Thurs 6th June.
Passing through Lourdes and my first night in the mountains.
My host told me the previous night that they would be up and out early and would feel comfortable if I would leave the same time as them. I was happy to take an early start on the bike, so I happily agreed. I left the house when they asked and took my time to pack the bike up outside before pushing it up the small awkward lane, that joined the road I would take out of Luvie-Juzon.
It was a beautiful town and I felt slightly envious of their lives here, surrounded by the French Pyrenees. It was the kind of thought where you humour the notion of moving there, in an ideal world. Although it must have been very different in the winter.
The cycle towards Lourdes was very quiet and pretty. There was evidence that I was near the Pyrenees, but at this stage I was really just outside the mountain range. I could see them in the distance and enjoyed cycling east on the quiet roads. It was about 8:30am and for the next hour and a half the atmosphere was quiet, with that cool, brisk air that only comes in the early morning.
I drifted onwards and stopped in a small town for a break and something to eat. I group of cyclists past me as I stopped and we all waved to each other. There were plenty of other cyclists on the roads that day and most other days in that region and the French people’s love of cycling was clear.
I continued ahead and made it to Lourdes by midday. When I arrived in the famous pilgrim city, I picked up a map, looked for a bite to eat and just wanted to sit down and relax for a while. I knew Lourdes was famous, but I had no idea of its fame on the tourist map until arriving there. It didn’t feel like Disneyland, but it was very obvious that tourism had changed the city and it wasn’t afraid to cash-in on its spiritual core.
I stopped in a park I found on the edge of the city centre. I parked the bike, perched on a stone wall due to the lack of benches in the park and ate some buns I’d purchased from the patisserie. I started reading my book (very rare) when I noticed a little old lady who came out of a building that overlooked the square (where she lived I assume) and stood around watching people, looking fairly uncertain of herself.
She was wearing a stylish navy blue coat, black trousers and large round sunglasses to match. She had a white handbag and a puff of white hair to match. Her outfit was clearly considered. She tried to take in her surroundings, like she had just woke up from a twenty year coma and recognised the place, but now it seemed alien and strange to her.
She headed my way. I thought she was going to complain at me for sitting on the wall, but instead she very politely asked to join me. I said I didn’t speak French very well and she took it as a negative and began to walk away. I called back to her and implied I was happy for her to sit with me on the stone wall.
I was surprised and disappointed by my prejudgment of her, expecting a telling off when she just wanted to enjoy the park as I was. She watched people enjoying themselves in the park and then after about ten minutes, she got up without saying anything and went back through the door where she came, stopping on the way to rummage through her bag for a few minutes.
It seemed like this world held nothing of interest to her anymore, but she seemed happy she was still here to witness it.
I picked up another ordinance survey map of the area, as the one I was using would become obsolete shortly after Lourdes, noticed the clouds rolling in and decided to make a move. I got to a town east of Lourdes called Bagneres-de-Bigorre, where I stocked up on some bread and then began heading south-east.
The roads grew quieter, straighter and a slight ascend became apparent. It was very timid and quiet a pleasant start to cycling in the mountains with the bike at its full weight. The buildings and towns died down again and as I re-entered the mountains the architecture of the villages/towns there was very unusual. Houses were very spread out with lots of land, green terrains and mountains popped up out of the ground and made up the gentle scenery I was slowly ascending into.
But the buildings were so spread out, that the small towns seemed to merge with one another to create an ongoing populated expanse into the mountains.
At first it didn’t bother me, but after an hour, I started to wonder where I was going to camp, as it was getting late. The same thing continued for another hour and it seemed that this region didn’t conform to the mildly densely populated areas, then miles of farms and fields that most regions have.
Now I really wanted to be getting down but there was still no comfortable option. I thought at worst, I would keep going until it started to get dark and then find a nook to exploit.
As it happens when the ascend started to get a bit steeper, I spotted a little off-shoot from the road and went exploring. I found another road that came off that, which provided a narrow grass path that curved around the base of the mountain, in a layered fashion and provided a natural ledge just below the path, that was perfect for camping.
Relieved, I set up, followed my camping routine that had become second nature and before long was ready for bed. The altitude was about 1000m and I could feel the difference in the air and in myself. Although it wasn’t major, I hoped it wouldn’t interfere with my trip across the range, causing me to bail out from crossing from west to east. I thought to myself, at worst I would’ve tried and failed, but I was willing to give it my best and only drop out if totally necessary.