Well, I’m back home now, and thought I’d fill in the end of my story. When I arrived in Perpignan on Friday, I optimistically went to the luggage area to see if my bike was there, and, lo and behold, it was, none the worse for wear. I reassembled all of my gear, and was back off. All in all, reasonably painless, if more expensive than I had planned, with the cost of a night in a hostel and the 150F for the bike train ticket.
My hopes of having outrun the rain however were sadly mistaken. I crossed the Pyrenees on the coast in the rain, and was rained on every day after that for at least 3-4 hours until I flew back to Paris. Crossing the mountains on the coast was a decision I made because I figured with the rain and cold I’d be better off crossing on the (slightly warmer) coast than climbing up all that altitude. Perhaps so, but 2 days of climbing up 150m and then back down to sea level in the next town was more difficult than I expected.
Spain was nice. The roads there are not as good as those in France, and it’s a lot harder to find a map that’s 1:200,000; most maps of Spain are 1:400,000, which really means that there just are not a lot of the smaller roads that I like to cycle on.
Because of the continuing rain, I got better at hopping trains for short distances. The trains in Spain that you can just carry your bike onto are called “regionales”. It’s easy to carry bikes on, it doesn’t cost anything extra, and they run about everywhere, although they stop at every stop, and radiate out of the larger cities.
I met two cyclists outside of Madrid who expressed some concern about my wanting to take a plane or train from Madrid to Paris with my bike, so I went ahead into Madrid about a week early to arrange things. Arg. What a nightmare.
The two cyclists (Luis and Rafael) were fabulously helpful, but the process was very difficult. After a LOT of phone calls and discussion (and Luis’ girlfriend is a travel agent), I learned the following things: a) you can’t take a bike on a train, and b) you can’t take it on the train. Since that wasn’t acceptable, I kept trying, until I got to: a) you can only take a bike on a train with a special bag that was about $30-$50, and b) you couldn’t take a bike on a plane without a box, but that the only box you could get was from a bike shop–the box that new bikes come in, which would mean completely disassembling my bike to get it into the box, a less than optimal solution, but the best we could get.
Since I had to have a box to get from Paris to home anyway, I opted for the plane, which was faster and about $40 cheaper, and I didn’t then have to buy the special bag. With a bike shop having agreed to provide me a box, I left Madrid, having spent the night with Luis at his apartment. The plan? Arg. To return to Madrid, go to the bike shop, disassemble my bike completely, and then take the bike in the box to the airport by taxi. The best plan we could get, and I picked up the plane ticket the next morning (handy having Luis be dating a travel agent), and bicycled out of Madrid.
If you end up in Spain, I’d recommend Les Empuries (a 2500 year old Roman/Greek city), which is on Costa Brava. There is also a large monastery in L’Escala, and Les Valles de las Cruces just north of thre is fabulous, if 6km almost straight up and out of the way. The Royal Palace in Madrid was also quite enjoyable.
I ended up back in Madrid a day early, so I biked myself out to the airport, and went to a airline counter (Continental I think) and asked if they had bike boxes. They said, “Like this?” and pulled out a box, the right kind of box, the kind that you pull off the pedals, turn the handlebars sideways, and drop it in. What a relief. So I spent the day being a tourist in Madrid, and went back to the airport the next day and packed up my bike. It was, of course, too heavy, and they almost made me pay for the extra 6 kilos (I had most of my gear in the box as well), but they couldn’t find the people I would have to pay, so they didn’t charge me.
So I was finally on a plane, on time, on my way to Paris, with my bicycle. Whew! However, when I landed in Paris, my bicycle was not on the plane! I was in Paris for 2 days, and they never turned it up. I flew home wondering if I would ever see my bike again.
It was on Wednesday of the next week that the airline called to say that my bike had been shipped to Orly instead of De Gaulle, and 2 weeks later I have my bicycle back again. I think it’s more adventurous to travel _with_ the bike than on it, and I don’t plan on having to travel abroad again any other way than well-seated on my bike, everything else was a LOT more work. Cycling is a lot easier in comparison.