The Pyrenees are photogenic and stunning, often enshrouded in thick cloud and harsh weather, and not ephemeral like our trip across them. Here are a few pics. Check the album on Flickr.
Saying goodbye to the Atlantic at Biarritz, France:
Top of the Col de la Pierre St Martin, leaving Spain, re-entering France:
It rained in France all day. We were in Spain:
Top of the Col de Marie-Blanque:
Descending the Col d’Aubisque:
Climbing to the Col du Tourmalet at sunset:
Tourmalet at dusk:
Descending the Col de Peyresourde:
Port de Balès, site of epic Tour de France 2010 battles:
Harsh point of the trip. Cold and wet at 2001 metres:
This morning was not easy — very early start, limited to boulangerie fare only the kind loaded with sugar (you won’t last long with just that in your body), and being attacked by a homeless man’s dog. This dog chased us around the old city streets of Foix, as we’re yelling and even kicking the little guy. He even got his teeth around Jesse’s pedalling foot, and because of that we missed the town sandwich shop. We started climbing at a misty Ax les Thermes, and expected an ugly Port de Palhieres. It would be the second highest spot on our trip at 2001 metres. The climb got uglier, wetter, and more exposed, as my legs became more and more empty. Jesse pounded up this Col to the exposed socked in top. Nicely done sir. I was running on empty, sunglasses glazed over, and totally broken. Low point of my trip.
There’s not much up top there and it was wet and very cold, so we grabbed our photo and headed down while our bodies were still warm. With iced braking surfaces, wet roads, and howling chilled winds, we slowly descended to warmer parts. Very slowly.
First stop hopefully for warm tea but instead some bread, cheese, and yoghurt. Real food.
Then down down down. We got a little off track in the mist and rural towns but eventually we’re on track up the 1506m Col de Jau. My legs are back and happy I found ’em.
Now it’s a long descent in Mediterranean climes. Warmer. Ancient ruins and towns and a proper lunch finally in Molitg les Bains — tortellini with oh my sauce.
We’ve just got one more range to cross and a proper destination very close.
We paceline through the flat valley, up to 60km/h. The flats seem unusual — the speed stays high and the km’s tick away, much unlike the mountains!
Then we turn back onto the classic D618 Route des Cols up to Fourtou. The vegetation is now pricklier and squatter so we know we’re approaching the sea. At the Col we see our first sign for Ceret, our destination. I want one mote Col, the Xatard. Jesse wants Ceret. Somehow we end up heading downhill.
Then some massive views of the Sea and we’re close. A spin through the magical and seemingly undiscovered village of Ceret, an excessively, humorously large bottle of wine for a gift, and off to Michael’s. Quickly we have in front of us beer, many bottles of local Roussillon, steak, more meat, piles of food. And it’s all consumed over stories from our completed bike ride.
Low clouds this morning but dry roads, so uncertainty and anticipation of the worst up in higher elevations. Rolled back through Seix, unsuccessfully topped up our tires from a motorbike postcard shop, and hit the road up more hills. Quickly we got in a paceline along the river valley towards Col de La Trappe with a Frenchman on vacation. He had more grey hair than Jesse, so probably 20-30 years elder, but the legs and competitive edge of someone much younger. He raced with us up the valley. We encouraged him to join us up the Col, buy he claimed he was packing up that day, and so pushed us until it became vertical for the young guys. For sure he’s feeling smug about that effort tonight.
La Trappe was not huge, but none of these are easy. Descend into Aulus les Bains, a spa town in a steep valley. And we went up. Again. Col d’Agnes is a tough one. Starts out of town at 10% and not much chance to recover. Again I didn’t give Jesse enough of a headstart. Just as I was catching him, he pulled over with a flat. I sat and watched him. I also watched the older couple hiking/shuffling/crawling up this road pass right by us while Jesse deliberated and carefully and slowly changed his flat.
Then we were back on our way. Great switchbacks and road grafitti from many years ago. Virenque, Jaja, etc. These roads have cycling history written all over them.
Angès tops you above a high mountain plateau, some of the most spectacular of the Pyrenean landscapes. Small descent then right back up over 3.8km to Port de Lers. That’s where my bike started making funny sounds. Not to deter me I danced up the hill. Then a huge descent to a town called Vicdessos which considering the name of this trip was an auspicious spot for lunch.
It was not to be. These people take the time of day and their siestas very seriously. It was 2:15 and settled for sandwiches. Jesse doesn’t like to settle with his lunches.
Back on the road is where my spoke broke. Ping. And a giant wobble. So few spokes on my rear wheel means when one goes the thing won’t roll anywhere near true. With the biggest town on our trip just 18km away of course they’d have a high performance shop to fix it. And in Tour de France country. Nope just a bar/motorcycle rental spot with a friendly guy telling us we better go to Pamiers, 40km out of the way. Eventually we’re in a taxi racing to the shop closing time. A bit of luck that they’re a recognized Mavic support shop and the power of a case of beer and our tales of touring and it’s fixed the same evening. Thanks Cycles Passion.
Then we hauled to Foix, missed our plan to get to Ax les Thermes but have an early start tomorrow to finish the trip in Ceret. Giddy up.
I’ve been hooked on strava.com for rides around Vancouver. I can’t wait to check out the stats on the rides on this trip, how these climbs compare, and how fast my climbing compares to anyone else who’s done these. Although most of them were probably not carrying an extra 10 kilograms of week long gear with them…
Cierp Gaud now comes recommended highly from us after this morning. Left our hotel/hostel/former hospital and sought breakfast at the village boulangerie. We’re sitting in the shop powering through the pile of delicious baked goods and chatting with the lovely lady and girl working there when they start bringing us and treating us to sweets and breads special to their boulangerie to take with us. We weren’t prepared to fit an entire loaf of their “menier” local specialty, but it’s turned into our magical bread these days especially in the pouring rain. So do stop at the Arcangeli Boulangerie Patisserie next time you’re passing through Cierp Gaud.
Immediately the climb started up Col de Menté, very steep and immediately into the rain clouds. A harsh wakeup. We didnt even expect rain but it continued all day. Big descent then up the Portet d’Aspet. We passed the memorial to Fabio Casartelli. He won gold in Barcelona ’92 Olympics, then died tragically in the descent here during the Tour de France. His Motorola teammate and rogue new racer Lance Armstrong won the Tour stage the following day, looking to the heavens as he crossed the finish line, dedicating the win to Fabio.
It’s a moving tribute and soon I found myself dancing on the pedals and climbing this 10-17% steep hill at 20kmph quickly putting Elzinga way in the dust. The wait at the top meant time to cool down too much in the rain. Entertaining the other riders seeking shelter meant getting colder.
Careful descent through more rain clouds, and then we let Jesse eat a big lunch — wine, buffet, and cassoulet du maison. Would the rain pass? We made a big mess of puddles in the restaurant and left hours later.
One last col, up the Col de la Core. Jesse’s stomach handled lunch quite well as always, I think I was carrying 10 extra pounds from water logged merino layers in my bag. We hammered up until visibility was about 30 feet, I hoped we might pop over the clouds into the sunshine. No chance.
Another big wet descent into the touristy Seix and wandered around until meagre two star lodging and incomparable dinner in nearby Oust. The French they really do sauces well. Gamba, St Jacques, grenouilles, magret de canard, agneau, soufflé, millefeuille all doused in magical sauces.
I’m gonna have to write that down, Cierp Gaud, because we probably won’t remember it.
We started with a huge descent out of the ski station La Mongie below the Tourmalet. The tram heading way up the hill and hikers were eager early this morning. The descent pretty much burned out all our brake pads — steep, bumpy, lots of traffic, and weary morning reflexes.
In the Pyrenees, going down means you’ll be going straight back up very soon. Bigtime. Next was Col d’Aspin. Long leadup then it goes way up. Sweet forested climb to an open bowl full of cows and car tourists petting those cows while they crap. Bored tourists.
We dropped off the back and instead of forests maybe our most amazing view and descent. Huge open mountain landscapes and sweeping turns. Then food. The Victour takes lunch, all three of them each day, very seriously. And then you ride that belly. Up Col Peyresourde, craving the rumoured dozen pancakes for 5 euro at the summit. We met local cyclist Eric at the top and had him join us for lunch #2. Jesse’s working on his French but mostly claims his love for wine, his love for pancakes, and his love for more of “that.” The timing was perfect as Eric could confirm the brand new road up the Port de Balès was open. He road it that morning. The Tour de France just rode it this season. It’s a brand new obscure road up unknown parts. Huge climb and glorious views. And a good chance to miss some key turns.
Balès started so steep, meandered through those ubiquitous French mountain villages, and then goes up into the heavens. Narrow road, smooth and new, and built just 3 years ago, probably to get local cars over… not to give cyclists an easy ride.
We’re not sure what all those cars were doing at the top, so we dropped off the backside, which is what the Tour climbed this year. Legendary cycling road — it’s unrelenting, perfect winding hairpins, and thick forest below. And it’s endless. A pleasure to roll down, nothing easy to climb.
Next was rolling through the valley for a room and food. There is not much here. Small towns… in France we expect some fanciful meal prepared by local gourmands but instead we’re in a mysterious “hotel” no one seems to have heard of, and walking to the next town for Italian dinner. But they have wine and calories.
These monster climbs really beat you up. 150km feels like 300km elsewhere. We’re trying to convince ourselves we’ll adapt day by day.