🚲 70.0 miles, 3661m climbing, Cols: 🏔 Col d’Agnes 1570m, 🏔 Port de Lers 1517m, 🏔 Col de Pailhères 2001m, 🏔 Col de Marty 1469m, 🏔 Puyvalador 1760m
The shared room (see day 5) was fine – we slept well anyway – like most of this trip! The only problem, if you can call it that, was that our kit didn’t dry overnight, but then we were off into the rain immediately anyway! Straight to the local shop for supplies and a coffee to start the day…
Today we didn’t really know what to expect, as we were diverted off our planned route so as to cover three days riding in two, relying on Google maps to plot a course. We were heading a little north to skirt around Andorra, so were anticipating a little less climbing.
The Col d’Agnes was wet, and the views, well, invisible. We are sure that they would likely be lovely on a better day – we are convinced that this particular valley is one of the most beautiful because it is so green, due mainly to the fact that it always rains there – maybe one day we will get to see it in all its glory, but that will have to wait for another year. We continued on – two cols in quick succession (and I have to mention the best waterproof jacket I have ever owned at this point – the Gore waterproof is amazing – worth every penny, although difficult to part with so much – Alex bought me mine – he had no such luck!, although his Decathlon alternative was proving better than he’d expected). With all this rain, we were glad we decided not to go for a dry lube for our chains. A small top-up each day of ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll‘ lube from cyclocrossracer.co.uk was doing a grand job in all the conditions we faced.
Another stunning descent followed. It was somewhat colder than previous days. We stopped at a lovely bar to get warm. Unfortunately, the ambient temperature was actually quite OK if you were out for the day in dry clothes so the door was open and there was little need for a cosy fire, etc. To me, though, it felt like mid-winter and I just couldn’t stop shivering. I was given a jumper and warm coat by some very concerned tourists and the owner of the bar but continued to shiver through 2 cups of coffee. It was no good, I would either have to stop for good, or buck-up and crack-on! My forever sympathetic husband was strongly in favour of the latter, and despite appearances was just as cold as me. We set off in haste, in the wrong direction! (not having any route on our GPS devices today)
Once we had warmed up a bit, we realized our error – I was just glad to be warmer, despite the additional climbing required to ensure my comfort. Off we descended into the warmer and drier valley. At the bottom, we searched Google for lunch. We located a pizza place and burger place and set off towards Ax-les-Thermes in search of pizza in a village on the way. On arrival, the pizza place appeared to have gone out of business so, slightly disappointed, we headed for the burger place: “La Maison Lacube éleveurs“, and so glad we did! The restaurant had no available tables, but they sold takeaway for the tables on the square… in an otherwise deserted village, there were hundreds of people queueing up and waiting patiently for their burgers. The wait was quite long but worth it – clearly, no other restaurant could survive – people had come from miles around for the best burger in the Pyrenees.
Well fueled, we started off to Ax-les-Thermes and our next major col. This one started gently, but we’d heard stories about how arduous it was. One of Alex’s first cycling mentors was a man called Graham Goulding. He was the fastest rider in Matlock CC before Tim Gould came along and would spin a yarn about an incredible climb out of Ax. We climbed out of Ax past a sign to two cols, one short, and one 19km long. We assumed we’d be taking the long one! The gradient wasn’t too bad to begin with but, after we did indeed take the turn up the col of lesser brevity (the Col de Pailhères), it steepened through the trees and followed alongside a crystal clear river. The “private” signs all over the trees detracted somewhat from the beauty, but presumably, they are needed to protect it. Trout spotting controlled Alex’s pace to some extent. Eventually, we broke into the cloud again. More graffiti resisting further bear introduction appeared on the roads (these had been a constant throughout our trip).
Alex pulled away from me when we could see the false summit and pointed out something, but I couldn’t hear him. My wheels started squeaking (as if I was running on almost flat tubs, but when I looked down I saw a white mush on the road – looked like ice, but I dismissed that as crazy). Re-united at the top of the Col de Pailhères – I was informed that, in fact, it was ice was from the giant hailstones Alex had been pointing at!
Glad to not have been hit by them, on we continued into the cold…
Agreeing to disagree on the approach to staying warm, Jen stopped regularly to warm her hands under her jersey before continuing (we only took mitts, but in all honesty, only totally waterproof gloves would have been better at this point, and we’d preferred to suffer briefly than carry them all this way), Alex preferred to push on in pain to reduce the length of the agony. We met again as the sun began to break through in Mijanès.
We were looking forward to a home-cooked meal and had plenty of clear information about key-boxes for a last-minute accommodation booking. However, we had another ‘bonus col’, followed by another 350m up to a ski resort so the climbing wasn’t over! (Jen still thinks this was only 200m)
Alex raced off ahead to catch the supermarket before it shut. After he’d purchased a few bits, Jen caught up, and hurriedly tried to check he hadn’t forgotten anything (so that he wouldn’t be upset)…understandable argument ensued. We pressed on in silence. Jen was struggling with the long day and lack of food again. Alex was motivated by the short distance to the chalet. Jen stopped, Alex pushed on. In the end, we made up before the final climb, but the marriage was on rocky ground for a while, and dinner had been delayed.
But, we arrived before dark, having made up, and very pleased with our accommodation – we could finally relax in our own, small, but perfectly formed space. And, it had heaters and a hairdryer – very helpful without towels!
Only one more day to go! And this would be mostly downhill, and only 90 miles (Jen believed)…