September 7, 2011

Pyrenees Tour: Col de Marie-Blanque

This is the very best, the absolutely best, way I know to really have some fun. Eat breakfast, leave the panniers in the hotel room (Hotel L'Ayguelade, in Bielle) and ride up the Col de Marie-Blanque!

Security for me today was finding a place  to buy a sandwich and chocolate bar in Bielle before starting up. Breakfast was good, but it was French, and I knew I'd need food. I have many friends in the States who have travelled in France and love it, who just can't believe that there is anyplace without a cafe, bistro, probably a very good restaurant if you just look. They know Arles, Aix-en-Provence, Avignon. For me, I was thrilled that the bakery would make me a sandwich. But I'm again diverted.

The entire ride was absolutely gorgeous and fun, fun, fun. I suppose my more or less constant riding of the hills (and one we name mountain) at home stood me in good stead. I didn't ride up fast (but then I only do that downhill,) but I never felt that familiar ok-I-can't-breathe-just-let-me-die-here feeling.

And I've been trying to train myself not to be competitive with myself, so when those (probably much younger, and always men) other riders passed me by, I didn't pick up the pace.

At one point the sign told me to be careful of the Canadian gates.These were cattle grates in the road, the kind hooved animals won't walk over. The next sign told me that one was responsible for one's own vehicle, that the animals might damage it. That gives you some context for the free-ranging cattle and horses on the Plateau.

The Plateau de Benou is said to offer some very good hiking, but I didn't stop to see. When I'm cycling, I really just want to be cycling. Limiting maybe.

I was thrilled to be on the top of this historic pass, so often climbed in the Tour de France. I probably never stopped grinning. I rode up the easier side, max grade 8% (that's the climb from the east.) The hardest part (and it wasn't so hard) of the climbing was at the bottom, still near the towns. After that, it just went up. I descended down the west side (steeper grades of 11,12%.) Both were fun, the descent was never exposed but always just fun and fast.

I met other cyclists on top. Spent a while chatting with an engaging couple on a tandem from England, who had "popped over" for two weeks. Wouldn't that be loverly. They were very fit, fun to talk with, and also hikers, happy enough pushing their tandem if need be. Tomorrow they expect to walk part of Col d'Aubisque, but to ride the rest of it. Inspirational and good on them. Riding a tandem in these mountains looks particularly hard to me.

Also met a couple from Australia, younger, doing the grand Pyrenees route. Cyclists are allotted ten days to do it properly.  They had started on the Mediterranean, and expected to finish in eight days. They were tired. Very tired. For some reason, both were wearing backpacks with gear. I asked him why not 4 panniers, he said there was enough weight on the bike already. I still didn't get it.

The cows in the road on the descent, most of the way down were also fun. They are a breed known as Blondes d'Aquitaine, and have been bred here since the 6th century, as beef cattle. It was for me a new kind of traffic jam.

My route turned back north and then back east That part of the ride was mostly forested, on small roads with almost no traffic. It must have climbed more than I noticed, because the ride back to Arudy was definitely downhill and a blast. There is a cafe in Arudy where I enjoyed a citron presse. Rode back to Bielle, and got here too early to stop, so explored the environs a bit.

Fabulous, fabulous day!!

And maybe I should have put this first in this post, but maybe I was still just too excited. Day 1 I intentionally omitted Ken and everyone else at the Arcadian Shop in Lenox from the people I thanked. That's because I wanted to thank them on my first big climb, figured they would like that. I wouldn't be here without their expertise, enthusiasm and encouragement. I wouldn't have my very cool, very fab, perfect bike Papillon, and my super panniers that kept everything bone dry, including this tablet, without a worry in those 2 days of rain. And thanks also to the entire bike shop for all that work getting my bike tuned up and ready to go ... If you're in the Berkshires go there, they're the very best!



  1. You've got me grinning just reading about your grinning - so glad you've got some good weather and good roads to travel. What an adventure - you're my hero! I looked at your posts about rides in the Berkshires and am determined to do several before cold weather sets in. Au revoir for now - thrilled seeing your pictures and following your trip. Love, Val.

  2. Val, hi!
    Glad you found this, I was so disappointed when I didn't have your email right. Thanks for the note....maybe in October we could ride somewhere near you??? Be well and stay dry, I hear it's wet wet wet there. SM

  3. A little bit of info for your readers so they know how 'costaude' you are: le Col de Marie Blanc is a mountain pass that is frequently used on the Tour de France (last time in 2010). And they don't have cow-jams (usually) to worry about! Nice work, Susan.

  4. Gerry, thanks! It's great to have your comments and thanks for the clarification aboutMarie-Blanc! You're right, everyone who might read doesn't necessarily follow the TDF! My guess is that you are actually a journalist when not a cyclist, n'est-ce pas? Will you also help me out with a translation of costaude? It's great to have this tool along to stay connected. Cheers, Suze

  5. OK, sign me up for the next one. What beautiful pictures, gorgeous horses, enticing roads stretching up and away....

  6. Susan, 'costaude' means 'sturdy' or 'strong', probably not the adjectives a woman would want attached to her, but definitely a good one for describing cyclists!

    No, not a journalist, I'm glad to admit (it's a tough business these days, I've heard). But thanks for the comment...I think!

  7. Gerry,

    Actually, that is absolutely the term I'd like. Je suis costaude. Way, way better than grey and old! But I supposenot costaude enough for Aubisque from this side.

    Yes, that was a compliment about being a journalist. I have sometimes worked as an editor and you're always on target. Thanks.

  8. Suze - great post. You'll have to tell me where that "not to be competitive" switch is locatted so I can turn it off once in a while.

  9. Susan P., I won't forget that, it wouldbebeyond belief to ride with you! Susan M.

  10. Hi Robert, Thanks for your note! That competitive thing is a bear, eh? And totally ridiculous for me, since I've actually met exactly two cyclists I could keep up with.
    P.S. Are you Coach Rob from Gerry P's world?

  11. I'll answer that. Yep, that's my coach/brother! Good luck with the Aubisque, if you attempt it. Slow and steady and you can make it, I'm sure of that.

    The photos are excellent, by the way. I now have a new area of France that I have to cycle through (this is a very long list, as you can imagine).

  12. Everybody, thanks! Your comments make this trip soooo much more fun. And Gerry, see the next post!Too pooped to respond to Robert right now, but I will.....I incorporated some of his training advice. Now for a long snooze.

  13. Hi Suze - yes that would be me. Gerry permits me to write a few posts on his site from time to time. You know, you have to do the Aubisque's out of the bag. We're all expecting a blog post on how it went. Good luck and we know you're going to crush it. Just don't let those two get away; not that I'm competitive.


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