This time of year is a common time to reflect and so we thought we would indulge ourselves. Over the Summer we rode from the Perpignan region in France across to the Atlantic Coast to San Sebastian. The trip took a week and included scaling the Tourmalet, the world famous climb in the Pryanees, which we blogged about in the summer. At the time we considered writing a fuller piece about our trip but refrained so that we could have some time to look back on the week and the achievement of going from coast to coast in a part of the world that was relatively unfamiliar.
Our trip came about with the offer to guide a group of around thirty riders for the week; a chance too good to really be missed. Journeys like this can be complicated to plan and execute on a recreational basis (particularly point to point rides such as this) so the opportunity to do it as part of a bigger entity where certain necessities were catered for was very welcome; even though there was an added responsibility of leading the party.
Photo credit on this one goes to UNESCO. The walled city of Carcassone backed by the Pryanees.
The beauty of these rides is being able to explore and discover places that you have never seen, or would never see otherwise. That was particularly true of the first day. The ancient walled city of Carcassone is not necessarily a place that we would have visited otherwise on a cycling trip or by any other means. The run from the coast was flat: 80 miles with 2,500ft of climbing that mostly came at the end of the day and made for an straightforward first outing for everyone involved. The destination of Carcassone, was a spectacular end to the day and a place that would have been interesting to explore more. The ancient walled castle dates back over two and a half thousand years and still plays venue to a range of bars, restaurants and hotels inside its walls; a perfect destination or stopping point. The citadels conical turrets now loom over the sprawling city and it is surely one of the most impressive man-made sights we have ever laid eyes on.
A road less travelled
Our meander through the foothills of the Pryanees took us into the mountains for the first time near Foix and steered us up the Col de Port a climb that has featured in the Tour De France ten times and is a regular in other big professional stage races. This part of the Pryanees didn’t necessarily give us the big mountain feel that they would later on or that you get in the Alps more frequently but was punctuated more with green fields and fresh pastures. Getting into this sort of terrain however does being to rack up the climbing and our second day took in nearly 7000ft and just over a hundred miles.
The top of the Col de Port. Forgot the Blackmore sticker #facepalm
What had become apparent by now is that not a huge amount goes on in many towns and villages in this region regardless of what day of the week it. Our third day skirted though the late summer showers and again through the shallower hills of the Pryanees without going to crazy on the Cols. The beauty of this ride and this route is that you are able to dip in and out of the mountains as and when it suits. Hacking over Col after Col day after day would be an achievement, but perhaps an unnecessary one, when all is said and done and so another flatish day unwound in front of us. Another remarkable thing about this area is the regular overt showings of religion. Scattered frequently at viewpoints lie another ornate crucifixes. Quite what they are telling us we're not quite sure but coupled with seemingly deserted towns, villages, farms and roads the mystique of the region only grows. It really is a fascinating part of the world to ride a bike.
Another slightly eerie roadside cross
The highlight of our trip was day four. Effectively we only moved 30 miles further in our journey west, something we would pay the price for tomorrow, but the prize today lay not in a straight line. To get the most of the day we headed south into the mountains early in the morning to reach the first slopes of the Tourmalet; quite literally as the sun rose. Regardless of the days riding ahead we had never ridden into a sunrise quite like it and it stopped the group in its tracks. The sun rose and illuminated the mountains in the most spectacular manner, it was like being in a painting, in a way quite literally illuminating the route ahead. Onwards we rode into the glowing vista.
Days get tougher when century rides go back to back and hills become proper mountains but this was a day to savour. Dripping in history we have rambled about the Tourmalet in a previous blog, so we won’t again, but as a waymarker to our journey this was pretty incredible. The point is that these trips do need a highlight. It could be a feature like a particular mountain or a city. Although this trip happened to have a few this was really the one. Todays near century wasn’t too hard in reality. It was planned so that we left early and went up and up and up but once at the top it was downhill or flat to our destination and it's this sort of planning that makes these long days more achievable especially after nearly a week in the saddle.
The road ahead at sunrise. Stunning.
The lack of miles to the destination covered yesterday were evident in the planning and the toughest day was left to last on this particular trip. On these trips there are always some more casual cyclists than others. If they hadn’t cracked already then there was always today.
A hundred and twenty miles in total and around eight thousand feet of climbing spread throughout the day but with a big, big chunk of it happening right at the end today was the one that was most concerning for those of us doing the guiding duties. Another long, undulating day with some over-enthusiastic sparring between guides meant for some aches, pains and high heart rates on the last ascent but they soon faded on the drop down in San Sebastian. The road decended down the coast line and along the ridge line of the hills. Sometimes when working on these trips, ironically bearing in mind you're meant to be leading the way, you can forget exactly where you are really heading for. Hours of pedalling making sure that everyone else is ok, that you’ve at least eaten something in the last hour and staring at the little blue line on the garmin mean that occasionally you lose track a bit. Not now. The Atlantic Ocean came into view over the ridge and down we all went into town. We hit the city as the sun went down to cue a few ceremonial dips on wheels into the Atlantic amongst the cities after work surf crowd. Another stunning place which we would not have ventured to without a good excuse San Sebastian is based around two bays with surfing beaches that receive waves from the whole fetch of the Atlantic. Surrounded all around by beautiful hill sides it is surely a place we will revisit.
A long day into San Sebastian, missed the opportunity for an evening surf...
And that was that. Five wonderful days cycling bring us back to why this is such a great way to see the world. We fell back in love with cycling with a trip from San Francisco to San Diego severl years ago. A trip that we would repeat again in a heartbeat. What really struck us on that trip was that by riding it you saw every inch of the route and got to know, sometimes intimately, every lump and bump along the way, the changes of land use and the various city-scapes that give the country its distinct personality. And so it was with this, another unforgettable journey.
Are you planning something for 2017? Let us know via Twitter @rideblackmore it's great to know what you're up to!
We rode with and for Just Pedal UK providers of outstanding cycling holidays for road cyclists across the UK and beyond. (www.just-pedal.com)