I’ve been feeling a bit off the last few weeks, the combination of world and local restrictions and not being able to just get on with life really started to take its toll after so many months of living in the Matrix. In a strange kinda way not being able to do what you always do started to make me question who I was? Bizarre as it may sound, the effects were real.
With the forecast all set for a ‘Super-Saturday’, and boy did it deliver, it was time to put the demons to bed and with the Tourmalet freshly open once again there was only one place to go.
Today the objective was simple. Saddle up, put the monkey-mind on snooze and just ride. Being back on the Tourmalet was simply awesome, having been out of bounds for the last 6 months or so. The last of the snow melt running across the road and waking the legs up when the chilly fresh water sprayed up onto the shins. Oh, so simple and oh so good, especially as the temperature today was like a fine summer’s day, 30 degrees in the valley and not much less than that on the summits. I was so happy to see the view from the top of the Tourmalet before letting it flow on the long descent to Saint Marie de Campan.
Tourmalet followed by Hourquette d’Ancizan is always a winner, the contrast of the two mountains is a gift in itself and after the descent it was conundrum time. Add on Azet or head straight to Aspin? Well I’d seen that they are doing road work on Aspin so maybe better to play safe and head there, especially if it’s closed. Y’know it’s never clever to get stuck in the wrong valley. Hang on a minute, what am I saying? See, I told you I’ve been losing myself recently. Skip Azet and play safe? (Shaking head. Please forgive me). Of course we’re doing Azet, stop thinking and just ride MC. Remember?
Well I was starting to feel it by the summit, with three climbs in the legs, so a quick water stop in Arreau, after the Azet descent, helped re-balance the system (for now). Well I haven’t been riding multiple mountains for a few weeks and I knew that Aspin was going to be a bit of a slog, and as I started the climb I could see a “ferme” sign which is never top banana, especially when the alternative is the harder side of Hourquette to get back to the Campan Valley. Ah, screw it, let’s go and see what all the hype is about. I’m sure I can just hike past any road blocks, no worries.
Well, my friends, this is a beautiful example of trusting the universe as after the first couple of kilometres the road turned to silk, no, I got that wrong. The road turned to pure silk. The smoothest tarmac I’ve ever ridden on, kilometre after kilometre, dark, new and smoother than a freshly shaved set of pins. There is a god after all.
It’s amazing how the surface of a road can completely change the character of a familiar view. The Aspin from Arreau was already one of my favourites, but when the whole road is finished in the next few days it’s going to be hard to beat, up or down.
Four down, one to go. Strictly speaking I could have taken the valley straight back but there’s something very special about book-ending a ride with the Tourmalet. I was already rationing the food and I knew with how the legs were feeling it was going to be touch and go, and a big test. Despite this, I didn’t flinch when the turn toward the Tourmalet approached.
I knew that on the way up the Tourmalet would help to answer some of the questions that have been persistently plaguing my mind. I have to get into this physical state to find the answers, don’t ask me why, it’s just how it is. Even the early kilometres were hurting, normally the part where it’s important to zip along and tick off the k’s as quickly as possible. The legs aren’t used to these multiple efforts right now or hitting the Tourmalet for the second time with over 160km and 4 cols in the piggy bank.
As I climbed higher, the wind started to pick up and a headwind, as the gradient really started to stick, meant that it turned into a mental battle. Mental strength is all I had left. Physically I was already beyond my limit for today. And as the wind knocked me about from side to side I knew deep inside that this is exactly what I came for.
The mountain now completely to myself, not a soul in sight, the sun starting to hang low on the horizon. There was no hiding anymore. There was only one way. There was only one person, one mind, one body, one spirit, one soul. With 3 kilometres to go I was out of food, 55km back to base still to go, and I knew the last Torq gel was only good for 25 minutes max. That’s why I love the Tourmalet. It didn’t give a sh*t. It knows exactly who it is and it teaches us all who we are every single time.
The wind was now cold and powerful at the summit, making it hard to stand. Making it over the col brought a moment of good vibes back in the body as I raced the descent, but I knew I was gonna struggle with 20km of valley without food. Although Gorge de Luz is a descent it’s often pretty grippy with a funnelling wind making sure you have to keep pedalling. I freewheeled for a couple of minutes which turned out to be a mistake, as that was when the lights finally went out after 5,500m of elevation and 205km.
Fortunately I was in the Boy Scouts and I never seem to get overly phased by these moments of adversity. It is what it is, I’ll find a way. A phone call to some local friends close by to see if I could pick up a slice or two of yesterday’s baguette was met with an endless ring tone. Ah cr@p, that means I’m going to have to ride the 1km up hill to their village. Honestly, 1km when you’re seeing black spots and your whole face is starting to tingle isn’t very appealing, but it’s either that or find a reasonable bus shelter to camp down in for a kip. I opted for the former, and even managed not to ride over the snappy little dog that had more bark than bite on the way up.
After the second ring of the doorbell it opened and my saviours appeared, dressed in white just like the angels (ok, I made that up, but I’m sure I heard a heavenly “laaaaaaa” as the door opened). All I can say is, caramel slice FOR. THE. WIN! Despite the offer of a lift back home which was tremendously generous, I kinda have a rule “don’t start what you can’t finish”.
It’s when we go beyond the moments that tell us to stop where another door gets unlocked. And that was the whole point of today. To unlock my mind once again, to feel the fatigue course through my body, to question my motives and to reconnect to who I truly am once again.
Thanks for reading.
For details of the route and ride check out my Strava link.