Port de Pailheres
I have a rear window now
A significant find en route to the Pyrenees was the Camping au tour de ‘Avey which is close to the N9; an ideal one-night stopover.
Great pitches, excellent restaurant, friendly and cheap – 10/10 Gold Star.
If there had been mountains nearby to climb, it would have been perfect, but the Pyrenees are calling.
After a great sleep and recovery from the Croix Neuve effort, I refuelled with two breakfasts before I packed the car.
In fact, I was so efficient that I could see through the rear window for the first time on my adventure.
At 26º I was comfortable, however, but within an hour it reached 30 on its way to 37 an hour later.
The journey end was 80 miles away when TomTom alerts me of a 15-minute delay.
Hmm, I didn’t fancy that in this heat. (My Yaris does not have air conditioning ☹)
A service station was near, so a good time to refuel with coffee and baguettes. My hope, of course, was that all would be clear when I resumed.
This is where the wheels came off the bus to spoil an otherwise perfect start to the day.
As I sat back in the car, ignition on, all systems go Mr TomTom chirps up.
He must have been beside himself with glee as he announced my previous 15-minute delay was now 45. Bugger!
At 2 Km I joined the other happy drivers.
So, was it a nasty accident? A big lorry spillage? or some other catastrophe?
No. It was an opportunity for everyone to witness a broken-down caravan on a trailer.
Annoying, of course, but at least it wasn’t an accident, and it hurt no one.
I arrived at the deserted Ascou la Forge campsite where most doors were closed (This is France, what did I expect ?)
Two young girls greeted me. Their welcoming smiles quickly turned to panic. I was British, with very limited French.
Hastily they phoned their parents to ask if it was ok for me to camp for two nights?
‘Do you have a reservation?’
‘No.’ A momentary pause, a muffled conversation. ‘Lanterne Vert’, I’m in.
Now to decide which of the thirty or more pitches out of the 40 to take ?
Of course, a hot day today does not mean one tomorrow, especially in the mountains, so time to check the forecast.
‘Hmm’, High potential for thunderstorms over the next few days is out of my control.
This is the time to break the habit of a lifetime to think and plan.
There were three climbs very close by and the weather was ok now, so why not do one?
Indeed, a great idea, but my choice is that one that allows you to get back to the restaurant before it closes.
Port de Pailheres just requires a short drive up over the summit to the start, and I could be climbing. Happy days.
I drove off, content with my planning, when the big bell in my head rang out loud. ‘Why not stop at the summit and instead of driving over, park the car, ride down and climb up?’
‘You’re genius’, great do that.
Stop for a chat
I drove up the Col with the cloud base falling and passed a lone cyclist who was making slow but steady progress.
The summit in cloud and short visibility, but across from the car park, I could see another cyclist.
Flapping his arms and to keep warm, he came over to speak to me.
‘Had I seen his friend cycling up the col?’, he asked.
I told him I had passed him 2Km back.
We continued to chat for a while, bid farewells, and he returned across the road for a clearer view down the climb.
This unexpected meeting suddenly made me anxious about the restaurant being closed.
Another tuna/ rice/pasta sauce fusion was not appealing to my taste buds.
With haste, I jumped on the bike and descended to the start point.
This was hairpin heaven, flat out, screaming brakes and big angled leans but no crash barriers – white knuckletastic.
At the base of the climb in no time, a quick map check, locate the start point, set controls for the heart of the sun, and go.
Back along the road I had just enjoyed speeding down, I began my climb into the chilling cloud.
Loud cheers greeted me a few kms into the climb. It was the rider and his friend hurtling down together.
This was nice to see.
The Garmin flashed up and beeped, ‘Drink Alert’.
Don’t forget to drink!
I reached down for a bottle.
‘Oh no’, did it flip out of the cage, or did I not take it?
‘Doh!’, I knew the answer to that one.
Distracted by conversations, I had forgotten to put the bottles on.
My previously self-declared ‘genius’ and praise was now relegated to, ‘Phil, you’re a dumbass’.
Thank goodness the temperature had dropped was perhaps the only consolation.
One other grain of benefit was that by moaning to myself about the bottle, it took my mind off the climb.
This was a tough and serious one, averaging 8% and throwing in everything up to 16%.
The deserted roads meant I could take full advantage of the widest lines around the hairpins.
And I did.
This smoothed things out.
The halfway point and it was getting quite cold.
I could do with a jacket, but I would only sweat too much and soak myself in cold sweat. (Nice)
‘Beep-Beep’, drink alerts
‘Oh, thank you Garmin, I really appreciate your constant reminders.’
Finally, the last 0.5Km and with the gradient flattening, a glory sprint was on.
I congratulated myself on climbing and overcoming the drinks issue, subsequently raising my grade from ‘dumbass’ to ‘well done’.
Feeling smug, I went to the car.
Suddenly the icy chill of realisation. I hadn’t locked it.
Defeat had been snatched from the jaws of victory.
Back to ‘dumbass’.
Avez-vous une réservation?
After all the excitement, I raced back down (drinking from a full bottle ?) in time to enter the quarter full restaurant.
The ‘maître d’ of the campsite greeted me with, ‘Have you made a reservation?’.
A well-rehearsed unsympathetic Gallic shrug was the reply to my ‘No, I wasn’t aware I needed to’, comment.
Encouraged to continue his performance, a few melodramatic huffs, and puffs and even a flick through a book then followed.
‘You can have that table over there’.
There was no time for a shower, but I don’t think anyone noticed.