Monday 13th Salies-de-Bearn to Ousse - 80 kms

 

The Longest Day

Nursing very minor hangovers we set off back into Salies for breakfast, where Alister befriends the most flea bitten, mangy dog in France (where competition is fierce). Everyone moves away in disgust, it even puts me off my second pain au chocolat...

manky dog

However I've got to be nice to Allister as I'd discovered I'd left my black (sexy) leggings at the side of the road the day before. I like to have warm legs when I climb and the thought of not having them was a bit worrying - Allister hands over a pair of very nice Cannondale leggings "I hate them you have them...". If he hadn't been stroking the fleabag I'd have shaken his hand at this point, but I was suitably and pathetically gratefull.

 

Today is the longest of the fortnight and deep down I feared it would be the hardest. The terrain wasn't flat (turned out to be 1000m total climbing), and we'd have to skirt around Pau, the largest town in the area. But once again we had glorious sunshine and so with spirits high we set off.

N.B. From now on let's assume the weather is gorgeous unless I say otherwise, it'll save a lot of typing...

As mentioned in the intro Evelyn is not a strong cyclist. She's OK on the flat, and when it gets really steep everyone is slow and her determination means she doesn't fall far behind. The terrain that does for her is rolling countryside where others are piling up hills in a middling gear where she goes straight into first and grinds up. On a short day this doesn't matter much but over a long choppy ride like today Evelyn can take a couple of hours longer than the others which makes things tricky. Do I stay with her (and Jennie who tends to keep her company - bless her) and leave the rest to create chaos on their own? Or do I hope she'll be OK and ride with the faster part of the group to be there to find restaurants, make sure they don't get lost etc?

In such a situation I tend to oscillate between the two, riding on then waiting then on and so on. It's not entirely satisfactory and it wears me out!


The ride was very beautiful this morning, but as feared once we left the campsite it got hilly. I'd arranged to meet everyone at Navarrenx after about 25k and here we all had coffee. It really was a gorgeous ride and I can remember phoning Kate and telling her it was "as good as it gets". From coffee we went up and over (several arrows on the map!) to the village of Mourenx. As usual my paranoia about feeding the mob had meant that after a while I'd left Evelyn and Jennie and pressed on. I arrived to find the rest of the group waiting for me - Rob had been there an hour and was going round like a chicken with it's head cut off saying "there's nothing in this flippin' (only he didn't say flippin') place, we've got to go on five kms!" I popped into the Tabac and the owner directed me to the restaurant 100m up the road:-) As it turned out Rob was right, we'd probably have been better off going on...

Anyway the Restaurant looked ideal - scruffy and full of local labourers. It sported a 9e menu for 4 courses and so I felt rather smug. I booked the group in as it was 12.30 and these places generally serve only up until 1.00pm. The owner, after a lot of teeth sucking, said he'd fit us in but we'd have to wait 15 minutes. That suited me fine as there was still no sign of Evelyn and Jennie. 10 minutes later they rolled up, relieved I'd found them a place to eat. Trouble was we didn't eat for an hour! In a tight schedule I could have done without it, but the meal was copious even though the second 'entre' went AWOL. The cook came out to ask if we'd like to have extra pasta - "does Dolly Parton sleep on her back!" - which was great and we quaffed the odd bottle of wine. More worrying was the fact that the cook ran everywhere, had mad staring eyes (which looked in different directions), and had disturbing flecks of froth at the corner of the mouth. Obviously 'barking', I decided not to argue with him over the bill when he charged us e13.50, I had visions of John Cleese with a meat cleaver. And with it getting late, 3.00pm, I really needed to get going as we had to battle with Pau.

happy cycle touring

Thankfully it wasn't too hilly and so for this tricky bit of navigation the majority decided to stick with me (thanks guys...). The small roads came to an end and we found ourselves on a very busy main road. The saving grace was the wide hard shoulder, so though not exactly pleasant it was safe and by following the 'Rocade' (ring-road) signs we hurtled around Pau, turning off onto a small road that finally took us to the small campsite at Ousse. By now it was 6.30pm and the campsite was very poorly marked. In fact Meryl, who had gone ahead, claimed to have been nearly abducted by a local Gypsy camp she'd thought was the campsite - something we all found funnier than her I'm ashamed to say. The site itself was right by one of the busiest main roads I've ever come across and the owner made us move our tents because we were taking too many plots and "what if a load of camping cars came in?" So we moved to one corner of the empty campsite and pitched up. The site had pretty ancient facilities and was the most expensive of the week - pricing in French campsites amazes me - but as it was only about 5e each the others didn't see what I was moaning about - "it's the principle of the thing!".

Though there was a small supermarket in the village the late hour meant that most of us decided to eat at the restaurant 200m up the road from the campsite. As usual I checked out the place first and booked us in but again my 'nose' was failing me. The place turned out to be very gourmet, and though not staggeringly expensive at 17e, the portions were for normal people and wine expensive. They didn't seem to understand that we needed to pack in as many calories as fast as possible so we could slope off to bed. The one saving grace was the simply stunning waitress who amused us all evening with her range of "please crawl under the nearest stone" facial expressions - especially to Allister who deserved all he got - he had much more success with the dog...

Knackered I slept like a dead man...