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 calledLa 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 Wikiloc or 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 time.
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.
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.
Pyrenees - Empuriabrava to Llanca Ride Profile
The first day of our bike Pyrenees challenge was supposed to be easy. Just a few kilometers from Empuriabrava to Llanca a little further up the coast and the official start of the bike Pyrenees route. We brought a map and found that due to a rather large hill between us and Llanca the road journey was quite long. Then we spotted a footpath that looked more direct, just over the top of the hill and down the other side. This wasn't even the Pyrenees yet. Just a little hill.
We set off full of purpose and within 500 meters stopped again to mend the first puncture, Steve had a 2 inch nail embedded in his tyre. Was this an omen? Two patches later we set off again and couldn't find the road as the map was out of date. After a couple of attempts and much swearing we got on the right route, but the footpath proved to be a big mistake. Steep, boulder strewn, narrow and overgrown with brambles it was totally unrideable. The air was blue with expletives and there was a fair amount of 'disharmony' between some members of the party as we hauled and even carried our heavily laden cycles up the steep hill, our legs getting ripped on the vicious brambles.
Karen made the top first and arrived at the view point covered in dust and sweat hauling a fully laden bike, to the amazed stares of a couple of German tourists.
The view back towards Empuriabrava was stunning, but still we had not really spotted the Pyrenees.
From there it was an easy downhill on tarmac to our destination and a well earned meal and rest on the beach. We found accommodation in a reasonable priced hostel, but didn't sleep well due to a lot of noise.
Pyrenees - Llanca to Darnius Ride Profile
On our fist official 'bike Pyrenees challenge' day we planned an early departure. The hostel owner gave us a key to the garage where the bikes were stowed so we could leave before they got up. Unfortunately we couldn't get the door open so had to wait till they came down anyway.
After yesterday, Krystyna had decided she could do with less weight so spent an hour at the post office arranging for it to be posted home. Meanwhile had two punctures in the first 24 hours, Steve and Karen went off in search of more spare inner tubes. The result was that we didn't manage to set off till nearly 11.00am, (Pyrenees time). It was already hot and we had a head wind.
After the first hot dusty hill we were all starting to wonder what we had let ourselves in for on this bike Pyrenees challenge, and our low confidence was not helped by being passed at speed by a couple of young Italian lads obviously following the same route. At the top of this (small) hill we got our first view of the Pyrenees, complete with snow clad peaks and our spirits lifted a little.
At lunchtime we arrived at a restaurant in Cantallops and due to a slight linguistic problem ended up having the 'menu del dia' i.e. 3 courses and coffee. This was not recommended bike Pyrenees challenge lunching. We didn't get going again till 3.30pm, and with sluggish legs, to find we had yet another puncture. While we mended this we chatted to a group of German motorcyclists who looked more exhausted than us!
The next bike Pyrenees challenge trial was negotiating the very busy roundabout under the motorway at Janqueira, with loads of huge smelly juggernauts, but once past this the main roads were left behind.
Getting very tired and with the evening fast approaching we decided to cut the day short and found a signpost to 'rooms' at Darnius. We followed the signs and arrived at a little piece of heaven on earth. A beautiful, peaceful, bed and breakfast near to the reservoir, owned by a Frenchman. In the evening we walked to a restaurant overlooking the water and all had a delicious meal, except for Krystyna who regretted her choice of Battifara, especially the next day.
Note 1: Botifarra is a type of Catalan Sausage found a lot in this area of the Pyrenees. Quite large and a bit like Cumberland Sausage and prone to blow you up somewhat!
Pyrenees -Darnius to Olot Ride Profile
The Pyrenees air and a days cycling delivered a really good night's sleep. In the morning our bike Pyrenees day started with a delicious breakfast, served on the terrace, and we set off for an easy ride round the shore of the reservoir. Then it was up a dirt track to climb 350 meters to our first real col of the bike Pyrenees challenge and a fantastic downhill on the other side. Arriving at St Llorenc de la Muga we did some food shopping and had coffee (any excuse to stop cycling).
After coffee, Karen and Steve set off with the map, but Phil and Krys didn't keep up! So we wasted still more time trying to find each other. As we cycled up the almost deserted road to Albanya we hit a traffic jam!. The road was closed for resurfacing. After waiting patiently for an hour they let us through onto the boiling hot tarmac. It was so hot we were sure it would melt our tyres so we daren't stop, but the tar splashed up the backs of our legs and burned them.
Reaching the end of the tarmac, our bike Pyrenees challenge route began a proper climb, 750 meters to Col de Riu. It started on "cemento", but then got rougher and rougher, steeper and steeper. We thought we'd found salvation when we chanced upon a farm with a sign advertising coffee, but it was totally deserted so we had to continue without slating our thirst.
Descending the other side we came across a lone Frenchman on an old bike, heavily loaded with camping kit, trying to pump up his tyres with a useless (French)pump. Phil and Steve showed him how to do 'zee pumping' with their English pump. However, they were totally deflated to learn that he had cycled all the way from Perpignon that day, further than we had travelled in 3 days and it was still only 4pm. Yeah right!
We continued downhill through a beautiful and typical Pyrenees gorge with an ancient arched bridge, beneath which was a naked lady sunbathing. The boys were "re-inflated" again. Our planned stop for the night was at Castellfollit de la Roca, where we understood there were two hotels. Unfortunately the first one had closed down and the second was fully booked. Our only option was a further 10kms up the road to Olot.
We arrived there tired and depressed, searching vainly for a decent hotel. Eventually we found what appeared to be the only one in town and it was definitely on the seedy side. The owner was a very short-sighted, maybe even blind, not too clean looking Spaniard, (one eyed Spaniards would later become a recurring theme throughout the Pyrenees). Kristina was sure the sheets on their bed were used and found a pubic hair on them, "Yuk" But beggars can't be choosers and it was only one night. Steve and Karen set off to find a beer. Meanwhile Phil and Krystyna had a problem with the hotel doors and thought they were locked in the hotel so were calling for help from the balcony. For compensation we found an excellent restaurant almost next door with lovely local food. We were really starting to appreciate the beauty and splendour of the Pyrenees, but some of the accommodation left a little to be desired.
Pyrenees - Olot to Camprodon Ride Profile
After a mediocre breakfast we had to get back to our bike Pyrenees route so back-tracked to Castellfollit de la Roca for a much better second breakfast.
From there we scooted down the hill and set off up tarmac to climb to San Pau de Seguries. We dropped down the other side into the Ter valley and up to our next stop, Camprodon. As this was a short day ride we arrived at 2pm and went to sleep on the grass by the river for a couple of hours. (Pyrenees time).
We booked rooms in the Hotel San Roc and they let us put the bikes in their extremely spacious garage across the road.
After getting changed, Phil needed to find a bike shop to replace his broken pedal. Simple really, remove pedal with spanner, fit new one, done. Except the pedal was not coming off. The mechanic broke 2 spanners in the process and refused to try again. He sent Phil with his bike down to the garage where they put his precious steed in a vice and produced a massive spanner. While Phil hid his eyes in fear, the offending pedal was removed. Returning the bikes to the hotel garage Steve tried to throw the keys to Phil and broke the fluorescent light tube on the ceiling. "Quelle calamity".
We all slept well in clean beds that night.
Pyrenees - Camprodon to Planoles Ride Profile
All four of us decided today that we could lighten our loads further so another trip to the post office followed with parcels winging their way back to England with love from the Pyrenees.
With lighter bags, we set off again. The bike Pyrenees challenge route had two alternatives today so we chose the slightly easier one. Setting off up a steep tarmac hill to La Roca, Karen had a severe crisis of confidence and Phil and Steve had to take some of her gear to get her up the hill.
The track gradually got rougher as we climbed higher and despite our determination three of us ended up pushing, Phil proved he wasn't a wimp and rode the whole hill, complete with Karen's extra gear.
Stopping in a little village for lunch we learnt from our earlier mistake and just ordered a main course this time. With full stomachs we dropped down to a large town, Ribes de Freser, before riding up a very busy road with speeding motorbikes for a few kilometers.
It was a relief to turn off onto a quiet track which climbed gradually before dropping down through pine forest to Planoles. There were no hotels here so we had to find the Pyrenees equivalent of a bed and breakfast.
It was quite a climb up the hill into the village where we went into a shop to enquire about accommodation. Amazingly there was a customer there who spoke fluent English and also had a mobile phone. He phoned a local farm and booked rooms for us. We had to ride back down the hill and along under the railway to find it, but it was nice and very quiet.
For our evening meal our hosts suggested we go back to the station at Planoles where there was a sort of cafe. There was no-one else there except a little old man and the kind lady owner who, as she spoke no English, acted out the menu for us. Basically there was lamb, pork or chicken, which were all in the freezer. It was good simple food, just the bike Pyrenees fuel we needed.
Pyrenees - Planoles to Baga Ride Profile
It was a sunny morning for our next bike Pyrenees challenge ride. There was a long day ahead with a big climb. It was hot, but at least the first few miles up to the Collada de Toses was an easy gradient on tarmac. This was at 1800m and we stopped for lunch.
Turning off the tarmac we cycled along a track skirting the upper slopes of a beautiful flower filled valley with butterflies and our first sightings of circling vultures.
We rounded a bend and there in front of us was the most stunning, huge meadowed plateau full of horses, cattle and goats all wearing neck bells so the air was full of their music.
We were all transfixed. Continuing up into the mountains the bike Pyrenees challenge route took us above the ski resort of La Molina and past several ski lifts. Another steep rough section followed up to the top of the ski lift at Cap de Costa Risa and then, horrors of horrors, a descent down a black ski piste, steep, rough and loose. Thank God there was no snow. We then made another joint wrong decision when we spotted a 'short-cut' on the map up a footpath, cutting about 7 km off our route. Hadn't we already learnt our lesson about Pyrenees footpaths?
This one began innocently enough with a grassy path through a few pine trees but suddenly we were in a deep melt-water valley strewn with huge boulders and very steep. We could hardly walk it, let alone get our bikes up it. A few cow bells would have helped to drown the expletives as we struggled to the top.
Eventually we reached Col de Pal at 2110m, one of the highest climbs we completed during our bike Pyrenees challenge. By now it was very cold and the sky was full of black clouds. We were all wearing every piece of clothing we had to ward off the chill. More vultures were up here watching us so we kept moving. At the top we met a goatherd. Just a young man, with his flock of goats. What a lonely job, but what stupendous views.
Reaching the col we were looking forward to a massive 1400m descent to our overnight stop. At that moment the dark black clouds that had been gathering all day delivered their threatened torrential thunderstorm. At this altitude the lightening was all round us and the cracks of thunder were ear-splitting. There was nowhere to shelter so we rode down the mountain as fast as we could. The track turned into a river and we got drenched and frozen.For Phil though this was his most memorable bike Pyrenees experience, charging down the hill with the thunder cracking all around.
Eventually we made it into Baga and found a hotel. When we asked where we could put our bikes they let us put them in the bar! We all soaked in the bath to thaw out then down to the bar ourselves to keep the bikes company and drown our aching limbs with a couple of beers and a Pyrenees Grapa equivalent. The bike Pyrenees challenge was certainly testing us.
Pyrenees - Baga to Tuixen Ride Profile
A new day and a new bike Pyrenees challenge, but at least it was dry. We started with a 1000m climb up to Col de la Jaca, mainly on tarmac and with wonderful views.
At the top we were getting a bit blasé and not paying enough attention to the route description. We started a descent down a wide mountain track and were enjoying making fast progress with little effort. Steve started to get suspicious as we seemed to be on the wrong side of the mountain. Steve and Karen stopped to check the map and shouted to Phil and Krystyna. Phil came back up, but Krys didn't hear and continued down. We realised we'd taken the wrong turn at the top so Phil had to set off down the mountain, find Krys and they had to cycle all the way back to the top again. The bike Pyrenees challenge was testing us again.
Back on the right route we came down the valley to the little hill-top village of Tuixen and stopped for a traditional bike Pyrenees challenge refreshment, i.e. a Magnum. We sat down and realised we were already quite tired so decided to stay at the youth hostel there. We were the only residents and shared a large dorm, which meant we could have a bit of a lie-in in the morning.
The food was amazingly good and the next morning at breakfast we took all the food we couldn't eat and packed it for our lunch.
Pyrenees - Tuixen to Noves de Serge Ride Profile
Today would be an easy bike Pyrenees challenge day, with only 30km to cycle.
Our route climbed up a four wheel drive track round many hairpins to the 1200m col and then there was a steep, fast descent down to our pre-booked hotel at Noves de Serge.
You couldn't call this place a hamlet. Just a sleazy hotel at the side of a main road and we arrived there at lunchtime. With little else to do Phil and Krystyna went to bed (for a sleep?)
Steve and Karen weren't as tired and set off to try to find somewhere to swim in the river, (really!). After a long, hot, fruitless search they returned, but just as they were within sight of the hotel they were ambushed by a mad, half grown kitten with an extremely loud Pyrenees meow that was determined to follow no matter how hard we tried to dissuade it, even resorting to gentle kicks. We crossed the main road thinking it would be deterred by the heavy traffic, but he just kept coming. By this time we were running and just made the hotel door in time to shut it with him on the outside. We didn't see it when we went out later and were suspicious the kitchen staff had cooked up the 'menu del dia' with it.
Once the other two got up we went into the nearest town by taxi to shop for food for the next day.
Pyrenees - Noves de Serges to Llavorsi Ride Profile
We were up early ready for another long and hot bike Pyrenees challenge day. The hotel didn't do breakfast so we had a picnic in our room. It was a beautiful ride up into the mountains through pine forests. Steve's chain broke and Krys had a puncture, but otherwise it was an uneventful day. Dropping down into the valley, we watched white water rafters on the melt water swollen river before finishing at the very alpine Pyrenees town of Llavorsi. This hotel got everyone's vote for the best of the trip; a delicious evening meal, newly decorated rooms and comfortable beds.
Pyrenees - Llavorsi to Espui Ride Profile
Today was going to be one of the toughest of the bike Pyrenees challenge. We would reach the highest altitude of the whole bike Pyrenees route, and the first 36 km was all climbing. Setting off early, carrying plenty of food and water, we climbed and climbed starting off on tarmac and then onto rougher pistes. There were frequent stops for 'biting on' and perusing the views (getting the breath back). After 6 solid hours of toil we reached Coll de Portella at 2250m and the most stupendous views across a huge mountain bowl with green velvet pastures and the whole of the Pyrenees stretching in front and behind us.
Phil and Krys happened upon a huge flock of vultures on the ground, which flew upwards and circled soundlessly above them. Once into the mountain bowl, the track started to drop gradually, at last relieving us of the torture of pedaling uphill. The elation was enormous and we again lost concentration on the most important thing on a bike Pyrenees challenge i.e. following the map. We continued along the track until we reached a ski lift station and stopped short because this was definitely not on our bike Pyrenees route.
We spent ages trying to work out where we were, but we had ridden off our fairly limited strip map and nothing made any sense. Ahead was a 600m descent down hairpins to the nearest visible habitation so, exhausted, we decided to go there to get directions. After such a long day's climb, the descent was completed in minutes. As we reached the village the first person we met was a one-eyed Spanish JCB driver. We asked him in our best Spanish how to get to Espui. He pointed back up the mountain and said it was on the other side. We were at Llassui, only about 10k as the crow flies from our morning starting point. We'd dropped down on the wrong side of the mountain! The bike Pyrenees challenge had thwarted us again!!!!
At that point we suddenly knew what we had to do, find a beer! There was a bar just down the road where we downed a large cold one. Then with new found energy Steve was volunteered to ask the barman if he knew of a taxi that could transport the four of us and our bikes to Espui. Amazingly he knew exactly who could help and phoned him. A local outdoor adventure holiday company had an eight seater taxi and a large bike rack. The road journey there was over 60kms round the bottom of the mountain and back up the next valley.
We arrived at our hotel to realise it was a dump. The evening meal was the worst of the bike pyrenees challenge so far. The starter was mixed frozen vegetables served in their cooking water. Main course was some sort of fish, previously frozen and served only half cooked. We all took a bite and the realised it was raw so sent it back. They took it back to the kitchen, cooked it a bit more and returned it to us. Shame we were so hungry we just got on and ate it.
Pyrenees - Espui to Pont de Suert Ride Profile
The breakfast at the hotel was equally disappointing and nowhere near suitable for a long bike Pyrenees challenge day. Before setting off we had to go further down the valley to find a food shop. Grinding up the next hill the sky was blue and the sun's heat was fierce. We were desperate for a cup of coffee, but the hamlets we passed through were too remote for such luxuries.
Eventually we spotted red sun shade umbrellas further up the hill and rode with renewed vigour. A large group of men were sitting on a patio drinking beer and with our tongues hanging out we approached thinking it was the local bar. It turned out to be a private house. We asked if they would sell us a few bottles, but they just pointed out a distant hose pipe and said if we were thirsty we could get a drink there.
The supposed highlight of today's bike Pyrenees challenge was a 3km climb up a 'very technical' single-track to a hilltop chapel, Ermita del Coll. Of course, this was another Pyrenees footpath so for 'technical' read 'unrideable', need to carry your bike. Krystyna's already bad day got a little worse. Karen's got better as Phil helped her to carry her bike. We descended on a really rough and dusty track on the other side and at the bottom, where there was a small damp patch on the road, we were treated to a puddle of beautiful blue butterflies sipping the moisture from the path. As we approached they rose into the air as one cloud and we were surrounded by them. Breathtaking. The bike Pyrenees challenge offers such amazing experiences.
At last we found a restaurant and managed to get coffee and a 'bike Pyrenees' magnum. Pont de Suert is a lovely town with a quaint medieval center with narrow stone flagged streets, a little like York. We found a nice looking hotel, but they were renovating part of it so we would have to put up with the builders who started work at 8.30am each morning. As tomorrow was our planned rest day we weren't going to get a lie-in. We enjoyed some good Pyrenees tapas near the hotel, but we couldn't find anywhere nice for our evening meal.
Today was our bike Pyrenees challenge rest day. Despite the builders we still managed to have a lie-in. We did a mountain of laundry and then Steve realised he had left his waterproof jacket in the wardrobe at the hotel in Espui. Unwilling to cycle all the way back there to pick it up, he decided to book a taxi to go and bring it back for him. The only problem was how to explain this to the taxi driver. In a scene reminiscent of something from Pyrenees version of Fawlty Towers he eventually dispatched the driver and some hours later was reunited with his jacket. We were actually quite bored and couldn't find the supplies we needed so spent a lot of time eating and drinking (Is this starting to sound like we are alcoholics? We are not - really!!!)
Pyrenees - Pont de Suert to Senz Ride Profile
We were almost relieved to be off on our bike Pyrenees challenge again today. Our route toady was through the Spanish region of Aragon. It was already hot as we set off into the hills, at first on tarmac climbing up through small villages and beautiful flower filled meadows with muddy cart tracks and low stone walls, very much like the Yorkshire Dales.
Again we were obsessed with coffee, but the bar we found was closed till Sunday. Another bike Pyrenees problem.
The bike Pyrenees route followed a muddy track with some deep puddles that the rest of us avoided, but Krystyna tried to cycle through. Her wheels stuck in the mud and she ended up getting a bit of a bath. To add insult to injury she was then attacked by Pyrenees bees.
We managed to find a shop in the early afternoon so we could have our daily ride Pyrenees challenge magnums. After a sit down in the hot sun there was a long slow tarmac climb up to the hamlet of Senz, where we had pre-booked an apartment. Phil was the only one who had any energy and he forged ahead while the rest of us struggled with aching bike Pyrenees challenge legs.
The accommodation was good with views over the valley and we met our next-door guest who we nicknamed Pedro. He was doing the bike Pyrenees challenge as well, alone and in half the time. The boys sulked all night at the thought of him forging ahead, and for the rest of the trip Pedro was the butt of many jokes.
Pyrenees - Senz to Escalona Ride Profile
After 15 days of bike Pyrenees challenge, we thought we were starting to get used to the heat, but today was even hotter. Luckily it was a short ride, but it was a hard steep climb up to the top of Collardo Cullibert and we were pushing again. The Pyrenees geology was noticeably different here, drier, fewer trees and more bare rock. Phil, being a climber, got all excited, but Karen wasn't impressed.
The downhill into Escalona was very rough and loose and we all got BBC (bike braker's cramp)another bike Pyrenees problem. But the narrow, grassy, shaded track through the pines was a joy to ride
We arrived at about 1.30pm and checked straight into the only hotel in town so that we could have a cool shower and then down to the cool, cool air conditioned restaurant for lunch.
After eating Phil and Krys crept back upstairs to bed to escape the intense heat, but Karen and Steve went for a walk to the river.
That evening we sat on the patio and watched the sun set over the mountains, turning the bare Pyrenees rock to a beautiful rose pink. A perfect end to a bike Pyrenees challenge day.
Pyrenees - Escalona to Brotto Ride Profile
After the intense heat of the day before, the bike Pyrenees challenge team decided to get an early start today. We set off at 7.00am, which meant no breakfast before departure. The first 15km was on road through the canyon of Aniscio. On each side were huge sheer rock walls and the early morning sun didn't reach the valley floor so it was lovely and cool. The scenery was stunning.
Phil and Krystyna were having a rare bad day, due to the lack of breakfast, so for once Steve and Karen were first to the top of the hill. For her reward, Karen got a flash of Frenchman's bare buttocks as he tried to change into his wet suit to go canyoning. Steve was over the moon too as this was the only day on the bike Pyrenees challenge when he beat Phil to the top of a col.
At the top of the hill at Fanlo was the most perfect cafe, complete with red sunshade umbrellas serving coffee and omelettes. Phil and Krys could refuel at last.
From there it was downhill all the way, through numerous dairy farms with copious quantities of manure, to Sarvise where we planned to stop for the night
Finding nowhere suitable, we rode on up the rode onto the next town, Brotto. Steve and Phil went off to search for accommodation and found a place with a young, attractive female owner and nearly didn't come back to their bike Pyrenees challenge partners waiting for them at the bar. The rest of the day was spent boozing, eating, shopping and sightseeing, in other words a typical bike Pyrenees challenge evening.
Pyrenees - Brotto to Larres Ride Profile
After the boozing, shopping etc last night we had a 'bike Pyrenees challenge team meeting'. Having already cycled about 10kms further north up the valley than originally planned, we were now only 40 km by road from our next night stop. The actual bike Pyrenees route was to go south, back down the road for 15 km and then ride 54 kms over rough steep mountains. Karen and Krystyna both voted for the shorter ride so the boys had to go with them.
The bike Pyrenees challenge was starting to take its toll on us. To avoid the heat we were once again up at 6.30am. We had a picnic breakfast in our room and then off up a hill again. These were relatively easy gradients on tarmac with not too much traffic. The advantage of being on the road was that there were more cafes for coffee and bike Pyrenees magnums. The only problem was that as usual we didn't have a map other than a basic road map so route finding was difficult.
After lunch the road was flat and fast and Phil and Krystyna were a long way ahead, going in the wrong direction. Steve and Karen pursued them for several miles uphill in the heat. On eventually catching up with them, for the first time on the whole bike Pyrenees challenge Steve "lost his rag" and yelled at Phil, "Phil, do you have the slightest damn idea where the hell we are? " Phil at this point put on his "hurt look", his left leg started to swing out to the left and his bottom lip quivered. He and Krystyna looked at each other, turned to Steve and said "sorry mate". And the tiff was over.
We were heading for a town called Sabinanigo and round the next bend in the road we got our first sight of it and what a sight for sore eyes it was. It appeared to be a huge industrial waste land, still under construction with road construction, belching factories, vast quarries, JCB's and lorries and we had to ride through it to town.
Having survived this latest bike Pyrenees challenge we arrived in the vast, modern town to find that all the hotels were sleazy and appeared to be part time brothels. We waited for the little tourist information booth in the square to open as advertised at 4.30pm to help us find accommodation. At 4.30 we could see no-one there so sat on a seat for 30mins waiting. Eventually Steve wandered over and looked into the booth to find that it was indeed open but the lady inside was 'vertically challenged' and her head did not show over the counter top! She directed us to the small village of Larres with a reasonably priced small hostel.
Pyrenees - Larres to Aragues d'o Puerto Ride Profile
We were somewhat later than usual setting off on our bike Pyrenees challenge today as Phil's alarm clock malfunctioned.
We set off, yes, up a hill as usual, through several deserted hamlets ripe for conversion. The route was through lovely woodland with grazing goats and sheep with the steep rocky snow covered peaks above.
There was a refugio at the top with a cafe, but we were too late for lunch so sat outside at one of the picnic tables and ate our packed food.
From there the bike Pyrenees route dropped down into Castiello de Jaca and we decided to rest for the hottest part of the day.
After buying a huge melon, we found a place in the shade of trees next to the river and swam and slept for a couple of hours.
From there the bike Pyrenees route continued into drier country with less trees and masses of low, bright yellow shrubs a bit like gorse.
As we dropped down into the next valley there were several lovely mountain villages, but we could find no accommodation. Our last hope was in the next village, Aragues d'o Puerto.
It was quite late when we arrived and as we rode up the hill into the village we met a local and asked him where we could stay. He pointed up the road and told us we'd have to go another 10km to the next town. Not willing to do this, we split up and started scouring the town. Our best chance was the youth hostel, but this was closed.
We were starting to loose hope, but Phil got lucky and found rooms to let in an old lady's house on the village square. Despite her lack of English and our appalling Spanish she explained that there was nowhere to get an evening meal in the village, but if we liked she would make sandwiches for us and we could take them next door to the bar to eat because it was owned by her brother. They were the most delicious sandwiches of the bike Pyrenees challenge. Delicious bacon and omelette in a bread bun, heaven.
Pyrenees - Argueas d'Puerto to Isaba Ride Profile
At breakfast the next day, in a scene reminiscent of something from the Bible, the lady with no English, advised the group with no Spanish not to go up the footpath, as in the bike Pyrenees challenge route, but instead to take the slightly longer, but infinitely easier route along the road to the next valley. We gladly took her advice. We'd had our fill of carrying our bikes up technical single-track.
Before departure, as usual, the boys had to do 'zee bike Pyrenees challenge pumping' which was a mandatory warm-up exercise.
Today we would be crossing into the Spanish region of Navarra; ETA country. Note the graffiti and bullet holes in the signs.
The morning saw us travelling through the villages of Echo and Anso, very beautiful but touristy places.
Further up the road we came to a picnic site at the side of the road by a river. We decided to stop for a swim.
In the deserted parking area there was a red and white striped cool bag and we were convinced it was an ETA bomb so gave it a wide berth. As we were swimming, a car pulled into the lay by at speed, a man jumped out, grabbed the bag and drove off. It was probably a drug dealer!
From there the bike Pyrenees challenge route took us through the beautiful Beral valley, another gorge with towering cliffs on each side, up to Zuriza at the very edge of Navarra.
We stopped at a cafe at the top for tapas but were disappointed with the 'megas', a bowl of stale breadcrumbs fried in olive oil. Even the birds wouldn't touch them.
From there it was just a short ride to the summit and then a descent into Isaba through a valley with flower filled pastures and broad leaved woodland. The bike Pyrenees route followed a footpath downhill through the forest. We missed the turn off in the dark woods so ended up with a ford through the river and a climb up the steep bank. Isaba was different to any of the other Pyrenees towns on our bike Pyrenees challenge so far, they even speak a different language.
Pyrenees - Isaba to Burguete Ride Profile
Now three weeks into our bike Pyrenees challenge it was getting earlier to get on the road by 7.00am. Initially it was cold and we had to put our jumpers on. Cycling up a quiet valley through the forst we startled a group of mountain ponies being herded by a couple of men on horseback and they scattered back into the trees.
All morning the bike Pyrenees route was uphill, mainly on tarmac. We were looking forward to the next part of the bike Pyrenees ride, a long off-road section through the ancient Irati forest. Just as we reached highest point of the day, Collada Ollokia, Steve developed a wobble in his rear wheel. It seemed that his bearings were disintegrating. We realised we daren't risk the forest in case the bearings failed so had to have an emergency bike Pyrenees challenge team meeting. Although bitterly disappointed at not being able to follow the bike Pyrenees route, we decided we should all stick together and head off back down the road and try to find somewhere to get a new wheel.
We made fairly quick time all the way back down the hill despite the wobbly wheel and found a tourist information office in Izalzu. They suggested we carry on down the road to Jaurietta where we could get a taxi to Pamplona and find a bike shop. There we happened upon a lovely restaurant with an English speaking owner.
While we enjoyed a delicious lunch the lady booked a tax and arranged our overnight accommodation in Burgette. She won the prize for most helpful local of our bike Pyrenees challenge. Then Steve set off in the taxi with his bike to go to Pamplona, while Karen, Phil and Krystyna carried on by road to Burgette. The taxi drivers of the Pyrenees were by this time starting to get to know us quite well.
Just as the three of them were in sight of Burgette a taxi stopped and out hopped Steve, new wheel fixed on his bike, to ride the last kilometre to the hotel.
We stayed in the historic Hostal Burguete, famous for having once accommodated Ernest Hemingway who had a great love for the Pyrenees and Burguete in particular.
In the evening we were entertained by the locals enjoying their 'festival' with lots of music, traditional dancing and booze.
Pyrenees - Burguete to Elizondo Ride Profile
Today the bike Pyrenees challenge had a slightly later start as the village shop didn't open until 9.30 because of the festival. Riding out of town we passed crowds of people travelling south, all carrying their scallop shell symbols of the 'Camino de Santiago' trail which crosses the Pyrenees on its route to Santiago in the far west of Spain.
Reaching the top of the hill we were glad we'd started late as a thick morning mist enveloped us and it was very cold. Our bike Pyrenees route continued up a cement road, through dense beech forest. Then it dropped continuing through huge ancient beech trees and over the border onto the French side of the Pyrenees.
The town of Banca lies at 200m above sea level, the lowest altitude on our bike Pyrenees challange for 20 days. We were again thwarted in our attempts to buy lunch as the local bar was shut in preparation for its evening festival. So we sat across the road on a bench and ate our carried food in bike Pyrenees challenge style.
As expected, after lunch the bike Pyrenees route climbed back up another steep cement road to 800m and back onto the Spanish side of the Pyrenees.
From there we descended again to Errartzu, had a quick beer and a bike Pyrenees magnum and then rode on to Elizondo, a beautiful traditional Navarra town on the banks of a large river.
We found rooms in a hostal in the centre and after a long day we were all tired and cranky. The food however was definitely better on this side of the country.
Pyrenees - Elizondo to Etxalar Ride Profile
The penultimate day of our bike Pyrenees challenge had the steepest climb so far, up a 1:4 cement road with no shade from the already hot sun. The sweat was dripping of us by the top.
The effort was worthwhile because at the col we rode through a high mountain meadow with grazing ponies and cows to on through a high mountain meadow full of grazing ponies and cows.
At Etxalar2 we stopped in a cafe for a bike Pyrenees challenge version of sausage, egg and chips.
We were served by a waitress who spoke good English and had studied at Leeds Uni so knew North Yorkshire well.
The hostal in the town was fully booked so we had to ride about 8km further to another hotel, the main attraction being that they had a swimming pool. When we arrived we found it was closed until July. We met two English couples there who had done a similar route to our bike Pyrenees challenge, but on motor bikes.
Pyrenees - Etxalar to Hondarribia Ride Profile
The final day of our bike Pyrenees challenge and the guide book promised us three steep hills before the descent to the coast. It was another very hot day in the high 30's. Coming up a very steep tarmac road to Collado de Lizarreta Krystyna got heat stroke and we had to stop at a cafe there to let her recover as we piled ice cubes on her head to cool her down.
Finally, we caught our first glimpse of the Atlantic and we were injected with new energy. Our bike Pyrenees challenge was almost at an end.
We had lunch at a snack bar right on the top of Venta Yasola where there were a lot of French walkers out for the weekend.
Our descent from this point was on single track, rock strewn path through grassland and bracken.
Eventually it became too dangerous to ride and we had to manhandle (or woman handle) our bikes to the bottom, more of a walk than a ride Pyrenees challenge.
At the bottom of this steep section the bike Pyrenees challenge route followed a footpath for a while across meadows and low forest. We asked a group of French walkers if they would mind taking a photograph of us and they were very friendly and happy to oblige.
They set off before us down the hill. We followed after about 30mins. It was a fantastic bit of downhill, through the woods. Narrow, rocky and muddy but thrilling and fast. Suddenly the French family were there in front of us picking their way down the slope. They shouted at us to slow down but the adrenalin was too high and we just shot past them, spraying them with mud and almost running over their toes and they leapt for safety in the undergrowth. We all felt a twinge of guilt about this later.
Finally, having negotiated the busy main roads on the way into Hondarribia we arrived tired, but elated at the Atlantic Ocean. We had completed our bike Pyrenees challenge.
It was a hot, sultry afternoon and the beach was crowded with families and children. We had our bike Pyrenees challenge group photo on the prom then went for a desperately needed dip in the Atlantic. After the swim we sat on the beach. Suddenly the wind got up and started to lift the dry sand creating a small sandstorm. It was like a disaster movie with screaming children and anxious parents running to escape the blinding, choking cloud.
The end of the bike Pyrenees challenge allowed us to relax for a couple of days in the Atlantic Sea Port of Hondarribia.
This is a beautiful old world sea town full of Basque charm. The area close to the beach comprises a lovely pedestrianised area with small back streets and white washed houses.
The old town further up the fill, away from the sea is centered around the old castle, which is now run as a Parador.
We sampled a drink there, but that was about all we could afford.
The town is similar to English towns like York with traditional architecture, narrow back streets and intriguing shops and bazaars.
After two days rest we were ready for home and we took the train into France (to avoid having to cycle on the busy roads around Irun), staying overnight at a Formula One accommodation box prior to catching the Bike Express back to the UK.
Our bike Pyrenees challenge had certainly been a lived up to its name. The first week was the most difficult as we built up our fitness level. Although the mountains were high and some climbs were over 1500 Meters, the gradients were pretty reasonable around 15 %. As we got nearer to the Atlantic the climbs were not so high, circa 700 Meters, but the gradients were substantially steeper from 20 to 25% and it was much hotter. This probably made for the must testing riding.
We had endured extremes of heat and cold, torrential rain, thunder and lightening. Every one of us had reached a lowest point when you felt you couldn't go on, but with support form the group and determination we all came through those times and by the last week, we had gelled together as a team. The ride became more enjoyable and when we finished we felt some what deflated. Everything was a bit of an anticlimax. This feeling would stay with us for several weeks to come as we got back into our hum drum lives and work. We had ridden and conquered the bike Pyrenees challenge. Life would never quite be the same.
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