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When I discovered cycling on a whole new level - from vineyards to mountains from Australia to France
Cycling has always been a fun sport for me, intense, challenging and at times risky. In fact I did always love cycling for the scenery, the beautiful roads that I pedaled along and the company I kept - I guess what I didn't realize is that I wasn't quite "doing it right" and that the whole experience could be so much better. Fast forward a year or so; I've moved half of my life to France from Australia (which is a beautiful place, but is not "made" for cycling like France seems to be) and really started to experience life through the bike and experience cycling in what I can only describe as "in its purest form". At one with nature and most certainly challenging, still fast, still risky just like in Australia but without the hindrances that often plague the Australian cycling experience.
What has been a magical discovery for me is the endless roads that twist, wind, intersect and go on forever, countless circuits to chose from, unbelievable views of magnificent countrysides, climbs both short and long, descents, again with amazing views... I can drive an hour or two and be in the Pyrenees which must be one of the best places in the world to ride a bike - tradition, beauty, the "cute" factor of little hill-side villages, awesome climate (warmer than the Alps and with less traffic) and climbs that will leave you gob smacked for words on how beautiful they are! This, for me, is cycling for how it should be! How it could be if you were to try and make it as good as possible. I don't focus on trying to ride really fast anymore to make it a "good ride". It's challenging without thinking of average speed, and on the climbs even if you are the strongest grand tour contender, you are still humbled by the slopes and the length of the high mountain passes.
Other regions of France are sometimes even more taxing on the legs as you never really get a rest. In these regions you wont find long climbs of 10-20km but even after 40km of going up and down and left and right, your legs will know about it! I do 100kms back at home in Australia, I may have climbed 900 metres but that may have been in two sections while the rest of the ride is dead pan flat, and I've been on busy roads most of the time. By comparison, in France I might have gone straight out of my front door onto the quietest roads I've ever seen, with scenery that forces me to notice just how good I've got it. So I pedal along and instead of worrying about how fast I'm going I'm lost in the moment, aware of my surroundings and at one with life. This, feels right!
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Last week I had the pleasure of going for a truly magical ride in the Pyrenees that I would do every day of my life if i could! I already knew how nice that area is, having ridden in the Pyrenees a number of times as I live only two hours away by car, but it seems to hit me again and again every time I go. I just can't get over how amazing it is, especially when the weather is nice, which it often is in the French Pyrenees.
On this ride I was lucky enough to have Simeon Green from CMI Tours along with me, as I needed his local knowledge as well as his innovative mechanical skills towards the end of the ride when my tyre exploded! Nothing was going to spoil this ride, other than having to take a ride in a car to get home, which I luckily managed to avoid!
We started from the village of Massat, went over the Col de Saraille, which is just as amazing climb - both for its winding, slightly undulating road and also for its diverse scenery. It's like another world. Views of the higher snow-capped mountains combined with the cute old villages that are traditional to the Pyrenees, lush green fields with animals grazing all combine to form a spectacular ocular overload. Descending in the warm air was also another pleasure. We then headed along an amazing valley road that I had never seen before, again I couldn't believe how pretty it is and how tranquil it felt with hardly a car in sight and not much more that a few other bike riders and mountains all around for company. After the valley road, we then climbed the Col de Latrappe which is often used in the Tour de France. This climb was also spectacular and on descending back down it, I just had to stop and take a photo of the village nestled at the bottom. Sadly I don't think the picture quite captures just how stunning it really is.
All we did at this point, apart from fill up our water bottles from the little village fountain, was go back up the Col de Saraille to get home, and while I don't normally do "out and back" rides in favor of a loop, it really didn't matter this time. It was a pleasure to go back on the same roads we had come out on. Even though my tyre exploded going along the valley, the time it took to fix it and then get on our way just meant more time to reflect on the magical world we found ourselves in and appreciate just how lucky I was to be riding there. The third and final climb was done with caution as I wanted to make it all the way home by bike. With a plastic sleeve in my tyre to prevent the inner-tube from bulging out of the gaping whole in my tyre, I proceeded carefully, but was not going to miss out on any of the scenery or enjoyment of the ride home. We didn't get back to our starting point until almost 6pm, but it still felt like the middle of the afternoon. That is the benefit of long European summer nights. You have numerous hours in the day in which to get out there, so there really isn't too much rush, and the traffic never picks up which is a big bonus!!
It's difficult to express with words just how enjoyable, breathtaking and stunning this ride was. The English language doesn't have the words to really express the experience I had. It sure is something that needs to be done, as talking or writing about it just doesn't do it justice. I can't wait to go back to the Pyrenees in a few weeks' time, hopefully with a little more endurance in my legs to attempt some slightly longer loops and find some more stunning mountains and valleys to ride. I think this is a ride I will never forget, a real awakening moment where I think I fully realized just what a great thing I've got going, living in one of the best cycling areas in the world. I won't be abandoning this place anytime soon!