Inspired by my own writings about the 100 cols tour from 2011, I decided to enjoy the same route again this year (2012). To make a little bit of a difference, this year I rode it in reverse direction. Climbing a col from the other side is a totally different experience. Therefore, that makes it a "200 Cols" tour.
|This year's setup: 2.6 kg of luggage and 7.3 kg of bike, together 9.9 kg.|
Yesss! Less then 10 kg! The record!
- wind jacket
- reflective belts
- 2 tire levers
Day 1 (4-August-2012). 72 km, 1200 m ascent.
The mysterious and suspiciously cheap Romanian bus trip from Ljubljana to Torino turned out to be simple, swift and efficient. The bus arrived to Torino 3 hours earlier then planed, and so I had the time to make it close to Italy/France border the first day. Already the first day served me with everything - the sun, the rain, the first mountain pass and the first wild camp. The rain caught me 2 km before the border, right at the doorstep of an abandoned house, where I spend the night on an old mattress. At first the night in the old house with squealing doors and slamming windows felt a bit scary, but I was telling myself that chainsaw killers and decaying zombies dwell only in the films.
I climbed my first pass, Mont Cenis at 2083 m, in the clouds. On the way down to Lanslebourg the sun appeared and it seemed all the troubles were over. Not quite so: rain and sun exchanged all of the day. I even considered to travel in the same counter-clockwise direction like the last year, but the rain turned me around. Col de Télégrafe was much more demanding from the north side and the climb to Galibier exhausted me totally. Is that because I had only a baguette this day? I came to Briançon too late to buy anything to eat.
|Col Mont Cenis in the clouds.|
|Col de Lautaret seen from the descent from Galibier.|
The rain caught me again today 3 km before the top of Isoard. On the way down I was shaking like a leaf. Mostly because of wet feet. I should have wrapped them in the cling foil, god damned, that's why I brought it, didn't I? The weather is not changeable like yesterday, it rains continuously today. Being completely wet, I end this day prematurely, few kilometres before the Col de Vars, where I check in the same hotel as last year.
|Down from Col d'Isoard.|
"Wow, what a day!" day. The weather forecasters did excellent job - sun all the day. After the breakfast there is firstly the climb to Col de Vars - a bit too slowly, I was still warming up. Climb to Col de la Bonette was much better - a culmination of the day really. Not to mention two descents of today: from La Bonette and Couillole - down the canyon of Cian. Fantastic riding! I carry on until 21:00 and make a wild camp few km after Entrevaux.
|At the highest point, 2803 m, Col de la Bonette.|
|Down the Bonette.|
|And down the Gorges de Cian.|
Hot day. I drank a lot of water and a bit less of beer. It started with the hardest climb so far: Col de Buis, short but steep. Following up some named and some unnamed cols. I changed the plan today, I decided to end the trip 5 days earlier in Saverne and not to close the loop at Lanslebourg.
|Wild camp. Before and After I left.|
Hard working day. Hot, that's true, but I kept it under control by a newly learnt trick: keeping a wet bandanna on the head. In hot weather like this it is really more important to keep your head cool then to drink. My cue card is leading me through old and almost abandoned villages. There's no sign of Disneyland here. Places that I remember from last year: Gorges d'Opedette, few nice cols among pines, an up & down country, picturesque town of Montbrun, a familiar camping ground where I had a "quart de rouge". However it's not a romantic return to the past as I wished it to be. Things are changing here, even my favourite hotel in Revest de Bion has a sing "A vendre".
Day 7. 163 km, 2363 m.
What was this day like? Considering that I climbed Mont Ventoux, it couldn't have been bad. It's really a fantastic climb! The legend, the magic, the must! It's the Lourdes for the cyclists of any religion. And what a descent! 21 km of mind-blowing pleasure. Enough to get me through few more cols till the end of the day in a wild camp.
|The cycling pilgrimage: Mont Ventoux.|
I was fighting with mosquitoes the whole night. I don't know if I slept at all. Today I lost my way several times, making some more cols then intended, then skipping some other ones. Following the cue cards in reverse order is sometimes ambiguous. What a God forgotten place these Cevènes are. Dark deep canyons connected by high and steep passes. You ride from a ravine to ravine making 400 m to 600 m up, then down. Who lives here anyway? I notice that this part of France is quite neglected. Old houses, many in ruins, without people, hotels and businesses are closed or on sale. Economic crisis? I don't remember noticing this last year. Making the same trip in reverse direction feels as I was watching the same performance from the back of the stage, noticing the little ugly details that are hidden from the audience.
However, the road poses new challenges. This time it's Mont Aigoual. Again, a magical climb and hilarious downhill. Even with the old plastic pedals which are at the end of their life. Down in the valley in Le Vigan all the hotels (that are not on sale) are full, so I find my place for 5.20 Eur in a camping in Avèze.
|Up the no-name col.|
I didn't find pedals in the supermarket, and on the way back to the camp the front tire got flat. Fortunately, I had civilised conditions to change it in the camp, including a kitchen sink to find the puncture and water to wash the hands. What was supposed to be a relaxed Sunday ride turned again into a multitude of repetitions of riding from one deep dark hole to the other, with mountain passes in between. At least I had a great lunch break: jambon de montaigne, grillade de mouton et saussisse, assortiment de fromages and two 1664. At the end of the day I reach Murat sur Verbe just to hear the usual evening mantra: the only hotel in the town is "complet". I then proceed to the municipal camping ground for a free camping.
|In one of the hundred little villages.|
Before going to sleep last night I had a pleasure of watching the bats. Small, light and agile, like fast butterflies with delicate translucent wings, skillful and completely silent in the air in frenetic pursuit of the airborne insects. Today continues with yet another incredible number of ascents and descents - some of the later, 17 km long or more, quite remarkable. In Limoux I hear the boring old hurdy-gurdy about the completeness of the hotels. I therefore head for Chalabre, but half way there the right pedal falls off. That forces me to make an unplanned wild camp. I hope Chalabre is a metropolis boasting with pedal shops.
|Canal du ...?|
|View from my sleeping bag.|
|The daunting "Mur de Peguère" is rather benign from the eastern side.|
Day 12. 121 km, 2710 m.
What can I say? Again a climbing day packed with cols that are far from simple: Latrape, Core, Portet d'Aspet, Menté. The cols are easy, even enjoyable in the morning freshness, but wearisome in the heat of the day.
|Pyrenees abandon with clear streams.|
|Down by the river side.|
A magnificent day. It starts with a coffee and a pain au chocolat. Then I dart into the undiscovered field, outside of the 100 cols itinerary: a climb to Port de Balès. Exceptional! Fantastic! Long climb and long descent the same way back. It then follows with Peyresourde, at the top of which a little restaurant invites for a drink. Long downhill again on smooth road and up we go to Col d'Aspin. The temperature reaches 38 degrees, but I found the remedy: riding with the jersey totally unzipped. If you catch a bit of a breeze, the
climb turns even enjoyable. The last climb of the day to Tourmalet is rather demanding from this eastern side, in 10 km the grade averages 9%. The restaurant at the top features Pelfort Brune beer, which inevitably means unbelievably graceful downhill, all the way to Soulom, where I find a great old style hotel with a half pension for 30 Eur.
|From the climb to Port de Balès.|
|Looking from Col du Tourmalet to the west.|
Another remarkable day. But, first of all, congratulations for the chef of yesterday's hotel, who is also a cook, waiter, receptor, housekeeper and a teacher to his son, who is still too young to understand that the total dedication to the hotel and the guests is all the good that a man can wish for during the march on this world. The highlights of the day were a couple of Pelforth Brunes in between various cols of today: Bordères, Soulor, Aubisque and Marie Blanque. I enjoy a somewhat early end of the ride in Arette, where I listen to a mix of brass bands and Basque music in preparation for the evening fête. I forgot to mention another important event: the heat.Officially it was 38 degrees, and my thermometer peaked to 45 during the ride and 51 after being parked an hour in the sun.
|From Col de Soulor to Col d'Aubisque.|
|Relaxing in Arette at the end of the ride.|
Well, I think I've finished with serious climbing today. It was rather hard today. First, Col de Soudet, which drags on and on and doesn't show interest in levelling below 10 %. Then Col de Baguargi, maybe the most difficult of all, with 3 km of 13% in 40 degrees heat. I really looked beaten up at the top of it. But, I've made it. After that everything looked easy.
Day 16. 175 km, 2137 m.
Good night sleep. The morning is finally cloudy and fresh, the heat wave seems to be over. Well at least until 14:00, when the sun pierces through the mist and it's hot again. There were no cols indicated on my card for today, and yet it was still up and down, accumulating more then 2000 m of climbing at the end of the day.
|A break from the heat, finally.|
A similar day. Nothing new to tell.
And another hot day. I enjoyed peaceful breaks with coffee and croissant in the morning in old little village of Moncabrier and a four course lunch in Payrac - the same restaurant as one year ago.
|View from my hotel window.|
|A break from the afternoon heat.|
A peculiar thing happened last evening. I was reading a book by Agatha Christie, when a rather thick fly took off from the chandelier, made a big vertical loop to the floor and back to the ceiling, and then dived directly in between the pages of the book. I shut the book and squeezed it. The book was thus richer for another murder. Or was it a suicide?
Heat has eased making it the first pleasant day with few fair cols. A bit of the rain too, but I waited it out in a fortunately found bus stop. The col of the day: Pas de Peyrol.
|In St. Séré.|
|One of many châteaux's.|
I was wild camping yesterday. There were mosquitoes, but I tricked them this time, by improvising a mosquito net over my head using the cycling cap and a nylon stocking slipped over it. I started early with the intention of making the longest day, possibly 200 km. In La Chapelle Laurent I stop briefly for a coffee. It would have been better that I stayed another hour there. As soon as I left I entered into the storm, I might say the eye of the hurricane. Within seconds I am completely wet and cold. Fortunately these are summer storms that don't last long, so in about an hour the sky clears and I start to dry out. Soon after that I notice that the rear tire became somewhat soft. I find something burrowed in the casing that is hard to pick out. I leave it there and pump up the tire. It lasts until the evening in the camp where I finally dig the thing out. It is 1 cm long hedgehog's prickle that perfectly sealed the puncture. As I picked it out the tire exhaled.
Day 21. 171 km, 2543 m.
There was a wild storm during the night with hail and a lot of thunder. I was happy I'd found shelter in the camp's caravan. The rain caught me 2 or 3 times during the day, but I mostly waited it out sheltered by the trees. Once huddled to the elm tree that perfectly shelters by its broad leaves, and even warms me with its trunk. When sheltering under a tree it's better not to wear you wind/rain top, just bow yourself so that the drops are falling on your face and chest and keep your arms, your back and your rain gear dry for the time on the bike.
Day 22. 158 km, 1443 m.
Probably the best day in what concerns the weather. Some sunshine and some clouds, the temperature was such that I even didn't drink the whole litre of water. After Beaune I enter yet unknown part of the itinerary which I had skipped last year. This immediately adds a little adventure to the ride, even so - or because of - I lost my way and made unregistered 10 km. There are some great new sections, like a climb to Gergueil and a descent to Pont de Pany, with quiet roads and good surface. I make a camp near a fire brigade shed, which would provide some shelter in case there is a rain during the night.
Day 23. 177 km, 1795 m.
|Every nation has its own method of packing hay.|
|Saints protecting the harvest.|
Well, I was lucky - it didn't rain last night. That can't be said for this morning, though. Some rain in the morning, a bit cold, but in general almost an ideal day. Although, I pondered as an orthodox pessimist, there is no ideal day for cycling: it is either too hot or too wet or too cold or too windy, if not the whole day, then at least part of it. If you must look for the bright side, there is one: keep on moving. Otherwise, today can be labelled "a ghost day". From village to village, town to town, one big emptiness, ruins, the whole cities on sale, I felt being alone in the world cycling through places deserted after nuclear war. I end up in Bain les Bains, a thermal spa town where a kebab shop is the hub of entertainment for the young and the elderly, in a hotel with its clientele entirely composed of rheumatic pensioners, in perfect accordance with the taste of this day.
And what was going on today? The penultimate day! I went for a petit déjeuner, to see some more of my old hotel comrades and the waiter who had apparently been in the hotel long enough to acquire all the illnesses that the guests have been relieved of. Around Fremifontaine I totally lost my way, riding in circles for half an hour, when finally a young family helped my with directions and even gave me a scan of a page from the French road atlas. Col de Donon was another pleasant surprise, especially the never ending 17 km downhill where you have the impression that you will descent below sea level. At the end of the day the last wild camp.
Day 25 (28-August-2012). 156 km, 859 m.Epilogue (28-September-2012).
The last day started in peaceful atmosphere, in the expectation of an easy ending of the tour. Everything went smoothly up to the France/Germany border, following the itinerary planned with Google Maps. In Germany however you enter into a ghetto of cycling paths that can lead you somewhere where you don't want to go. Thus instead in Karlsruhe I ended in Ettlingen. In search of the way to Karlsruhe I entered the labyrinth of motorways, which was a total nightmare after 25 days of more or less quiet roads. Fortunately, Germans are as helpful as French when giving directions, so I was happy to reach the end of the ride an hour before dark.
|Mechanicals of the tour: broken pedal and computer run over by a car.|
Summary: 25 days (no rest days), 3593 km, 58753 m of ascent, 83 cols and 61 côtes.