September 22, 2012

1: Col d'Aubisque

This post will be difficult to write: the danger is too much ooooohhh-ing and ahhhh-ing in my tone; too many adjectives; too many superlatives; too much risk of exclamation points. But it would be silly to let it go with: a good ride, you should do it someday. Though, indeed, if you like mountains, you should ride this someday. My report will be in two parts: 1: Col d'Aubisque, and 2: Cirque de Litor and Col du Soulor.

It was simply spectacular. The climb up Col d'Aubisque was never gruelling, never demanded that I leave a lung on the road somewhere. If you're reading, or not, thank you Kenny for all those climbing tips.  And ok, you racers, I was absolutely not racing, no way, no circumstances I could do that. I was just riding up a most beautiful mountain, on a half-loaded bike (2, not 4 panniers.) The sun was out and the road was full of cyclists.  It was amazing!

I climbed the west side, from Eaux-Bonnes. That town is a few easy kilometers up from the beginning of the climb; unfortunately I missed the official sign indicating the start, so have no photo for you. The climb is about 17 km, with an average grade of 7.2% and 1190 meters of ascent. After Eaux-Bonnes, the road starts climbing more seriously, including a 13% bit. Occasionally I turned around to take a photo.

I didn't write them down but there was a lot of 8%-10% climbing until reaching Gourette, a ski town. I suppose that ski villages everywhere are pretty unattractive.

 Of course, a number of riders passed me, many slowing to comment on my panniers, and offer encouragement. We chatted a bit, and let me tell you that French is harder for me when climbing 8 or 10% grades than when flat.

It was, dare I say it, an enjoyable challenge. If I  compare it to some of the Pyrenees Atlantique cols, they are more irregular, steeper. When climbing once there I caught myself thinking that I could make it to the next dashed line painted on the road (you know, 2 yards away,) and finally caught myself chanting "Holland, Holland, Holland" not with an e referring to the French President, but to the flat country. On the other hand, this climb, like Marie Blanque yesterday, was a beautiful, if hard, climb. I think the road grades are more regular here, so you can develop a rhythm.

There are two, I think, avalanche tunnels on the route up, and two million gorgeous views.
Before too long the top itself appeared, complete with lots of cyclists. We were an amusing and motley group. Besides French, I heard English, American English, Italian, Spanish and I think German. There were all kind of bikes, though Papillon was the only one with loaded panniers I saw today, and all kinds of people, clothing, headgear ... it was a cycle fest!

When I was taking the required photo of Papillon and the col sign, a man waved me over to the big bikes, and they are big bikes, and asked me to take photos of his group. "You're Quebecoise?" he said definitively, with only the hint of a question mark on the end of it. "No, I'm American." "But you speak French." They had heard me talking with other riders earlier, and assumed I was Canadian, clearly not being a native French speaker. He took my photo also: I thought it good to have a foot on the pedal.

I stayed at the col for a long time, watching riders come and go, and eating a salad for lunch. It is hard to leave a place like that. But the wind had picked up, knocking over umbrellas, and eventually it was time to move. I was more than looking forward to the next section of the day's ride.


  1. So THAT'S what the view is like up there. All I saw was cloud. Must go back and see it. And, by the way, if you were Quebecoise you would be a native French speaker...just with a funny accent ;-)

    1. Ohh, now I remember, you raced the Etape in a cold rain and fog. Ughhh...making it so much harder.

      I wondered about the Quebecoise word for just that reason. Assumed that there are native English speakers who live in Quebec and speak some French. But perhps they would be called Quebeckers or something less melodious.

  2. That big bike is awesome! Spectacular scenery, again.

    1. Aren't those bikes wild! nd yup, it is just so gorgeous here.


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