September 19, 2011

Pyrenees Tour: To Lagrasse

Just this morning, though it feels like perhaps three days ago, the weather forecast said there was more chance of rain than not ... 60% chance of rain and also 40% of sun, and silly me, I remembered the 40% part. It was sprinkling when I started, so off I went with  rain pants and jacket on me, front and rear lights on Papillon. These lights are very helpful to have along.

Soon after I left town, signs of last year's TDF appeared on the road, all about Thomas, and I got this photo, had been hoping for one before I return, but hadn't stopped. I didn't realize that the TDF had followed this route. It was a bonus for me, after not having grabbed the photo in the high Pyrenees.

It continued raining, and raining, and raining but not hard, and I continued to remark on the changes in the landscape that yesterday had brought. Cypress trees have appeared, that I remember from Provence, palms have disappeared, there aren't so many flowers and instead vineyards are everywhere.

My route was to take me past St. Hilaire, where sparkling white wine was first discovered. The monks made a delicious wine (by chance) but didn't learn how to bottle and preserve it, and the honors went to champagne. Still, the Limoux area is now famous for this wine, and the abbey itself is said to be extraordinary. I was excited to visit it, and especially looking forwards to it on this wet day.

At the top of a rise I saw the sign, pointing to the left and followed it left, where it descended  sharply, on a small road though not the smallest I'd been on. Within perhaps half a mile the road became quite untravelled, with no signs of traffic and grass growing in the middle of it. I decided it was time to turn back, it felt altogether too private.

Upon returning to the main road, I saw my error, continued straight, and reached St. Hilaire, with its abbey, located right in town.

By now it was pouring, really dropping sheets of rain, and blowing hard. If you look closely, you can get a sense of the rain by the runoff coming out of the drain in the photo. My shoes, gloves, helmet and rain gear were soaked, though I was mostly dry.

The cloister at the Abbey opened onto the road, well, not the road, but directly onto the public access, and I took my bike into the ancient cloister and locked it to a closed door. The staff was fine with that, and took great care to be certain that I understood enough French to comprehend the history and importance of the abbey.

The master of Cabestang created some of the sculpture, and the history of the abbaye is intertwined with that of St. Sernin, an extraordinary cathedral in Toulouse.

I stayed quite a while, soaking up the history and atmosphere of the abbey instead of soaking up the rain outside, getting warm, and re-energizing.

The rain continued, but eventually I zipped back up and started off. It was a great ride, gently uphill for a good distance, long but somehow almost unnoticeable. There was also almost no traffic, perhaps two cars over 10 miles or so.

The visibility was close to nothing, but I grabbed a few photos when the sky lightened. Lunch today was leftovers from lunch yesterday, eaten as I rode: the French version of fig newtons; totally overpackaged and so very convenient baby bel cheese; and chocolate. Keeps me going without slowing me down. Stopping when soaking wet in the rain for lunch inside does not feel like a workable option, either for me or the bistro that would have to deal (or not deal) with me.

I took a picture of the day's first marked col, at 489 meters. A col is a col, after all, and it felt like a sweet little thing, after he high steep cols of the Pyrenees.

More gentle uphill riding and then another col ... and then a long, long, gradual descent. Somehow the descents often feel longer than the climbs. I don't know what that is about. I suppose I had never really  much descended after the first col.

It was fun, a good day, and I enjoyed it, but nothing like doing it on a dry road with some visibility would have been. Soon enough, I came out of the clouds, and the landscape changed again, becoming more like I expected of the Corbieres, rocky, dry, with scattered vegetation.

The sky cleared on the east side of the ridge, and I saw my fist-ever fields of ripe grapes.

Soon after that I arrived at Lagrasse, a medival town near Narbonne.

This was a super ride, I'd like ro repeat it in sunny, or at least clear, weather.


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