Salardu to Sort…oh Spain!

What a time we have had in Spain so far!

We went out to tea 50 metres from our accomodation and dinner was not starting until 8.30 pm! We could not last that long for food so chose cold tapas. Exquisite food!!

I met and befriended Marco, a free spirited Italian cyclist just doing what he loves. He became our newest best friend! He was such a happy and friendly guy, with a passion for cycling and zest for life that could only make you smile!IMG_2300

We were provided with free shots of the local liquor. Looked like cough medicine but wow!! I brought a bottle to bring home. My first alcohol since finishing London to Venice!!

There was live music and the guy could really sing! He belted out a great rendition of Roxanne. There were little kids that looked about 5 years carting huge beers outside to their parents.

It was a great fun atmosphere and the whole village seemed to be there. As we left I gave the owner a hug as it was just great fun and they made us feel so welcome.

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Elizabeth with the shot glasses. Elizabeth was born in Cork, Ireland, lived in Glasgow, Scotland and emigrated to Ottawa, Canada around 30 (?) years ago.

Today shone brightly and we had the best breakfast yet. Scrambled eggs and a great variety of protein! Yes the ubiquitous carbs were there but at least there were options today.

As soon as we left our accomodation we climbed  and climbed and climbed. Already at 1300 metres we climbed to nearly 2100 metres to Port de Bonaigua. A really nice climb with great views.

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Looking back towards Salardu
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Leaving Salardu

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Early in the climb
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Start of the official 13 km climb
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Series of switchbacks started half way up
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At the top!

Very pleased to be at the top, we then donned extra clothes for the descent. We were a km or so into the descent when we had to slow down for horses that were in the road and verges. Some were even wearing cow bells.

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They seemed fairly tame. This horse was quite ok with me being so close.

The descent was good fun! We got caught behind a motor home for some distance and Tony overtook it much to my horror. I chose to sit back behind, in a more conservative approach.

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A section of the descent

There were great views but we did not stop a lot descending.

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At La Guinguetta d’aneu there is a nice lake we passed.

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We rode through Llavorsi at the 51 km point, crossing a river and following a gorge. Rafting was very popular with multiple groups on the river.

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Llavorsi
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Rafting promotional signage
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Rafting group downstream

We arrived in Sort right on midday and checked out the main street  where there was a political march occurring.

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Today’s route skipping close to Andorra

 

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Today’s elevation graph

We then headed to the hotel, well ahead of check in and the van! It was a beautiful day and look what we found!

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I could not get my shoes off quick enough. The pool is not heated.

Anyway it got too much for me. I took my jersey off and….

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Yes into the pool with my cycling knicks! Great way to cool off!

For tea we headed into Sort to try and find anything, anywhere before 8 pm. they really do eat late in Spain. We were with Elizabeth and Gordon and found a tapas bar where I tried cuttlefish for the first time. Very much like squid.

 

Rest day – Superbagneres!

Today was scheduled as a rest day, but for anyone who knows me, they would know that term does not sit easily with me. I can’t do nothing!

Originally we had hoped to do the classic Tourmelet climb, weather permitting. Thunderstorms were forecast to hit Bagneres between 12 noon and 1 pm rendering this ride and climb as being in the ‘ not too sensible’ bucket.

Instead we opted to do the Superbagneres climb which starts right in Luchon.

Luchon is another spa town so you can guess what breakfast was! Yes, bread only! Hardly the food for a cyclist! So I supplemented this with some coconut cream I had purchased from the local supermarket.

We dropped the paniers for this ride given it was an out and back ride.

The views were simply stunning!

Below are a range of photos from the climb.

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The climb is 17 km long. At the top is a currently closed ski village. Great views over Luchon. I managed to fall off my bike whilst sticky beaking and now have quite a nice range of bruises on both legs and gravel rash on my buttocks and thigh! No photos, ha ha!

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I am concentrating on the descent!
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Today’s route
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The climb

It was a very fast and fun descent back into Luchon where we went straight to a creperie for a nice galette and coffee.

Being our third spa town we thought we had better visit one and see what all the fuss is about.  15 euro for us into the level with an extraordinary sauna network in a cave that was founded in Rome an times. There is a network of 150 metres in the cave.

After extensive showering and cleaning procedures you enter the complex tunnels where the humidity is 100 percent with air temperatures of between 38-42 Celsius.

You find a seat somewhere in the darkened chambers and sweat profusely. back out for showering before entering the jet pool. We did this cycle 3 times and decided we could not cope with a 4th session in the stunning and incredible cave.

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File photo of part of the cave

We then caught up with Annie for coffee. We met her in Tasmania a few years ago when she was doing a ride around the state with Prickles. They are about to head off to ride together for 6 months! Annie is now based in Luchon.

On the way back to our accomodation we dropped into a small restaurant recommended by Lisette and Sumi. What an extraordinary hour we spent there.

Bruno is the owner and chef. He was very loud and very, very drunk. He was very keen to impart many thoughts with us. It was difficult to get away from him, but he had a kind heart and although he is jaded with the politics in France, terrorism and yearns to live in a chalet in the mountains, he is a good cook and we had a nice meal!!

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Very sober Sharron and very drunk Bruno. What is not showing in the photo is that Bruno is caressing my hands endlessly!!

So tomorrow we say au revoir to France as we are only 10-15 km from the Spanish border.

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I love this photo! Hence it appears twice so that it is the lead photo when I “press” this to Facebook !! 

 

St Gaudens to Bagneres de Luchon

What another brilliant day! But before I get into that, a few little oddities from our accomodation in St Gaudens. The accomodation was run by two very strict ladies. You darned not cross them. They swore prolifically in French. They had unusual taste in light fittings!

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There were a number of these! The big fluffy balls were ‘curious’

They also win the prize for the smallest bath award:

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Yes I know you bath with your clothes off but this photo was merely for ‘illustration’ purposes only.

Notwithstanding that they did take good care of our babies:

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Yes the bikes are in their breakfast room.

I think they may have underestimated the eating power of cyclists. We were strictly allocated one croissant, one piece of cheese, one slice of ham, one tub of natural yoghurt, 2 pieces baguette. I did manage to obtain a second coffee but that was because I had not had orange juice. I noticed the older lady carefully counting grapes too… but they were a bit soft and most of us passed.

When we packed up our room to depart, this was the view.

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We left St Gaudens via the same roads we had entered and headed off towards Valentine. It was cold at 9 degrees and we had bare legs, but well rugged up on our top half.

We ideally would liked to have dumped our front paniers for today’s climb. However it was an unknown factor as to whether the van would be at the top for us to grab warmer clothes for the descent. So we erred on the conservative side and chose to carry provisions for the full day.

We rode through Valentine (6.1 km), Ardiege (8.9 km), Cier de Rivière (9.8 km) arriving at Col de la Hountared at 12.6 km.

We turned right climbing through woods ( what a surprise) but what a nasty little climb this turned out to be, with a 17 % section!

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That is me climbing the last hundred metres or so.
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A close up would show me grimacing!!

Around the area of Labroquere (17.1 km) we noted the old Roman funeral pile looking more like a section of a fence.

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Saint Bernard de Comminges was an impressive village with a cathedral overlooking ancient roman ruins.

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Remains from an ancient Roman village
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Just over the road, unexcavated Roman ruins

We continued through a number of villages including Sarp (21.6 km), Aveux (22.7 km) travelling through narrow wooded valleys along the side of a river.

At Mauleon Barousse (29.1 km) we stopped as the Bike Adventures van was there. After a chat with Andy we motored on as I was not keen for my knee to cool down.

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Mauleon-Barousse
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Mauleon-Barousse

We turned right at this village and came across this sign, indicating the commencement of our 19 km climb.

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The sign indicates that our current altitude was 576 metres but we were heading to 1775 metres over 19 km of climbing

As with all climbs, Tony has a leave pass to do what he wants. I like to climb on my own, cognisant of my knee and asthma. Today it was to be my back though that would cause me pain!

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The views were great

As you climb it is important to stay mentally focused. Each km there is a sign indicating what exactly average incline is for the next km. The first few were only 3 -to 4 percent. Then they increased to 7,8,9 and 10 percent!

About half way up a couple of ‘young’ cyclists from Canada passed me and cheered me on, in French. Around one of the hairpin bends Tony was waiting to take photos of me grimacing!

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I must be hot as I have unzipped my clothing. Sorry Hannah!! Modesty goes out the window in favour of ‘comfort’

I followed Tony for a bit and we came across these cows. They were so cute, with the adults having bells that were ringing. It explained all the cow pats on the road that I had seen too. They seem to just wander and go where they want.

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Also note the TDF road markings

 

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Nice view looking back 
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Can you see me? I am a speck climbing up

This next photo is as I entered the last km of the climb.

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Looking back down 
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Only a few hundred metres to go
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Made it! 

I was very glad to get to the top. My back had been having muscular spasms for over half the ride. I lay down on the grass and did some stretching.

There were numerous cyclists at the top all congratulating each other!

Time to descend. More clothes back on as it is always colder when descending.

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The view on the descending side

 

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Descending 
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Some friendly random cyclists who were also descending
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View from one of the villages descending 

We had a fast descent into Bagneres de Luchon. We were the first of the cyclists to arrive and knew we had a bit of time to kill before the van arrived. We stopped at a restaurant and had lunch and then pootled to the accomodation where we did some bike maintenance and enjoyed the sun.

Tomorrow is a rest day. The weather forecast is not brilliant putting a dampener on our previous plans, but we will wait and see what the day brings!

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Today’s climb
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Today’s route 

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Marciac to Saint Gaudens

What a brilliant day in the saddle! It was a day full of “oohs” and “wow”! It was not an easy day riding up and down hills, ending up 300 metres higher in altitude than the start.

It was only 9 degrees Celsius  when we left Marciac. As we climbed out of town, the mist was rising above the paddocks.

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As we climbed a little further and rounded a bend, our first BIG wow occurred. The Pyrenees were straight ahead, snow capped and very inspiring!

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Still a fair distance away, but we will be there within two days.

We past through many heavily wooded forests today, always climbing. Spinning in our small chain ring, constantly thinking about the days that lay ahead, conserving energy and my knee as much as possible.

We past through villages of Mazous ( 21.7 km), Estampes (24.3 km), and Estampures (27.4 km) and Mazerolles (29.5 km) all very quiet and sleepy.  I think we had seen 3 cars at this stage, and about 8 barking dogs!

At 38.6 km we rode into Trie-sur-Baise a large bastide village. We felt it was too early for coffee but picked up extra water and some Lindt 90% chocolate!

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Trie-sur-Baise, from outside the supermarket!

The road descended and it was great to ride on some flat!

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We crossed the river and climbed into the woods, arriving at Campuzan (49.2 km) to then descend.

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At 51.3 km we crossed another river and rode past this flash looking chateau.

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Flash looking chateau!

The omnipresent Pyrenees kept us very focused view wise! They are getting bigger!! All the time I was wondering which bit we would be climbing through.

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Leaving Lassales at 61.2 km we rode up the steepest pinch of the day with a short 20% incline! Nasty! Granny gear engaged!

Brief deviation: Here is a photo showing page 3 of our route notes from today. Leon, who works with Tony at Caterpillar, asked why my km overall each day are less than Tony’s. ( He has noted this from our strava file uploads, being quite observant!). The answer is simple. It is to do with navigation. We are using my Garmin to try and match route notes. That means if we deviate off course ( eg in a village looking for food, drink, just looking around), if that is not in the course route, I will stop my Garmin and start again when on route

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Look at all the ‘climb into woods’

Below is the church at St Plancard. We stopped just around the corner and had a light snack before yes, climbing into the woods.

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St Plancard (74.8 km)

Another inspiring Pyrenees view!

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Far less inspiring, me having just climbed out of the woods!
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The view I had after climbing out of the woods! This is why I ride my bike!

We eventually ran out of woods to climb, arriving in the very busy town of Saint Gaudens. We are now happily ensconced in our hotel, having arrived quite early. Fortunately we were granted an early check in.

There is a very curious art ‘installation’ just outside our hotel. It is moving. Plank by plank this curious structure is moving with the aide of about 20 helpers!

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Today’s route. 92 km and over 1600 metres climbing.

Finally, the view out our bedroom window is just awful! I am sure you will all agree! A reminder of what is to come in the next few days! Tomorrow is another tough day but the weather forecast is promising!!

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