On the way to San Sebastian

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July 26th 2009
Published: July 27th 2009
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Sunday 26th July - Riding the Cols of the Pyrenees

I was Col'd out. I loved riding these Cols so selected the “interesting” mountain pass route over the Pyrenees and into France, for a brief overnight sojourn there, travelling back across the border again to Northern Spain tomorrow. It was more interesting than the dull ride through the plains of central Spain and more importantly not as sun baked. And what a brilliant ride. If there was a prize for best biking road ever the N260 would have to be in the top 5. Stupendously good fun - awesome views and perfect quality tarmac, it twisted its way ever skyward from Ripol. Mile after mile it seemed to last for ever. If it looks a long road on my 1 inch : 1000 mile scale map of Europe then it is a long way. On the downhill section over the top and a change of Col name it lost some marks for a section with liberal use of overbanding - presumably to correct frost damage, there were no cable laying layabouts here. Like some teenage lout with an aerosol defacing the master canvas I thought. Horrible stuff - I know it only makes the bike squirm maybe an inch or two but it is unsettling and at reasonable lean, highly unwelcome. One squirm affected my line and had me briefly heading towards the gutter - after that I backed off till the nasty stuff was no longer in evidence.

There is only one problem with riding the Cols and that is they require utmost concentration if you're to ride them properly and get the most out of them - it is almost impossible to poodle along through them, they demand to be attacked. The bike was happy enough, even fully loaded but after several hours I started to tire. So shortly after crossing the border when I was presented with the choice of another Col or taking the Puymoren tunnel I decided a slight drop in temperature, easy riding and saving some km's was the better option. Slight drop in temperature? It was more like a deep freeze. It was a less pleasant 32C today, but inside the tunnel it quickly plummeted to 14C. Sweat laden and in very light riding gear, I froze my nads off.

Getting across the border, at Puigcerda, the TomTom through a wobbly and just couldn't seem to find its way to Bourg Madam on the French side. It took me down increasingly narrow tracks until eventually I was faced with crossing a railway which had no road, or boarded planks across it - just very deep stone sized gravel and the rails themselves. Er no thanks - I think I'll find my own way. That would be just 'kin marvellous dropping the bike there. I'd guarantee as soon as I did I'd hear a train's whistle.

Puigcerda was a bit of a nothing town I thought and Bourg Madam revelled in its French superiority by actually being quite pleasant - despite only being metres apart. A bit like Shepheds Bush and Chiswick I guess.

This high part of the Pyrenees is rather bleak, with little vegetation. But outside the other end of the tunnel the vegetation returned to adorn a stunning emerald green valley. Now I was on the N20 and the road was (rather welcome by this stage) fairly blah in terms of riding challenge, but the scenery was magnificent. I had planned to either stop in Ax Les Thermes of Foix as a break point to my journey tomorrow (which as I write this is supposed to be San Sebastian.) Ax Les Thermes looked just the ticket - punters gathered round tables at outdoor cafes, stunning vistas and even a few bikes parked around. But no lets ignore all that shall we and forge onto the rather dull Foix, where I am staying the night. Great move... I guess at least it shaves another 50km off the journey tomorrow.

I am being slightly harsh on Foix probably because I am staying in a flea pit of a hotel. I had planned to camp tonight and then enjoy two last nights in nice-ish hotels at San Sebastian and Bilbao respectively. But 5 hot hours on the bike on demanding roads had left me with little appetite for setting up camp again. And anyway the tent was suffering - the pole I'd broken last trip had to be re-gaffered up this morning. Well that was my excuse anyway. Still I would prefer the tent to where I am tonight. You go to a Spanish tourist office and say you want a “nice” hotel and they come up with the goods. The same is not true of their French counterparts. I could tell by the price it wasn't going to be much cop. Still at least I will sleep on a bed tonight - even if it is hotter in here than the bikes engine and the view of the bog only concealed from view by a horrible curtain - hmm choice. Camping is all very well and typically superiorly located if you're not interested in towns but what the countryside has to offer nearby, but you did not get as full a nights kip. Kind of essential for long days on the bike.

In the morning I need to plan my last couple of days. Current thoughts are San Sebastian and Bilbao for the Guggenheim and maybe the Picos de Europa, but it all depends on the cost of accommodation in San Sebastian, which looks kind of scary. (I guess unless you like looking at curtains across your salle de bain...) I'll call the tourist office in the morning and see.

Anyway I am knackered. I'll upload this tomorrow after making plans for my last couple of days.


27th July 2009

Railway tracks
It's nice to receive the updates, i am following your progress. Good call re the railway crossing, we all remember your track record with them and two wheeled machinery................
27th July 2009

Hey Gary ... I am avidly following your ever Km and really enjoying it ... a 5 minute sit down is always welcome. I am very envious it sounds fab. Love Julia xxxx

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