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 tree line.
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 which was difficult to get through. At the col de Soudet we walked a bit higher to get a nice view. There were a lot of 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. Afterwards 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 not very clear at this point, so we tried to figure it out together. It turned out 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 sport 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 very warm.
The start of the climb was doable, but got harder 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 light weight 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 during just a few minutes took over twenty pictures of me. 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 passed them as closely as I could, that might teach them. We got to a nice descent, with fast corners, only the road was bad so we had to hover above our seats to cushion all the blows. The view of the mountains was beautiful. Tomorrow we would take a break, so we wanted to find a good campsite. Before we arrived to the next town we 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 creams 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 waived a finger at him because of that. According to us Piet was carrying way too much stuff. He carried 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. To make his bike even heavier he carried a few spare lions as well. He also carried some useful things, such as the tripod for his SLR camera, so 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 picture 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. Normally that wouldn't be that bad, but it already took several minutes just to wash the layer of salt off of our bodies. After that 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 on 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 found out that Bram also had to shower cold. Of the three showers there was one that didn't give hot water at all, I was in the second, and third one was for disabled people and the one Bram had taken. It did accept his token, but still didn't give 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