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Cycling



Raid Pyreneen

Sections of the Journey

The Journey to The Pyrenees

Day 0 Tuesday 22nd June Perpignan

Day 1 Wednesday 23rd June Perpignan to Ceret

Day 2 Thursday 24th June Ceret to Prades

Day 3 Friday 25th June Prades to Ax les Thermes

Day 4 Saturday 26th June Ax les Thermes to Aulus les Bains

Day 5 Sunday 27th June Aulus les Bains to Le Mourtis

Day 6 Monday 28th June Le Mourtis to Arreau

Day 7 Wednesday 29th June Arreau to Gazost

Day 8 Thursday 30th June Gazost to Bielle

Day 9 Friday 1st July Bielle to St Jean Pied de Port

Day 10 Saturday 2nd July St Jean Pied de Port to Hendaye

Day 11 Sunday 3rd July Hendaye to Biarritz

The Journey to The Pyrenees

A volcano had erupted in South America some weeks before we were to leave Australia for the Pyrenees. The ash cloud had travelled across the Pacific Ocean and had disrupted flights into and out of the southern Australian air ports. Just before I was to leave, this cloud had circumnavigated the world and was to cause Sydney's airport to close from 1500 on the day we were to leave. Our flight was scheduled to leave at 1610.

Steve called me that morning to wish me “Bon Voyage”, and told me that he had heard that the airport was to close from 1500. We had some anxious moments as we looked up our flight on the Internet. There we found that it had been rescheduled for 1415. Later, Qantas rang to advise us of this, then while waiting at the airport for the plane, we received a call from the Travel Agent also advising us of this.

At Singapore, we had a somewhat longer stopover than scheduled due, not only to the early arrival of our flight, but also for it to receive passengers from the Melbourne flight, which had been delayed. I had found out, subsequently, that this flight had been rerouted via Brisbane, flying at a low altitude to remain below the dust cloud, then more directly to Singapore.

Day 0 Tuesday 22nd June Perpignan

We got into Heathrow a little later than scheduled, 7 o’clock, peak hour for flights, so we didn't get through immigration, customs and to the Central Bus Terminal until 0815, so having to wait for the 0910 coach to Stansted, which arrived at 1055, in plenty of time for the flight at 1430 to Perpignan.

As a result of checking in the bike bag, they found my lube spray, which they deemed unsuitable for travelling by plane, and so confiscated that.

On board the plane to Perpignan, I managed to see David Scholar, who had done the Land’s End to John O’Groats ride with me, but failed to attract his attention. Sitting next to me, initially, was another rider, Jeff, however, he gave up his seat for the sake of a family that wished to sit together. He overheard my conversation, during the flight, with this fellow, and realised that I was also part of the group, and introduced himself when the plane landed.

We were met by Mike and Nick at the terminal and bussed/taxied to the Hotel de France. It was a bit of a rough joint but quite comfortable.

Eight of us riders had dinner that evening, David, Jeff, and myself, along with David’s friends, Veronique and Michelle, from America, Mark, Richard, and Kevin. One of the discussions that we had was about riding, tomorrow morning, from Perpignan to Cerbere, the official ride start, rather than take the taxi there, adding a further 45 kilometres to the day’s 58.6 kilometres. Six of us agreed to do this ride, including myself.

That night I got to sleep quickly, not having slept for 40 odd hours. However, a little later, I was woken by rain and thunder. The thunder was such that the windows resonated with the sound, making it quite difficult to sleep. So my jet-lag did not receive the attention it deserved. On top of that, I had picked up a cold just before leaving Sydney, so the flight and disturbed night was not ideal for that either.

Day 1 Wednesday 23rd June Perpignan to Ceret

The route data for this ride was recorded on my Garmin, and is available in the Routes section of this website. After bringing up the map for our weekend rides, you'll need to click on the white “M” in a blue square beside where it states “Pyrenees”.

By morning, the storm had blown itself out, leaving us with quite a warm sunny morning. The six of us got going at 1030 for the ride to Cerbere, however, 100 yards into the ride, I suffered a blow-out, so, needing to return to the van for my spare tyre, I opted out, joining the others for the taxi to Cerbere. I felt a bit of a turncoat, as I think it was me that floated the idea in the first place (but after a few glasses of rosé, who can be sure).

Dave, Mark, Veronique, and Richard at the beach in Cerbere
Dave, Mark, Veronique, and Richard at the beach in Cerbere.

The five that chose to ride arrived at Cerbere within half an hour of our arrival, while our bikes were still being assembled et cetera. Michelle was experiencing problems with her rear gears. This problem was found to be that, where her Campagnolo gear sheath screwed into the bike frame, the screw had broken leaving half in the bike. This could not be fixed at this time, so she just had to make do as best she could. The bike could change gears, but the response was sluggish.

After a briefing and group photograph, we set off together. The temperature was quite hot at this stage, however, after the first hill, I don’t recall thinking about it, then later in the day clouds moved in, keeping the temperature ideal for riding.

It did not take long before the group broke into a number of sub-groups as riders found their own pace and some of us decided to stop for photographs.

The initial part of the ride was along the coast, going through picturesque towns, including, Banyuls-Sur-Mer, Port Vendres, ...

Banyuls-sur-mer
Banyuls-sur-mer
Collioure
Collioure (where Jeff, Richard and I stopped for lunch), and Argeles-Sur-Mer (where we caught up with Chris and Helen and passed David and others having their lunch).

From there we headed inland. The traffic here was a little lighter, which was appreciated, as I had yet to get used to having cars coming up on my left. The ride inland was also enjoyable, with trees overhanging road in places. Towards the end of the day we encountered some quite rough road, for what seemed a couple of kilometres. It was negotiable with road bikes but you were left somewhat shaken.

When we came into Ceret, we were greeted to the sound of school children singing. There, Kevin (the other Australian) and Veronique were finishing their lunch, with beer and wine. Kevin and Veronique, following Kevin's Garmin, had taken a wrong turn, causing them to climb an extra col in order to reach the hotel.

We had arrived with Helen and Chris, and soon after the remaining riders turned up.

Kevin, bit of Chris, Mark, Helen, Jeff, Richard, and a bit of Veronique at the pub in Ceret
Kevin, bit of Chris, Mark, Helen, Jeff, Richard, and a bit of Veronique at the pub in Ceret

Disappointingly though, my Garmin had acted up on two occasions during the ride, failing to record one six kilometre stretch, then failing, a second time, to record a further two kilometres, making it that much harder to follow the route maps.

Time riding: 2:27:58
Maximum speed: 52.9 km/hour
Maximum heart rate:160 bpm
Total distance: 56.8 (50.28 measured) km
Total ascent: 660 m
Total descent: 490 m

Day 2 Thursday 24th June Ceret to Prades

Another night without sleep. Not sure whether it was the blocked sinuses or residual jet-lag that is to blame.

This morning I discovered that the magnet for the speed/distance function of the speed/cadence transducer was missing from my wheel. This is most likely the cause for the absence of 8 kilometres of recording yesterday. Upon Mark’s advice, I disabled the speed/cadence transducer so that the Garmin would work more reliably from the satellite data. Later, whilst climbing, I noticed that it was still momentarily going into pause, so I then set the auto-pause to "when stopped". Otherwise, the unit worked satisfactorily all day. I managed to replace the magnet at the end of the day.

Due to the disabling of the speed/cadence transducer, the averages are rather meaningless, so I have not included these in the statistics. The riding times have been similarly affected, but I have included those as a rough indication of the time spent in the saddle. Of course, the cadence figures are not available.

Today’s ride would take us up four cols, leaving only twenty-four remaining. So most of the day was spent climbing. Mostly the gradient was around five per cent, so it was not particularly challenging. The first three cols, culminating in Col Xatard, had very little in the way of descent before the climb to the next started, so we tended to regard these first three as one climb. The descent from the fourth col, Col de Palomère, however, was a good ride, featuring little traffic but a narrow road with many blind bends, preventing you from going wide on the corners.

I started the day with Kevin, Dave, Veronique, Michelle, and Mark, but it wasn’t long before Kevin was off on his own. The rest of us stayed together for most of the ride.

Veronique and Dave outside the hotel in Oms
Veronique and Dave outside the hotel in Oms

There were no food stops today, however, we did stop at the hotel in Oms for Michelle, Veronique, and Mark to have their cards stamped (and Mark grabbed a coffee). There is a medal that you can earn to say that you have cycled trough the Pyrenees. In order to be awarded this medal you need to follow a route that takes you over 28 specific cols and you need to have a card with you that you get stamped at certain towns along the way.

From Oms there it was a gentle climb up the first three cols, Col de Llauro, Col Fourtou, and Col Xatard, then a very gentle descent before starting the slightly harder climb to Col de Palomère.

Veronique had been plagued by a bicycle seat post that would not stay at its proper height, no matter how hard it was tightened with the swiss-army-knife allen keys that we had with us. At Col de Palomère, we met with Nick in the van, who had a go at fixing the problem. This didn’t work either, and as a result, Veronique finished the ride with a terribly swollen knee. We managed to get the bicycle mechanic in Prades to sort it out. In doing so, he applied hair spray to the post, requiring Veronique to return the bike a couple of hours later when it had hardened. I also took that opportunity to have the shop replace my missing transducer magnet, however, it was not long before that magnet, too, went missing. The bike shop in question also "specialised" in motor cycle, lawn mower, and chain saw repairs. Jack of all trades, ...

Michelle, Veronique, Dave and Mark arriving at Col Xatard
Michelle, Veronique, Dave and Mark arriving at Col Xatard
Michelle, Veronique, and Dave with Spanish cyclists at Col de Palomère
Michelle, Veronique, and Dave with Spanish cyclists at Col de Palomère

At Col de Palomère, whilst waiting for Mark to catch up, we met a group of Spanish cyclists coming from the other direction. They seemed a very amicable bunch, and spent quite some time speaking with Veronique, who is fluent in French, which one or two of the Spaniards also spoke.

Veronique's French has been a great boon to us on this trip in many ways but especially when ordering in restaurants. It has also been the source of considerable bemusement as we find ourselves listening to extensive unintelligible banter.

Once Mark joined us we were off on the descent from Col de Palomère.

This descent passed through some charming villages, including Valmanya, Bailestavy, and Finestret.

One of these villages featured tree lined roads leading to and from the village. Mark told me that, in the time of Napoleon, the town mayors asked Napoleon what they could do to help the war effort. He told them to plant trees outside their towns so that his soldiers would have somewhere shady to sit. I don't know whether they managed to reach a suitable height in time to assist with his campaigns.

The bridge at Palmanya
The bridge at Palmanya
Dave, Veronique, Mark, and Michelle at Baillestavy
Dave, Veronique, Mark, and Michelle at Baillestavy

In Finestret, being somewhere between Dave, Mark and Veronique ahead (because I’d stopped to take photos) and Michelle behind (because she takes descents at a sensible speed), I managed to take a wrong turn and wind up behind Michelle. This did, however, have two good side effects, one, my distance reading once again agreed with the route maps, and, two, I got the chance to see a native gecko.

I rejoined the others on the main drag, then, just before Prades, we took a detour to check out Eus. On the way up I stopped for a photograph. Upon resuming, I could not find them in the town, so went on to Prades for lunch.

Eus
Eus
Time riding: 3:33:11
Maximum speed: 56.3 km/hour
Maximum heart rate:157 bpm
Total distance: 73.27 km
Total ascent: 1321 m
Total descent: 1118 m

Day 3 Friday 25th June Prades to Ax-les-Thermes

Managed to get a reasonable night's sleep, for a change, but had a dry cough disturbing me, and Dave, a couple of times during that night.

Oh, by-the-by, with Bike Adventures tours, if you elect twin share accommodation, you get swapped between each of the others who have elected for that. In this case though, Dave and I were the only men who had opted for twin-share accommodation, so, I'm afraid, he's stuck with me and my cold.

Veronique's knee had lost most of its swelling, however it was still sore, and, as today was predicted to be hot, she, Mark and Michelle had left at 0630, before breakfast.

Mike and horses at Col de Jau
Mike and horses at Col de Jau

I started out that morning with Dave, Keith, and Kevin, but on the way up to Col de Jau, I opted to travel at my own pace. The gradient wasn't too hard, somewhere around 8% on average, but it was a 25 kilometre climb. The countryside varied from grazing land to forest, very pleasing. Along the way we reached the very scenic town, Mosset. After that the road climbed through pine forests, then more open land as I approached Col de Jau.

Richard and Jeff arrived here (and, later, at Col de Garavel), as I was taking photos, drinking water and, generally trying to revive myself so as to be able to enjoy the descent.

The descent from Col de Jau was exhilarating. The road was narrow, with blind corners preventing you from seeing whether traffic was approaching or where the road went, so I could not take many corners wide. However, given the roughness of the surface, the speed that I could manage did seem that much greater. This descent was 10 kilometres. At around 7 kilometres into the descent there was a lot of gravel on the road, so this portion I took a little more cautiously.

From there was a rather lumpy 7 kilometre climb to Col de Garavel, followed by a 5 kilometre descent, similar to the previous descent. Then was a short climb to Col de Moulis, before the descent continued for a further 8 kilometres.

Some locals at Col de Moulis
Some locals at Col de Moulis
On the way to Port de Pailheres
On the way to Port de Pailheres

That was the good part of the day. Now came the 15 kilometre climb to Port (or Col) de Pailheres, with an average gradient of eight-point-something per cent, with the majority of it being 9, 10, and 11 per cent. Now, doing Winnat's Pass in England's Peak District at 20% puts your heart in your mouth, and 25 kilometres up to Mount Hotham in the rain with gradients of, mostly, 6 to 8 per cent is tough but 9% for kilometre after kilometre in 34 degree heat and no shade is something else again.

In the pretty township of Mijanes, I had a coke and cake and took the time to SMS Margaret and the cycling group back home. Well then, as I was riding up I just had to take the time to respond to the replies. Not only that, there were some spectacular views that just demanded that I stop to snap them. Other than that, I'm sure that I would have ridden the whole way without the need to stop.

Part way up the climb, I took advantage of the French law regarding helmets, that allows riders not to wear them if riding up hill when it's hot. I also removed my gloves for a spell, but found that the amount of sweat on my hands was more disconcerting than the heat was.

Across the road here, and in many places later on, were painted the names of various Tour-de-France riders, over several years, judging by the wear. Also among these was the slogan, "Non Au Ours", or some such words, meaning, "No to bears", which was a protest against attempts to reintroduce bears into the region. This grafitti had been further defaced, presumably by Englishmen, to read "Non Au Pubs", though not many of the English that I've met would have shared the sentiment.

Anyway, I eventually made it to the top. Richard and Jeff had passed me on the climb and had already descended. I carefully sipped the last quarter of the fifth water bottle, trying to restore myself sufficiently to enjoy the descent to the accommodation.

The road up to Port de Pailheres had been a full two-car road in open country, so I had high expectations for the descent, and I was not let down. After first having to overtake a car, I let it rip. About half way down was a fairly long straight section, which allowed me to reach 69.2 km/hour, just in time to encounter ruts. So a few anxious moments as I applied the brakes with the bicycle bouncing about beneath me.

One of the constants on these cols, especially on these hot days as you slowly climb, has been the ever-present flies, however, they seem not be as irritating as those at home. That is, they're not in your face as much. We were also inflicted with biting flies. At one stage, after managing to swat one from my calf muscle, I realised that I also had one on each cheek.

Also, speaking of constants, the sound of cow bells is heard whenever you're in the unfenced open counry around the cols. These bells are also on the goats. The cows do not seem to moo, but rather use these bells themselves to summon one another. All the bells have a slightly different pitch, to the overall effect is quite pleasant.

Greg's bike at Port de Pailheres
Greg's bike at Port de Pailheres
Stream at Ax-les-Thermes
Stream at Ax-les-Thermes

At the bottom of the descent is where our accommodation lies, 70m past the roundabout, not 200m like the route sheet asserts. So, after 300m, I make my way back, and would never have found the place had not Jeff and Richard been there to call out to me.

Veronique had managed the day in spite of her knee trouble. It being still troublesome, she tried, in vain, to find someone to massage it.

Dave, being the thoughtful person he is, had bought me some cough suppressant. Hopefully I'll get a better night's sleep.

Back in Cerbere, Chris had told us that on Saint Joan's feast day, they build bon fires on the beach. Today was Saint Joan's feast day, but none of us were aware that similar festivities were planned here. As Dave's and my room was at the back of the hotel we missed it all, but many of the others witnessed the lighting of the bon fire in front of the casino, with flames dwarfing the multi-storey building, and fireworks.

Time riding: 5:58:46
Maximum speed: 69.2 km/hour
Maximum heart rate:153 bpm
Total distance: 93.56 km
Total ascent: 2858 m
Total descent: 2441 m

Day 4 Saturday 26th June Ax-les-Thermes to Aulus les Bains

I had an undisturbed sleep last night, thanks to the cough mixture. Also Veronique's knee had lost all its swelling.

Again, Mark, Veronique and Michelle had decided to leave early, this time at 0735, in order to try to beat the heat.

This morning I again started off with Dave, Keith, and Kevin, but soon opted to let them go. I was feeling rather doughy after yesterday's ride. After a bit I caught up with them and Jeff and Richard as they were showing some inordinant interest in a cycling sign advertising Col de Chioula. Soon I was left behind again, only to meet them at the top of the 10 kilometre, moderately hard (8%), climb, as Dave, Keith and Kevin were about to leave.

Keith, Dave, Richard (at back), and Kevin at Col de Chioula
Keith, Dave, Richard (at back), and Kevin at Col de Chioula
Greg's bike at Col de Marmare
Greg's bike at Col de Marmare

It was a two kilometre descent to Col de Marmare and I arrived there just as Jeff and Richard were about to take off. Richard invited me to go ahead so that he wouldn't be having me overtake him. This descent was through open country at around 3 or 4 per cent, so required some pedalling to maintain 45 to 55 km/hr. At the 19.3 kilometre mark I was to find that the roads did not match the route sheet instructions, then realised that I had descended from the col in the wrong direction. So I had to pedal back, adding 13.5 kms to my ride.

As the col was reached by descending, I didn't bother to take a photograph when I first arrived, but after climbing to it, I felt otherwise.

Later I was to meet up with Jeff and Richard at a restaurant in Tarascon sur Ariege. Apparently they were not aware of me having taken off and had been wondering why they hadn't seen me pass them.

The proper descent from Col de Marmare was 12 kilometres along completely tree-shaded roads. Very nice.

After the descent the road undulates for 18 kilometres, passing through many picturesque towns, before descending to Tarascon sur Ariege. In one of these towns, Cazenave or Arnave, Mike, acting as sweep, caught up with me.

Upon riding into Tarascon someway, I realised that I hadn't read the route sheet instructions. The instructions said to turn left after crossing the river, so I had to turn back to check that I had not already crossed the river. All was correct and I eventually met up with Jeff and Richard at the restaurant.

Upon leaving the restaurant, I tried to follow the route instructions, but found them quite vague. A building that was supposed to be pink was cream with a hint of peach, the junction was a mini-roundabout (a distinction that the route sheets are usually very good with) the sign to Stade Ayroule actually pointed away from the street that we were to turn into.

I seem to recall having had problems with Kevin White (Mr. Bike Adventures) and his use of "pink" on the Land's End to John O'Groat's ride. I guess that a colour-blind person should not critise too harshly, but, given that 4% of men are, I would suggest that "pinkish" might be a better word to use.

As a result of these route sheet vagaries, I, initially, took the right course, but with the doubt nagging at me, returned and tried further along the road to see if another junction better fitted the instruction. Failing that, I returned to town to see if I could find Mike. Failing that I tried another direction out of town, which returned me once again to that same junction. So I, again, proceeded in the correct direction, warily, until I saw a cyclist approaching from the opposite direction and flagged him over. I was well aware that he would, most likely, not speak a word of English, but I planned to point to the place name that I needed to reach and hope that he could point me in the right dircetion. As it turned out the first word the fellow uttered was "English?". "The only language I know." I replied. Well he was from southern California and was able to confirm that I was headed in the right direction.

Fortunately, all this stuffing around had added 20 kilometres to my distance, making it that bit easier to convert the route sheet instructions.

Looking down on Cassou
Looking down on Cassou
Greg's bike at Port de Lers
Greg's bike at Port de Lers

Along the way, Mike caught me up again and accompanied me to Vicdessos. By this time the 39 degree heat, extra kilometres, the cumulative effect of the previous three days riding, and my blasted cold were taking their toll. So when Mike suggested that I take the van onward, I was open to the idea, especially considering that the next day was to be tougher and hotter, and I desperately needed some sort of recovery time.

I opted for Nick to ferry me to the top of Port de Lers, and along the way there we passed Chris and Helen, then Richard and Jeff. I waited at the top to snap Jeff and Richard arriving before descending.

This was a short descent, before the 8% 5 kilometre ascent to Col d'Agnes, featuring segments of 10 to 12 percent.

The descent from here was, mostly, very good, starting out with me having to overtake a truck. Along the way I also picked up melted tar on my tyres, but a few more kilometres down hill were enough to scrub them back to rubber.

Several of the left hand bends featured sheer drops on the right. Upon coming out of one of these bends, I found myself aiming at a cyclist who had been zig-zagging her way up the slope. With an apologetic smile she steered back to her side of the road. It was about time I'd found someone else who made a habit of being on the wrong side of the road; still my average for finding myself riding on the left would be about three times a day.

Further down the descent, a young woman, with a baby, started to stroll across the road on a collision course with me. I had trouble believing what I was seeing, expecting her to stop or hurry, but no, it was me that had to take evasive action. She obviously had more faith in my abilities than anyone who knows me does.

Some time after that I came up behind a car that wasn't travelling slow enough, given the winding roads, to get past, so I opted to stop and allow it time to get clear.

Jeff and Richard arriving at Col d'Agnes
Jeff and Richard arriving at Col d'Agnes

Our accommodation is at the Hotel de la Terrasse, which you reach via a bridge across the stream. Very pleasing. Also, Dave and I have separated areas in the room. Good chance that Dave will get a decent night's sleep for a change.

Time riding: 5:37:02
Maximum speed: 62.1 km/hour
Maximum heart rate:142 bpm
Total distance: 111.79 km
Total ascent: 2459 m
Total descent: 2385 m

Day 5 Sunday 27th June Aulus les Bains to Le Mourtis

Another good night's sleep, only being woken once with a cough, which I managed to get under control. Dave also managed to sleep the night through.

Greg and Bike at Col de Latrape
Greg and Bike at Col de Latrape

Today was predicted to be even hotter than yesterday, but, fortunately, breakfast as available from 0630, which six of us (Dave, Veronique, Michelle, Mark, Chris, Helen, and myself) took advantage of.

Dave and I left about 0715, with Veronique, Michelle, and Mark ahead, and Helen and Chris behind. Today started with a five kilometre climb, at around 8 to 9 per cent, to Col de Latrape. I'd started a little before Dave, but met him at the top, then, after photos, Dave rode on, and I followed shortly behind. The weather at this time was quite pleasant.

This descent was along a tree shaded road. It was a wide road, with gradients from 6 to 12 per cent, and lasting for 11 kms, allowing me to reach speeds in excess of 60 km/hr.

This was followed by a descent of 2 per cent, lasting 12 kms, along the river, taking me Seix, where I caught up with Dave, Veronique, Michelle, Mark, and Dave's friend, Jeanie, who was currently staying in Le Mourtis, our destination for this evening. I should mention that much of the ride has been along such rivers or streams, about 20m wide, with water running around large rocks, scattered all through the stream. Also, these streams have been the sources for replenishing our water bottles.

Somewhere on the way to Seix
Somewhere on the way to Seix
Nick with Greg's bike at Col de la Core
Nick with Greg's bike at Col de la Core

After meeting with Dave and company, I soon found myself behind the main pack and ahead of Mark as we climbed the second col of the day, Col de la Core. Along the way Mark and I called into a cafe in Castillion, where I had an espresso and Mark a Coke. From there we proceeded along the 14 kilometre climb, with gradients around 6 to 7 percent, to Col de la Core. This took us through several villages. The villages, generally, consisted of old-style residences, with no obvious shop fronts, and pretty much deserted of people, though the houses were mostly in good repair.

Upon reaching the col, I waited for Mark to arrive, then left just before him for a great descent. The roads were wide and not particularly windy. The descent featured gradients of between 5 and 6 per cent and lasted 9 kilometres. Part the way down I realised that I hadn't consulted my route instructions, so stopped to do so. As I was doing so, a frenchman and then Mark, passed me. That gave me someone to overtake on the remainder of the descent, which, given the straightness of the roads, was not a problem.

This was followed by a further descent along the stream, for another nine kilometres, at around 5 per cent.

Then started the 18 kilometre climb to Col de Portet d'Aspet. The first 12 kilometres of this climb was gentle, with the last 6 being more brutal, especially given that the day's temperature was well on its way to 42 degrees. At the top of this col, there was a shop, which sold soft drinks and ice-creams, which, ten minutes before I'd arrived, Nick had taken advantage of. When I tried, the place was closed. In the meantime, Keith and Kevin had arrived.

I left the col just before Kevin and Keith to enjoy the descent, which featured gradients of up to 17%. All was going well, until I realised that I had passed the distance that the route maps had indicated that the Fabio Castelli memorial stood. As we needed to turn left 300m past the memorial, I wanted to be sure that I hadn't missed it before continuing the descent any further. I waited a bit for Keith and Kevin to appear, and when they didn't. I prepared the bike to proceed back up the hill. As I was doing so, two other cyclists passed, then just as I was about to head back up the hill, Keith and Kevin appeared. The memorial was about 50m further on, around a corner, from where I'd pulled up.

Mark arriving at Col de Portet d'Aspet
Mark arriving at Col de Portet d'Aspet
Greg's bike at Col de Menté
Greg's bike at Col de Menté

From there commenced the final haul up to Col de Menté and the accommodation, 13 kilometres with much of it in excess of 9%. It did not take long for Keith and Kevin to overhaul me, then Mark caught up to me for a bit.

During the ascent, the van passed me going the other way. Nick let me know that he was returning to ferry Chris and Helen back. I arranged for Nick, when he returned to provide me with more water, as I would doubtlessly need some by the time he returned.

As we progressed, I tried to walk the bicycle for some distance, but found that, in the 42 degree heat, it offered no more pleasant alternative to cycling the distance. I then encountered Mark and Jeff cooling under a tree and joined them there for a spell. Thus we continued on, stopping when there was a suitably inviting tree, or when I had to respond to calls from one of my customers from back home.

Ultimately, I made it to the col, and on a kilometre or so further up to the accommodation. There the very charming barmaid provided me with a couple of very large glasses, sequentially, of a draught basque beer, Oldarkie. Highly recommended (that is, both the beer and the barmaid).

Time riding: 6:02:44
Maximum speed: 64.6 km/hour
Maximum heart rate:139 bpm
Total distance: 90.12 km
Total ascent: 2607 m
Total descent: 1932 m

Day 6 Monday 28th June Le Mourtis to Arreau

I had difficulty sleeping again last night, mostly because I could not get cool enough. After a bit I tried the other available mattress in the room. It was marginally better.

Looking down on St Beat
Looking down on St Beat

As yesterday we finished at the top of the col, today started with a descent. I was feeling a bit doughy as I left, and not having warmed up with a flat ride or a climb before hand I didn't feel as though I had my eye in. However, catching Kevin and Keith part the way down gave me a bit more confidence, and after passing them, whilst calling out "Inside" and "Passing", respectively, several times without being heard over the rush of wind in their ears, I continued with renewed confidence and enjoyed the rest of the descent.

After 11 kms of descent, I reached the village of St Beat. At St Beat, we (Keith and Kevin had caught me once the gradient lessened) caught up with Jeff, Richard, Chris, and Helen, as everyone was trying to make sense of the route instructions, which seemd to have already lost a kilometre. Anyway, from there the road follows the stream through a number of small and larger villages, gently rising with little more than a 1% gradient, for the next 19 kms.

What I've noticed about these villages, is that there are very few people to be seen from the street, and the residences are built right up to the main road, with no obvious signs of places of commerce. I guess that, if you lived there you would know where everything was, if there was anything.

After Bossost, the climb starts in earnest, with gradients from 7 to 12% for 8 kms to Col de Portillion. What I noticed about myself during this climb was that although my perceived effort was as much as it had been on the previous climbs, my heart rate was lessening, being around 157 for such effort early on in the ride, around 135 yesterday, and around 124 today. This was also accompanied by the hawking up of increasing quantities of green-yellow phelgm. When riding on previous occasions with a cold, I found that my heart rate would be around 176 rather than 157, so seeing it fall rather than rise, surprised me. Being spooked by this, I included some of this in my, now, daily SMS updates to my riding mates, who included two doctors. Peter replied telling me to get to a doctor and get some antibiotics. I also knew in the back of my mind that, if I saw a doctor, part of the advice would be to stop riding, but I was sufficiently concerned about my health to see one anyway.

Along this section of the route we also crossed into Spain. We needed to carry photo-identification in case we were stopped at the border, but, as it turned out, the border was unmanned.

The day had been predicted to be 10 degrees cooler than yesterday, but already it was getting quite warm, reaching 35 by the time we reached the top of the col. Richard and Jeff and, later, Mark caught me on this climb, with Keith and Kevin having gone ahead long before the climb. Eventually, Jeff, Mark, and I opted for the occasional rest in a cool shaded spot, whilst Richard, fearing that, if he stopped, he wouldn't start again, pressed on. Later, I was left trailling and stopping to answer calls from one of my customers back home.

The Bike Adventures van with Mike, Richard, and Jeff at Col de Portillon
The Bike Adventures van with Mike, Richard, and Jeff at Col de Portillon
Arreau
Arreau

After the col, which is the border back into France, I descended through shaded woodlands (where was that shade on the way up?), for 8 kms before rolling into St Mamet and Bagneres de Luchon, where I met up with Chris and Helen and Nick, the sweep. Chris and Helen left before me, and Nick afterwards, however, not recognising a memorial as such I had an unnecessary detour before leaving town, placing me behind Nick. How do you know that a fountain is a memorial, unless get off your bike and go hunting for a plaque?

From there, the 13 km 7% climb to Col Peyresourde commenced. I could see Nick ahead but couldn't catch him until he was stopped by the roadside. Upon later catching up to Helen and Chris, the four of us rode, and stopped, together. At one of these stops, I discussed with Nick how I could go about seeing a doctor that evening, and had Nick call Mike to have him pick me up in the van. That was about 6 kms from the top, and, after studying the Garmin afterwards, was the end of the difficult portion of the climb.

The descent was a fast 8kms at around 10% - most enjoyable. From there it was an easy roll into Arreau. Arreau was a particularly pretty town, which I took a few snaps of the following morning.

It was 1500 and, with Mike's help, managed to get an appointment with a local doctor at 1730 - he was out on his rounds at the time. When the time came, Mike accompanied me to translate. Mike's French is not top notch, especially when it comes to medical terms, so we had quite a time explaining things. In the end, the doctor prescribed Amoxcil and some powders to break up mucous, and telling me not to ride (saying something about how it could damage my heart), but I could also tell that he was quite amused by our efforts to communicate.

The doctor's premises I found rather unique. It was a drab building, cheek by jowl with the others in the street, in typical shop-front fashion, but these had only austere doors to offer to the outside world. The only indication outside the building of what was within was a typical brass doctor's plaque on the wall. Inside, you went into an old, somewhat dilapidated foyer, down a hall on the right to two rooms at the end. To the right the reception, and the left the waiting room, whilst, one room back on the right was his surgery. The inside of the rooms had been better kept, quite presentable in fact.

Time riding: 4:00:29
Maximum speed: 68.0 km/hour
Maximum heart rate:135 bpm
Total distance: 81.45 km
Total ascent: 1681 m
Total descent: 2414 m

Day 7 Wednesday 29th June Arreau to Gazost

Another disturbed night, but at least I managed not to disturb Dave.

Mike dressed for the worst leaving Arreau
Mike dressed for the worst leaving Arreau

Finally the change in weather arrived. The day started out drizzly. I had wanted to use the bike to ride down from the cols today, but they had already buried my bike deep in the van, insisting that the chill of the down hill ride would not be good for me.

So that day started, with me accompanying Nick in the van, with a twelve kilometre climb at around 7% to Col d'Aspin. As three of us were staying in alternate accommodation, Keith, Jeff, and Richard, left somewhat later, having had breakfast to 8 rather than 7.

The descent from Col d'Aspin is steep and cow-dung covered. In fact, at one stage, we had to gently steer between the cows, at very slow speed, just missing the horns of one of the creatures. None of them showed the least intention of moving; I guess they just got used to cars going around them. It might have been a little easier to steer a course by bicycle, though I imagine that some might have been a bit perturbed.

Chris and bike at Col d'Aspin
Chris and bike at Col d'Aspin
Dave arriving at Col de Tourmalet
Dave arriving at Col de Tourmalet

I had planned, since I could not ride, to at least get some photos, but the low lying cloud limited that as well. At the bottom of the descent from Col d'Aspin, is a very pretty town, called Ste Marie de Campan. From there starts the 17km 7.5%-average-gradient climb to Col de Tourmalet. Also, along the climb, riders have to deal with wandering goats, which are much less predictable than wandering cows. The hardest part of this climb is reserved for the end, from La Mongie to the top. La Mongie, by the way, is a most unattractive ski resort town. The views from Col de Tourmalet are, reportedly, spectacular, but today you had trouble seeing 20m in front of you.

From Col de Tourmalet, it is an 18.5 km 7.5%-average-gradient descent to Esterre. It didn't look very promising, but the road was dry, and the visibility was improving and, for the most part adequate, then, a little way down the descent you find that you are below the cloud line with perfect visibility. The descent also included some long straight sections which would have allowed you to really get moving. Kevin reported doing 74km/hr and being passed by Veronique. Veronique credited her ability to pass Kevin to the lighter Bontrader wheels she used, as compared to Kevin's Mavic wheels.

The road from Esterre to our accommodation at Argeles-Gazost continued to descend, at varying gradients, sometimes quite steeply.

Argeles-Gazost
Argeles-Gazost
Time riding: ---
Maximum speed: --- km/hour
Maximum heart rate:--- bpm
Total distance: 82.73 km
Total ascent: 2223 m
Total descent: 2388 m

Day 8 Thursday 30th June Gazost to Bielle

I managed a fairly good night's sleep, and decided to have a go on the bike. The weather was overcast and foggy, with a hint of precipitation, enough to wet the roads but not to be noticed as rain.

On  the way to Col de Borderes
On the way to Col de Borderes

The day started with a ride of 14 kilometres to Col de Borderes, featuring varying gradients up to 13%, but probably averaging around 7%, excluding the dips. I felt pretty good and managed to keep my heart rate at between 145 and 150 for most of the climb, and managed to stay with Dave, Veronique, Kevin, and Kevin's nephew, John, who joined us for the next few days of the ride. Parts of the climb were along the river.

From there, there was a bit of a descent before the 8 kilometre climb to Col de Souior, featuring gradients of 7 to 12%, which, today, I found quite manageable, arriving just ahead of Dave, Veronique, Michelle, Kevin, and John, who had spent more time at Col de Borderes.

Unknown rider and Michelle at Col de Soulor
Michelle at Col de Soulor
Cycle sculptures at Col d'Aubisque
Cycle sculptures at Col d'Aubisque

The ride from Col de Souior to Col d'Aubisque is one of the highlights of the whole ride. It was along the mountain side with the mountain rising on the left and falling away on the right, just beyond a grass verge. Even with the fog, the experience was thrilling. I was reminded of Arlo Guthrie's Motorcycle Song, but certain that, if I did happen to come off the mountain, my fall would not be cushioned by a nice soft police car.

Early in this part of the ride we had to pass through a tunnel, and so our bikes needed to be equipped with lights. I needed to borrow a headlight for this as a couple of days ago, whilst descending on some rough roads, mine had broken free and smashed to the ground. Yesterday there had been places where the road was sheltered by a roof (sometimes concrete, other times wire mesh) to protect it from snow and alavanches.

Whilst, going along this part of the road, I encountered an oncoming car, which had to slow for a goat walking up the centre of the road, completely unperturbed by the approaching car. I slowed my own pace at this point, not knowing whether the goat would suddenly take it into its head to bolt towards my side of the road.

The climb to Col d'Aubisque was a bit undulating and featured sections with gradients of 8 and 9%, but was quite manageable. Arriving at Col d'Aubisque, I was unsure that I was anywhere at all for a bit, as the fog was so thick that seeing beyond 10m was difficult. I tried to photograph the cycling sculptures, but I fear that all the camera captured was fog. I was followed into the col by Veronique, Dave, Kevin, John, and Michelle, not that any of them were aware that I was just ahead of them.

After stepping in the mud there, I had the devil's own trouble getting the cleats to click in, so had Nick help me clean and loosen them. I also opted to leave my glasses with Nick to carry in the van, as the moisture that they were collecting made wearing them impractical.

I left the col ahead of the others, who had opted to have morning tea at the here. I wanted to leave there before my body had a chance to cool. I was armed with industrial strength chux-like cloth, that Peter provided me from Westmead Hospital's supplies.

Before I could get serious about descending, I had to negotiate my path around the cows that stood, unconcerned, all across the road.

The descent from the col is 14 kilometres and features an average gradient of around 8%, however with the fog, the speed at which I could descend was somewhat limited, at least at first. When I finally did manage to get below the cloud cover, I managed to do a tad over 60km/hr.

The descent was a little chilly, but it was only a surface chill, and whenever I had the chance, I would pedal to increase my heart rate to around 145 so as to keep me warm on the inside; not that there was much I could do to keep warm before I got below the cloud.

The descent proper ended at Eaux-Bonnes, a very pretty township.

Eaux-Bonnes
Eaux-Bonnes
Assoute
Assoute

From there the route sheet instructions became more complex and the roads more minor and somewhat rough, however they took us through the charming villages of Assouste, Beost, Aste, Beon, and, finally Bielle, just shy of our accommodation for the evening, which, incidentally, is probably the nicest of the digs so far, though the traffic noise during the evening was a bit of a problem.

All-in-all, although a short day, only 62 kilometres and foggy, it was one of the most stunning and charming rides so far, and probably a good distance to allow me to get back on the bike in the wake of my illness.

All day, though, I had been suffering with gear problems; the chain had kept jumping off the rear cassette. This problem had happened in the wake of the bicycle having been transported in the van the previous day. Not having a bike stand with me, I asked Mike to see what he could do to adjust it. He found that a link had been distorted. When I looked at it I saw that the inside plate had snapped in exactly the same way as the previous chain had just a couple of weeks ago, causing the remainder of the link to distort. I had spare links and pins, and Mike proceeded to use these, with his chain breaker to repair the chain. Looking at the way the screw from the chain breaker was skewed to the direction of the pin, I wasn't too happy, but bit my tongue. After he snapped the the second pin before it was engaged in the link, and having only one remaining pin, I politely offered to use my own chain breaker to do the deed. I kept the broken link to show to the mechanic at my bike shop, but later, when I returned to Australia, I found that the bike shop had a chain across its door and notices referring to non-payment of rent stuck to the glass. I guess that that's what happens when people go shopping on the Internet.

Time riding: 3:37:52
Maximum speed: 60.2 km/hour
Maximum heart rate:160 bpm
Total distance: 62.23 km
Total ascent: 1803 m
Total descent: 1794 m

Day 9 Friday 1st July Bielle to St Jean Pied de Port

View from Col de Marie Blanque
View from Col de Marie Blanque

Today started with a 12 kilometre climb up Col de Marie Blanque, through open country and then woodlands. There was a section of around 1 kilometre that was around 12%, but, overall, the climb was quite manageable, featuring two flat sections of a kilometre each as well.

I'd left with Chris and Helen, who veered off to the supermarket. I arrived at the col with Kevin and John having passed me and Dave and Veronique arriving shortly afterwards.

This climb was followed by a 9 kilometre fast descent along good curving roads, allowing me to reach 68 km/hr. From there the ride followed the D918, a rather busy road, undulating it's way through several small towns (Escot, Issor, Arette, Lanne-en-Baretous, and Montory), and among fields of cows and goats and corn crops.

We then got a bit of a relief from the busy road as we made our way via the charming little village, Restoue, until we reached the D26, returning to a busy road.

Along the initial section of the D26, I was passed by Mike in the van, who asked if I wanted anything. I indicated that I did, as I had realised on the last descent that I was missing my optical inserts, which must have gone missing when I had given my sun glasses to Nick to carry in the van yesterday. Alas, they had disappeared, but while there, Michelle and Mark had happened by. I had figured that Michelle had been ahead, but she had trouble finding her way through Arette because the referenced "Camping" signs were not to be found.

I continued on with Mark and Michelle to Licq, where we pulled up for coffee or coke with ice creams. Leaving there, Mark dropped back, as we headed to Larrau, where Michelle needed to have her card stamped. The climb to Larrau was 2 kilometres and the gradient ranged from 10 to 13%, which is tougher than some of the smaller cols that we were later to encounter.

I was pleased to see that, without pushing things, I managed to overtake and move on ahead of Michelle, who had the reputation of the best climber in the group. This gave me confidence that my health was indeed improving, but the climb up Col de Bagargi would be the proof of the pudding.

After the short descent from Larrau, we started the climb up Col de Bagargi. I found myself pulling away from Michelle and started to feel quite pleased with myself. During this portion of the climb, I was met by two road works trucks coming down from the col, each driving down the centre of the road and, quite uncharacteristically, leaving me very little room on the road, and not slowing. By contrast, on other occasions, I've seen trucks passing me from behind, with me on the shoulder, cross completely to the far side of the road, forcing the oncoming traffic to the other shoulder.

On the way to Col de Bagargi
On the way to Col de Bagargi
Greg and bike at Col de Bagargi
Greg and bike at Col de Bagargi

Sometime after passing these trucks, I started to pick up gravel in my tyres. Fine stuff sticking not only to the edge but also along the centre, and occasionally kicking up into the chain, waiting to be dislodged by the rear cassette. This, as it turned out was the least of my troubles. I was about a length of road (switchback to switchback) ahead of Michelle, when I reached the freshly laid tar. The job that those trucks had just been returning from.

As I rode onto the fresh tar, the tyre started to sink into the it. Initially, I managed to keep riding, trying to maintain some speed to help keep the tyre from sinking too deeply. Then, as the gradient reached around 11%, the tyre just dug in. I was forced to dismount, and, with my shoe cleats leaving intentations in the tar, made my way to the verge.

I then continued walking on the verge, leaning to the bike, wheeling it along the tar. Half way between two switchbacks, Michelle called out to me from the road below, pushing her bike in a similar fashion, "How far does this go?". "It could go all the way to the top" I replied.

Whenever the gradient lessened, I got back on and pedalled, but after a bit, the gradient remained consistently steep. Somewhere about this point, Michelle rode past, not much faster than I was walking. Weighing about half as much as I must have helped considerably. Eventually, I noticed that there was a join across the tar, so, figuring that the tar above must have been put down sometime earlier, I gave it a go. Still soft, but firm enough to take my weight.

It wasn't just Michelle and I damaging this tar, there were several sets of cattle feet imprinted across the road in places as well.

When the other riders arrived, they noticed the trails that Michelle and I had left. It seems surprising to me that our group were the only riders to use the road that day. Perhaps there was a sign in French somewhere warning us off, and perhaps that also explains the uncharacteristic behaviour of the trucks that I had encountered.

The other riders had reached this tar sometime later in the day, but I'm told that the tarring equipment had returned in the meanwhile and laid more fresh tar. Kevin alone managed to keep pedalling, in spite of sinking into the tar, but, at the end of the day, he needed a new rear tyre.

One of the nice things about ascending slowly up the cols in your brightly coloured cycle gear, is the rather intimate relationship that you develop with the butterflies, at least those that you don't run over.

Anyway, I met Michelle and Mike at the top. Michelle left straight away, but I remained to consume a pack of jelly beans (actually called "Sports Beans") and top up my water before continuing.

The descent from here was fast and through beautiful country, fields of cattle, tree covered roads, along the sides of lakes, alongside streams and so forth. Hopefully, I'll get some photos from someone else, because I was having too much fun descending. In fact I didn't even notice as I whizzed past Col de Hegui Xouri. I did notice some people picnicing in one area and was later told that that was where the col was.

The descent finished at a junction onto a main road. Here I took the time to photograph some horses that were hanging about.

Horses below Col de Burdinkurutz
Horses below Col de Burdinkurutz
Sheep near Col de Burdinkurutz
Sheep near Col de Burdinkurutz

From there, the road climbed a short distance to Col de Burdinkurtz. I stopped there just long enough to take some more photographs, before enjoying the third great descent of the day, 10 kilometres, this time reaching 71.5 km/hour.

From there the rest of the ride was down hill to the accommodation through the small villages of Mendive, Lecumberry, and Ahaxe. It was in Ahaxe that both Michelle and I had trouble following the route instructions. I came across Michelle as she was returning from the wrong turn that I was just beginning.

From there we made our way to St Jean le Vieux, where we stopped for something to eat. Whilst there we befriended a German fellow, who had helped us order (neither of us spoke French). This fellow had started out walking from Germany three months ago! And people think that we're mad. This man also sang the virtues of a local delicacy, Gateaux Basque.

From there it is a short ride to St Jean Pied de Port, where we were to stay that evening. This is quite a sizeable town, with the central portion being an old walled city, with the stream running by it and three bridges across the stream. In the stream were what seemed to be trout, and quite a number of them. I was surprised that the local children weren't there fishing.

It was a while before the other riders arrived. When Mike had met us at St Jean le Vieux, he mentioned that the rosé mob (chaired by Mark and Veronique) were ensconsed at the pub just before Col de Burdinkurtz.

Walking about the walled city, I found a shop called Monique's, which sold the Gateaux Basque cakes. These cakes consisted of a thick pastry with a hint of marzipan, filled with cherries (or cream). I had a couple of subsequent occasions to sample this, however, Monique's was the best.

Today was one of the longest days, but it didn't feel that way. It was a day almost as charming as yesterday, but with clearer weather and reasonably mild temperatures, at least until we reached St Jean Le Vieux. The evening was quite hot; I'm sure that it exceeded the predicted 25 degrees. Sundown is around 2200, so it remained hot for most of the night.

St Jean Pied de Port featuring Monique's
St Jean Pied de Port featuring Monique's, where very good Gateaux Basque may be obtained

Meanwhile, back in Annangrove, Greg's grandson, John, with his prize collection of dummies, was helping his Mum gather oranges.

John
Time riding: 5:42:15
Maximum speed: 71.5 km/hour
Maximum heart rate:166 bpm
Total distance: 110.59 km
Total ascent: 2414 m
Total descent: 2584 m

Day 10 Saturday 2nd July St Jean Pied de Port to Hendaye

A reasonable night's sleep, with the roar of traffic continuing until quite late into the evening. The cold is now only a second thought, having to remember to take the medication, and a persistent, almost dry, cough.

Today featured only two cols, one 169m and the other 176m (and that is above sea level). On previous days I'm sure that we would have ridden up such hills without such titling, for example, the climb to Larrau, yesterday, was longer than this height above sea level, and steeper than the climb, so it remains a bit of a mystery as to how a climb (or in some cases a descent) qualifies as a col.

View from Col de Pinodieta
View from Col de Pinodieta
Entering Sare
Entering Sare

The majority of today's riding was along main roads and undulating. I waited to see if someone was heading off. Jeff, Richard, and Keith had headed back into town for something, Chris and Helen had started off but were headed to a supermarket, and Veronique and Dave were hanging around with Kevin, waiting for John to show, so I decided to head off on my own at a sedate pace.

For a main road, it was a reasonable ride; we were back on the D918. After a bit, The route sheet directed me from the D918, towards Itxassou, where I took my time, as the referenced Aerodrome signs were missing.

From there it was off to Espelette, where those after their medallion needed to have their cards stamped. Espelette seemed to be playing host so some motor-home convention at the time, so things were quite hectic. When Michelle had passed this way, she had received some complimentary remarks from passing motor-home drivers, which may have contributed to her forgetting to obtain her stamp here.

On the way from Espelette, I climbed the first col of the day, Col de Pinodieto. At the top I could not even find a sign post to photograph; not a very proud col.

The next town, 14 kilometres later, Sare, was particularly attractive, causing me to stop for several photographs on the way in. As I sailed down into the commercial centre and veered to cycle off in the wrong direction, I heard Michelle call out "Greg", so I pulled up. Here we had hot chocolate with our gateaux basques, and were shortly joined by Dave and Veronique, who had given up on Kevin and John. A little later, Helen and Chris arrived with Mike, the sweep. So Mike had missed Jeff, Richard, and Keith, who, Dave and Veronique advised, had detoured to check out the motor-home exhibition, and Kevin and John, who had left before Mike but had found their own way to Hendaye. Fortunately, Nick was able to account for Kevin, John, and Mark.

We managed to get a lady at the bar where we had our hot chocolate, to stamp Michelle's card, in place of the Espelette stamp. Hopefully that will suffice.

Veronique and Michelle about to leave Sare
Veronique and Michelle about to leave Sare
Veronique arriving at Col de Saint Ignace
Veronique arriving at Col de Saint Ignace

I made enquiries with some passing cyclists of the way from here to Col de St Ignace, and were directed along the cobbled road past the church. We then proceeded together to this col, which, at least, sported a sign. I wasn't expecting much of the descent, but put in a bit of an effort after Dave overtook me, only to find that, after passing Dave and Veronique, the descent was done.

From there it was flattish ride along the valley, through Ascain and Aranea-Dorrea, until we reached Ciboure on the coast. This is quite a large and old town, built across the mouth of the river, where it reached the sea. The beaches on this section of coast contain the white sand that we take for granted, and are very extensive. The surf, however, is rather flat or at least it was today.

Veronique and Dave at Cibourne
Veronique and Dave at Cibourne
Jeff, Richard and Keith on the way to Hendaye
Jeff Richard and Keith on the way to Hendaye

Hendaye (Veronique had been teaching us to pronounce this en route, to read it as "On die") is further west along the coast road. This road passed along cliffs featuring unusual rock formations, before reaching Socoa, then Hendaye.

At Hendaye, we were provided with champagne and fruit flan to celebrate the completion of the ride through the Pyrenees. But no fruit cake from Kevin White's Mum; apparently Kevin's Mum's fruit cake does not leave England.

Later, when preparing the bikes for transport, Veronique found that she could not loosen the clamp on the bike seat post, due to the hex head of the clamping screw being stripped. The earlier seat post problem had come back to haunt her, and her earlier kind thoughts towards the young man who had sorted out this original problem without charge, were, probably, no longer so kind.

The entire ride through the Pyrenees has been very pretty, challenging on the climbs, and thrilling on the descents. Keith mentioned that, in comparison to the ride through the Alps, you find that, as you progress through the Pyrenees, there is very little difference in the scenery and that, at the end of the day, it is very hard to remember one col from another. That is substantially the case, but it still takes little away from the fact that the whole is very pretty, and, of course, every descent is unique, even if you don't remember each twist and turn afterwards.

Jeff, Richard, Mark, Dave, Helen and Kevin at Hendaye
Jeff, Keith, Richard, Mark, Dave, Helen and Kevin at Hendaye
Time riding: 3:23:22
Maximum speed: 66.2 km/hour
Maximum heart rate:142 bpm
Total distance: 74.94 km
Total ascent: 711 m
Total descent: 855 m

Day 11 Sunday 3rd July Hendaye to Biarritz

I arranged for the Bike Adventures people to transport my luggage to Biarritz, whilst I would ride the bike there.

I was having a nice ride up along the coast, then, just as I was about to approach St Jean de Luz, I noticed that there was a sign to Biarritz pointing off to the right. Believing the sign to know something that I didn't, I made a last minute change of direction to follow the sign, and before I could do anything about it, I found myself heading down the motorway on ramp.

There had been no signs that I could read that advised that bicycles were not allowed on the motorway, apparently you were just supposed to know, and, as it happened, I had been told that bicycles were not allowed on the motorway. The marked shoulder was wider than we have on our motorways back home, where bicycles are welcome, and the amount of loose gravel to the right of the shoulder indicated that they are not used as an extra lane, as they do in Greece.

Anyway, realising my mistake, I'd planned to take the first exit. That proved insufficient. As soon as I was on the motorway, well to the right of the shoulder, I was blasted by a large truck. Not long after that, I received a similar blast from another vehicle.

I had only gone a kilometre or so before I found myself followed, along the shoulder by a yellow van, flashing its lights and sounding its horn. I got the message and pulled over where the shoulder widened sufficiently for the van to park off the motorway.

The fellow worked for the motorway and, after I established that I could not speak French, he explained, using what little English he had, that I was not allowed on the motorway, and that we would have to wait here for the police.

He was a very nice chap, and we had a pleasant chat, in nouns and place names, for a while as we waited for the police. I had suggested that I could just ride to the next exit and scoot, but that was not acceptable. I also suggested that he could give me a lift there, but that was against the rules; he was not allowed any non-motorway people in his van.

The police took ages to arrive, so, on a couple of occasions, I explored the possibility of taking the bike through the bush on the side of the motorway. This bush comprised a fair amount of blackberry, then a five-foot high chain mesh fence. I could, probably, have managed to climb the fence, but I would not have been able to get the bike from the other side, nor did I fancy the idea of lifting the bike over, in the hope that I would be able to follow. So I returned, scratched and bloodied back to the side of the motorway.

Cibourne
Cibourne
Biarritz
Biarritz

Eventually, the gendarmarie arrived. Two policemen, one chap and one lady, got out and started speaking to me, a little gruffly, in French. I explained that I could not speak French, so they asked me, in English, what I was doing on the motorway with a bicycle. I told them that I was riding to Biarritz and just following the signs. This seemed to amuse them, but I'm not sure whether it was my following the signs that they found amusing, or my pronunciation of "Biarritz". Knowing no better, I pronounced the vowels independently and pronounced the "t".

Anyway, they asked me for my passport, which I explained was in my luggage, which was being taken to my accommodation in Biarritz. This did not please them at all, so they searched my pockets (carefully avoiding my snotty), and the pack on the rear of the bike. After finding the map to my accommodation and nothing suspicious, they seemed to relax.

They then took my details and rang them through, before getting me to hop in the van, whilst the motorway chap put my bike in his van, and off we went. Along the way, he told me that they were taking me to Biarritz, however, pronouncing the "i" and "a" as a single vowel, omitting or slurring the "t", and using a French accent (as one would expect), causing me to exclaim "Paris?!!". This caused them to laugh, "No, that would be too far!" and he repeated "Biarritz" more slowly, so that it sounded something like "Beeris". Of course, had they meant to say "Paris", they would have dropped the "s". The Americans could have a field day rewriting the French dictionary.

When we got to the Biarritz exit, I was reunited with my bike and everyone was happy, and off I went in search of the accommodation. This turned out to be easier than expected, for just as I was getting ready to consult the map, I saw the place on the other side of the roundabout.