9th October 2008
So here’s the starting point. Three weeks into our tour – France, Spain and Morocco – and we have meandered through France to arrive at Laruns in the Vallee d’Ossau, altitude 525m (remember that figure) in the Pyrenees. It’s 2 in the afternoon and we’re dossing around at our campsite after another sumptuous lunch and several cups of tea. I’m enjoying my book but also feeling a little restless. I recall something from our guide book: “the Col d’Aubisque itself . . . usually sees the Tour de France come through, making the pass an irresistible challenge to any French cyclist worth his salt”. Mmmmm. Now I have done a little exercise over the past three weeks: one morning I cycled the kilometre into town to pick up fresh bread . . . and I went for a run in Brittany. Or was that in Charante? Anyway, I know there are hardy souls at MBH who would have knocked off this sort of thing before breakfast and been eyeing up the Atlas mountains for the afternoon. Surely I should make the effort. I’ll have a few biscuits and think it over. The kids start to argue and my mind is made up. “I’m off for a short ride – I’ll be back to take them swimming.” Now one benefit of travel is not having to faff around over what to wear: if you’re lucky there’s something you’ve been wearing less than a week. I rootle around in my bag and bingo, find my MBH cycling top. Why did I pack that? Never mind, it’s a bonus. Only three false starts (each time to take more layers) and I’m off. A short km out of Laruns and I’m feeling good. Hang on, what’s that roadside sign, the one with a cyclist?
Oh Lordy (or words to that effect)! Surely someone has been messing with the sign. What sort of person writes “Mesurez votre effort et bon courage”? Thoughts of a quick dash in the opposite direction down the (flat) valley floor pass before me and I hesitate. And then I remember those brave club members who nipped over to Brittany and covered hundreds of miles each and every day, only stopping to fuel up on chips and beer. They were always smiling. It’s all France, just different bits. Pull yourself together. Onwards and upwards. Hey, this is OK. A heady speed of 7 mph and I’m eating up the ground. Around a corner a strange sight awaits. Should I consider upgrading to a larger frame?
2 miles. 3 miles. I’m smiling. Then I’m concerned. There’s a sort of flat bit, maybe 200m. It’s like when you know that all good things come to an end. And they do! Round the corner is a sign showing an inviting 13% – and the climb starts. There are several signs advertising ski hire. Could that be significant? Right now I am very glad I have a bike with a “granny ring”, despite what anyone else says! 6 miles. 7 miles. There’s a ski resort in sight. I notice large birds of prey circling overhead. I recognise them as vultures and wonder why they are following me. 8 miles. There’s an interesting phenomenon at play here. I am very warm – OK ***** gasping – and the air temperature is dropping dramatically. Is this making balance? I hope so – otherwise I will either explode or freeze to death. The way ahead starts to disappear in mist. But still it’s upwards and onwards. I’ve climbed mountains with a rope quicker than this! 9 miles. 10 miles. I’m going to get there. And there it is. At least it would be if this mist would let up. It is not warm up here. I manage a quick photo with the timer
before throwing on every layer I have and turning back. Oh, and I feel pretty chuffed. The col is 1709 m, so I’ve gained a bit of height. Certainly not as quick as Lance and his mates – or many others – , but hey, how long to the Tour? And the descent was not pretty. My hands were frozen, so I needed to stop regularly to warm them in intimate regions. And there are not many places near the top without a corner approaching (note to self: check brake blocks). I arrive back to find a short missive “Gone swimming.” Fair enough, I did say it would be a short ride. Now where did I put my book?
NB Our guide book, which recommended this ride, also has these words of wisdom. If confronted by a brown bear rearing up on its hind legs, do not be alarmed. It is showing it is curious. Oh really.