Route des cols ….

I have no idea why I promised another blog this weekend; as if I didn’t have enough to do with moving into my new home today!
Training for the Fred Whitton challenge has suddenly become more urgent too; just 8 weeks to go and I am seriously behind schedule.
I entered the event because a friend had, and I didn’t really think I’d get in the first time of asking, but I did… and he didn’t! Later he was offered a reserve place so we’re both now training like mad trying to make the start line with at least half a chance of reaching Hardknott Pass 84 miles in. It’s a gruelling 112 miles in the Lake District climbing just about everything that has a road over it! 12.400ft in all; 2000ft more than I have ever climbed in one ride, it’s going to hurt!

So back to the Summer and the journey continues, I’ve arrived in Europe, been lost a few times but now finally find myself on the route des cols travelling from Spain into France over the stunning Portalet and over into the French side of the Pyrenees. The weather was just perfect, if a little warm for my old car without air con! Still it wasn’t exactly a hardship to stop regularly to admire the views and allow the engine to cool off a bit.

The original plan was to travel the whole distance to my destination on this day, but I soon realised that the pace I was travelling at would mean I’d be driving over the last few Cols in the dark.. err no thanks, so I stopped at a pretty looking Auberge in the valley and enjoyed a well earned glass of vino on the decking taking in the amazing sheer walls of rock surrounding me. The next day I’d be able to idle over the last few mountains perhaps stopping for lunch at the cafe I remembered seeing on the Col de Tourmalet the previous year.

Morning dawned but the sun was nowhere to be seen, in fact, nothing was to be seen but low cloud … uh ohhhhh… Cols… hairpin bends… sheer drops… poor visibility? The eternal optimist in me decided to try the first Cols, the Aubisque and Soulor and maybe I’d break through the cloud? Maybe the cloud would lift? Just maybe it would turn out to be a lovely day again… Sadly my optimism was misplaced and the next few hours were a complete nightmare spent clutching to the steering wheel with my nose as close to the windscreen as I could get it, as if this would make visibility any better! I just prayed I didn’t meet a campervan going in the opposite direction when it was my turn to take the outside line on a hairpin bend..scary stuff I can tell you; you know there’s a massive drop there somewhere, but you don’t know how steep or how far it falls, you just know it’s a really long way!  It felt like I was in some kind of crazy Top Gear challenge and couldn’t wait to reach the other side in one piece! 

Visibility finally returned half way down the Soulor and in Argeles Gazost at the bottom I made the questionable decision to continue over Le Tourmalet.. it will be fine now.. won’t it?! Well it wasn’t and that was the final straw, I gave up the the idea of Aspin and Peyresourde and drove the valleys to Luchon from where I got lost just one more time before reaching my final destination. To be fair the directions I’d been given were not the best!

So where WAS my destination? A tiny village called Crechets which nestled high on the hillside in the Barousse Valley about 20k from Luchon in Haute Garonne. Driving up there for the first time I immediately realised that every bike ride was going to finish up a 20% incline…Well what did I expect? Really?!