A nice loop but you can’t get there from here. Or shouldn’t.

What would you do for a view like this, a road like this, a day like this?
What would you do for a view like this, a road like this, a day like this?
This doesn't look like a 20% grade, but it is. And the surface doesn't look like a scare-ad for zit cream, but it would do the job.
This doesn’t look like a 20% grade, but it is. And the surface doesn’t look like a scare-ad for zit cream, but it would do the job.

Sometimes what looks so nice & fun on a map turns out to be something entirely different. D26. D226. D713. If you find yourself climbing on D26, turn back. Unless you’re on a mountain bike with really low gears. It starts out as this idyllic little road, winding its way along a fast-moving creek, picturesque in every way. Kind of like the beginning of the log ride at Disneyland.

And then it turns bad. So bad and so steep I couldn’t even take photos. Yes, it takes your breath away because nobody could maintain normal breathing when the road kicks back at you with a 20% grade and the pavement becomes more pothole than asphalt. Kevin had to walk his bike because he couldn’t keep his balance; where the pavement was remotely passable, this was the one time I had the advantage. When the pavement was good, but the road steep, Kevin just rode on ahead, and for the first time in a very long while, I wasn’t just breathing heavily, I was wheezing.

Just so you know, this is one of those roads that goes way up in the hills to those houses you see where you wonder what the road must be like to get there. You wonder if the roads are paved and the climbs, they must be fun, right? Because all climbs are fun, right?

Worth it to get this picture? Ask me tomorrow.
Worth it to get this picture? Ask me tomorrow.

If you really want to get up there, a bit over 1000ft above the valley floor, take it from the D713 side, ride it to the top, and turn around and head back the same way. Oh, but you’re the type that thinks no problem, Mike & Kevin are wimps, I can do this. Well maybe you can. But if you try to ride it all, you’ll likely end up with shredded tires and still find yourself having to get off the bike in a couple of places.

Was it worth it? Heck yeah. Just because it gives me something to write about. For now, time to get things in order for our first Tour de France intercept, tomorrow, on the Port du Bales. A beyond-category climb that we’ve done a couple times before, so I don’t expect to be thrown anything I can’t handle. Then again, I didn’t think a little 14 mile ride could do that today!

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If you don’t take a few “wrong” turns now and then, you’re missing out

Kevin and our bikes at the top of the Col du Soulor
Kevin and our bikes at the top of the Col du Soulor

The plan was to head up the Tourmalet and finish the job we started a few years ago, when an over-zealous Gendarme decried that “none shall pass” about three miles from the top of the mountain. Today we would avenge that. Or so we thought. Turns out that the annual citizens race, where 12,000 people get to ride a stage from the Tour de France a few days ahead of the actual race, was today. I had thought it was going to be tomorrow. So we get to the base and it’s clear, we need to do something else.

So I looked at Google Maps on my iPhone and saw this cute little road D13 quite near to us, which headed up into the mountains to a place named Lac Estaing. What I didn’t realize is that we need to make a left onto D103… so instead we looped around (in a stunningly-beautiful area I’d not ridden previously) until we eventually came upon… D918. That sounded familiar. We headed in the direction that I thought we should head in, and the surrounding started looking familiar. And soon enough, we saw signs indicating this was the road to the Aubisque/Col du Soulor. Kevin noted that it was only 2:30pm so, why not? Why not indeed. So our supposed-to-be-easy ride was now heading up into the clouds, both literally and figuratively, which then began to rain, and get really cold, and after a while what kept us going was knowing that we had warmer clothing with us that we could put on at the top, and the cafe.

Thank goodness the cafe was open, and even more thankful they had coffee! This was not a coke-at-the-top day. Inside were quite a few other cyclists, all of them ordering the same thing (coffee), all of them getting warmer (gradually) and most likely wondering how long the purchase of a single cup of coffee would allow them to stay. Met some really nice people up there, including Alan, from England, who knew all about Chain Reaction. I was sure he must have meant the mail order firm in Ireland, but no, he meant us! He’s read our site for some time. And of course I didn’t have the presence of mind to do a video of him recommending us, and not the “other guys.” Dang!

The descent, when we finally got to it, was cold & wet & not-very-fast. It didn’t really warm up until we were all the way at the bottom, at which point I was quite thankful for my Edge 1000 which could easily be asked for a route back and it magically displays, and actually readable on the much-improved screen! Gotta love that thing. But this ride wouldn’t have been nearly as adventurous, or fun, if we hadn’t taken that wrong turn early on.

Lots of photos & notes in the photo galley below. And, of course, details from Strava. –Mike–

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