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Jane, Spain, Plane

Kangy, Jan '91

Got invited to stay with Jane Clarke in Spain which included an irresistible offer of the use of her mountain bike.  As this turned out to be in a National Park thing where she lives when not teaching the locals how to talk inglish like what we do, it gradually dawned that this was PAY DIRT.  GOLD HAD BEEN STRUCK!

I still had to get there and half down the M4 to Heathrow in mid-November I couldn't find my passport. Frantic work at the post office got me a temporary one on my Visa card.  (Visa card?)  The adrenalin was still flowing when I came across Martin Grass who was in the departure lounge for a flight to Paris and I enjoyed really boring him with repetitions of my horrendous tale.  He was really cool about his beautiful friend.  Tell Zot.

A jumping. gesticulating Jane met me at Barthelona Airport.  I felt really glad I hadn't totally blown it by not turning up.

Oh. Happy Holidays, celebratory drinks, long chatty drive back to St. Llorenf Saval in her excellent 2CV, bed far too late.

But next morning! Views everywhere.  Beautiful traditional Catalan house properly constructed of woodworm and instinct.  Super weather, frosty and sunny.  Hills just outside of front door.  Ten minute stroll uphill got us to even more views with a well sculpted skyline full of deep canyons and steep rock walls.  We walked through woods and Jane oriented and informed me about the area. On the way back I became enamoured of a striking little mountain which the map called Castel del Pera and we worked out how I could climb it by bike.  Herself went off to work.  (How was it in the office today dear?) and I set out to tame my first mountain bike. Sore bum.

Cracked it next day. Saddle at right height, not too ambitious about riding up the really steep bits and YAHOO down.

Castel del Pera was elusive and hidden behind paths closed by barriers and big PRIVATE notices which I found intimidating.  I discussed the matter with a friendly shepherd.  We pointed to the map and he indicated that the route indeed went past the GO AWAY sign.  He also gave me an idea for an encore if I managed to climb the peak.  Less than confidently I cycled off.  Dirt road, overgrown track, single path through scrub, contouring up until the cap like summit was immediately above.  The silence was disturbed by distant shouting, the banging of a gun and the baying of dogs.  I found three distinctive trees which served as a landmark to leave the bike against and looked at the next problem in detail.  The summit was a couple of hundred feet above but immediately inaccessible because it was protected by a long contouring steep band of rock rounded and bulging with few gullies to exploit.  I scrambled to a corner where the cliff was more broken and found a way up.  This led as I'd hoped to a ridge which finished at the final rocks of the summit cap. I reckoned that a frontal assault would be the sporting finish but guessed that a way lay around the back. And it did, satisfyingly onto a small plateau with the remains of past fortification.  A real castle.  Good views all round, spectacular cloud and light effects and a glimpse of the way on. I suddenly realised that it was four o'clock and it would be dark at five thirty and decided to risk the route I didn't know about back to St. Llorenf Saval.  I climbed back down.  The Mad Hunter came into view shouting and bawling his head off.  The dogs howled, his gun bang, bang, banged.  Mendip was never like this.  Nervously beating off an inquiring hound and rushing for the bike I took off before having to exchange pleasantries with the awful senor.

The path from the col was indistinct but at least I had seen how the land lay and could follow that. A jeep track soon appeared and I trialed to the road to run down into St. Llorenf Saval arriving home a half an hour after leaving the summit.  Amazing.  I want a mountain bike of my own!  Want one.

I swanned about until Jane came home after a hard days night and we decided to go off early in the morning to visit the mystic Montserrat.  I'd seen the photographs in somebody's book of bumper fun for rock climbers and never forgotten them.  Astonishing - you'll have to see for yourself.

There was the embarrassing catastrophe of the denting of Jane's 2CV but she still talked to me and we drove to the Pyrenees at the weekend to climb Pic Carl it.  The journey took much longer than we thought. Probably because we didn't have much sense of urgency and ooed and aahed at superb mountain views enhanced by early snow.

Reality began on the hairpin bends which wound up to the Lac des Bouillouses where there are refuges which are not open in November.  But we intended to camp.  2CVs run out of puff if not nurtured.  It took several exciting charges at the steep icy road before we were prepared to admit that it would really be much more fun to backpack our gear instead of driving. The gallant 2CV was parked in a getaway mode and we continued the remaining kilometres up a snow packed road to the edge of the lake.  At least what we actually did as the wind was getting up was to pitch the tent in a hollow sheltered by trees.  Grub cooked and eaten, into pits just as it got too dark to see at 6 o'clock.

Increasingly long pauses in the conversation led to snooze.  Let's face it, camping is about endurance and after 9 hours in the sack (or 3 o'clock in the morning) thoughts turned to bladders and the realisation that the tent was being buried in powder snow.  A happy compromise allowed the snow to stay outside.  At first light, Jane emerged from her multilayered survival technology, shuddered at the ice-caked interior walls and amazingly cheerfully, cooked breakfast.  We packed up, beat the snow from the door and unzipped it to see the worst.

Beautiful, but useless. A thick snow covering made an igloo of the tent and hid the broken ground making walking difficult.  We were concerned about the possibility that the 2CV was buried but while behind us storm clouds threatened, the view in front was spectacular.  We dumped the rucsacs and sorted a route amongst fairy trees encrusted with Christmas snow sparkling in strong sunlight.  Climbing out onto a plateau which was sprinkled with little lakes the Carl it stood clearly before us.  Waiting for us.  It was only an illusion because we knew that the snow lay powdery on warm ground which is unhelpful.  And behind us leaden skies threatened further falls.  It was simply a beautiful spectacle and knowing this made it easier to turn our backs and think about rescuing the 2CV.

We made a warm meal in a mountain shelter.  Jane made a note of the Refuge custodian's address for future reference and we trudged off downhill.  A friendly Frenchman gave us a lift, we cleared the snow from the marvellous machine and he kindly hung around until Jane eventually fired up the mighty motor. More excitement as we attacked the slopes, vigorously rubbing the windscreen free from ice and shouting "go for it" until we could relax in a cafe with inordinately expensive coffee and cognacs.

Once again we ate well back at the village restaurant.

Jane was due to work next day so we sorted out an interesting climb during the mornings walk and full of enthusiasm I did it in good time in the afternoon, hot and sweaty but thoroughly enjoying the route finding through the forest, the climb up to the col, the stimulation of being defeated by an imposing rock tower and the added bonus of just enough time to get to the top before it was time to flee before nightfall.

When Jane got home from work bottle of fizz was ready and we got before I was roused at the crack of train to take me to the Airport and late that evening, the ever so slightly smashed dawn to be driven to the home.

Thanks Jane. Great!