In Part 1, we were in Jonzac after a cold and somewhat discouraging ride through some heavy rain. Our Bike Friday New World Tourist bikes were doing well, except that our trailer hitches were jammed up with dirt from the off-road sections of the cycling route in the Vendee. Now for the trip diary:
08/07/2011 TRAIN Jonzac – Bordeaux – Lourdes (first hotel stay)
We woke up feeling snotty from being cold for so long the day before. N had sore legs, and so we decided to catch a train to the Pyrenees. We found the local train station, and rode there, bought tickets and then started to pack our bikes. Only one problem – when I took the trailer off the Samsonite case, I heard a ‘ping’ – the bolt on the draw bar of the trailer had bent, and ultimately snapped. This threw a bit of a spanner in the works because I had no clue where to get a new one!
Once in Lourdes, we stayed at the Best Western – it was close to the train station and it was a really nice hotel. It was not gut wrenchingly expensive either. We used the free internet to assess our options. There were a lot of things in the Pyrenees we wanted to do, but I couldn’t tow my trailer until we fixed the bolt. We decided to hire a car for a few days so that we could see everything that we wanted to see.
A lot of people seem to have strong opinions about Lourdes. It is a place of pilgrimage, and hence has a very high density of hotels. I noticed people eating packed lunches on the side of the road and in parks, and I had never seen that before in France because eating out is so cheap. There were also endless lines of people in wheelchairs, as there is some healing spring here which is supposed to have provided a few miracle healings. There are tacky tourist/God shops everywhere. Every restaurant had an English menu and most of the shopkeepers understood us, but the quality of food was poor by French standards, so we ate at our hotel restaurant more times than we ate elsewhere.
11/07/2011 HIRE CAR Lourdes – Bareges
We were concerned about getting a car big enough to fit both the Bike Fridays comfortably in the back, as there are a lot of sub-compacts getting around the B-roads of France. We ended up hiring something ludicrously huge – a pretend SUV. We felt a bit out of place on the narrow, winding roads, but it fit all our stuff in it very comfortably. We could have easily gotten something smaller.
On the way to Bareges, we stopped at the Parc Animalier Pyrenees. It was awesome. There were bears and many other very cool animals.
We drove past Bareges initially to see if there were any camps further up the Tourmalet. We ended up driving all the way up and over to the ski resort on the other side, La Mongie. We then went up in the Pic Du Midi, which is a cable car that takes you to an observatory on top of a mountain. If you like mountains it is a must-see.
We drove back down and decided Bareges was the best place to stay. They were busy, but they found space for us, we were camped near a raging stream that was constantly loud. N enjoyed the sound but I didn’t. In Bareges, the thunderstorms came. Our little 3 season MSR Hubba-Hubba tent did admirably protecting us from the torrential rain. It was my first time camping in a thunderstorm, and it was a raging one!
While based in Bareges we checked out the Point of Spain and the Cirque de Garavannie. We also went to a Carrefour and found a bolt that fitted my trailer so it was all fixed!
14/07/2011 Col Du Tourmalet (2111m alt)
I bought far more snacks than necessary and climbed the col with both my front panniers on the Bike Friday. On the way up, I noticed a helicopter, and then saw the ambulance above me. I rode up there and stopped just past the action, waiting for N. I saw emergency services crew carrying a guy on a spine-board stretcher up the side of the mountain. I didn’t really see him, just his cleated shoes as they loaded him into the ambulance. They drove him down the mountain a bit to the waiting helicopter. I heard two English roadies talking about it, sounding very shaken up. I think the guy just missed the bend and went tumbling down the mountain.
There was a great sense of satisfaction when we got to the top, and a couple of Aussie roadies told us that we were legends for getting up on the heavy lil Fridays. We ran into our Dutch friend from the Passage Du Gois – he was the Carrefour guy – he had those polka dot hats pinned all over him, and a blanket with red dots on it as a cape. He told us his ambition was to become one of those infamous characters, like the devil, who followed the Tour around every year. It was only his third tour though so this whole thing was in its infancy. We bought and ate sausage sizzles, and bought souvenir jerseys from the store at the top (though mine is too big – I think I was a bit hasty selecting it).
We found ourselves a nice spot on the climb, and had to wait hours in the freezing cold for the Caravanne and then the riders. Turns out we were right in front of the feed zone where they get their snacks and jackets before the descent so there was a lot of action. Somehow a gaggle of English speakers formed around where we were standing. A cute English roadie couple sat with us, and there was a nice young guy in a team Sky jersey. The Sky feed person had a couple of bottles left after all his riders had gone past, so he gave them to the couple – the guy in the Sky jersey missed out.
Now for the fun part – the descent. We were pretty keen to get down off the mountain, so we left as soon as the gendarme let us on the road, we had to sit around for about half an hour not seeing any riders, walk our bikes over some rough terrain, and get down from a rather high retaining wall. After a couple of turns down the hill, the gendarme pulled us over – then a Team Katousha rider came flying down, sitting on his top tube. He was at least an hour behind and was eliminated from the race because he didn’t make the cutoff time.
15/07/2011 HIRE CAR – Lourdes
We went back to Lourdes and had to return the car – which was a bit problematic because of all the road closures for the finish of the stage. We finally got through all the traffic to the Best Western, dropped off our stuff, and N took the car back. We had to pay rental rates for the fuel because we hadn’t been able to find a petrol station on the way back – they are certainly not everywhere like they are in Australia.
We watched the stage in the hotel for a while, then we headed out to see the riders finish. We ended up totally crushed behind a barrier, but we got to see Thor Hushovd win a mountain stage! One more night in Lourdes, and we moved on to Switzerland via the train…. but that is for the next episode.