Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Heading on up

Yesterday's roadie circuit was one of the things that I felt I needed to 'tick off' before we move away from this wonderful part of the Ariege and back up to Pissou. Today's outing was another of those things. We have slogged up the hill on the other side of the road from Montsegur (15 mins from us here) a couple of times since we have been here. It is a slog too. But I knew that today, with a clear blue sky, we would finally be able to get the views that eluded us on the past couple of occasions due to poor weather. I also knew that the ridgeline on the top (known as Le Taulat) would provide some great running on the way back down which I was keen to experience. On both counts, it did not disappoint. It was stunning up there, with clear views past the cabane on the ridge to Pic de Saint Barthelemy beyond.
There was Lavelanet way down in the valley below... 
... and the Chateau de Montsegur, where we had parked ....
.. and the Chateau de Roquefixade was also visible on its rocky outcrop in the distance
 But it was the beauty of the hills that I had slogged up there to experience. The Pic de Saint Barthelemy and Pic de Soularac looked quite beautiful in the summer sun

We got as far as the disused quarry where old winching machinery stood idle, a powerful reminder of more industrious days gone by
It was a lovely little outing and has whet my appetite for more such outings up into the mountains once we have returned to Pissou later in the week

Monday, 29 August 2011

All change

After last Saturday's hot mountain bike outing with Pat, temperatures remained in the 30s until  Monday night when we felt a change in the air. Clouds rolled in, the temperature dropped and come Tuesday it was back down to the mid 20s but with blue sky again. It was perfect weather for a running circuit from the Col de Chioula above Ax-les-Thermes that I have had ear-marked for a while. The tracks and paths were dusty dry and despite the cooler breeze that was drifting through at 1600m, the sun was still blazing hot. The views from up there were just stunning - it's a truely beautiful corner of the Ariège.

We were heading in the direction of the peaks that are in the centre right of the photo below, going via the Col de Pierre Blanche, the Col de Balagues and the Roc de Quercourt, picking up the GR7B for the return leg.

It was a good, steady run out which totalled 20kms/630m+ but I could already feel the onset of that creeping weariness and fatigue that would dog me for the rest of the week. The dog was also very very tired by the time we made it back to the car - the run had taken a lot out of him, but he would bounce back in no time.

The day after the run, I relished doing very little but had to take advantage of the good weather on Thursday to do a short mountain bike route from the house, but it was all too much like hard work. I was quite relieved on Friday morning when Pat rang to cancel our planned mountain bike outing over at Esperaza due to a broken little toe (ouch!)! Instead, I headed to Lavelanet market and had a generally lazy day.

Saturday morning, we packed boxes and crates and loaded up the van and also the Astra before heading back up to Pissou where the whole lot was duly unloaded and some of it put away. We leave here, Fougax, this week as it is silly to be paying rent for the place when we intend to spend much of the autumn and winter away travelling in Sadie. I am going to miss the area and the ease with which we are able to get out and do stuff. But the opportunity to travel in Sadie, biking and running and walking all over France and indeed Europe is quite exciting!

Yesterday, Sunday, it was another beautiful day and I had to get out, even though I was still feeling very low and weary. I did a very gentle 10km loop from the house, walking all of the uphills and running the rest of the circuit at a gentle pace. This morning we were talking about doing an easy roadie ride or mountain bike circuit but somehow found ourselves committed to doing a 70km/1100m+ roadie loop up over the Col de la Lauze.. like you do! It's a route we have been wanting to do ever since we drove over the col a few weeks ago. The gradient is nothing too serious and the scenery is just spectacular. Here, we are looking towards Roquefixade in the distance ....
... and here, we are looking from Roquefixade back towards Mont Fourcat and the little road that contours the hillside beneath it, along which we had just cycled
A cracking circuit, albeit a tad 'lumpy', but I think it did me good!

Sunday, 21 August 2011


The temperature has remained high (35 degrees in the shade today) so an early start was necessary for our mountain bike outing yesterday. I got to Pat's in time for a 09.30h start and we quickly set off along the track which turned into a rideable path through to Dun. The path section was where we had our first inkling that the insect population was going to be a problem. We found ourselves mobbed by flies, probably due to the overnight damp that was now being warmed up by the strengthening sun. But they were just flies. Irritating, but not a major problem. Having 'armed' myself with a section of twig as a fly twatterer (that's a technical term, by the way!), we pushed on to an increasingly steep section of relatively loose track after Dun, which proved challenging but not impossible with more flies, before a fun run down the valley. It's a lovely area for mountain biking with clear views to the Monts d'Olmes in the distance
A section of tarmac was followed by more generally rideable path on which we were again mobbed by flies. Except these weren't just flies. These were horseflies. Clegs. Of the biting variety. They were manic. I mean, they were seriously deranged. Think the fly version of Hannibal Lecter having been on a starvation diet for 6 months! They were evil. They divebombed us from every angle and it was just impossible to repel them with my 'twatterer' when cycling narrow and fairly technical single track path. Pedal faster. Faster! Outrun the bastards! Nope. Impossible. The next section of tarmac couldn't some soon enough. We took the decision to trade the next planned section of offroad path/track for the comfort of quiet tarmac lanes, as neither of us could face another cleg onslaught and the associated frantic effort to try and avoid them in the rapidly climbing temperatures. By the time we got back to Pat's after 40kms of riding, I was hot and very very sweaty. I later discovered three juicy cleg bites out of my bum and two on my right leg. Despite taking an antihistamine this morning (Sunday), the bites still itch like crazy. I cannot wait until the horsefly season comes to an end and we can again ride in peace, for yesterday's attack was truely something out of my worst nightmare.

Friday, 19 August 2011

Craving cool

It's only natural, when the temperature climbs into the high 30s. The heat can be suffocating and I am a dripping, sticky, uncomfortable mess when I return from walking the dog. My normal route initially takes me past  the fenced swimming pool of the house behind the church. Today, as usual, the water was that terribly tempting sparkling blue that just screams 'jump in, jump in!' Oh the temptation! Then, I pass through the 'place de l'abreuvoir' with its bubbling fountain and basin where passing animals pause to quench their thirst in the cool water before heading on their way. I can't help but dip in my arms, savouring the instant cooling effect that it provides. Then, down the track, where even the shade doesn't offer any respite from the heavy heat. But, I know I will be passing 'The Oasis' which is quite simply a short, shaded section of path beneath which a little stream flows. I know I am nearly upon it when the air temperature suddenly feels noticeably cooler. Yes, much cooler. I have to linger, just for a moment, relishing the relief that it brings. But it is short-lived as I have to move on, back into the sun, which suddenly feels hotter than ever. A cold shower back at home awaits!

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Hotting up

This past week has seen the temperatures return to more seasonal norms, peaking at 33 degrees yesterday and due to climb to 35 at the weekend. It's about time we had a summer! But the higher temperatures do make any activity much harder work and indeed quite draining. The pooch and I joined Pat on Sunday for a 13km walk/run from St-Julien-de-Gras-Capou (what a fantastic name, don't you think!) near La Bastide de Serou which was great fun. It was the first time that we had been out together on two legs as opposed to two wheels for ages, as she has been trying to work out a problematic knee injury which only causes pain when running. But she managed some 8kms on the wonderfully dry tracks and paths before having to resort back to a walk which is some improvement. I ran as many of the uphill sections that I could and felt strong which was a great feeling. It was generally a lovely outing with my bezzy mate and the pooch enjoyed it too.

On Monday, Andy and I took advantage of a slightly more overcast day to do a 13km/570m+ run from the house. Although it was overcast, the humidity was stifling and I don't think I have ever sweated so much on a run! It was quite draining but the legs were working well. A cold shower when I got back quickly brought my temperature back down!

I spent most of Tuesday trying to sort out a new ADSL contract with Orange for when we return to Pissou at the end of the month and it was after 3.30 before we were finally able to hop onto the roadies for a bit of a spin. It maybe wasn't the best idea as my heart wasn't really in it, my knee started giving me problems and other bits and pieces were also very uncomfortable. It was a very undulating circuit of only 64kms with 700m+ ascent but I was well cooked when we arrived back. I was grateful for the temperatures into the 30s yesterday which I used as an excuse to have a rest day, to stay inside and to get some work done.

Back onto the mountain bike today with my new Garmin Forerunner 305 attached (hurrah!) in more overcast but very humid conditions. We had a cracking 27km/500m+ blast from the house which saw me riding uphill sections and technical downhill bits that I got off for on previous attempts! Great stuff! Although I did spoil it by taking another tumble (a sticking up root was to blame this time!) which has given me a very bruised and painful lower leg. But again, nothing broken!

On a side note, you wouldn't believe it was peak holiday season down here. Each time I have been out I have been amazed at how few people and cars we encounter on the paths, tracks and roads that are off the beaten track. It's great!

Oh, and apologies for the lack of photos but it's all been very hazy with flat light this week.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Bikey bikey

Andy and I enjoyed our first roadie ride for what seems like ages on Wednesday last week. We had perfect conditions, clear blue skies, just hot enough without being too hot (mid 20s), perfectly still and generally quiet roads. It was a cracker! We went from Fougax, up to Roquefixade and then through to Foix on the top road (one of my favourite roads to ride)....so pretty...

.... and then back via the Herm Valley, Col de Py and Laroque d'Olmes. I fuelled well and felt like the old legs were answering my requests... the 88km/1100m+ circuit took us 3h30m which was not bad riding.

On Thursday, Pat and I met up for another mountain bike outing, this time a bit more local, starting from the Lac de Montbel. Pat's rear disc break seized up on our ride last week, so her bike was at the doctors but fortunately she was able to borrow one from her mate Craig who runs a bike hire business from the lake. It was a little bit different to her own bike and made for more cautious riding than normal. That plus the fact that we had both put in some mileage on the road bikes the day before and so had tired legs resulted in us cutting short the proposed 48km circuit. But it was a cracker all the same, with wonderfully dry tracks and paths and stunning views as always

I managed to do an 'endo' on the last descent, catching a deep rut as I took the wrong line, which could have been nasty. But fortunately the only thing that got broken was my Garmin! All in all, a fun outing of 32kms in hot weather which was to be followed by a couple of days of doing not a lot. Well, I deserved it!

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Getting about a bit

The weather over the past week has again been extremely mixed with hot sunny weather punctuated by much cooler, wetter days. We don't seem to be having any good prolonged spells of summery weather this year!

Andy has spent the past week working on Sadie, doing all of those jobs that will finally finish off the van, such as fitting the retractable step, fitting a step plate to the interior step, wiring up the audio visual system, adding sections of skirting and much more. We're going to spend a few days away in the van during the coming week, probably further west along the Pyrenean chain and I have to say it will be lovely to have her in a 'finished' state!

On the exercise front, I managed to grab a quick run with the pooch on one of the cooler days and knocked 4 minutes off my PB for the 10km circuit from Lavelanet via Pereille. For the first time in ages, my legs actually felt like they had some spring in them and the run felt effortless, even the uphill section which has always felt like a bit of a slog .... I'll have more runs like that please!

Then on Thursday, I spent the day out with Pat on our mountain bikes. We did a fantastic circuit in an area of the Aude called the Razès, which is east of Mirepoix and west of Carcassonne. It turned out to be a much hotter day than I had expected, as the early morning cloud lifted to expose the full power of the sun. There is nothing quite like the smell of baked earth and of wild lavender and pine.... we both commented that it felt just like being on holiday!
The 45km circuit took us along tracks amidst the vineyards of the Côtes de Malpère ...

....with their ripening fruit
....and past fields of sunflowers - fantastic riding and beautiful scenery.

We stopped for a coffee/shandy half way round which was very welcome. It turned out to be a very undulating circuit and I didn't take on board enough fuel and was flagging by the time we finished. But what a cracking ride and what a cracking day with my bezzy mate! Looking forward to more long rides in the coming weeks.  Full stats and ride profile on the usual site.

Monday, 1 August 2011

Another week

How time flies! It's August already - how did that happen! But thank goodness the weather has returned to more seasonal temperatures and that golden orb in the sky is well and truely back. It was simply dire until the middle of last week, but I did manage to grab a nice little 10km run up on the Plateau de Sault along the Cathare Trail on Wednesday during a brief interlude. I think this photo sums up quite nicely the kind of skies that have dominated recently!
Then on Friday I hopped on the mountain bike for a wonderfully fast 35km circuit from the house, using as many tracks and trails as possible but avoiding the excessively muddy sections that make riding unnecessarily hard work. I pushed hard all the way round and felt well-worked when I arrived back home after under 2 hours in the saddle. Full stats on the usual site. I love my mountain bike. Hopefully more riding in the course of this week.

The past two days have been spent making the locker and cupboard doors (all 20 of them!) for Sadie and doing many little jobs that have been on the list too. Having locker doors will make such a difference in the van as everything will obviously be securely stowed away rather than flying out when we go round a corner too fast! We need to acquire another 3 push button knobs but otherwise they are done. Don't they look great?