The sheer magnitude of the Bike Pyrenees Challenge drew us. We had read about the magnificent gorges and prehistoric woodlands found in the Pyrenees and we just had to see it for ourselves. The task we were setting ourselves was daunting and so before we took it up, Karen and Steve went for a short holiday there in September 2004 to reconnoitre. This was very worthwhile as it gave us a good overview of what the ride was going to be like. This was going to be significantly more demanding than the English coast to coast that we had completed a couple of years earlier, both in terms of fitness and logistics.
The Pyrenees mountains stretch some 430km from the Mediterranean Sea in the east to the Atlantic Ocean in the west, along the French/Spanish border. The highest point in the Pyrenees is Aneto at 3040 meters. Many of the climbs we would tackle are well over 1000 meters. It would be hot, getting into the forties, although water was plentiful. Even in the early summer, snow can be found in the higher valleys and peaks. The thing that bothered us the most was that in most of Spain, many restaurants didn't open until 8-9 in the evening and after a long days hard riding you need carbohydrate and you don't want to have to wait three or four hours to get it. At the end of our recy, we called into a book shop in Pau in France and chanced across a copy of a mountain bike Pyrenees route guide "La Travesia de los Pirineos en BTT"written by, Jordi Laparra and published by Prames. Unfortunately this book is no longer in print and is difficult to find. There is a more up to date book called
La gran travesía de los Pirineos en B.T.T. de mar a mar : del Mediterráneo al Cantábrico
The route is slightly different to the route we followed in some places.
The route that we took follows mainly double and single track routes from Llanca on the Mediterranean coast to the port of Hondarribia on the Atlantic coast.
We had previously searched for Pyrenees cycle routes, but could only find short rides or road routes across the mountains, so it was a real bonus finding this book. It was fate. We were meant to do this. So when we got home full of enthusiasm, we got together with Phil and Krystyna, and the planning started in earnest. This book is in Spanish, but the route directions are very detailed and easy to follow. A series of single sheet "strip" maps show the route and can easily be accommodated in a map case on your handlebars.
Our ride descriptions give an account of the ride that we completed. As
part of the description we also provide links to google maps and
elevation profiles based on mapping data available through the internet.
The ride profiles are smoothed to give what in our opinion is a more
beneficial view of the profile. We use paper maps, GPS and on line data
to plan and conduct our rides. We are happy for you to use our
descriptions, but be aware that we do not guarantee the accuracy of the
information provided as situations surrounding any ride change over
The first thing we investigated was if someone could support us during our bike Pyrenees challenge. A few people made non committal noises and it soon became evident that as the trip was going to take 3 to 4 weeks, few people could actually get enough time off work. So we started to look at being self sufficient. It would be tough as we would need to carry enough gear in only rear panniers and top bag, plus a small back pack, to last us the whole three weeks. However, the Pyrenees Traverse guide book showed us that it could be done so we finally resolved that we would ride self supported.
The next thing was how to get to the Pyrenees and back. Again getting someone to take us down there seemed impossible. The train was expensive and awkward. We were put off the idea of flying there from the various horror stories of damaged bikes and the logistics of getting back to our start airport.
Finally we opted to use the European Bike Express coach www.bike-express.co.uk This was really convenient as there were two routes to take us there and back. The bus departs from Thornton in Cleveland, (only 1.5 hours from home) and then travels south to Dover, across to Calais, Paris and Lyon terminating at Empuriabrava just inside the Spanish border at the Mediterranean end of the Pyrenees. The journey would take 36 hours, but the coach boasted "aircraft style" seats and hostess service and it sounded comfortable. Above all, the bikes are carried in a trailer and would arrive safely. On the return journey we would take the alternative route boarding the bus in Bayonne just inside France at the Atlantic end of the Pyrenees.
A major task before we could plan our bike Pyrenees route was to translate the guide book into English. Our Spanish language skills amounted to "Ola" and "BTT". I spent a long time scanning each page, converting it into text and then running this, a paragraph at a time, through the Alta Vista Babel Fish on translation tool.
Some of the translations were hilarious (a dry anus actually means a dry year), but it was good enough to make sense of the guide. The book also comes with a set of maps that plot the mountain bike Pyrenees route and it is very well illustrated with diagrams of each junction.
Our good friend Debbie at Richardson's cycles in Scarborough provided a set of spares on a sale or return basis and we stocked up on energy gels, some new cycle clothing and prepared for our departure.
We also decided to raise money from our bike Pyrenees challenge for St. Catherine's hospice in Scarborough. We gained some generous sponsorship from Theakston's brewery in Masham, Ambrit Ltd and many friends, family and acquaintances. We even had publicity from the local press.
Finally after months of planning, the day arrived for our departure. We waved goodbye to friends and drove the short distance to Thornton where we stayed over night at a friend's house ready for an early morning start.
Getting There - Sat and Sun 4th and 5th June 2005
Having got up at 4.00am, Steve took Phil and Karen to the bus depot at Thornaby to drop off the bikes and luggage before returning back to the house to leave the car and return in a taxi with Krystyna.
We were impressed with the bus trailer, which carried all the bikes safely behind the coach.
The bus departed on time at 5.00am it was a relaxing journey to Dover. The channel crossing was quite rough, but at least it was short. The next 18 hours proved a little less relaxing.
The reclining seats on the coach were not very comfortable and the foot rests were all but useless.
There were regular stops at service stations along the motorway, but only long enough for a quick wee and grab a drink. By the time we arrived at Empuriabrava on the north eastern Spanish Mediterranean coast at 1.00pm we all had swollen ankles and bad backs. A couple of hours in the sunshine, a few beers and a good meal invigorated us for our Monday departure.
The Bike Express Bus