September 9, 2011

Pyrenees Tour: Col de Soulor

What a day!! I don't get to enjoy many of these in my life and won't forget it! Woooohoooo.

First decision today (maybe not the right one) was not  climb Col d'Aubisque, but to go around. OK, some context. I'm here in the Pyrenees because I love cycling in France, and because I've wanted to see the Pyrenees for a very, very long time, and because my general strategy is to do the hardest thing that I think I have a shot at succeeding at, while having some fun. So this was the year to try the Pyrenees, real mountains.

The Pyrenees are full of famous, high passes (cols) that are often ridden on the Tour de France, which is often determined in the mountains. And yes, I wanted to see if I could ride some of those famous cols.

Michelin maps have these tiny little chevrons on them. One chevron is meant to be a 5-8 percent climb. Two chevrons, a 9-13 percent climb, 3 chevrons, 14 or more percent climb. So, I avoid three chevrons. Remember, it is supposed to be attainable and some fun.

The clear difficulty is that a difficult two chevron climb may actually turn out to be just as hard as a three chevron climb. Especially if the grade is low on the three chevron, high on the two chevron, and the distance is longer on the two chevron. Got it?
Anyway, about 20 miles into my ride, my gorgeous, fabulous, beautiful, what- more- could- you- want, ride I decided to turn south and avoid the busier highway by riding the small road up Col de Soulor, a famous Pyreneean climb often ridden in tandem with Col d'Aubisque.
I dislike riding on those busy highways. The change of route was the right decision. The climb promised to be memorable, challenging and glorious.The highway promised none of that.

At the top of Col de Soulor (not to give away that I made it) I was told it would have been easier to climb Aubisque first, then continue on to Soulor. The climbing when using  that route is shorter and the steep sections not long. From my point of view, had I gone that way I would have experienced two cols. Phooey. Next time! And that's why it may have been the wrong decision.

In any case, it was just beautiful. I bought some food before I turned south, and ate lunch on the way. (More stories about that another time.) I knew I should eat before I began climbing, I fall apart without food, even when I'm not cycling. I'm a mess when I cycle without food.

The route climbed. And climbed. And climbed. It was fine, I was just pedalling along, enjoying the scenery, the feeling of climbing,  and the shade.

And it continued climbing, and climbing. And climbing. Above the tree line and out of the shade.

I don't know whether the signs every kilometer telling me what grade to expect, and how much is left to the summit  were a help or an intimidation. They are traditional. And there they were.  They are signs on signposts, metal signposts such as I would recognize as a signpost wherever I've been. You know, maybe 3 inches wide, out of thin, probably 1/8 inch flat metal. And tall, with a rectangular sign on top. How normal. What I learned today, besides that I can pedal uphill for a very, very, very long time, is that I can stand, and position my face, in a very tiny band of shade. And feel lots better after a bit of that.

Also, there were many small rivulets of clear, cold water coming off the mountain, perfect for sticking my head into. It was hot above tree line, at least for me, used to the cool New England summers. I kept heading uphill, refreshed by the shade and cool water.

Eventually I reached Col de Soulor and I was thrilled. Absolutely thrilled. Celebrated with a beer and carafe of good cold water. Got to talk to a number of people from around France, and England. Saw the two cyclists on the tandem, whom I'd met two days before on Col de Marie Blanque.

These high mountains are glorious. It is gorgeous. And loaded with history. What a fabulous day!

And maybe close to the hardest thing I can do and have a lot of fun at it. Maybe not.

My legs seem to have forgiven me.

So, today I climbed Col de Soulor. The last photo is from my window in the fabulous cycling lodge of Velo Peloton in St. Savin.



  1. Please say Hi to Paddy and Olive and Sean. I loved your photos and way to go - climb climb climb!

  2. Hey Pedaldancer, I certainly will say hello for you. This is a fabulous place! Great to hear from you. Susan

  3. Larry, Thanks! I needed you two for the birds at the top. There were people with scopes, I was told eagles swooping atound not too high. There was a kite hovering over me for a bit on the way up. The way it was eyeing me I thought it an overanxious buzzard, but it wasn't.

  4. Every day looks more beautiful than the last, Susan. Your pictures are awesome (and nicely integrated with the text, props to your editorial assistant in Washington!). Please bring me back that nice horse.

  5. Susan, Horse will be in my panniers, or is it carrying my panniers. We'll see what they say at airport seurity. By the way, though I didn't see it, I'm told they beg. SM

  6. That's a very impressive climb, Susan. If I read that sign right it said 9% average - very steep indeed! You're getting more 'costaude' by the day ;-)

  7. Hey Gerry, Yup, you read it right. It was certainly steep enough for me. And hot, some say 32C, some say 36c. I just about inserted myself into the rivulets coming off the mountain. Hence the restday at Velo Peloton! This pais is absolutely amazing! I've been telling Papillon how costaude she is! Cheers, Suze


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