Day 8 : Soudet and Marie Blanque
At 7:30 in the morning, the other cyclists were already packing their stuff. We kept on sleeping. Around 8:45, we got up and started cycling around 10. The first few kilometers weren't too bad, then followed some short but steep sections. The last part was relatively easy, and we got above the treeline.
A few kilometers after St. Engrace
There was a band of clouds in front of the mountains in the distance
The road was blocked by a herd of cows that was difficult to get through. We walked a bit higher at the col de Soudet to get a nice view. There were many sheep, just like everywhere else in the Pyrenees.
On top of the Soudet
We were above the clouds
Going down the Soudet was fun. There was a steep part where we could really race downhill. Afterward, I was waiting for Bram. He had ridden through some cow dung, because he was going too fast to deviate. The water bottle at the bottom of his bike was covered with poop. Fortunately, he only got a little bit in his mouth.
The village at the bottom had a gas station with a compressor that I wanted to use to inflate my tires. It was Sunday so everything else was closed. It only had a valve for car tires. After a while, someone came over to bring an adapter. A bit later, we found Piet and May eating at a restaurant. We went to an ATM and ate at a bench. When we were done, they just happened to pass us. The route description was unclear at this point, so we tried to figure it out together. It turned out that the village we needed to reach was indicated by a sign that was only visible when coming from the other direction.
After 500 meters, the next climb started. The 'backdoor was open' as Maarten Ducrot, a famous Dutch sports reporter would say. Piet and May couldn't keep up, but they also carried about 25 kg of luggage. An easy few kilometers later we arrived at the start of the Marie Blanque. There was a nice sign with a graph indicating the incline for each subsequent kilometer. The last four would be really steep, over 11%. Fortunately, there was also a tap to refill our water bottles, because it was hot.
The start of the climb was doable, but got more arduous by the minute. After a few kilometers, the sweat was running down our faces. A guy on a racing bike started to catch up with us. Bram said he would keep up with him. I thought he was serious, so I followed the guy. After a while, I looked back and couldn't see Bram anywhere. He had managed to keep up with us for a while but apparently had had to give up before the last turn. To be fair, he was cycling on a city bike instead of a lightweight racing bike like me. I drank the last of my water, in the last four kilometers I drank about 1,5 liters. At the top, we didn't immediately have a nice view , so we explored the area a bit. There was a strange old guy with a beard.
On top of the Marie Blanque
We agreed that Bram would film me in the descent. I would wait a few minutes until he had found a nice spot. At the top was also a photographer, who took over twenty pictures of me in just a few minutes. When I was sure Bram had a good head start I got on my bike. The beginning of the descent turned out to be pretty flat, it went up and down a few times before it really went downhill.
Fortunately, the movie doesn't show what happened just around the corner. It was only a short descent before we reached a plateau, where we took these photos.
After we continued cycling a lot of people suddenly crossed the road without looking. They didn't notice that we were approaching at 50 km/h. They were still far enough away for me to brake. When I was nearly on top of them, they still hadn't seen me, so I rode past them as closely as possible, which might teach them. We got to a nice descent, with fast corners, only the road was terrible, so we had to hover above our seats to cushion all the blows. The view of the mountains was beautiful. We would take a break tomorrow, so we wanted to find a good campsite. Before we arrived in the next town, we had already found one. There was also a camping municipal nearby and two more in the village.
We first bought groceries. A 6-pack of ice cream was finished quickly. We also bought a pineapple and some decent food, including a big bottle of Leffe beer for Bram and a bottle of wine for me. We picked the best of the two campsites. Just when we were done, Piet and May arrived. Out of the five campsites in the area, they had picked the same one and the owner had placed them right next to us. They had also bought some alcohol, two half liters of Heineken 8.6. Only after finishing them, they realized that the 8.6 meant 8.6% alcohol.
Piet had walked part of the Marie Blanque, because it was too steep. He was shocked that a motorcyclist had waved a finger at him because of that. According to us, Piet was carrying way too much stuff. He brought cutlery for two people, all packed in plastic boxes. He also had a plastic lion on his front fender, they gave those away at a Dutch supermarket because of the European soccer championship. He carried a few spare lions to make his bike even heavier. He also carried some useful things, such as the tripod for his SLR camera, so that he could take nice pictures of us all. Of course, I had to show that this could all be done lightweight as well and took a photo using our small camera on the back of Bram's bike.
May and Piet
The camping had only one disadvantage, we needed to pay for the showers with tokens and could only use them for a few minutes. Usually that wouldn't be that bad, but it already took several minutes to wash the layer of salt off of our bodies. Afterward, we also needed to wash our cycling shorts, shirt, and socks. All four of us had bought shower tokens. I had bought four for Bram and me because we planned to stay at the campsite the next day. Piet and May had bought only two, but Piet had lost his in the grass. He didn't want to accept one of ours, so that would be a cold shower for him.
Everyone went to shower. When I was done, I discovered Bram also had to shower cold. Of the three showers, one didn't give hot water at all, I was in the second, and the third one was for disabled people and the one Bram had taken. It did accept his token but still didn't give him warm water.
During the evening, I drank my bottle of wine. Bram drank only half of his Leffe beer. At the campsite was no toilet paper. Of course, we didn't carry any as that takes up too much space and will only get wet. Fortunately, the campsite had a lot of flyers in the bathroom about all the touristy things available in the area. We didn't really care about those, not at all, you could even say we could wipe our ass with it.
Distance cycled : 91 km.