It's been an ace week generally, but a big group of quite mixed abilities meant lots of stopping and waiting. In some ways that's great, lots of chances to admire the stunning views, talk to horses and keep a wary eye on circling vultures, but the downside is that sometimes trails lose their flow and so do riders.
And, to be honest, after a week of communal living, it's just great having some space and quiet again. So this morning me, and the Pace - minus its blown DT Swiss shock - took off into the hills for a repeat of an awesome ride we did as a group on Thursday. It starts with a steep, moderately techy climb with big drops to one side and the promise of an early bath at the bottom, screams through rough downhill meadows, then climbs an endless fire road to the crest of a big mountain ridge marked with a single, solitary tree. And today complete with circling vulture.
Finessed my way up most of the climb, remarkably remembered the way and bludgeoned it through the horse meadows before snicking down into granny and starting the long spin up steep, dry, rough fire road. Fantastic and strangely effortless even after riding seven days out of the last eight - tiny lizards scuttling across the track kept my brain vaguely alive - and stunning views back across then into the valley.
No stopping this time, just a steady climb to the top and awesome views down two of the main local valleys. Lots of sitting with jaw dropped to the floor, surviving energy bars munched, then pads on and it's off and away down a screamingly fast descent alternating tussocks and rockeries before diving into downhill traversey forest singletrack spiced up with the odd rock and root step to keep you awake.
Then before you know it, a proper gravity sink of a roller coaster dip and a fast super steep downhill through a forest of shoulder-high ferns. You don't realise just how big the vertical drop is till you stop, look back and realise where you've come from.
And then, looking down, Luchon itself spread out below you, a lot closer than you expect. Bonkers. The rest is all good too. A mad, fast rocky trough of a descent into a village followed by a lovely, kamikaze switchbacked descent on black, shaley rock that finally spits you out on the road just above Luchon itself, all smiles and pumped forearms.
Galette earned. Ice cream paid for. Funny how different the same ride feels ridden alone. Less time, but more time to think and more thinking too. And more flow. A perfect end to a lovely week of riding a magical mix of loamy, hair-pinned forest singletrack and steeper, mountain rocky stuff.
All that's left to do is the familiar routine of stripping and packing the bike. Swapping the dead DT Swiss shock for the emergency and welcome but slightly unconvincing Magura stand-by, battling with greased but stubborn pedals and hiding away the vulnerable bits from the baggage handlers.
And now it's off out with a good book - the Time Traveller's Wife, no less, bought on impulse at Manchester Airport and strange and beautiful, unlike, I gather, the film - for something to eat and a solitary, celebratory beer. Home tomorrow and a week of British riding beckons. Phew, I need a holiday...