Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Ground to a halt...

Ground to a metaphorical halt in the Pyrenees. Stopped. Dead. Somewhere at the arse-end of a year that's mixed improbable happiness and surprise, discovering something rare and special, changed the way I viewed so many things and that turned out to be founded on shifting sands.

And by the magic of Bmibaby - ironic huh? - here I am, beamed into the middle of the French Pyrenees and the familiar unfamiliarity of a riding holiday in the mountains. All that matters is the next loamy, rocky switchback. The delicate slide of tyres on forest mulch. Which cake to eat next and where to hide the Collective DVD to prevent another communal viewing - 'mountain bikes, beer, chocolate and women, yes, you can have all four'... Or something of the sort.

Turned up a day early thanks to airline vagaries, met the outgoing group then on Saturday morning built up the Pace, eased 50 psi into its knobblies and went for a gentle tarmac climb up the Col de Peyresourde. There's something faintly ridiculous about riding a 30lb full suspension mountain bike up a Tour de France climb, but it's impossible not to smile as the realisation dawns that yes, you are on holiday and green, rolling Pyreneean vistas roll out below. Pretty villages hunched in the valleys, pointy hill-top churches, cars that actually move out to pass cyclists.

And at the top of a set of deceptively easy-angled, hair-pinned terraces, the obligatory sign, caff and a grey-ruffed hawk of some sort perched nonchalantly on a fence post - where's burd-spotting burd when you need her, eh? - somewhere to pause and wonder and take stock for five minutes before pulling on gilet and arm warmers and hurtling back down into the valley.

And then, because, well, just because, another road climb followed by a gentle descent back along the other side of the valley, a mix of double and singletrack spotted with delicate crocuses, half of them still vaguely upright. Blisteringly fast. Blisteringly smiley. Just lovely.

And more lovely, I guess, for being the polar opposite of the rest of the week which will be familiar to anyone who's ever been on an organised riding holiday, but none the worse for it. A disparate group of riders, quiet, pointy-elbowed competitiveness at the sharp end of things and careful, tentative, self-doubt at the other. Cake waiting back at the ranch and folk who drink beer and folk who don't.

The odd thing of being thrown together socially with a group of people who have only bikes in common. And the riding. Really quite lovely riding. But all that is another post. Today is a rest day and the halt I've ground to is all too real. And actually quite calm, mellow and lovely. Bring on the cake.

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