Col de Port
I wouldn’t do that if I were you.
There must be another Massat somewhere.
I drove through the town square, with anticipation coursing through me.
Outside a closed bar, two figures were engrossed in conversation. This was the only sign of life. Not even a lone dog or a cat was to be seen.
A signpost atop a small hill beckoned, marking the entrance to the campsite through a car park.
Despite my initial uncertainty, it was utterly unwarranted.
Camping du Pouech at Massat would soon etch itself as one of my most unforgettable campsites of my entire adventure.
At the entrance stood a modest caravan, showing signs of wear and tear, accompanied by a few garden tables and chairs sheltered under a weathered gazebo.
This humble setup doubled as the kitchen, restaurant, and bar.
As I took in the scene, the camp warden approached with a welcoming grin.
He gave me a tour, suggested some prime pitches, and casually mentioned that they served food and drink until 21:30.
Suddenly, the charm of the site enveloped me, especially at the steal of €9.50 per night.
Pitching the tent and settling in, the clock now read 17:30, and despite the scorching 34º temperature, thoughts turned to a ride.
I hinted at a potential climb up the Col de Port when the camp warden ambled over, but he shook his head in disapproval.
“I wouldn’t do that. A storm is brewing. I think the morning would be better,” he cautioned.
Despite my weather apps contradicting his opinion, I heeded the local advice.
Time to chill Phil, I thought, and time for a refreshing shower and dressing for what promised to be a unique dining experience.
Duck sandwich and chips, s’il vous plaît.
Seated at Camping du Pouech in Massat, I refreshed myself and sauntered over to the worn caravan with its matching gazebo.
The night buzzed with activity. A dozen or more people revelled in food and drink, while children’s laughter echoed through the air.
Seated at a table, I pondered over my Ax Trois Domaines blog while I perused the menu.
Choosing the duck sandwich and chips was a snap; the real dilemma lay in selecting which IPA.
“I’ll have the duck sandwich and chips and a BIM s’il vous plaît,” I declared.
As my order got underway, I settled in, fingers poised to type away.
The Old Testament
In mere moments after hitting the Ax Trois Domaines blog post button, the sky dramatically darkened, casting a spooky ambiance.
It felt like someone had switched off the celestial lights.
Everything dulled, and the gazebo roof softly popped with the rhythmic drumming of rain.
Not a soul flinched, even as a gentle breeze morphed into a tempest.
Rain then pounded down, lightning streaked through the clouds, illuminating the valley as thunder echoed.
It was nothing short of epic.
The once serene setting now suddenly descended into chaos.
Screaming, soaked children clung desperately to their mothers, who scurried around collecting random items while fathers braved the storm to shepherd everyone to safety.
Amid this turmoil, two others and I responded to the call to action. “Hold down the gazebo; it’s going to fly!”
Such was the force I really thought that we might take off with it.
Our valiant efforts, however, had unintended consequences.
Prevented from soaring like a kite, the gazebo roof now became a pond.
Relentless gale force winds still sought to liberate the gazebo, and with one powerful gust, the bulging roof pond flew up into the air.
In the chaos, one mother sprinted toward an open car door.
Her scream pierced through the thunder as she vanished beneath the falling pond.
This was a real Old Testament storm.
After 30 intense minutes, the storm relented, and I hoped the next valley enjoyed it as much as we did.
Despite the bedlam, the rain, and flickering electricity, the campsite chef held his ground.
I had assumed that my order of a duck baguette had been washed away. But no!
‘Philip!’ echoed the call, and there it was—ready to eat and perfectly timed as the rain ceased.
Eager to share the experience, I messaged my family and friends.
The responses came in.
“Was it raining canard, dad?”
“You should ask for a Pina colada.”
Perhaps enjoying a dance in the rain or finding an umbrella had crossed my mind?
They say it’s nice to feel loved and cared for, apparently.
With a second IPA in hand, I reflected on the excitement and then headed back to the tent.
What a night that had been.
Ah, yes, the tent.
When I pitched it, all was calm, but now the small tent appeared worse for wear.
Regrettably, I hadn’t secured it properly.
While the tent had held up well, some rain had seeped in.
I swiftly mopped it up, and I settled into my now damp tent.
Oddly enough, it turned out to be one of my best nights’ sleep during this adventure.
Morning brought a tent survey that revealed years of use had taken a toll on the taped seals.
It wouldn’t survive another storm like the previous one.
A concern for sure, but not at the moment. There’s climbing to do.
No rain but…
I peeped out of the tent to see the valley was now in pea soup fog.
The sun struggled to break through, revealing the village church clock inaccurately.
My early start plan had crumbled, but on the bright side, more breakfast and coffee awaited—a silver lining and an opportunity to reacquaint myself with a cat.
It took an hour and a half for the ‘soupe aux pois to lift, but when it did, the mid-20s weather was a pleasant surprise.
The Col de Port and its 12.5 kilometres with an average of 5% and a max of 10% awaited.
The mountain air, rich in oxygen after the rain, was invigorating. I felt like I had a second pair of lungs.
Branches and boulders scattered across the road bore witness to the previous night’s storm.
Weaving around the obstacles at my climbing speed was easy, but fast descending would be a no-go.
A steady rhythm and metronome legs propelled me up the climb effortlessly.
The Col de Port proved delightful, offering stunning views across the Eastern Pyrenees with no extreme challenges.
I wished I could bottle the crisp mountain air and take it home.
I exchanged tales of storms and heroics with two Irish riders at the summit as we marvelled at the Pyrenees.
(I wish I could have bottled that moment too.)
With the Col de Port summit reached, my thoughts turned to the next ascent.
The infamous and brutal Mur de Peguere, which conveniently started about a third of the way down from the Col de Port summit.