The ascending hairpin switchbacks provided amazing views of the valley below. Despite overcast skies and temps bordering 60 degrees, the entire trip up felt really warm. In fact, I was sweating more than usual due to the high humidity. That however changed as we approached the summit. The wind picked up and it started to rain. In fact, we were within half a kilometer of the summit when Melissa had to get off and walk her bike out of fear of being blown over.
We rode the Col du Tourmalet for Melissa’s birthday! This is a special time of year for us. Not only is it Melissa’s birthday, but we also celebrate our anniversary on Nov 5. So we always try to do something special this time of year. This year, of course, we decided to explore Spain and France. We knew one of the highlights would be riding our bikes together–something we have grown to love.
For those who don’t know, the Col du Tourmalet is the most used route in the history of the Tour de France. It is iconic. It is epic. In fact, if you’ve watched any highlight footage from the Tour de France, it will undoubtedly include some scenes from the Col du Tourmalet.
We awoke early and departed San Sebastian early this morning hoping to beat the forecasted that was projected to hit the Pyrenees around 12-3. The drive from Spain to France was beautiful. But when we arrived in the St. Savin region we knew were in some place special. We will post more on this tomorrow, but the village where we are staying (St. Savin) is incredibly beautiful. This is not hyperbole or gushing praise for the French countryside–this place is truly amazing (again, we’ll post some pictures tomorrow).
We arrived at our Bed and Breakfast and got fitted for our bikes. We knew this would be challenge since this is such a personal detail that can take months to dial it in correctly. Unfortunately, both our bikes created some problems for us, both knee and back. Nevertheless, the ride made up for any discomfort. Before we ventured off, we needed a little fuel. We stopped off at a local bakery where I enjoyed an amazing French Raspberry pastry. It was among the most beautiful food items I have ever scene and it tasted fabulous. Per the usual, we then found a grocery store where Melissa bought some bananas.
The ride weaves its way up a gorgeous canyon with glacial waterfalls and the other-worldly bluish-green water. We passed through several villages that were quaint with narrow streets, cobblestones, great cafes, hotels and a surprising number of pizzarias. The traffic was light and the skies were overcast. It is worth noting that despite narrower roads, we never felt unsafe. The Frenchies are very gracious in leaving cyclists plenty of room as they go by.
As we pushed up the mountain, we saw cows (with ringing bells around their necks), sheep and llamas–yes llamas! We were shocked to see two different herds right near the summit.
As we crested the summit, I was excited to see the sights I have seen on footage of the Tour de France. There was the cafe, statue and paint on the road that made for a great experience, except there weren’t 40,000 cycling fans cheering us on.
It’s hard to tell from the picture, but the wind is howling and the rain is starting to pour. We took a few photos and then started back down. The first half of decent was miserable. We had raincoats, but it wasn’t enough to protect our legs and feet. For the first 30 minutes of the descent, I was seriously worried about hypothermia. Luckily, as we continued the descent, the rain lightened up and it got a little warmer. By the time we made it back to our B&B we were tired, wet and starving. Moreover, we both had a couple injuries from our past resurface as a result of the poorly-fitted bikes.
Now that we have showered, eaten dinner and are laying in our beds (yes, plural–2 twins), and have had time to reflect, we can say without hesitation, that it was an amazing experience. I am so happy to celebrate Melissa’s birthday while riding our bikes in the French Pyranees–couldn’t get much better.
On a separate note, we had a delightful dinner with the owners of this b&b. They are Irish, but moved here 8 years ago to start a b&b catered to cyclists. We had great conversation about cycling, the EU, traveling, languages, etc. It was a very pleasant conversation.