Friday, July 20, 2012

The road to Luchon

We left Pau and made our way southeast to Tarbes on the autoroute, then got our first taste of the Pyrenees. We turned south on a little road and after a bit of driving through valleys and small towns (there are ALWAYS small towns!) we got our chance to experience two classic Pyrenean cols: the Col d'Aspin and the Col de Peyresourde. These are both Category 1 climbs, and let me tell you: getting up them in a car was difficult. I can't imagine how tough it is on a bike.

The Col d'Aspin was the first col we encountered, and was by far the scariest to me. It is really in the middle of nowhere, and there are no buildings, towns, roads, or anything else to make it more interesting. It's just a twisty road with a steep dropoff on one side.

Eventually, you pass the tree line and it is just grass and rocks. It is really an uninviting place, and nowhere you'd want to go unless you had to be somewhere on the other side. That, or you were watching the Tour, in which case you'd drive up there two days before the Tour arrived, found a tiny spot of land where you could fit your camper and then parked!

We didn't really take many pictures on the Col d'Aspin because I was freaked out driving and Nathan was freaked out (I think) being driven by me.

The Peyresourde was a much "friendlier" col. While it still had some pretty hairy switchbacks and steep sections, there were fewer moments where you felt like a slight slip of the hand on the wheel would send you plummeting to your death.

On both cols, it was absolutely amazing when you get down far enough to see the bottom of the valley below you. In both cases, there were picturesque towns sitting at the bottom of the mountain on the other side, and seeing them from 1,000 feet up (or more) was really cool.

At the bottom of the Peyresourde, we arrived in our destination town of Luchon. We drove around a bit to find the main street where we were supposed to meet Madame Trichereau who would get us into our apartment, and eventually fond our meeting place, the post office (La Poste).

There was a bit of a Tour-related party going on when we arrived (around 9:30) and things on the main street were pretty lively. We called Mme Trichereau, and after a bit of chatting (she does not speak English!) we worked out who we were and were we were at.

About 5 minutes later, Mme Trichereau arrived and escorted us to our apartment which was just around the corner. She let us in, gave us the keys and showed us (with gestures and French with tiny bits of English) how things worked. For instance, she showed us how to operate the remote that opens the gate into the parking lot in front of the building as follows:
  1. Say something about "voiture" (car, in French) and make an opening gesture with her arm
  2. Point to one of the buttons on the remote and say "La"
  3. Point to the other button on the remote and say "Non"
  4. Repeat 2 and 3 about 6 times
Anyway, here's what our building looked like:

Home sweet home for the next few days (And, yes,
that is a Mizzou flag flying!)

Here are some photos we took on this part of the journey:

Approaching the Pyrenees with a group of
cyclists in front of us


Hopefully this captures how steep these
mountains are


Some nice farms right in the foothills of
the mountains


From one of the cols


Another photo from one of the cols. See the road
down below? We're headed there!


Not a great shot, but attempting to show the rugged
nature of the mountains


That's a big hill!

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