Tuesday, September 06, 2011

France Cycling Trip 2011, Part Seventeen

Thursday was the final full day of cycling. Ahead of us was a challenge worthy of the final ride. Up the Aspin, down the Aspin. Ride over to the Tourmalet and go up that, and then turn around and descend. Finally, ride from that bottom back to the other side of the Aspin and go up that and descend back into Arreau. For those keeping count, that is a cat 2, a cat 1, and an HC. Here we go.

The ride up the Aspin was tough as always, but I was so used to it by now that I just settled into my pattern and worked through it. In fact by this point I was enjoying the torture. After descending the Aspin, it is a short ride (still downhill) over to the Tourmalet. On the way is the famous fountain of St. Marie de Campain, where many cyclists over a century have filled their water bottles. Remembering the many warnings of not drinking the water coming out of taps here, I just topped one of my bottles off so I could partake of this tradition - others went full bore and filled up.

Here is basically where the climb up the Tourmalet, one of the most famous climbs in all of cycling begins. It was pretty cool and damp this day.

All sorts of livestock were seen on the way up, including sheep grazing right by the road. The mist was so thick it was hard to see anything, but we could hear them because of the bells they had on their necks.

Toward the top it was apparent that a very large herd of cattle had just come by in the last few days - there was a huge slick of manure all over the road, that had been turned into liquid form by the mist and dampness of the air. We rode through that and got ourselves and our bikes - well - shitty. It wasn't horrible, but not welcome either, when you are trying to go up one of the hardest climbs in the Pyranees.

I found the Tourmalet to be tough, but not as tough as Plateau de Beille. I never had to stop, and kept a nice, steady pace up the Tourmalet even through the harder patches. I finally made it and the statue that I had waited for a year to see with my own eyes came into sight.

As we got to the top of the Tourmalet, we came up through the clouds and we were rewarded with something special. This is my favorite photo of the whole trip, and someday when I scratch out a few moments I will use one of the many services on the internet to get a framed print of this one made.

At the top of the Tourmalet there are a few souvenir shops and one restaurant, which was a treasure trove of history. Very cool stuff in there, and it was neat to rub shoulders with the international crowd of cycling enthusiasts who had just lived out a dream, like I did.

We all rested a bit and had a sandwich and coffee or in my case, hot chocolate. It was brisk up there.

The descent was really long and I got shivering again. I had to stop to warm up a bit as the shivering was making it a bit unsafe. Stopping to take a photo of the donkeys was fine with me.

Many of the group packed it in at the bottom of the Tourmalet and headed back to the hotel in the vans but the rest of us started the LONG ascent of the other side of the Aspin. On the flats many of the guys rolled away from me, but I caught most of them on the climb, as usual.

We got back to Arreau and the hotel and it was announced that there would be one more ride tomorrow, a one to two hour final goodbye ride. I announced "no way, I am getting beer" and with that made my way to the local convenience store and bought a case of beer for everyone, including our guides as a thank you to them. I didn't really party, but I did sit around and drink a few beers. I was done cycling, and I literally couldn't believe what I had accomplished in the previous 12 days. You see, just six or seven years ago I was a total fatass - baby, I had come a long, long way and I wanted to sit in a chair for a bit and celebrate.

We all cleaned up and assembled for our last dinner in Arreau.

Appetizer was a wonderful shrimp salad with a type of remoulade dressing. There were more shrimp under the ones you see on top and there were also apples in the salad.

Entre was lamb with a casserole of zucchini and cheese. Pretty good.

The cheese couse was mildly stinky and satisfying.

I forgot to take a photo of dessert, but it was a flan with raspberry coulis. I make better so nothing special.

The next morning we woke up and had to pack and leave for Toulouse. The others went for a morning ride, but not me. I just relaxed and hung around the mechanics and watched them break my bike down to learn all I could about my bike.

We got to Toulouse and the hotel was right by the airport. Pretty tiny place. But we did have Carl's favorite, glassware syncronicity.

Like I said, the rooms were tiny. My roomie and I got to know each other pretty well.

The next day I had to get up at Oh Dark Thirty and leave. Some final thoughts in the next and last part of this series.

Today's riding:
Distance: 53 miles
Saddle time: 4.5 hours
9100' of rise (ouch)


Terry from Crown Point said...

Great rides and a helluva food fest!

Anonymous said...

This has been my favorite post thread I have seen on the internet. It has been informative, interesting and a joy to read. The pictures were terrific, especially of the food! I am going to put a trip like this on my bucket list. Thanks for posting it and congratulations on a wonderful accomplishment.

Dan from Madison said...

Thanks Anon, one post left to tie it together with a nice ribbon.