🚲 94.5miles, 5279m climbing, Cols: 🏔 Pic Arthaburu 1156m, 🏔 Col de Bagargi 1327m, 🏔 Col de Soudet 1520m, 🏔 Col de la Taillandère 1836m
After a good meal and a sound night’s sleep we set off early in only slightly damp kit, well aware that the day ahead was likely to be tough, but full of optimism. On day 1, our off-road tyres had proven perfect for the somewhat gravelly road surfaces and we were still pleased with the minimalist packing. It was hot, but bearable. The route plan was long but, after all, we had managed day 1 despite only starting at 16:30…all would be well…
The beautiful narrow roads continued for mile upon mile. The first of the three major climbs for the day, up to the Pic Arthabaru was probably the most enjoyable of the whole trip. I guess we hadn’t quite destroyed our legs at that point and we had a tailwind, but it was a hidden gem with a 20% gradient in places. We started, as with so many climbs to come, in the trees and broke out into cow pastures and harsh cross-winds.
Again the tyres came into their own as gusts pushed us off-road more than a couple of times…glad the sheer drops were a few metres away!
Turning out of the wind we reached the day’s bonus col, meeting the first of many fellow cyclists and relieved to stretch the legs, rolling into the Plateau d’Iraty, with bells and horses, before the final 6km push to the top (col de Bagargi).
The descent was blustery, requiring some concentration, and somewhat slower than hoped …
…but we dropped down to the Auberge Logibar which seemed to be a major fell-running destination. We relaxed into lunch at and the local kiwi juice was delicious 😋. Relaxed a little too much and stayed for a little too long for a cooling ice-cream.
Still happy with progress we pressed on down the valley towards col 3. The wind had dropped and the roads continued to impress, with numerous vulture sightings and hairpins we approached the Col de Soudet. The temperature was rising and as we broke free of the trees Jen stopped (I felt like I’d bonked and was done for the day). Luckily though, within 100m was an Auberge… we were able to stop for a cold drink and to cool down, also calling on our emergency rations of Clif bars, realising that maybe the big lunch hadn’t been quite enough fuel for the enormous climbs.
Refreshed and refuelled we pedalled the remaining kilometers over to the next incredibly beautiful valley. The climb had been demanding but it had been well worth it for the descent, which was winding, steep, and narrow.
The village of Bedous approached and it was now 18:30. We knew we had an off-road col (the highest of the day) still to come and it was getting late in the day. The shops were also shutting soon and we needed food. The town was lovely, with small shops selling local produce – we bought some pasta and accompaniments for later, quiches, and the local Basque cakes (which could be likened to Bakewell pudding, and turned out to be a staple for the next few days – they are very tasty!). We sat down to eat and assess the situation.
We thought we had at least 2 hours to reach the top – knowing that it was road or gravel road most of the way up and that, after a small off-road section on the other side, we would meet a road down to Laruns. After all, setting off at 7pm wasn’t so bad – we do lots of our training in the evenings. Worst case, we get to the top at more like 9:30 at dusk, or even 10, but we’ve got lights. We’d booked an Airbnb with a kitchen and the key had been left for us. Off we went – it would be a late one, but at least we would be on schedule.
Bottles filled from a spring in the town where the tarmac turned to gravel, we felt confident. When the gravel road ended though the track soon became unrideable – good Three Peaks practise, but slow going!
Dusk came and went, but we had the light of the moon. Jen’s spirits were surprisingly high – well, Alex was carrying everything except the bike by this point and the weather was incredibly mild with no wind whatsoever. We passed a spring for water at a refuge part way up, and…
finally reached the summit at 11pm.
Slightly behind schedule, but not far now!
Two hours later…a path that may well have been rideable in daylight was slow and mainly hiking, the ‘road’ to the town turned out to be made of rather large boulders – not gravel, and certainly not the tarmac we had expected from studying Google Earth!
The place we had booked to stay was in Eaux-Bonnes, partway up the Col d’Aubisque. We plodded on through deserted streets and up the incredibly welcome smooth tarmac road and, at 1:30am, found the post box where the key to our salvation would be, …but it wasn’t there!!!
The realization that we might not have any dinner or a bed for the night was beginning to dawn. We tried the actual flat, we tried to phone the owner. We had always done so well with Airbnb in the past. What had gone wrong? The owner had even sent a photo of the location of the key and we were there! The church doors were open and the light was on…Alex started laying out our kit to make us comfortable for the night and found a socket to charge our phones (I hadn’t yet come to terms with sleeping in the church, which was very cold – I thought the central green looked more comfortable and warm). I decided to try a hotel – in the vain hope that someone would be up and sat in reception. There were two bells, so I rang them both twice and waited. A rather angry (understandably) lady opened a first-floor window. I asked if she had a room. To which she replied, “non”, but I managed to stop her shutting the window by explaining our plight as best I could in my broken French. She huffed and arrived at the front door a few moments later pointing at her watch and asking if I knew what the time was. I certainly did! She told me to be quick and I sprinted up the hill to get Alex from the church…thank goodness, we had a bed for the night, somewhere to wash our clothes, and we made do with a cold platter of meat and cheese we had bought in Bedous (although it was hard to appreciate the quality of the authentic Pyrenean Brebis in these circumstances). We slept well (albeit for only 4 hours), before waking up to set off on our longest ride (day 3)…