When we turned up to register at the start of the 2019 Catalunya Trail and found ourselves outnumbered by locals on mountain bikes carrying very little equipment, it was clear that we might have misjudged this one! With fully laden drop-bar bikes, we met Jaume, the local behind the bikepacking 'race’, and his little team of volunteers. It was always our intention to simply complete the route, rather than compete to be the fastest.
Mountain miles in this region are totally different to what we were used to at home, even training in hilly and sometimes mountainous Wales. Some of the climbs are punishingly steep and rocky, so there was a lot of hike-a-bike. Our plan to complete the 202 mile (325 km) route in three days went out the window half-way through the second day, when we realised that 62 miles (100 km) per day was too optimistic. Instead, we finished in four days, but had the most amazing experience along the way.
The Catalunya Trail had actually kicked off the night before in a local's bar in downtown Girona. Jaumé invited all the participants to meet for tapas and beer as a great social event before an early start the next day. For such a low-key local race with only 24 riders signed up for the long course and 23 for the shorter course (137 miles or 220 kilometres), it was incredible to meet riders from literally all over the world. We instantly hit it off with Conor from Canada and Steffan from Germany. Although it was never discussed or decided, my partner John and I ended up riding the duration of the four day bikepacking route with these two, joking about Canadian TV and funny German translations for English phrases.
What ensued was four long days of rocky mountain passes, clay dirt trails, snow peaked mountaintops, near-solid hot chocolate, endless hike-a-bike and countless baguettes. Although the route was tough — yes, really tough — I'd highly recommend both the route and the annual event.
If you're going to give it a go, I'd suggest taking a leaf out of the locals' book; tiny chainring and huge cassette, and opt to stay in the mountain refuges over camping to keep bike weight down. You'll really appreciate it on the mountain climbs!
This was John and I's first proper bikepacking 'race' and we were both really excited and nervous about it. We'd been in Girona for a few days already working and …
The second day on the Catalunya Trail had to be the most spectacular. Climbing up to the highest point on the route with breathtaking views, descending through rocky-red canyons and …
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