WHY? The Gravel Bonanza

Words: Krysten Koehn, images: Tristan Cardew

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When we rolled out for our first overnight Gravel Bonanza on Saturday afternoon, the sun was relentlessly baking the earth to a sweltering 36ºC. But there’s something about gravel that puts a little extra spring into the legs, a little more childlike joy into the act of riding a bike. So despite the heat, we charged out of Girona at a high pace powered by our collective desire to escape civilization and get into the hills for the night. We could only hope the higher elevations of Mare de Deu del Mont would bring some respite from the heat and the bustle of the city at the height of summer.

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Up we went. Gradients of 22% frequently peppered the upward trending route, which fluctuated between concrete and gravel as it mounted the slopes of the lower Pyrenees. Nearly every switchback simultaneously confronted us with irrational gradients and distracted us with exploding views of deep canyons, dense forests and soaring cliffs.

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After 16 mounting kilometers alternating between suffering and euphoria, we finally found respite in a rolling plateau where we darted in and out of pine forests with renewed energy. The sun had mercifully crested and was sinking closer to the distant peaks and saddles. The air was fresher now, laced with fir and grass. Wide views stretched across gently rolling expanses out to the Mediterranean and the coasts of France, and in every way it was that elusive time in between times–the light, the stillness, the feeling that hours and minutes cease to exist in that moment.

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One more four kilometer ascent up a steep, loose and technical jeep road and it was time to descend to El Bosquet, where we would rest our legs for the night. The descent, however, was no reward for all our climbing, but rather an absurdly steep cascade of loose rocks the size of babies. The previous pain in our legs was nearly forgotten, balanced by hands and arms searing from grasping the brake levers for dear life.

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Never was there a more welcome sight than El Bosquet, nestled in a little bowl from which stately granite faces and verdant peaks rose on all sides. As we clinked our beer bottles in celebration of our arrival, all the heat, gradients, exploding lungs and burning limbs were forgotten. The charcoal was already hot and a giant smile adorned every dirty face. The night proceeded with good food, wine and company, and stories stretching out until the moon disappeared behind black mountain silhouettes.

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We rolled out of our bunks early the next morning, persuaded by the wafting smell of Christian’s coffee. After a slow breakfast, we started our descent back into Girona. Forty-five kilometers of undulating terrain brought us to Olot, where we hopped on the Via Verde and descended fast and easy all the way back into the city.

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Tired and covered in golden dust, we said our farewells and headed our separate directions, but we parted with experiences and memories that will unquestionably bring us back together for future adventures. All in a weekend’s work!

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Krysten Koehn