Wednesday, 29 September 2010


Thanks to four days of rest and helped along by a spot of sideways running yesterday which really helped to 'flush/release' my ITBs (illiotibial bands), my legs felt pretty much back to normal this morning and with glorious blue skies overhead we headed over to Foix for a short roadie outing. I was wary and needed to take it gently, but fortunately my legs felt just fine. We did a lovely 60km/707m circuit along the wonderfully quiet little back road to Roquefixade with its famous chateau perched on the top of that limestone outcrop!This is the view from the other side. One day we will have to visit it on foot. It is quite a construction!The views back in the Foix/Ariege Valley direction were beautifulBut no time to linger, on we pressed to Lavelanet and then a good ride along meandering roads to Saint Felix de Rieutort, Varilhes and back to Foix. It was a lovely ride in perfect conditions. Hopefully the good weather will remain for a few days and we can get out for another longer ride before the weekend. Full stats for today's ride are on the usual site.

Tonight, Andy cooked a delicious dinner of frog's legs in a garlicky, creamy,mushroomy sauce, but by 'eck they are fiddly to eat!
And I will leave you this evening with a photo of tonight's stunning sunset

Monday, 27 September 2010

Happy Birthday to me!

Yes, another year older, another year wiser . The weather was kind enough to show its nicer side today and I was treated to a lovely sight when I opened the door this morningI wanted to do something different today and have the day away somewhere. Anything even vaguely active was unfortunately out of the question as my legs are in quite some pain. But I have never been to Andorra other than for skiing and since it is only 1 1/2 hrs down the road we decided to head down there today for a gentle exploration before this winter's snows really kick in. Now, Andorra is a mixed bag. It has some quite stunning scenery........but the resort towns are dire, soul-less places with all the charm of Bognor on a wet Tuesday afternoon in November (apologies to anybody who lives in Bognor). But the Super Mercats are an excellent source of very cheap booze so we took the opportunity to stock up on Gin (for more sloe gin) and other spirits to see us through the winter .... all to be used in cooking, you understand! We had lunch in Andorra la Veilla before making a hasty retreat back up the valley to Soldeu and taking a small road off to the left the direction of Pic d'Escobes (2776m). This was more like it! We followed the road to its end (only 2 or 3kms from Soldeu), parked up and picked a path/track which headed in the general direction of the PicI was only able to walk a few hundred metres and will have to come back another day to follow the signs which entice you further onwards and upwardsbut today, with barely functioning legs, was not the day. Still, it was a taster and it was good to get some fresh air.

On the way back, as we were driving back down towards Hospitalet, we saw 8 or 10 cycle tourers making their way up the hill. But these weren't any old cycle tourers (Jamie, you'll love this!). They appeared to have especially extended bike frames which were built to accommodate the biggest loads I have ever seen being carried on a bike! Check out the helmet on top of the sun hat!Excuse the poor quality photo but I was hanging out of the car window at the time ;-)

This evening, my birthday dinner has been a very tasty Encornets farcis au four et sardines grosses farcies accompanied by our local equivalent of Champagne, Blanquette de Limoux, which is rather nice I have to say. Santé!

Saturday, 25 September 2010


Well, of course there had to be repercussions for my post the other day in which I gloated about the wonderfully dry trail conditions on our VTT ride. Oh yes, the past few days have treated us to rain, cold and more rain and cold - the dusty trails will have been turned into veritable mud baths and we have resorted to firing up the wood burner this evening for the first time this autumn. There are even rumours of snow over 2000m which could well prove be true seeing as the temperature here at 825m has not been above 11 degrees.

Due to the weather, we have mainly been cracking on with work and other indoor stuff such as processing the copious quantity of apples that I have collected and getting the sloe gin started. I picked a couple of pounds of good plump sloes last week and froze them in an attempt to simulate frost conditions. We'll see in a year whether the gin is good quality or not.

This afternoon, we had a brief run up from the Col de Peguere to the Cap des Campets to stretch the legs & get some fresh air into the lungs. The sun made a weak effort to break through the clouds above Massat in the valley below
and above the Cap du Carmil
but it was a tad blowy and clagged in up at the Cap des Campets
The legs felt OK considering this was my first trot out since my disastrous outing in the New Forest back in August when I ended up crippled with ITB pain and limped the final few kilometers home. But that same pain started creeping back as I ran along the vergeside back to Peguere and I chose to walk the final half a kilometer or so. Disappointing. Tonight, I have done an hour of stretching which has loosened things off somewhat. But I have concluded that a new body may be in order ....a younger, more flexible body that won't seize up on me and demand such high maintenance. Well, I can dream.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

A brief potager update

I admit it. The potager has not exactly received the same level of attention as it did last year. Last year it was a bit of a novelty - the first time I had been able to successfully grow my own vegetables and the summer weather provided the perfect conditions for ripening tomatoes, aubergines, capsicum and chilli peppers. It was easy. I was enthused. Ah, The Good Life. This year, au contraire, summer stuttered and never really got going. We had no prolonged periods of heat and the potager suffered as a result. But problems began even before the lack of summer, with my spring module sowings failing for unknown reasons. Then when tomato blight single-handedly destroyed what promised to be a bumper crop of a good variety of fruit, when the aubergine fruit struggled to set and the capsicum likewise, I became somewhat demoralised as such matters are outside of my control. But hey, that's veggy growing for you! However, it hasn't all been a disaster. I have had two aubergines from the 3 plants that gave flowers, the Winter Festival squash have produced copious fruit........the French beans, carrots, Rocket variety potatoes and beetroot have done well and the autumn-fruiting raspberries that I brought back from mum's garden last year are now producing copious fruit - yum! And I guess I should be pleased that my first attempt at growing celery was a success, as was the baby sweetcorn which I really should have thought about harvesting before it grew out of the 'baby' stage! Doh! You live and learn.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Loving the VTT

Today, well, today it has been warm, nay, hot even. The temperaturometer indicated 28 degrees at lunchtime down in Varilhes near Foix (not bad for the latter half of September) from where we started our mountain bike outing. The idea was to combine two mountain bike circuits, one of which I ran with Pat in November last year so I knew roughly what was in store there. However, the route that I hadn't yet tackled started off rudely, with a steep little ascent on loose track for 700m which was followed not long afterwards by an even ruder, steeper, looser little ascent which averaged 35% and on which we, not surprisingly were obliged to get off and push! Hot work! There followed intermittent sections of tricky steep, loose, rocky riding interspersed with fun, dry singletrack and eventually a fun descent to where we picked up the route that I have covered before. But this time, it was different. The bone dry tracks provided an amazing amount of fast, fun riding....
and the views were typically pretty
After a fair bit of whooping (from me) we eventually arrived back down in the valley and tootled our way back to the car after 22kms in the saddle and 460m of ascent. Full stats on the usual site. It would have been nice to have continued on as we both still had more left in the tank but instead more energy remains for another bike outing tomorrow hopefully.

Monday, 20 September 2010

A twingy calf and ply progress

I was keen to get out for a good ride on the roadie yesterday, but my right calf and up into the cruciate ligament behind the knee was incredibly tender for some unknown reason. Frustrating, as my only exercise over the past few days has been jumping into and out of the van. But we headed over to Lavelanet all the same and rode the bikes up to the Plateau de Sault and on up to Belcaire with the intention of reaching the Camurac winter sports centre at 1230m, but my calf was not at all happy, so we turned around and took the scenic route back down with lovely views further into the Aude departmentWe arrived back into Lavelanet having covered just 60kms but with 700+m of ascent. But it's all good time in the saddle.

Last night I took an ibuprofen to reduce the inflammation in my calf and ligament and also applied ice to the area and fortunately today it is much improved. It has been a wonderfully warm, sunny day today, but rather than risk inflamming my calf again, we have put our efforts into Sadie. The aim was to apply the insulation, moisture barrier and ply to the roof of the van. The job was somewhat hampered by a critical drill bit shearing off as Andy was attempting to screw a section of ply into the soft steel of a roof seam. The number of Brico Depot drill bits that have behaved in the same way in the course of various jobs suggests that the product that they are selling is quite simply not for purpose and is in fact downright dangerous at times! But we have made progress all the same and it is coming along well. My book on mountain biking in southern Spain arrived today, so I am psyched for getting Sadie to a point where we can actually go away and be comfortable in her. Patience has never been one of my (very many!) virtues ;-)

Saturday, 18 September 2010

It's a sign

I popped down to Massat late this afternoon and two things struck me. The first was the smell of wood smoke coming from our neighbour's chimney and the second was just how many chimneys around us are likewise now giving out the tell-tale sign of autumn. It has been no higher than 13 degrees today and has been damp and cool for the past 36 hours. We, however, have had the windows open today and the house has still retained much of its warmth. A more prolonged autumnal spell will be required before we light our woodburner! Better weather is forecast for the next couple of days so hopefully we will get in some action on the bikes. In the meantime, the rain is sure to result in an explosion of funghi which up until now have been lying dormant in the dusty dry soil. I can feel a foraging outing coming on.

Yesterday, I was back down in Foix. I had my 3rd dental appointment which lasted 45 minutes as work progresses on the reconstruction of my broken tooth. I am apparently only halfway through the reconstruction which will culminate in a nice crown sometime in October. I have to say that my experience with the French dental system so far has only been a positive one. What stands out (and I don't know whether this is the norm or whether my dentist is unique) is that the ever-present 'dental nurse' in the UK, who assists the dentist in his treatment of patients, does not exist here. He is on his tod and manages very well, thank you very much! The other thing is that I have not once had to queue to see him at my allotted appointment times and he is extremely thorough in his work, hence the length of time that my reconstruction is going to take. Fortunately, we now have top-up 'Mutuelle' insurance which covers a certain percentage of the cost, so no complaints!

Today, more work on Sadie. We have been able to complete the insulation and moisture barrier work on both sides of the vanwhich enabled us to re-erect the original ply panels and secure the mass of electrickery in placeThe same task on the roof of the van looks like it will be rather more troublesome and we need to come up with a means to secure the insulation that we are using before we can crack on with that. Fun times ahead. Hmm.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Another cracking roadie ride

After 2 days of working on Sadie and with poorer weather forecast from tomorrow into the weekend, we needed to get in another outing on the roadies. And what a cracker it was! I don't know why because I didn't fuel any different to normal, I haven't been doing any stretching recently and I consumed rather too much of a bottle of rosé last night, but everything worked as I wish it would work on every roadie ride. I felt strong at the outset and I felt strong at the finish, despite frequently pushing a harder gear where in the past I would have taken the easy option. The 90km with 770m of ascent were gobbled up in just over 3 hrs 30 mins and I could have carried on. It's not often (if ever) that I am able to say that! Maybe, quite simply, the legs are getting stronger and my endurance is improving? I don't know, but I have taken the precautionary measure of actually doing some stretching this evening and can just hope that the next ride is as good. Full stats on the usual site.

Whilst we were down in the Foix/Pamiers area, we picked up some more bits & pieces for Sadie which should mean we can get the electrical & plumbing work completed tomorrow.

Monday, 13 September 2010


Big progress today. Sadies has been the lucky recipient of our undying attention and is now all wired up. Ish. Almost. We have pretty much completed first fix electrics which is a big step forward in the grand schemes of things.

Because Sadie is going to be a mobile 'home' in which we are planning on spending weeks rather than days, we have chosen to install a number of home comforts including a TV and HiFi system, an oven, fridge, a loo with electrical flush, a water heater, an air heater and various other bits and bobs that will make our life in the van as comfortable as is practically possible. Hence, a quite considerable quantity of conduit and cable of various sizes has had to be put in its rightful place. We have digested the complex and comprehensive French regulations which govern the type & size & length of cable that has to be installed for each electrical item so that we do not fall foul of the inspector who has to officially pass Sadie as a 'camping-car'. It is an onerous responsibility! But here we are, conduit all temporarily affixed in place with tape, prior to permanent fixing tomorrow.... and the various wires and cables which will eventually be affixed in their final home
I am hankering after spending much of the winter down in Andalucia in southern Spain where mountain biking, road biking, walking and running will be the order of the day, so the big push is on. Hurrah!

Sunday, 12 September 2010

A mountain biking weekend

We've enjoyed more sunny, warm weather over the past couple of days. Thankfully the feelings of extreme tiredness & general unwellness that I was experiencing towards the end of last week passed and I felt up for a mountain bike ride from Varilhes yesterday. I had the idea of connecting a couple of way-marked FFCT routes that I have been chatting with Pat about, in order to make a longer circuit, but unfortunately we missed a marker somewhere above Dalou and ended up on a technical but fun singletrack descent back down into the village rather than meandering along the edge where we should have been! So I reverted to plan B and ended up concocting a circuit along fun tracks and trails around Saint Felix and up to Verniolle which totalled just over 27kms with 200m+ of ascent. We returned to the car almost as fresh as we had left which was a good sign and bodes well for the Trans-Ariege attempt with Pat in the first week of October. Full stats of our little outing on the usual site.

Today, we had a blast up to the Cabane des Roses on the mountain bikes which was fun and stunningly beautiful as alwaysThe 4.5km descent back down was bone-jarring but fun. More please!

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

More roadie activity & Sadie progress

Sadie passed her contrôle téchnique (equivalent of the British MOT) yesterday, which was the last possible stumbling block to us getting her registered over here. Hurrah! So I shall be hot-footing it to the Préfécture in Foix on Friday to get her official 'carte grise' (French registration document) and new number plates. We are making steady progress on her conversion and are currently waiting for the delivery of some electrical cable which will enable us to complete the majority of the electrical work which is a big task.

Since the weekend, we have had storms and much cooler weather which is actually quite pleasant. The sun made an appearance today so, despite low energy levels thanks to a particularly poor night's sleep and some unpleasant gastric issues (I shall spare you the details!), we headed down to Saint G & set out to repeat a lovely circuit that we did back in April but with a variation/deviation for the second half. It's one of my favourite routes which takes us up onto the crête on quiet, undulating roads with lovely views of rolling countryside. Beautiful.Once we arrived back down at river level, we cut across the busy D117 and set out to explore some of the peaceful little valleys that are to the West of that road, meandering our way back to Prat Bonrepaux where we crossed the river again to follow the quiet road back to Saint Lizier & Saint Girons. In view of how I felt before we set out, I was pleased to have covered the nearly 73kms with 930m of ascent in just a tad over 3 hrs. Stats on the usual site.

It's raining again this evening but tomorrow, if I get a decent night's sleep, I am hoping to have a VTT outing with Pat .....which will be fun.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Making the most of it

This could be summer's last gasp. Temperatures have been into the high 20s again today but rain and storms are forecast from Tuesday through to the weekend. With that in mind, we took the mountain bikes out for a local blast today, up the forest track from Pentussa above Cominac in the general direction of the Tuc de la Coume. The route used to form part of le Domaine VTT de Cominac et d'Ercé but for some reason (probably due to lack of interest and personnel to maintain it), the circuits are no longer signposted or maintained which is a real shame.

It was a steady climb, initially on tarmaced single track road which soon petered out to become a decent hard pack track ...which gradually petered out to become a rough, rutted track on which vehicular access would be difficult and eventually that too petered out to become an overgrown, narrow footpath that thwarted further progress on the bikes. Still the views from 1100m metres down towards Ercé in the valley below... and to Mont Valier in the opposite direction ...were predictably pretty.

Once we had reached the point where further progress was impossible, we turned around and retraced our tracks to the Col de Viele Morte. I had a nasty encounter with an overhanging bramble which saw my right upper arm painfully shredded by the small thorns - ouch! At the Col, we picked up the path down the hill to Ercé where Andy had an encounter with a mad shepherd's dog which added some unwanted spice to the route but once Andy had shaken him off, he launched himself into the technical descent which saw me being a wuss and walking more than I maybe should have. But once we were back on to a hardpack track I was able to let loose and picked up some decent speed and before we knew it, we had dropped 540m and then had to start the ascent back up to Pentussa. All in all, a fun outing, 19km/630m of ascent/1hr 40m. Full stats and profile on the usual site.

This afternoon, we finally finished processing all of the wood that we have collected which mainly involved chainsawing logs into useable lengths and splitting the bigger chunks. It took us a very hot and sweaty couple of hours, but, apart from stacking it, we are now set up and ready for autumn and a good winter. Excellent!

Friday, 3 September 2010

Heading north & clocking it up

Lovely warm day again yesterday so the roadies were begging for another outing. Despite waking up feeling generally tired, I reckoned I could handle a 70-80km outing.

We parked at Verniolle and headed north for a change, on quiet roads as usual to Belpech and then on up to Mazères before heading east on wonderfully undulating roads in the Castelnaudary direction, but stopping off at Salles-sur-l'Hers for a quick butty before heading south in the Mirepoix direction on yet more undulating roads. It was lovely riding but I could see that the kilometers were clocking up and it soon became clear that we were in for another 100+km ride. The general tiredness with which I had started out was threatening to overwhelm me and niggling aches and discomfort were magnified with the tiredness. I was starting to regret not having changed down from my middle ring during the hilly section 40kms into the ride, where I chose to push my legs that little bit more on a gradient that was marginal. Was I now to pay the price?

But no, the legs kept turning but it was with some relief that I rolled back into Verniolle where I could reward myself with a slice of tarte aux pommes and a bottle of coke. 106kms with 600+m of ascent in 4 hrs 20 mins ish. Full stats on the usual site. Sorry, no photos this time!

Today, lunch with Pat in Foix before a dental appointment to see if my broken tooth can be fixed.... which it can and I can now look forward to a 1 hr appointment in a week's time in which some pain & discomfort will no doubt be experienced. Hurrah... not!