Saturday, 20 August 2016

Shopping and a Lake

Overnight, we had some significant thunderstorms, and heavy rain. Bad weather continued on into the morning, removing all hopes of riding from all of us, except Brock and Irish Greg, who are on a really tight schedule. The rest of us decided that this looked like a perfect morning for a shopping trip. So while Brock and Greg headed out on their bikes, with thunder still rolling around the valley, Bianca, Terrie, Ron, Denis and I set off for Carrefour. As usual with my car, the most challenging part of the drive was getting everyone buckled up in the back seat. The manufacturers seem to have designed the seat belts for use by lightly built contortionists. Fortunately, cyclists frequently fit this user profile, and everyone was eventually able to clip in.

A large French supermarket is a wonderful place. It's also quite challenging for someone buying shower gel for their other half. First, it's key to identify which bottles are indeed shower gel, not shampoo or conditioner or any of the other myriad lotions and oils with which the French seem to be able to anoint themselves. Then, even when that has been done, in my case, primarily by picking a brand that has turned out the be the right product in the past, there seem to be dozens of formulations with different added ingredients. The descriptions on the packaging read more like short novels than explanations of what's in the bottle. Knowing that use of the product will transport you to a place of peace and relaxation still doesn't help distinguish the soap from the conditioner!

In the time it took me to pick one shower gel, everyone else had filled managed to fill their baskets with goods. I'm clearly an amateur at this! More shopping ensued, giving me time to investigate the wine and cheeses that we'll be picking up when we leave.

With the shopping completed, and the car boot pretty full, we headed, as all cyclists naturally do, for the local bike shop. There ensued extended discussion of prices, specifications, groupsets, seat posts, wheels and the like. When finally sated, we bade our farewells and headed into the mayhem of an Argeles-Gazost Saturday morning. Cash and coffee were the key requirements. Parking was impossible. So while the rest of the gang headed for the bank and coffee shop, I indulged in some French parking, on cross hatchings, by a roundabout, and behind two French vans that were already there. Of course, if I'd been doing it properly, I'd have gone with everyone else, and we'd have spent a leisurely hour or so in a cafe. But I'm a Brit, and so I stayed with the car. I needn't have worried. When the others returned, laden with take away coffee, it proved a trivial matter to rejoin the traffic. A kind French driver even let me out. He wanted my parking space! Then, while extricating ourselves from the town centre chaos, we headed down a tiny access road in the hope that it would come out somewhere recognizable. It did. Phew!

With the rain easing, and the thunder past, thoughts turned to possible rides after lunch. Terrie and Ron sensibly decided to have a rest day. Bianca, Denis and I figured that a ride to Lac d'Estaing should be safe enough. Brock and Greg, on the other hand, even having been lashed by the rain and unable to see anything on their ride up to the Hautacam, were determined to go to the Aubisque, after a shower and change. They did this too, in a triumph of determination and schedule pressure over common sense. Chapeau to both of them!

By comparison, my ride up to the lake was uneventful. I was trying to gauge how it would be for Angela. This is the ride that she would like to do while we're here. It was raining and chilly as I headed out, in full rain kit. Within half an hour or so, the rain had stopped and the temperature was climbing to the extent that I had to disrobe. This process is made the more complex by having a chest mounted camera. Despite the fact that Bianca and Denis had also gone that way, I completely failed to spot them

The ride is described by most people as easy. But this is the Pyrenees, and easy is a relative term. While most of it is at comfortable gradients, there are short sections that hit nearly 10% and one brutal ramp, just after the junction with the road that leads over to the Soulor and the Aubisque, that rears up to nearly 20%! This is clearly a use of the term 'easy' with which I'm unfamiliar. In fact, a lot of the climb feels like riding at home, but on a grander scale. Gradients are forever changing, the road surfaces are variable, though to be fair, pretty much always better than in Hampshire. The valleys are deeper and more grandiose, but a lot of that is invisible when the cloud base is so low.

Cloud clinging to the mountains around Lac d'Estaing

Lush vegetation suggests rain is frequent

Arriving at Lac d'Estaing
Actually, the picture of me arriving at the lake is a fake. Angela hadn't had time to get the camera ready, so I had ride back down the road a bit and 'arrive' again!

The track up to Lac d'Estaing is available on Garmin Connect.

Trying to be arty at Lac d'Estaing!
The descent is really nice, although the road surface is a little sketchy in places. The mainly modest gradients mean that speed never builds unduly. Visibility is pretty good too.

The track down from Lac d'Estaing is available on Garmin Connect.

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