The Rain in Spain is Mainly on the
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Friday, November 17th
Miscellaneous observation: The mini-marts at the gas stations in France, especially near Bordeaux, are remarkable. You go in to pay for gas and see the usual assortment of auto parts, gas cans, oil, post cards, deoderant. But then you see an amazing amount of wine on sale. Yes, wine bottles in a mini-mart. No Ripple or Night Train or other cheap wine. This is good stuff.
Left the town of Pau, south of Bordeaux, heading south towards Spain with the usual light rain. By this time, we are used to riding in the rain and wet pavements; our rain gear keeps us dry, and the wet road requires an extra measure of concentration that now comes naturally. Every curve in the road is carefully scanned for slippery pavement. It would be nice not to have to worry about it, though. Then, the sun comes out and the rain stops, but the roads are still very wet.
Up ahead, we see...the Pyrénées. Snow-capped peaks. Geez, do we have to ride over those?
As we ride into the Valley of the Aspe River in the middle of the Pyrénées , we look up to see those same peaks with snow on them. Lower down, the trees are all orange, almost ready to drop their leaves. If only we had some sunshine. But the view from the road is still beautiful anyway.
Then we start to climb. The border to Spain is only a few kilometers away. The temperature drops big-time, probably low 40's or high 30's.
This is in the middle of the afternoon, too. We are now above the snow line and still climbing. There is snow everywhere but the road is clear, with no patches of ice or snow or anything. If you have to ride in the snow, this is the way to do it.
We ride through a stretch where there is a tunnel effect of snow-covered trees over the road. Snow is falling from the trees and hits me in the visor. It's definitely winter up here; really beautiful. We stop to take a photo -- a real Kodak moment, it's gorgeous.
Then I hear a ringing sound. It's my cell phone, buried somewhere in my tank bag. Someone's sending me a text message. The phone is set on "roaming" and it's the phone company in Spain, sending me an advertisement about their online service. So much for Kodak moments. Welcome to Spain.
We are still climbing. We pass a ski resort but it is not yet open. Then a sign up ahead -- "Espagne." Finally, the Spanish border. We are prepared to show passports and motorcycle proof-of-ownership documents if necessary. But, just as we experienced earlier, there is nothing at the border. Nothing. Thank you, European Community. We drive on through. We've reached the top of the pass, at the Puerto de Somporto, at about 5,000 feet, although it seems like 10,000. It is really cold now. Our hands are starting to get a little numb. Our feet, too.
We start to head down. We stop at a mini-mart a few kilometers ahead. They have coffee. It's heated in a microwave for us, but still not hot enough. The wind is now howling outside. We start to see snow flurries. Time to keep moving and get lower in altitude where it will hopefully be warmer.
We push on. Now down and down and down. "Trucks, use your engine brakes," it says in Spanish.The snow line is passed but it's still cold. We pass through some small towns, on the road to Jaca. Halfway there we realize that the Pyrénées are behind us. We look around behind us and see the snow-capped peaks.
We get a bit lower and the sun is now out and the roads are dry. Like, really dry. Like, it hasn't rained AT ALL right here. The rivers are not overflowing their banks, either, like in France. There is no sigh of moisture anywhere.It's literally a whole different place.
It must be that the Pyrénées Mountains blocked the rainfall coming in from the Atlantic Ocean. Whatever the meteorological explanation, the chance to ride on dry roads is one we won't pass up. Eric accelerates and leaves me in the dust. I catch up to him 20 minutes later, waiting for me on the side of the road.
An hour's ride from Jaca to Huesca, then another 45 minutes on to Zaragoza. This is a BIG town of 600,000 people, with ancient Roman origins dating from the 1st century AD. The name was actually "CaesarAugusta" at one point, and got slurred and shortened into what it is now. CeasarAugusta -- Zaragoza, get it?
Two days here, then pushing on southwest across Spain to Madrid.
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