I was on a short cycling trip from where my son Louis works in a bike shop deeper in the Pyrenees back home to the foothills of those same mountains. I kept on having these ‘Holy S#!t’ moments saying to myself, or sometimes shouting out loud as I was alone on my bicycle, ‘WOW, I live here!!!!’
Yes, The boy from The Bronx wasn’t cycling under ‘The El’ (elevated trains for you non -New Yorkers;-) Nor was I in the shadow of castles. The green hills and beautiful Pyrenean Mountain chain which separated me from Spain were my constant companions.
I found myself on a famous Tour de France climb which had been on their itinerary for 110 years! It was a hard climb, and I was wondering how quickly the Tour de France racers would be going up this same exact climb in less than two weeks time. Maybe I’ll head back and see, but then again, maybe not. I’ll live in the fantasy that it wouldn’t have been too much quicker than my 9 kilometers (a bit less than 6 mph) per hour pace! Although, that fantasy was shattered many times on the same day as cycling up the Peyresourde seemed to be what all the roadies in the area were doing as well as I was. And yes when they zoomed past they did say “Bonjour” looking at my loaded bicycle and probably thinking, man that dude is nuts!
I was a bit nervous about the name of this one village – the French pronunciation probably makes it sound a lot nicer – but in these days, I made sure to cycle quickly past the turning.
The ride that day was spectacular. My cycling legs were finding themselves and my favourite time of day for cycling was approaching. I was blessed with clouds the whole day, which, in the middle of a heatwave, was much appreciated.
I stopped in a lovely small village named St. Beat, there was no music apparent, but the woman in the tourist office thought I was a bit strange wanting to head up another Col (French for ‘Mountain Pass’) at just gone six in the evening. She didn’t understand about the dopamine hitting my brain, my legs feeling good, and the day still having at least three hours of daylight left. She told me of a village called Antichan where I could probably put up my tent for the night. She bid me farewell, but from her look I knew she thought I was silly not to set up camp one kilometer back near Lac Gery (Gery Lake).
I was starting up the next Col’ but the difficulty of the climb was nowhere near as steep as the 7, 8 & 9% grades of the Peyresourde. It was quite nice, I put on my flashing rear light and enjoyed the empty villages and roads in the soft evening light.
Just the previous day, right near the village of Saint Lary Soulan where our son lives and works, Angie and I climbed up to another lake named Oredon. That really was a long steep climb and it put me off of lakes, because after nearly three hours of climbing, it was a steep drop to the lake, so Angie and I took some photos of the lake and opted for lunch in a lovely spot along the river we had seen about an hour previously and nearly 500 meters lower in elevation! We were glad to have done the climb though, and now today, with those miles in the old legs, as well as the day’s pedaling, I was feeling good on my loaded beast of burden!
I showed up in Antichan, found the mayor of the small village of 180 inhabitants, and asked if I could put up my tent somewhere. With the true French hospitality I always find in small villages, he didn’t bat an eye, pointed to the small orchard across the way, and said, “That land is mine, put up your tent anywhere you’d like, but don’t be late, in an hour we are having apero.” Apero being short for Aperitifs, before dinner drinks, hey, this is getting even better.
I headed to the small market that was taking place, bought myself a melon and had a chat with the woman selling fresh fruit and veggies. An older woman came up to me and asked where I had just been cycling. I told her about the Peyresourde, and she went on to tell me she had climbed many of the Cols around the area, Her husband was out that day riding, (he probably was one of the many who passed me earlier on in the day;-)! I met a few other locals and we had a chat about this and that, then one of them said, ‘Go set up your tent, the mayor will be on time with the apero!” I smiled and duly went across the street into the orchard and started the comforting evening ritual of putting up the tent. A ritual I knew so well from many years of living on my bike.
The apero was delightful. I met some of the ladies I was talking to earlier, Bernard the mayor was there, and the Pastis and potato chips were being generously served. What a perfect ending to a long day in the saddle.
The next morning, after a light rain in the night, I packed up and was on the road by ten. Many cyclist passed me pumping their steeds up the final four kilometer climb to the Col d’Ares. I would obviously never catch them, but I’d see some of them on their way back down.
The map was showing me a few different choices home. It was all closer than I had originally thought. I didn’t think I’d be home by nightfall, but as I pedaled through the small village where this whole thing started I realised I would be sleeping in my bed, not my sleeping bag.
Where did this small journey begin? Angie and her band, Nothing Concrete, had a gig in a small place called, ‘Sengouagnet’. When we looked at the map we realised it was halfway to Saint Lary. So a plan was hatched, we’d camp in Sengouagnet after the gig in our van and visit Louis the day after. Then I thought hey, I’ll put my loaded bike in the van and ride home. Louis and his bike frame designer friend Joel even came to the gig which was an added bonus. I passed through the same village on my way home, looking a lot different than the night Angie and Nothing Concrete were playing, but that’s the beauty of it all, nothing remains the same.
The scenery started getting more familiar as were the town and village names. I couldn’t believe this was all literally my ‘hood’, a long way from The Bronx, that was for sure. I slowly cycled home, surprising Angie and Chessie. Then The Talking Heads song, “Once in a Lifetime”, came up on the playlist Chessie was listening to and the thought of writing this blog came to me. How did I get here? I got here by making lots of choices, and riding a bicycle has always been an integral part of the path I made in life.
My son Louis was wrenching on bikes back in Saint Lary, my touring bike was leaning on its kickstand in our front garden, life was feeling good and the scenery was looking even better. I was glad I just had a small taster of that life I once lived full time, and also a small glimpse of more adventures that lie ahead.