Page 36

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DAY 114

Carcassonne to Ax les Thermes 

This was Easter Sunday and a day we won’t soon forget. Some are saying it was our most miserable day yet, I think it was my second most miserable, after the Hill of Death. We got up in the rain and rode all day in the rain. Everything was drenched including our tents and us. The weather was changing by the minute as the day wore on so it wasn’t equally wet and windy for everyone, depending on where they were in the ride, which may help explain why some people suffered more than others. It should have been a spectacular day, the most beautiful scenery we’ve seen, maybe this area is as beautiful as it gets! I just wish we could have seen it more clearly. It was pouring rain, making it hard to see anything, the scenery or the DRG. I am over my cold and feeling good again but on this rainy day my nose was running a stream too. That becomes an issue on a bike in the rain, for paper tissues are useless and cloth is no good either as it soon becomes soaked in the rain, ever try to do your nose with a dripping wet handkerchief?

We were climbing the Pyrenees, first the foothills, then the mountains themselves. It was spectacular! Have I said that already? I can’t say it enough! I am going to do this day’s route again someday, on a sunny day. Maybe not on a bicycle though. We rode on Highway D 104 to Limoux, then on D 118 to Esperaza and Quillen. The DRG informed us that the Tour de France used this road in July 1998 but I was too soggy to be dazzled. Then we switched from one little road to another as we rode through Coudons, Espezel and Camurac, climbing all the while. An 11 km. climb began at 50 km. out, by the time we reached Coudon we were at 3000 feet. At 78 km. out we climbed for 4 km., leveling off at 4000 feet just before Camurac. (These are the climbs noted on the DRG; actually it was uphill most if the day.) Thank goodness for the climbing though because the hard work generated enough heat to keep me warm, maybe not my fingers and toes, but most of me.

At the beginning in the foothills part of the day, there were many cone shaped hills like miniature volcanic mountains. They were covered with green trees to the top, and there were beautiful green rounded hills and flatter areas in-between. I have never seen cone shaped hills anywhere else. I wonder how they could have formed in that shape? As we pedaled, passing one scenic vista after another I grew more and more frustrated by the rain because I couldn’t take photos. Finally there was a break in the downpour and I did take a picture. It is not clear and doesn’t look like much, but that was the kind of day it was.

We continued to climb, finally reaching the summit at 4579 ft. and we were elated to be there. The rain and wind had made it hard to stay the course, but we felt rewarded by the magnificent view. It had stopped raining for a while at the end of the climb, luckily for me, allowing my raincoat and windstopper gloves to nearly dry by the time I reached the top. (My windstopper gloves get soaked in rain and then are not as effective at keeping my hands warm. One rider, Ken of Vail, was wearing his SCUBA gloves, which were just the thing for such a wet day. He was most likely the only rider with warm hands.) Another rider, Dan of Dalia and Dan, was wearing sandals without socks. How he could tolerate the cold baffles me. Every once in awhile during the day we’d get a tantalizing glimpse of the snow covered mountains in front of us, and finally we were there, at Col du Chiouia, 4579 ft. It was gorgeous! The sun came out, the clouds lifted almost off the mountaintops, and we took turns posing with our bikes for photos in the snow with the Great Pyrenees Mountains behind us. It was impossible though to catch the magnificence of those huge snow covered mountains in a photograph.

After enjoying the summit for a few minutes it was time to get ready to go down the other side of the mountain. I put on all the clothes I had and put a plastic bag inside my jacket. The DRG said: CAUTION Steep, curvy, wonderful 10.4 km. descent. It was all of that and more. It had started to snow, then hailed which hurts when it hits your face at speed, and finally was raining when I reached the bottom. About halfway down I stopped to warm up a bit before finishing the descent. It had been a long hard ride for me and it was late, maybe 6:00, by the time I finally reached our destination, Ax les Thermes. We were camping outside of town near a stream in what would have been a pretty place but for the rain. Some riders who had come in earlier in the day had pitched their tents and the tents had more or less dried between the intermittent showers. (It is the inside that needs to be dry.) I was in no mood to pitch my tent, which was dripping wet from the previous night’s rain because it wouldn’t dry this late in the day, because I was very tired, and because it was already dinnertime.

I made up mind to find a hotel room but first I had to find my luggage. Oh wow! What a mess! What had happened was this. We had been using moving van type trucks for our baggage because we had lost the use of the gear locker trucks because they couldn’t be insured. Then suddenly one insurer in the U.S. decided he could do it after all. We would get the locker trucks back. The moving van trucks were returned while we were in Carcassonne on a layover day, but then we found that the locker trucks would be later arriving than expected so more rental trucks had to be found, not an easy task. (It was Easter Sunday weekend and everything was shut down. The French take Easter very seriously.) The trucks that were found were too small and would have to make two trips to move everything. Those who were among the first to the trucks in the morning loaded their bags. When the trucks were full the latecomers stacked their bags under the eaves of a building in a largely vain attempt to keep them dry. I loaded my wheeled bag onto the first truck and leaving my tent up for the time being, ran to get on the bus to breakfast because it was due to leave. I would take my tent down after returning from breakfast. But the bus wasn’t full and would be waiting awhile, so I thought I had enough time to take my tent down. I ran back to do it and by the time I was done the first truck was full, so I had to load my tent bag onto the second truck. Now my two bags were on two different trucks. The bus was pulling out so I ran to get on it, otherwise no breakfast for me. Whew! What a way to start a day!

When the gear trucks had reached the campsite in Ax les Thermes that morning it was raining, of course. The camp- ground’s director allowed them to unload the trucks into a shed comprised of several rooms, all of which were filthy and piled with useless looking old junk but at least it was dry. They threw the bags everywhere and of course went back for another load. By the time all the luggage was unloaded the bags were stacked several deep in several rooms with no place left to walk. To locate my bags I had to crawl over the bags of others and try to lift the heavy dirty things to see if mine could be underneath. Since my bags had been loaded onto two different trucks I couldn’t even hope to find them together. They weren’t together but I did find them eventually, and moved them to a spot near the doorway. Then I got on my bike, pedaled back to town, and went door-to-door trying to find a hotel room. Eventually I succeeded and just in time too to make it to dinner before they stopped serving. I paid for my room, carried my bike and bike bags up four flights of stairs to my room and hurried to dinner. After dinner it was dark and cold and there was no taxi to be found.

My plan had been to take a taxi to the campsite, have it wait while I recovered and loaded my bags, and then have it take me to my hotel. Now what was I to do? It was a long, wet, dark walk back to the campsite and to return carrying my bags would be impossible. I didn’t really need to have everything I owned with me to survive the night, but I wanted to take advantage of the hotel room to dry my tent because I would need to use it the next night and it might still be raining. I also wanted to reorganize my stuff so that it would fit into my locker the next morning when the gear trucks were promised to arrive. All of my stuff fits into my 2 bags but when all my stuff is in the bags the bags won’t fit into the locker. Since the locker is longer than the bags are, I solve the problem by removing the things I don’t use every day and then stack them at the very back of the locker. Each morning I slide my bags into my locker and the door will just close. Barely. Some people have popped the hinges off their doors trying to shut them on an over stuffed locker. And to say that I slide my bags in is not correct. I push, shove, squeeze, knee, grunt and groan the bags in. I am usually in a sweat and exhausted by the time I succeed.

Bob and Suzi were also looking for a taxi without success so they asked the dinner vendor for help and he offered to drive them in his personal car. When I heard that I invited myself to join them, what a stroke of good luck! Photographer Al also wanted a ride so he invited himself too. We all fit and soon were at the campsite. This kind man waited while I found my bags which had been moved and trampled on, helped me get them into his car, and took me to my hotel.  Soon I had wet tent draped everywhere! Luckily this old hotel was heated and the radiators were on. Everything dried overnight. Fuel oil is still used to heat the hotels and is the dominant odor inside these old buildings. But a warm bath in a high square tub was a relaxing end to a difficult day, and with everything drying and sorted I slept soundly in the big saggy bed.

Au Revoir! Alice



Carcassonne - City gates and Castle

“No one mentioned the famous legend of how a long siege of Carcassonne was lifted when a fatted pig was catapulted out of the fortified town, convincing the besieging commander that it was not (as it really was) starving and close to capitulation”.      



Superfast Ferry, Greece to Italy          Old Italian Housing - Known as Trulley's (? Spelling)

    Odyssey Riders


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