Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Lost Boys Tour of Europe 2010: Chill Week Begins

As I presently sit in Canada, frozen and buffeted by a late March blizzard, my thoughts turn towards the warm and sunny (for the most part) second week of our Lost Boys trip ("Le Mauvais Détour") to Europe last summer. Week One, in the Pyrenees, was Hammer Week as we rode some of the hardest passes in the mountains of France. Week Two was Chill Week, enjoyed near the famous city of Carcassonne in the Languedoc-Rousillion wine region. But Chill Week was not without its challenges, as you shall see!

To the Black Mountain

June 20, 2010

We were happy to get set up at our gite (holiday home) and while awaiting the arrival of of our two vans from the Toulouse Airport with the group for Week Two of our trip, we got on our bicycles and rode the short distance to Caunes-Minervois, a larger town with restaurants, grocery stores and even a small farmers’ market. We loaded up on cheese and honey and various breads, although our carrying capacity was pretty limited. Getting back to the gite, we spread ourselves around in three different buildings, had a delightful lunch, and waited for the others. Mr. and Mrs. Badger went for a walk to the nearby vineyard and brought back a fine catch of local wine. And then the rains began and thus our first day was reduced to getting organized and hoping for better weather on the next day.

On June 20 we awoke to more hopeful signs as it looked like we would be able to do our first real ride from Laure-Minervois. The plan was to go north to the Pic de Nore, the Black Mountain, the highest point around. After getting underway, the four of us—myself, TriMolly, Terry and Greg—made good progress to Conques-sur-Orbeil but lost the trail that was supposed to take us northwards. For some reason, the signposting of the roads was incomplete and we could only find that part of the D101 that would take us towards Carcassonne rather than away from it. We rode up and down for a while, stopping to photograph a nifty castle, and finally, at a roundabout in an industrial park and after trying to deal with a brutal headwind, found a useful sign that led us in the right direction, to Mas Cabadares. As we passed Conques yet again found that we were indeed on the correct road.

The D101 climbed upwards gently alongside a little river, the Orbiel, and we enjoyed the ride on this nearly empty road although there were moments when the headwind was truly painful. But the scenery was great and the little towns, with their reminders of the ill-fated Cathars, were lovely. We took a short detour to look at Mas-Cabardès and then doubled back to take us along a small road signposted for Pic de Nore. It was fairly steep now and when we came to the village of Roquefèrre we saw a tiny cafe/grocery store and thought it was a good idea to stop for a break.

Four hungry/thirsty cyclists probably made the lady in the shop pretty happy as we ordered coffees and various bits of cake. The shop had lots of local products and I even bought a small glass jar of chestnut honey as I find French artisanal honey quite impossible to resist, even if I have to carry it around in my jersey pocket. TriMolly was impressed with the wine-in-a-plastic-sack on sale and was considering how we might carry this for the remainder of the ride.

It was a good thing that we did not take it, either externally or internally, as leaving Roquefèrre we soon found ourselves on a serious climb through Labastide-Esparbairenque and past the three-house hamlet of Les Jouys. Terry and Greg went ahead while I waited a bit for TriMolly, who was riding a bike more suited to time-trialling than climbing. She came up pretty quickly, however, and we headed together up the road to Pradelles-Cabardès, from whence we would launch our attack on the Pic de Nore. Or so we thought.

Mountain bikers came across the road, one at a time, as a cross-country race was being run. They were using a marked path and going at an impressive speed. But when we looked towards the Pic de Nore, it was covered in clouds and they were evil, black clouds. So a vote was taken and it was decided that rather than try the climb to the top, we would just continue our loop ride south back to the gite and call it a day. We would try our luck with the Pic de Nore on a better day.

The first raindrops began to fall as we rolled over the Col de la Prade (altitude: 925 m ASL) and began the challenge of the technical descent of the D112. We stopped briefly to put on rain jackets as it was raining lightly. It was nice to have a tailwind for a change and after we navigated the serpentines for 8.5 kms, we found ourselves on a fast fast road running alongside the scenic Gorges de la Clamoux for another 6 kms. It was a wonderful feeling to whistle down the road through gentle curves on excellent pavement and we reached Villeneuve-Minervois all too soon. We rode past the weird-looking plane trees that you see in many village squares in France and afer a bit more downhill riding we rejoined the D111 and it took us directly back to the gite. For dinner that night, we returned to Villeneuve by van to celebrate at the Auberge Gourmande.

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