Day 4

Up the mountains i go!

When i left you last i was sleeping in my fancy but expensive ‘tent’. I had a slow start, waiting for the sun to clear the trees so i could hang stuff out to dry. As it did i started to pack my bags and get everything on the bike. The side stand by now was almost useless unless i was very careful or put it down on something higher, a rock or curb. Otherwise as i loaded up the bike it would tilt more and more and manytimes almost fell over. This became so annoying i now just lean the whole thing up against a tree or wall or something.

Drying in the sun

I eventually rolled out of the campsite at almost midday and retraced my route back to a main road. One look at the map and i headed straight for the Pyrenees. I have a thing for mountains i think. They just seem a billion times more interesting than the flatlands (or whatever you call boring flat uninteresting sometimes marshy land), the views are always spectacular and they lend there name to many cool activities, mountain climbing, mountain biking and so on.

The route to the foothills was pretty interesting, I obviously had to pass through Condom and seeing as its a name synonamous with safety i filled up my petrol tank and 5L reserve can. I thought, you can never know when you’ll need it the most.

It was a bit wet all day, on and off but i kept a bit drier by wearing both waterproof jackets (probably more like 1.25x waterproofness rather than the 2x i was hoping for) and a fleece. My hands were stained an aweful black from the gloves as they got wet which 3 days later is still faintly visible.

Mountains just about visible in the background!

I got to Tarbes, looked at the map, found the winedyest (you know what i mean) road i could and went for it. It was getting late in the day and the stress of a night stop was beginning, campsite or not, hotel or not, can i face up to the social pressure that useing a tarp brings. The road up was so nice though that i just kept climbing and climbing.

Kayak course in the last town before the wilderness proper

Small narrow twisty roads are perfect for my bike as theres no need to push for maximum speed just try and keep it smooth. Id never really ridden “twisties” (bikerspeak dont you know) before but it was great.
I got to a point where it was all tiny villages, big mountains all around and rivers in the valleys. Alot of signs for the tour de france were around and i picked one of the bigger passes to go for, the Col du Tourmalet. It goes up to 1800m on the road with peaks of 2400-2800 all around. There was even snow in the distance, this was the mountains proper.

As i was winding up this road, it was getting on, about 8ish i convinced myself camping rough was the best idea. I wasnt going to make it to a campsite that night if i kept going, and i definitely didnt want to turn back, what sort of adventure is that!? Eventually i spied a good spot i though would provide a bit of cover and i would be hidden from view in. It was behind and down the back of a mud carpark at 1500m.

Car Park up and off to the right
There was a dam just below me and a blue blue lake spreading out up the valley. I could see lots of streams coming down to it and could hear their chattering. There were even cows grazing in the distance from the clanging of bells i could hear. All this noise you can buy on a cd to help you relax and sleep better. It didnt help my nerves one bit. This point was the epitamy (is that what i mean) of my dreams, up a mountain in the wilds, all alone, my bike and my gear and my wits keeping me alive. It all seems well and good unless all you can think about was the news headline in a weeks time. “crazy english boy found dead and raped floating in a lake halfway up a mountain with stab wounds and signs of impact with blunt weapons”. Which was exactally all i could think about.

I was rushing on adrenaline and nerves. I did manage to gather a few twigs (id run out of meths on the second night and couldnt find anywhere that sold it, so today i bought a gas stove to go with the tent) and get my woodstove going to partly soggify some pasta which i ate with garlic puree and olive oil. I was expecting at any minute the army or a group of aggressive adolescents to turn up, smell my fire and either laugh or commit terrible crimes. Supprisingly (or unsupprisingly as it was early night halfway up a mountain in the middle of nowhere) nothing happened.

I crawled into my bivvy bag wearing all my clothes still. The tarp was a no go as there were no trees and id failed to bring poles to use. I shivered of cold and fright for the next 3 hours expecting at any minute it to all go horribly wrong. Also worth noting as its basically summer it didnt get dark till late. Great. I had sod all to do but lie there and wait.

I did eventually get to sleep. I woke up in the early morning to the most amazing night sky, the stars were literally touching the end of my nose, there were more than i could ever count and they were so BRIGHT! The big dipper stared me right in the face till i fell back to sleep again. I wished id taken a photo now, but the thought of having to somehow wriggle out of my now warmish cocoon and fiddle around for a camera while still expecting rapists and axewielding murderers did not appeal so unfortunately i didnt. You’ll have to take my word for it though, it was incredible. Id seen a similar sky while trekking in morocco a couple of years ago, it must be the altitude and the lack of light pollution but so so breathtaking.

And just incase your wondering, yes i did survivie. I think its a confidence thing more than anything. Chances are if your remote enough its not humans that will be a problem, more weather conditions that could make you suffer. Would i do it again? I hope to, but only if conditions are perfect. Forcing it upon myself like that was not fun, but it was one hell of an experience.

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