Distance: 471.58 km / 293 miles
Elevation: 2,761 m / 9058.4 ft
What a week. We cycled everyday. That’s seven days of riding totalling 471 KM. Granted one day was only 20 KM, but it was still a lot of saddle time. Why? Sunshine. After such a wet second week, we decided to change our route and head to the sunny French coast. We also made a deal with ourselves that we could have two days off, if we belted straight there. In hindsight, yes it was too much, too soon.
By ride five, we were tired and grouchy with each other, but we pushed on, determine to find that sunshine. What we come to realise by the end of the week, is that we can have as many days off as we want, whenever we want. Lesson learned.
The seven rides, although tiring, were still packed with epic scenery and a surprising amount of French history. The first couple were nearly as hilly as the mountains. We hit 900m each day, while riding over the foothills of the Pyrénées (who knew foothills were so high?). We pretty much had the Pyrénées in sight for two solid days, as we passed through Toulouse and headed for Lourdes.
Lourdes is the third most important site of international Catholic pilgrimage, after Rome and the Holy Land. This is due to the Marian apparition supposedly seen by the peasant girl, Bernadette Soubirous, in 1858 in a local cave. We didn't actually realise the importance of the town until we arrived and did a bit of Googling, while sat in McDonald's (how cultural). So before we left the next morning, we made a point of getting up early to visit the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes. It was beautiful to see, but eerily peaceful. So much so, that it felt inappropriate to take pictures inside and around the actual cave.
The reroute to the beach also took us through Carcassonne, where the 2,500 year old fortified city, Cité de Carcassonne, stills stands. Incredibly, it's seen the Romans, Visigoths, Saracens and Crusaders, before being annexed to the kingdom of France in 1247. We definitely would have taken pictures inside here, if we dared pay the €8.50pp entry fee. Cheapskates.
We also wild camped twice this week. First hidden in a wooded area in a farmer’s field, second on a public path along a river. Ironically, we were more relaxed and less worried about getting caught on the public path. And I’m still not sure what we think would happen if we did get caught...!?
Of course, in the mix of it all we had our first big bike hiccup. It's never just plain riding (sailing?). On a coffee break, we decided to pump our tyres. That's when the inevitable disaster struck. Our screw-on pump, unscrewed the valves on my inner tubes, absolutely destroying them both. They were Continental too, not cheap ones! Thankfully, it didn't do the same to Dan's, as we only had three spares. We had to restock in Toulouse.
We finally made it to the French coast and, with off-season prices, could afford to check into a four star – FOUR STAR – campsite for three nights. On top of that, we made the logical decision to buy a crate of twenty six beers instead of twelve, as they were the same price. So we’re now enjoying a couple of days rest on the beach, no doubt with a little headache tomorrow...