After returning from Australia, it was time to get back in saddle and continue on. It was quite difficult to start again after being home, seeing my wife, and getting out of rhythm. Once I arrived in Tarragona, it was difficult to leave after spending a couple of lazy, lovely days with friends. But, I set off…
It took a while to clear the suburb area around Tarragona. Once clear, the path traversed a small section of forest frequented by mountain bikers before breaking out onto the relative flat of the grape growing areas. It was warm, and there was little shade. I went through a string of villages connected by farm roads, passing through Catllar, Renau, Nulles, Puigpelat and Alio on my way to Santes Creus. All of the villages were lovely, but a bit quiet. I didn’t really stop for any significant period of time this day, as it was a longer day and I was feeling a bit inflexible and achy. Coming into Santes Creus, I had great views over the monastery, which was a nice reward after a bit of a stiff restart to the journey. Besides the GR172, a Camino route and the Ruta del Cister also pass through Santes Creus, which meant that the town had a few more visitors and an albergue.
The day from Santes Creus to Sant Joan de Mediona was long, and there were no towns in between. It started with a solid climb out of the agricultural valley and a stint on a rocky path overgrown with some thorny shrubs, but the path finally entered sections of forest and wheat fields. There was an excellent old church near the wheat fields before the path started to utilize the fire roads along the forested ridge that eventually dropped down into Sant Joan de Mediona.
There was little going on in town, but I found a store and was able to rent a room from the local cafe/bar owner, which was a nice change of pace.
Leaving Sant Joan de Mediona, I was looking forward to arriving at Montserrat. The first part left a bit to be desired, with a lot of dirt roads through some modern hamlets and vineyards. Normally the vineyards are nice, but it was warm and exposed. Finally made it to the town of Piera, which was quite nice. I stopped there for lunch and a cool down before forging on. The jagged teeth of Montserrat came into full view, but it was still far away. The path after Piera to the base of Montserrat was awful. It was part industrial vineyard roads, and part dried up creek beds where the path looked like it was just pushed in without much thought. Some of the climbs out of the creek beds were very steep and draining. The village of Collbato at the base was very nice, and it was a great gateway to the trail leading up to the monastery.
It was starting to get late in the day, and I was anxious to get to the monastery. The trail was both spectacular and very challenging. With sweeping views all around, I finally reached the area below the monastery, which had beautiful religious art and a stone chapel hanging on the side of the cliff.
This south approach path was capped by a huge, intricate iron crucifix. With the sunbeams and evening light glowing over the rock spires, it was really a time and place that will stick me. Making it to the monastery, some tourists thought it was amusing when I raised my walking poles in the air as a bit of a milestone celebration. I stayed at a hotel there, which was a nice bit of luxury.
In the morning, I visited the monastery and chapel, which were amazing.
Vacating my hotel room in Montserrat, I started the outward climb. The monastery area is not at the top, so I followed the signs to go towards the GR172/GR5 over the top. I planned to take the shortest route down, but failed to realize that the shortest way was also the steepest. It was very steep, passing through the narrow gap between two rock columns where overhead power lines were running.
It really wasn’t safe, especially with a pack on. I had to rely on a few rock climbing moves to get down, and I’m shocked that I wasn’t injured. That put me behind schedule on both time and energy. I finally descended away from the Montserrat area, and the heat was setting in. The winding dirt roads were quite exposed to the sun, and by the time I reached Sant Vicenc de Castellet, I was really feeling the heat. Had to stop there for a while before continuing to El Pont de Vilomara, and that was the section that was the breaking point for my day. With the temperature at 37°C (99°F), I just couldn’t keep my body cool anymore. My water would heat up quickly, and I had to drink hot water for periods of time. I had to keep stopping to recover a little before struggling onwards. The last 8km piece to Navarcles was sketchy as best, as I was trying not to get heat exhaustion and muster any energy that I could. Once I arrived in Navarcles at my Airbnb, I checked the weather forecast, which confirmed that the next day would be just as hot. Since the route for the next two days did not go through any towns, there were great concerns that I would not be able to find enough water to help beat the heat. I made the decision to change my route for those two days, going through an area with towns at periodic intervals so that I could be guaranteed a water supply. While it would add about 4-5 extra kilometers to the two-day period, I think it was necessary for safety. I didn’t feel safe on this day, and that was worrying me.
After staying with a lovely family in Navarcles, I was ready to set off on my adjusted route plan. Facing temperatures around 35°C (95°F), I was not really looking forward to the day, to be honest. I knew that the revised plan would be dull, even with towns along the way. It also meant more road walking, however that seemed to help me keep a good pace once I got started. The night before, I put my water bottle in the freezer so that I would have a melting block of ice for a while. That helped get me through the town of Artes and to Avinyo. While I felt good energy wise in Avinyo, the heat was starting to pry at me. I took an extended break there for lunch before loading up with ice water, courtesy of the local bar. That kept cool for the remaining 12km stretch into Sant Feliu Sasserra. Could not find accommodation in Sant Feliu Sasserra, so hung out until later and then wandered on to find camping. The day was difficult, but managed to get through. The towns along this re-route for the first day were average towns with few sights, but that was probably a good thing in a way, because I didn’t need to linger in the sun and could focus on moving ahead.
The second day of the re-route had a lot of road walking, but it was manageable due to a slight dip in temperature. After camping near the road, I completed the 8km into Prats de Llucanes. It was overcast in the morning, but the humidity was very high. The clouds burned off just as I was arriving in Prats de Llucanes. While not yet tired, I found a great bakery and decided to stop for a proper breakfast before venturing into the heat. Prats de Llucanes was quite lively, with people gathering in the main square for breakfast. I then took a series of dirt roads out of town, seeing some nice sunflower farms on the way to the hills.
There was another long stretch of paved road that took me into the pine forest hills at the base of the Pyrenees. A last push through trails and dirt roads into Borreda rounded out the day. Borreda is a beautiful stone town, and I stayed at a bed and breakfast that was a restored, period stone house. A fantastic experience.
In health news, I was having some trouble with soreness and stiffness in my knees and ankles upon returning, but that has subsided in the last few days. I have also been having issues with loose toenails, which is causing some discomfort. Until they are ready to fall off completely, I may need to tape them down. Yay!
Walking days: 66
Total distance walked: 1894km (1177mi)