Thursday, September 25, 2008

Luz-St.-Sauveur to Arreau

From Screen Captures

We had shopped for groceries the night before, so we ate breakfast in the hotel room, and got ready for an early start for the Col du Tourmalet (2115m). The climb started out gently enough, and in fact never really exceeded about 8% grade throughout the entire stretch, reminding me a lot of Sustens pass in that respect. It was, however, wild and desolated as promised, with relatively little traffic except those of the van-supported 6-day Pyrenees riders.

The summit, however, was quite cold, and when I got there I immediately put on arm warmers, leg warmers and a jacket. Mike had been waiting for quite some time, and by the time Mike and I got into the cafe and placed our orders for lunch, Roberto had just shown up. We had a nice meal in quite a reasonably priced restaurant, then put on everything we owned before starting the fast and extremely steep descent on the East side of the pass. Whatever else I can say about the Pyrenees, the descents on the East side of the passes are as rugged and fast as anything I've encountered anywhere.

At the bottom of the hill, we looked for water at St. Marie-de-Campan, but the only fountain in town had an Eau Non-Potable sign attached to it. We went ahead and started climbing Col d'Aspin (1489m) anyway, trusting on faith that we would find something. That faith was justified a little later when I saw a man in a driveway pulling his bike out of his car. I stopped and asked if he could give us water --- even though my French was next-to-non-existent, as soon as I pointed to my bottle he knew what we needed and proceeded to fill up our bottles.

After Col du Tourmalet, Col d'Aspin felt like a really short climb to me! We wound around some hill sides, seeing paragliding lessons being given to a few clients by a local outfit, and then into a line of long, lazy switchbacks that eventually led us to a beautiful overlook which turned out to be the summit. What Aspin lacks in height, it makes up for in scenery --- it is really beautiful, with long views down into the valleys in the region, as well as good looks at surrounding peaks. While the Pyrenees aren't as spectacularly pretty as the Alps, they have their own beauty that makes them worth a visit.

We hung out there at the summit for about 15 minutes admiring the view, before deciding to brave the descent to Arreau to spend the night. The descent was fun! At a steady 9% or so, great sightlines, dry roads, and few motor-vehicles, we all hit speeds in excess of 55kph. In Arreau, the tourist information service pointed us to only two hotels. The 3 star Logis de France place was far too expensive for us, so we took a room at the other spot.

With plenty of time left in the day, Roberto & Mike visited an internet cafe while I bought some groceries for breakfast the next day. Dinner was at a local restaurant where we met some British cyclists who were there for a few day rides and then a drive to see a stage of the Vuelta. Using discount airlines and good timing, their flights were cheaper than our train tickets! But then they had to rent a car for their entire trip of only a few days, so it was probably a wash.

A relatively short day at 62.4km but with 2037m of climbing.
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