Pyrenean Perspectives

As we have different perspectives about going over the Pyrenees, we thought you might like to hear from both of us:

Andy
Cycling south from Toulouse in pouring rain, I was praying that the weather forecast I’d used to persuade Clare to go over the mountains would turn out to be true.

image

This is the forecast that I’d shown her for the week ahead together with words of encouragement like … “Perfect conditions for a mountain adventure. How hard can it be? We’ll always regret it if we don’t.”

To be honest, I didn’t really have any idea how hard it might be.

Clare
Secretly I was hoping that bad weather would mean we had to take the coast road around the Pyrenees and along the Spanish coast to Barcelona. However, as this window of opportunity opened up and I realised the sense of achievement we’d get by going over the top, I began to prepare myself for a mountain crossing.

Andy
I googled potential routes and found one on the website of a cycling holiday company that we could join at Bagneres-de-Luchon. OK, it meant riding further away from Barcelona through the middle of the Pyrenees and it included four mountain climbs (rather than one) but they didn’t appear to be quite as steep. Plus we would cycle on quiet roads through lovely countryside – perfect!

fullsizerender

I carefully plotted the routes and did all the calcs declaring these climbs not as steep as Prior Park (one of our local hills in Bath) but just a bit longer! They averaged ‘only’ 6-7% gradients with the first one being the steepest.

image

Thursday – Luchon to Arties over Col du Portillon

image

Friday – Arties to Sort over Port de la Bonaigua

Clare
By this time I’d convinced myself that it was the right decision to follow Andy’s new route but only had the first mountain climb in mind (as he had said the others were easier). Despite his detailed analysis of elevation, incline and stats, I prefer to not look too far ahead and just tackle what’s in front of me. One day at a time! I did, however, point out that this first climb was going to be six times longer than Prior Park Hill!

As we pedalled up the valley towards Luchon on our last day in France, the mountains grew bigger and the river flowed stronger. The sun was shining, my legs felt good and we were on cycle paths for most of the way.

Andy
The closer we got to the mountains, the higher they looked and the more nervous I became. I had a sleepless night wondering if we’d done the right thing.

By Thursday morning (Day 38) we were heading up the Col du Portillon on that first climb. This pass has featured in the Tour de France several times and winds it’s way 700m up through 10km of pine forests to a height of 1292m. I must admit it was a bit steep at times (13.9%) but it was incredibly beautiful.

As we whooped with delight at the top, Clare confessed that she’d enjoyed it more than she’d expected to. Phew!

image

Clare
The moment I had anxiously waited for had arrived. It was freezing cold as we set off from Luchon and the incline graph Andy had showed me the previous evening kept racing through my mind. Had I reached the red, orange, blue or green phase? Not knowing what these really meant was probably a blessing in disguise as I arrived at alpine pastures and the sound of cow bells more quickly than expected. A long climb punctuated with steeper ascents then took us to the top.

image

Much to my surprise I had made it with some energy to spare. A moment to savour. As we cruised down the winding road into Spain, the Aran valley opened up and we were soon enjoying our first Spanish tapas.

image

fullsizerender

Andy
After lunch we faced a long slow climb back up to 1100m which I found a lot harder than Clare. As she ate the miles up I rather limped into the delightful village of Arties.

On Friday morning (Day 39) the mountain road led us up through Baquiera ski resort to the mountain pass of Port de la Bonaigua at 2072m. This is a climb of 1000m over 16km and was part of Stage 9 of the 2016 Tour.

image

Not quite as steep as they day before but it did go on and on and on. The last 5km were dominated by switchbacks which I rode up as fast as I could to the summit. It was only when I looked down at Clare emerging from the tree line that I realised just how high we were.

image

Clare
Have you ever felt delirious with exhaustion? Well I did today. Throughout the climb I could hear my daughters voice repeating in my head “Jeez, why put yourself through this?” As I looked up, all I could see were yet more hairpin bends above.

Two hours of leg throbbing and brittle determination got me to the top – I was almost too exhausted to enjoy the moment and the beautiful scenery around. No whooping this time!

image
Andy
Predictably Strava recorded us as amongst the slowest cyclists on these climbs. Was it the stops to admire the view? Or to munch a banana and recover? Or was it the extra weight we were carrying including such essential kit as a new beard trimmer, a keyboard, 2 iPads, a sketchbook and pencils along with the hairdryer, the pillow and the Pilates balls.

Nurdishly, I worked out on bikecalculator.com that the panniers equate to an extra 1% apparent gradient. This climb was an average 6% gradient, with our panniers it felt like 7%.

Clare
Who cares about Strava? We’re touring cyclists.

image

Snaking down hairpin bends on our descent was incredible. A sense of freedom to both legs and mind. It was surprisingly cold as the alpine air whipped past. Cruising at a speed of up to 50km/hour we descended into the magnificent Aran valley, stopping occasionally to take in the breathtaking view.

Andy
On the steeper sections we practised descending techniques we’d been told about – inside leg up and braking alternately front and back to stop the brakes heating up too much. Occasionally I had to pull both of them hard at the same time. The sudden smell of burning rubber and the realisation that it can only be coming from your own brakes is not a great feeling!

image

Once again, Clare was stronger in the afternoon. Perhaps I pedalled too hard at the top of the mountain and burnt myself out? Perhaps I’m just not as strong as she is?

We now have two choices. Go over the mountains for the next two days or head down the valley towards Portugal. No choice really – I’ll just have to pace the climb better to keep up with my wife in the afternoon. Here’s the profile for the next two days:

image

Sunday Plan – Sort to Coll de Nargo

image

Monday Plan – Coll de Nargo to Solsona

Clare
Now feeling re-energised after a rest and three huge meals yesterday, the thought of another 1000m of mountain climbing doesn’t fill me with quite such dread. I’m so amazed how much I’m eating!

But I have come to a realisation:

Some people are made for cycling in the mountains, others are made for pedalling along canal paths.

I like canal paths!

Andy
I think she secretly likes cycling in mountains …

Clare
No I don’t …

Andy
At least the weather forecast came true!

34 thoughts on “Pyrenean Perspectives”

  1. Absolutely loving it. Sounds equally wonderful and painful. I think I’d ditch the beard trimmer and go full wild man. Enjoy the remaining minor hillocks.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Dave. Good point but fluffiness drives me mad, so it’s worth it. Hope you’re out on you bike today! We’re just about to head off into wall to wall sunshine. Haven’t seen a cloud since Wednesday! Andy

      Like

  2. Very evocative guys. I wish I thought I had it in me. It really does sound as if you are enjoying it and no hint of significant marital discord. Even more impressive. Enjoy x

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Loved the dual descriptions- as always easier to appreciate from my couch than putting in the tremendous hard work you guys are doing.
    Keep riding – there are miles to go etc.
    Cheers

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi – I am in bed feeling tired and ‘stretched’ after a 3 hour yoga workshop this morning. I have just read your report of the mountain climbs and now feel that 3 hours yoga is child’s play!!! Wow – you two, serious stuff and you are so brave and so enthusiastic and SO FIT!! Keep going and yes the views are stunning. xxx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The yoga routine you showed me has really helped! Pilates balls too. Fourth and last climb today will get us through the Pyrenees. It is stunning, at times I’m too exhausted to enjoy it though. Andy owes me big time! X

      Like

  5. Clare and Andy.. (just tugging the forelock there) – I’m in awe of your Pyrenean achievement. Given the choice of around the side or over the top, I’d have gone for the coastal route every time!

    Enjoying your blog immensely – I assume there’ll be a book eventually? There should be. Especially with graphs and stats and stuff. The nerdier the better. And the pics are great.

    As an occasional cyclist myself, I’ve long since realised that it doesn’t ever get easier – you just get faster. Cycle BACK over the Pyrenees, and you’ll see what I mean. You know you want to.

    Peter x

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Great post, really captures the feelings during the long climbs. There is always a part of your mind telling you “this is stupid, what are you trying to prove” but the feeling at the top is the best. Well done both.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. You are both unbelievable! I wanted to say go over but was not sure what that meant. Anyway, you will always be glad you did! Fab photos again, great writings and I love the back and fore conversations between you both – makes it very real. Any idea about how your weight is going considering both the epic exercise and occasional massive consumption? Just interested. X

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Sandy. After the last 2 days, it will be difficult to know which photos to use as the scenery was so spectacular. I think I must have lost a bit of weight but won’t know until I get home. Clare hasn’t got any to lose. Andy x

      Like

  8. Very very impressive … fab photos and glad it’s you doing those climbs not me , well done Claire , now that’s what I call an adventure … all seemed so straight forward talking about it back in Bath . Great achievement you noth should be very proud .

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Definitely echo my bro’s calls for a book (not too nerdy though – more lots of lovely pics and commentary). Have to keep reminding myself that you are both MY age – you only look about 30 in the photos!!! Enjoy your very well-earned rest in Barcelona. xxx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Debs. Andy’s helmet conveniently covers his grey hairs (I quite like the beard now tho’!) My wrinkles must be well disguised in the photos. Thanks for all your encouragement too, we’re nearly there! Xx

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s