the stairs to the plane, we made it through Customs relatively quickly learning that the Spanish aren’t big on queue management and found all luggage intact. From there we squeezed it all into a taxi made to fit four comfortably, six, also not so much, and took the quick 24 Euro ride into the city. Side note, the taxi drivers held a one day strike the day before our arrival, forcing the Seiberts to commute via Metro.  The Metro drivers were on strike when we arrived. Spain apparently likes a good one day labor dispute. 

Once in town we joined up with The Seiberts on the H10 Cubiks rooftop for a beverage or two and then agreed to power on in the city to explore the old Gothic District and find lunch food. At some point Cindy tapped out for a 90 minute nap and then we cleaned up for a 15 minute walk back through the Gothic District and ate a terrific meal at Viana (Valli found it – yea Tripadvisor).  We ate every starter on the menu, drank a few bottles of wine and Sangria and spent roughly 20 Euros per person. Much cheaper than Italy. Then back to the hotel rooftop where we lasted 15-20 minutes before tapping out for the day, 30 hours since Cindy’s last sleep. We slept the sleep of royalty. So good. 

Day 2 was filled with more exploring. Cindy and me went for a run to the marina and beach, then followed it with our typical struggle to find a suitable breakfast spot on our first day in Europe only to eat at a place with menu pictures and an all English menu, then a slight rush back to the hotel to shower and rush back to our 11am Free Walking Tour of the Gothic District. I’ll admit, I was a little skeptical of the free walking tour. It over-delivered. We had a super guide who moved to Spain 14 years ago from Austrailia and he spent 2.5 hours with us giving us agree at historical tour of the area. The deal with the walking tour is you pay him what you value the trip at. He was very fun, funny and showed us stuff dating back to the first century. He also went deep on the Catalan Christmas rituals. I won’t go deep here but it involves a log with a face on it, pooping and hitting the log to get presents from it. Www.caganer.com might help or Google Catalan Christmas Traditions. He also covered a ton of ground and helped us see a side to the area we were staying in that would have been difficult to get on our own between great food and great beverages. After the tour we ate at a restaurant he recommended where they served all food on toothpicks. It was like eating at a wedding except at the end someone charges you 2,10 Euros per toothpick and drink. A fun concept but not our best meal in quality or volume. 

After lunch we pushed on to the Sagrada Familia, the crazy ornate church that Gaudi designed and started to build over 100 years ago that is still being built today. Ornate is an understatement. We now realize where the term ‘gaudy’ may have come from. Words do not do it justice so I won’t try. Here’s a picture instead. 

After the fruit decorated church stop, half went to siesta while the other half of us continued on the Guadi tour to Parc Guell. Worth it alone for the view over Barcelona, this park was filled with more things Gaudi. His home, minimalistic, his sculptures/buildings, not so much. After much sweat, a quick cab ride back to the hotel, more gummy candies and Runts in the lobby, we made our way back to the rooftop for a drink by the pool. Valli did it again for dinner. This time at Agust restaurant on “the other side of the tracks,” per Jeff’s description, where we ate way too much excellent food. We again opened the restaurant at 7pm, locals poured in around 8:30. It was fun to see Jeff tense up walking through a diverse neighborhood. Really fun. Not so much fun was learning that the final couple to arrive, the Goads, would be arriving late and apparently without luggage. Bum deal considering they were flying direct from Paris. More rooftop bar after dinner and then bed on the eve of the Backroads trip.  

Click here for a link to our Flickr album.