You can’t beat a good night’s sleep to right the wrongs of the world. When that good night’s sleep is preceded by a fabulous hot shower and a slap-up meal, then even if you’ve cycled 96 miles and 9,700 feet, there’s a lot of wrongs that will feel right.
The hotel Trev found for the night of Day 4 was a fantastic French manor house, somewhat out of place with its surroundings. The rooms were plush, the beds were warm, and the decor and customer service was a world away from the countrified gite from Day 3. Breakfast too – amid a slightly surreal collection of adding machines that wouldn’t be amiss at Bletchley Park – was slap up. It was the usual French selection of croissant and pain – but there was also fresh fruit and cold meats to allow us to bulk up some protein as well as all that doughy carb goodness.
Finally we had a day where the forecast was not wet. It was a relief to have to actually make a decision on what jackets to take – rather than dressing for a winter’s ride: in August.
Today’s ride had three climbs planned for the morning – the largest first: Col de Puymoren, a looooong 15mile slog. There is a tunnel – but a) it would be cheating and b) it was closed for maintenance anyway, so it was over the top for us. I stopped a few times on the way up to take some snaps – it was the first time we’d actually had the opportunity to see the spectacular scenery we were pedalling through rather than the inside of rain-heavy clouds.
I’ve found refuelling following a climb is key – on the way up it’s hard to digest food (and being unable to ride hands-free, often physically awkward too!), and energy is best coming from either gels or drinks. Once the energy kick from them is gone, it goes. Quickly. So the porridge pots, cakes & coffee at the top of Col de Puymorens were very welcome indeed.
The views of the descent on the other side seemed to stretch into the distance, and I had to assure Sarah that I wasn’t going to go ‘too fast’ on the downhills. I stopped to take some photos on the way down – happy to take the corners slower than usual as the roads were Beds County Council standard rather than the usual smooth continental tarmac, and I had to work quite hard against an increasingly warm wind to catch up with the group.
We turned with the wind, which was a relief in some respects, but with the sun now high overhead the temperature rose, and the water was squirting out of my pores as quickly as I could pour it down my neck.
The next col snuck up on us – being one of the climbs where the gradient slowly increases and you suddenly realise you’ve been climbing for a while. With a lunch-stop promised at the top, and the wind having picked up enough to cool us as we climbed, we tucked our heads down and turned the pedals up a steady but long climb to the Roman citadel at Mont Louis.
The weather now looked settled and once we’d refilled (with food and water) only the long, steady 70 miles downhill to the coast lay ahead with our ultimate destination at Cerbere.
Our second puncture of the weekend struck as we hit some gravelly main-road, and the talk turned to technology-bashing as yet more Garmin devices succumbed to problems following the rain earlier in the week. The shimano camera I have is waterproof to 10meters, so why can’t Garmin make a device that can withstand rain! We were now down to one and half Garmins – but we weren’t worried as Trev still had the good old-fashioned paper backups and the route was straightforward. Having already done 90 miles with 50 to go, your mind tends to just drop into pedal turning mode so not having a complicated route allowed us to keep the group tight and a decent pace.
Stu won the (virtual) sixpence for seeing the sea first – the Mediterranean this time, and the realisation that we had cycled from coast to coast was uplifting, even if we did have another 30 miles to go.
In the same way that I fell for “it’s along the Caledonian Canal – it’s bound to be flat” on LEJOG last year, the thought that the road along the bord-de-la-mer would be flat was soon dispelled. We wove through hordes of Les Chavs at Argeles-sur-Mer, which looked, smelt, and sounded like all the worst bits of Great Yarmouth/Blackpool but turned up to eleven. It certainly explained why all the other villages we’d passed through seemed deserted – the entire local populace seemed to be swarming around cheap tat, moules-frites and buckets & spades.
As soon as the signs for Cerbere appeared, the final practical joke from the Cyco-club Bearnaise became clear. By making the start and end points of the route the two closest towns to the Spanish border, we were committed to following the bay-ridden coastline down into ex-fishing villages and a steep, hairpinned climb over the next headland. By this time, I was praying each village we coasted into would be Cerbere, only to be disappointed numerous times.
It took a few grumpy seconds to realise that the sign Cervera was not yet another disappointment and just the spanish spelling of Cebere… We had arrived. On with the camera (again) to film our arrival – I just hoped that the girls & Toby had found the hotel and would be waiting for us!
I needn’t have worried – our welcome committee had seen us coast down the road stuck to the sea front from across the bay, and were already tucking into the wine and their cheers brought grins of relief to all our faces.
It was a profound feeling – just as when we rolled into John O’Groats last year – that we had finished. We had cycled the length of the Pyrenees. The exhaustion, pain, aches and bum-numbness all faded under a flood of endorphins. Of course the champagne helped.
Raid Pyreneen: tick.
Another slightly quirky hotel awaited, with a wardrobe-sized bathroom that was smaller than some that I’ve seen on narrowboats. Sarah’s commentary and laughter as she tried to shower with the curtain that rotated with her had me in hysterics. Nathan’s wife and daughter had come down from Surete to meet us, and we tucked into a table-filling welcome three courses and beer, safe in the knowledge that there was no agenda for kit to be prepped or bikes to be fettled for any more miles tomorrow.
The threat of two of us (probably Stu and Trev) having to cycle to the villa had been worked around, with only the man-machine Geoff having to ride to the next stage of their European odessey Roses – Sarah, Stu and myself only needed to get ourselves to the Parthbou railway station over the border in Spain, which would take us to collect Robyn in Gerona. Google had informed us that it was only 3km away, but we took a taxi. As the taxi slalomed us up and over yet another headland into Spain – we all agreed that the walk over the hill would have been a headland too far. Stu and I were definitely finished with our bikes. Never again – next time it would be a holiday with pizza and a TdF DVD instead. Probably.
Someone said there was a Raid des Alpes. I wonder where that starts…