Friday, 12 August 2011

Sailing In Andorra

I'm officially over the hill. I don't mean that I'm in my forties and knackered, though that's true as well, but I have conquered what will probably be my highest peak of the entire three year ride - the Envalira pass to get from France to Andorra. At over 2,400 metres it takes some pedalling. And I didn't see a single other tourer on either side of the hill, just Tour de France types with their big, soppy, helium-filled bikes and total lack of luggage, something that made me feel good and filled me with a sense of smugness usually only granted to Tory MPs.

I didn't know what to expect of Andorra. When I posted my, erm, slightly negative comments about pointless Liechtenstein, I remember someone on Facebook saying that Andorra is just the same but higher. But he or she was very, very wrong. Andorra is absolutely gorgeous. It could be the delirium of getting to the top of the hill that made me think that, but I don't think so. It's just endless vistas of beauty. And of Andorra la Vella, the capital, I was expecting three houses and a dog, but it's a fantastic, bustling, little city situated in a natural bowl, with the Pyrenees on all sides.

I like it when I turn up somewhere new and I have someone to meet. On this trip I've met some great people. I've told you about some of 'em. But I met one of my favourites, Clare, the most inspiring, wonderful woman I've probably ever encountered, in Andorra. To look at her, she seems like any other 65 year old woman, but bloody hell has she had an amazing life? And she has the energy of a busload of 18 year old girls with firecrackers in their pants. She's driven across Asia, and sailed to everywhere except Jupiter, and has a million stories to tell. Her husband, a spritely if now slightly deaf 95 year old called Edward, is also a legend. He started sailing when he was six years old and continued into his early nineties. He's been around the world more times than the moon. I wanted to suck his sailing knowledge out of his head with a straw, but I suspect it wouldn't have helped his hearing.

People like Clare amass friends in the way that most of us amass bills - effortlessly - and she introduced me to several interesting ones, including an OU student called Kirsty, and Cathy, a motivational speaker, who's climbed Everest from both sides. That afternoon Clare was volunteering as an interpreter for non-Catalan speakers at the local, immaculately maintained hospital. She took me along for a look around. She introduced me to a British patient there and said, "This is Steven. He's just cycled over Envalira today. Can you imagine that?" I smiled. "Yes, I can," she replied. "A friend of mine does it every year when he comes to see us. He's seventy." My smugness withered and died.

I've tried hard to get my Mum online. She dabbles with the internet but it doesn't come easy. I didn't even bother with my Dad. But both Clare and Edward are computer demons. I showed him UGRIB, a freeware application for downloading global weather data, something unimaginable when he was sailing. To see him on the PC made me want to shake my Dad and say, "Look how much fun you can have with a computer!" But, if my Dad did use it, I know he'd only end up downloading naked pictures of Ann Widdecombe.

I stayed the night at Clare and Edward's. Their living room is stunning, with large windows that frame the mountain views around them. I would have loved to have stayed longer and heard more stories, but Clare was off to the UK the next day with an absolutely mental itinerary, seeing about four hundred different friends in a week that involved driving about two thousand miles. I spent less than twenty four hours in her company but I felt like I'd known her all my life. They've both written a handful of books about their sailing experiences. I'll hunt them out when I get home and get my stories that way.

So, if there is a God, which there isn't, but never mind, as I enter my sixties, please give me Clare's energy. And as I approach my mid-nineties, please can I have Edward's mental capacity? Hell, give it to me now. Half of it will do. OK then, a quarter. Just do what you can, God.


  1. Sounds very, very cool!

  2. Nice work Steven, well played :) I'm about to go to bed and will have disturbing images of Anne Widdicombe in the buff.....retch! Elt

  3. This is the kind of post that makes us want to come along with you -- thanks for sharing these amazing people and places! And yeah, the wishes too -- like you said, we'll take some of that -- now would be fine!!

  4. Graham Martin-Royle13 August 2011 at 03:55

    Great post until.....urghhh! You just done it again! What is it with Widders that makes her so fascinating for you? I think you may need medical help.

    Well done anyway.

  5. Sorry, Graham. I just thought I'd spent long enough on here talking about serial killers that I should try and find someone even worse.