We woke up to clearer skies and warmer temperatures, a good harbinger. After breakfast and checkout we walk across the street to the 'Forn de Pa' to buy a pastry for later. We then pointed south and started to pedal.
Over the first couple of kilometers there was an off and on strange noise coming from Sarah's bike, so we pulled over to investigate. It appeared to be coming from the chain/jog wheel interface so I pulled out the lube and lubed her chain. That cured the sqawking sound and we hypothesized that the rain the day before had caused the issue.
We were going downhill, at a very shallow slope, so the miles pass by quickly. The landscape is beautiful and the cars infrequent. It took us less than an hour and a half, even with the maintenance stop, to reach Sort. We could have headed east at this point, going over a pass of about 1700M, but opted to stay in this valley, la Noguera Pallaresa, towards La Pobla de Segur and then onto Tremp.
Past Sort the terrain started to look a lot like a slightly wetter version of the southwestern U.S.; lots of stratified red rock geography with short pine trees. It is beautiful, and in the warm air the terpenoids from the pines added a pleasant olfactory dimension to the experience. We traversed three short tunnels that appear on the Michelin map, then encountered two longer ones that are not on the map. The longer ones have signs prohibiting bicycles, along with farm equipment and pedestrians, but pointed us to the old road alongside the river as an alternative. Those sections were a peaceful respite in a beautiful canyon that the motorists were missing. Our gain, their loss.
In La Pobla we stopped for lunch, the sandwich which seems all that is available, and have a discussion about how far to ride on this day. There are three options: (1) stop in Tremp with a total of about 45-47 miles for the day and ending before 3PM, (2) continue south from Tremp towards Balaguer, or (3) continue east then southeast from Tremp. Sarah did not like (1) as it would be a short day coupled with the short one from the day before, and disliked (2) as it would take us further west from Barcelona. We went over the downside of (3)and that being that on the map I see few options for towns that might have lodging. If there were no hotels in Isona, 18 km down that road, then we would have to go another 42 km to Ponts in all likelihood. We agreed to try that option even with the knowledge that this might end up being an 80+ mile day.
We turned eastward in Tremp and started through a more agricultural landscape. Another olfactory dimension seemed to be added; they must use manure a lot for a fertilizer as the smell was almost constant through this section of the country. According to the map there are two small towns before Isona; as we approached the first, Figuerola d'Orcau, I sensed a bad omen. The map shows the town on the highway, but the Michelin map data is apparently old as the road now bypasses the town. The same was true of the next one, and Isona as well. We stopped briefly on the highway below Isona, to watch a shepherd drive his flock across the highway, then continued down to the junction and turned to ride up to the town. We rode through town and found a couple of bars and a restaurant, but no hotels. Knowing that it was to be a long day, we stopped at one of the bars for a soda before heading out of town and starting to climb.
Just after leaving Isona the road turns and starts a climb to Coll de Camiols. The scenery is spectacular and the grade relatively slack compared with the climbs of the previous three days. After about 9 km of climbing we reached the top with a sign indicating a gas station where Sarah wanted to stop for water. But the station was closed, probably for good, and the property surrounded with a large chain-link fence. We pulled into a drive and rested the bikes against the fence while we ate the pastry purchased that morning and hydrated as much as we dared with the remaining water, knowing we had 29-30 km more before Ponts. We then rolled over to the sign at the top, took photos of ourselves with the sign, then started the descent.
If it were not for wind and one green VW I think Sarah would classify this as her all-time favorite descent. Relatively new pavement, wide sweeping curves, steep enough but not too steep; the type of fast, easy descent she loves to ride. We rode it down to the junction where we had to turn towards Ponts, did not complain too much when it ticked upward for a bit, then enjoyed a second long descent before we had to climb a bit. Finally, we had one long descent into the town of Ponts.
On the outskirts of town, at the junction of the road we had taken with the one heading towards Andorra, there was a hotel that Sarah thought looked a bit too rough for her taste, so we continued to the center of town. There we found another, a 2-star establishment, but wanted to look for others. We rode up the road a bit in the direction of Lleida (Lerida for those with Castillean maps), and found nothing, then back to the center of town and into some back streets, and still found nothing. Finally we relent and stop at the one we had found in the city center. Sarah checked us in and made arrangement to store the bikes in their garage ... for which they charged us 6€. That was a complete rip-off as their garage was not usable by cars since they had the drive torn up and were laying the basis to pour a new drive the next morning. But beggars cannot always be choosers and we paid their tax.
We cleaned up and dressed in the room, then took a walk around town looking for food. The options were just as limited as hotels and unless we wanted to wait until late in the night the restaurant at the hotel in which we were staying was the only choice at the moment. Even the restaurant that proclaimed on its signs that it was always open was dark and uninhabited. Sigh. We had a serviceable, if uninspired, dinner at the hotel's restaurant then retired to rest up after our long day on the road.