Cycling over the Pyrenees

Cycling Pyrenees

In early May, 2005, I saw an advert on the Lonely Planet website. Someone was looking for a partner to cycle from Frankfurt to Prague – on a folding bicycle. Intrigued, I contacted the person and suggested she might enjoy cycling in the Pyrenees. Two hours later, Jodie bought a ticket to fly down to Pau for a four day cycling trip and our journey started on the 19th of May.

Cycling Pyrenees

After a short train journey from Pau (to avoid the busy main road) the journey began at Buzy. Here’s Jodie with the bike that she used, a koga miyata I bought in Holland for my All 4 Love trip.

Cycling Pyrenees

I had a few technical problems at the start. Here I am, trying to spray a special kind of shaving foam into the inner tube to the seal the puncture. It didn’t work as it was the valve that was faulty. A loose chainwheel could have scuppered the whole trip though luckily there was a bike shop in Arudy, a short ride away.

Cycling Pyrenees

Problems fixed and our intrepid heroes were soon cycling up the Col du Portalet. An accident a few days earlier (part of the road fell into a ravine…) meant that trucks were not allowed up the road. You can imagine how much of a disappointment that was.

Cycling Pyrenees

Glorious sunshine but still snow at the top of the mountains. Lush vegetation provided welcome shade but I had cramp. I was fine until Artouste but then I couldn’t continue – no I wasn’t just tired, I have cycled the Portalet before. Luckily, Yann came along in his brother’s van and gave me a 6km lift to the top.

Cycling Pyrenees

Meanwhile Jodie was able to enjoy one of the most beautiful stretches of road in the Pyrenees. A bubbling stream on the right and snow covered peaks on the left, what more could a woman (and man) ask for?

Cycling Pyrenees

Here is our heroine, cycling up the last part of the col. Behind her you can see the Pic du Midi Ossau, all 2885 metres of it. It is probably the most beautiful, though not the tallest, peak in the Pyrenees.

Cycling Pyrenees

She made it!

Cycling Pyrenees

We had a train to catch at Sabanianigo. Here’s Jodie cruising down the Spanish side of the Pyrenees. At the top there were poor road surfaces which, apparently, will be improved once the building work (new ski resorts) is complete.

Cycling Pyrenees

We got to the station with a comfortable 8 minutes to spare. We could then rest on the train for about 40 minutes, before stopping at a tiny station, Mallos de Riglos. And what a view! Stunning! And the rocky thing behind her doesn’t look bad either.

Cycling Pyrenees

Another shot of the rocky thing.

Cycling Pyrenees

Problems finding the way to the campsite and also a blow out on my back wheel meant that we didn’t arrive until 10.00 p.m. and it was already dark. This picture was taken in the morning from the road next to the campsite – and there is that rocky thing again.

Cycling Pyrenees

I’m not sure how common lizards are in Canada but Jodie got pretty excited by them. In fact Jodie got pretty excited about lots of things – doors are her favourite. What a pleasure it was to cycle with someone with real enthusiasm for life and the world rather than being cynical and pessimistic.

I have a special page full of lizards here.

Cycling Pyrenees

Day 2 started with a gentle climb following a river valley. Beautiful scenery with eagles and vultures flying overhead – waiting for an exhausted cyclist to topple over and become lunch.

Cycling Pyrenees

We headed North from Mallos de Riglos. Excellent quality roads and little traffic made this great cycling country.

Cycling Pyrenees

But it was warm. What could be more pleasant than a dip in a beautiful stream? Not a lot. But there are plenty more pleasant things than being bitten by vicious ants, then jumping naked into a freezing, algae-filled pool.

Cycling Pyrenees

What is she staring at? Ah yes, another door…

Cycling Pyrenees

Here is Jodie demonstrating that Canadian table manners are somewhat different from those in civilised countries. A huge bowl of bean soup followed by home made burgers – filling if not too tasty.

Cycling Pyrenees

Back on the road again. A slightly busier road and Spanish drivers don’t give you much room as they overtake. Now heading west towards Pamplona.

Cycling Pyrenees

What a wonderful town! Perched on a small hill, the houses are packed together – perhaps as a defence strategy agains the Moors or perhaps simply to avoid getting wet – the whole valley was a flood plain.

Cycling Pyrenees

I wanted to take a picture of a roadside when Jodie stuck her bottom in the way.

Cycling Pyrenees

As a keen swimmer, Jodie wanted another dip. Climbing down to the lakeside she lost her enthusiasm.

Cycling Pyrenees

Here’s home for the second night. Monastario de Leyre, a 12th Century monastery that has been rebuilt. A lovely place high in the hills. In fact so high that after a long day of cycling we left our bikes at the bottom and took a taxi up to the monastery. Only 4km but we were knackered.

Cycling Pyrenees

Here is the view from the bedroom window – a beautiful courtyard. There are still five monks that live in the monastery and women are not allowed to go to certain parts

If you’re interested, the monastery has a website – it is all in Spanish but you can see some pictures even if your Spanish is not very good.

Cycling Pyrenees

Is it a bird, is it a plane? No, it’s Jodie, all dressed up for dinner.

Cycling Pyrenees

Tasty meal.

Cycling Pyrenees

Day 3: Who is this cool dude? You can also see his Main d’or loaded up with stuff.

Cycling Pyrenees

After the 25km, we turned off the main road and headed towards the Pyrenees. This was probably the most beautiful part of the ride, a long steep-sided valley with eagles and red kites flying overhead. Lunch by the side of the river – local cheese, bread straight from the bakery and water from a spring.

Cycling Pyrenees

Here is Jodie trying to look like the woman from the shampoo advert.

Cycling Pyrenees

Here is Jodie, regretting that she tried to look like the woman from the shampoo advert.

Cycling Pyrenees

From the time when the route was for donkeys and smugglers…as we got higher the climate became pleasantly cool and the campsite, at 900metres, was fine.

Cycling Pyrenees

Just to make Jodie feel at home.

Cycling Pyrenees

The forecast was for stormy weather and I took the wise precaution of taking a bin liner with me from the campsite.

Cycling Pyrenees

Talk of the devil – here he is – Osama bin liner.

Cycling Pyrenees

Then the rain came. We sheltered under a few trees which didn’t give a lot of protection. It lasted about 45 minutes, enough to make us both very wet. Just what you need before climbing to an altitude of 1700metres.

Cycling Pyrenees

The climbing was actually not that bad. Refuelled with a stop in a café half way up, we cruised up the hillside with toots of encouragement from car drivers. Strangely, there were no other cyclists around.

Cycling Pyrenees

Jodie posing in front of a lump of snow.

Cycling Pyrenees

It was not a particularly difficult climb – just a long one through the clouds.

Cycling Pyrenees

But we got to the top! Here is Osama and a peak visible behind him in one of the rare breaks in the cloud.

Cycling Pyrenees

A French couple were having a picnic at the side of the road and were persuaded to take this shot of the happy couple – just before it started to hail.

Cycling Pyrenees

Col de la Pierre St Martin 1765m above sea level. The 26km descent on the French side though freezing rain and fog was an exhilarating experience.

It was a great trip. Around 450km in 4 days, two nights camping, one night in a 12th century Monastery. A big thank you to Jodie for coming along; she is great company and it is very likely that we will be touring together again soon.

More of my cycling?

Col du Tourmalet

3 days in Western Pyrenees

South West France Coast cycle

Col du Portalet and Spain

Holland, Germany and Denmark

Lourdes to Gavarnie