07 Carcassonne – Casteil (148km, 2635m) Arrival at the ‘base camp’

You are now at post Nr. 07 out of 10 for this tour.
If you want to read the post of that trip in order, voilà:
00a Freiburg – Barcelona preparation
00b Freiburg – Barcelona READY to go
01 Freiburg – Lake Neuchâtel (206km, 1200m)
02 Lake Neuchâtel – Geneva (119km, 968m)
03 Geneva – Lyon (167km, 1585m)
04 Lyon into the Cevennes – on climbing and descending… (157km, 1885m)
05 Lac St. Martial – Tarn (187km, 2900m) Prototype of THE cycle touring day
06 Tarn – Carcassonne (203km, 2683m) – A long day in 3 dimensions
07 Carcassonne – Casteil (148km, 2635m) Arrival at the ‘base camp’
08 Walking over the Pyrenees and cycling down into Spain (110km, 2671m) – reality checks
09 Hot as hell. Tortellà, Costa Brava, Canet de Mar (145km, 1468m)
10 La Final: last 48km to Barcelona & recap. What a tour…


After three days to Lyon and three days through the French Massif Central, with this day, my tour enters its third third and the Pyrenees/Spain section of my tour. The day trip takes me over 150km from Carcassonne to a tiny place called Casteil in French Pyrenees at about 800m altitude and where the paved roads transition into hiking paths ‘of some sort’ (more on that in the post after this one). Casteil will be my ‘base camp’ from where I’ll do my uncertain trip over ‘my’ Pyrenees summit. But first this blog entry on a fantastic(!) ride into new terrain! (about the 1st of Aug. 2017, written on 6thof Aug. 2017)

I was going to start this post with something like “This was an exhausting day, Blabla…”. But I had to realize at the latest now: none of the days are easy to me, despite a very(!) noticeable trainigeffect over the days. There’s always a lot of sweat, exhaustion and sometimes also some pain involved – that is my currency for the distance and/or elevation I cover and places and things I experience. The same holds for this day: it involved a lot of climbing that – in that moment – felt as if it was the first time I experience that kind of challenge; it always comes in a new context – a new destination, a new surrounding, a new length or a new kind of prospect for relief. And what I received in turn? Spectacular views, deep canyons, and also some to me quite symbolic places: Here’s a short prequel to that day – flashback to 1/2 year ago:

In my very first post (00a) I had explained to you how I got to the idea to do this tour to Barcelona this year – that I was doubting whether to do a bicycle trip at all (because, you know… it’s kind of exhausting : D ) but then in January or so, I had casually and randomly zoomed into some places along the route on StreetView and was blown away by how beautiful these just randomly selected spots were – already on StreetView! How crazy would it be in real!? One of the first random spots that was mainly triggering my decision process towards doing the tour would be on today’s route: A ‘kind of canyon’ on a short country road (D10) before Saint-Paul-de-Fenouillet, which in turn is in a valley half way to Casteil. So, all my subsequent route planning – even the general decision whether to go along the french Mediterranean coast or through the inner country (Cevennes) – was based on the ‘fact’ that I just ‘had to’ go through this landmark on the D10 road. If my random Streetview-beaming would have placed me at some other place (e.g. closer to Perpignan or Toulouse) my route would have looked considerably different.

Outcomes of my streetview session half a year ago:


That was enough prequel, but I thought it is a relevant piece of background story because it set’s the tone and importance and expectation of that day.

Now to the current day: It started off around 8am with a surprise: I thought, now that I was in more Mediterranean airs, I could count on hot summer weather. Instead it was raining a bit and consistently clouded:


It was just little enough rain that I decided not to put on my rain gear that I had – the night before – so carefully locked away in the depths of my perfectly packed dry bag. I got on my way, catching a brief breakfast at the central station. This was one of the places in Carcassonne where I felt the most comfortable – not kidding (I had mentioned in my previous post that I would deliberately skip any account of Carcassonne itself, because this is a GREAT vacation)


I went on, again following the beeps of my GPS. Firstly: my optimism about the development of the weather turned out ok: it was actually quite refreshing: a little rain sometimes on the skin, mild temperatures, no blinding sun or sweat – felt perfect actually!

And secondly: it was again an interesting experience to compare how I had imagined this landscape South of Carcassonne to look while I planned the route, and what I actually cycled through. Because, just like on the previous stage, there was no one obvious route (besides the main motor way), I spent a lot of time trying different road combinations. Therefore I was surprised how quickly all those places I so thoroughly looked at on the map zipped by in reality: Saint Hilaire for example – I memorized it as the first land mark town, but in fact I was there so quickly and it was so small and unspectacular that I hardly noticed it.

I had imagined this stripe of land to be rather dry and rocky, but instead it was covered in thick green bushes and forests which was emphasized by the slightly wet weather. And: there was a clearere pattern of climbs and descends than I had imagined. At first it started out very smoothly. For example with an interesting road that guided me along the slope of a mountain on a more or less constant altitude; the road then perfectly draws that altitude slice of the mountain which looks like this: (the mountain is in the east/right)


Or this stripe of land on a moderate altitude (#morecowbell !!!)

Then followed a climb…


…that made me pass Auriac, a midevial mountain village with a fortification:


Up there lives a middle-aged woman, who has a little shop selling home made confiture and juices and a little kind of visitor center. I think she didn’t expect anyone up there in the middle of nowhere under these weather conditions and the busy sounds of cutlery in use indicated to me that I was disturbing her at lunch time. But it was too late: her dog already smelled me and barked an alarm and she came downstairs. I had a glass of delicious apple juice and a quick read in the information folder about the village. 23 inhabitants (down from 150 around a millennium ago), first mentions in  1028 or so. Old!

She also showed me on an elevation profile that I had a little more to climb and would then slide down to Saint-Paul-de-Fenouillet (the place I mentioned above, behind the D10). And indeed: after some more climbing I reached the needle eye that was carved into the rocks (similar to previous video) of the pass and after which the landscape opened up again.

Surfing South, downhill to Soulatgé and then westwards through the valley to a village called Cubières-sur-Cinoble. Here I saw a bar where I had a quick coke and a refill of my bottles and spotted signs to some “Gorges de Calamus”. Sounds interesting, I thought. “The Canyons of Calamus” – like some modern fantasy fairytale (sry… tautology?) about the wizard Calamus, emperor of his mystic canyons and ruler over its tribes of elves and leprechauns. Would there also be a secret door magically displacing me straight to the other side of the Pyrenees? Those were some silly thoughts that occupied me while slurping on my lemonade until I realized: It’s the D10!! My indeed kind of mystical phantasy place that – up to this point – could still have been just a fictional fabrication of the GoogleMaps and StreetView mafia.

I bumped into a trio of girls with heavily packed touring bikes who were travelling from Toulouse to the Mediterranean. They were also heading towards the “Gorges of Calamus” and the way they talked about it it sounded like it was a real thing – like it’s obvious that the only reason to visit this area, and in fact this bar, would be a visit to those Gorges. And, you guessed it… the Gorges were the thing on my StreetView pics.

I followed my route, the D10, that was straight heading into a wall – rocky mountains – the way to it was embedded in thick, green vegetation.


At some point behind a corner the Gorges unfolded. On those Streetview pics it looks like a very small gap (see yourself above). In reality, I guess the road that was going along the left (South) side of the Canyon was about 20m above the at times pretty wild stream at the bottom. The rocks surpassed the road by I’d assume 3 times as much.

Because it is such an attraction there was substantial traffic, that was concerted to only travel every 15 through it in one of the two directions – formally that held also for bikes, but if I would have followed that rule none of those photos could have been shot:



(better photos from my proper camera will follows these are iPhone pics)

So, very clearly: this went way beyond my expectations: instead of a couple of meters of road going through a small cut in the rocks, I was basically cycling through the massive geological history of this part of the pre-Pyrenees: monumental.

Upon exiting the canyon, the valley in which also the aforementioned village Saint-Paul-de-Fennouillet is situated (almost literally) unfolded in front of me. But where there’s a valley, there are mountains – so I could at the same time see the next (but not last or highest) level of Pyrenees dreadfully waiting for me:


I went on, down into Saint-Paul which – just like Saint Hilaire – did not turnout as important as I invisioned it in it’s landmark role. As I went on I passed something that I in that moment declared “the gate to the Pyrenees” which I later saw looks like that even on the map:



Now came a bit that I thought in my planning would be the beginning of the final climb, simply up to Casteil. But surprisingly it went on pretty much on a constant altitude along a stream. At some point a flock of heavy motor cyclists surpassed me – German number plates, Harleys and other heavy machinery. Cool, somehow… my biker friends! : D A few kilometers further, behind another bend, I met them again while they all stopped at the side of the road, lined up and having a short break, snacking bananas. Somehow I found it really nice, almost cute. It looked a bit like some boys (and one girl) on a school trip. While passing them I wished them ‘Viel Spaß’ and they kindly returned it.

It went on like this for a while but slowly transitioned into a solid climb up to Sournia. I should really have studied this segment of my tour better: because in Sournia I thought now it would go just downhill to Prades. So I finished almost all of my water, believing not to need it on the ride down. Two more curves, and it was clear: another climb. I did not know yet that this would be the real climb of the day – from the yet rather cute 500m NN to 1000m NN. Otherwise I would have turned back to Sournia to refill my bottles. Instead I went on.


The weather: more cloudy again. A little rainy and very humid. Normally rain comes from above, sure thing. To me however it felt as if I was cycling through exactly that air where the rain was created, coating me evenly and thoroughly from all sides like a Schnitzel that is being prepared for the crumbing. Very dense and so saturated with water that sweating had no cooling effect whatsoever, so that I sweat even more. Additionally, the higher I climbed, the hotter and dryer it got. I got more and more dehydrated and was actually a little worried – checked how much longer this climb would go on. 1/3 of a Liter left in my bottle which I had to treat very economically. Of course it was not getting dangerous yet. But really strong thirst does not make for a comfy ride, to put it mildly. I think I got the most out of those last drops. The bottle was empty by the time I arrived on the top – at only 990m altitude; nothing spectacular usually.


From there I had a clear view down on Prades (see previous pic in the left), and the long downhill roads leading there (see next pic). In Prades I was now not only going to do some grocery shopping to prepare for the next day’s adventure over the Pyrenees top, but also going to put myself back into a state that would allow me to properly finish the upcoming really last climb of the day from Prades to Casteil. But first: dowwwwwwwn!


In Prades I did a quick detour to a huge Super U supermarket; I parked my bike in a way that I later realized made it very vulnerable – even forgot my phone in the food pouch while shopping. I really have to be more careful. Speaking of it: By coincidence there was also an ‘Expert’ electronics store where I finally got a multi-USB charger to replace the one I got stolen several days earlier in St.Martial (so long ago!) and that would make my electronic life easier again.

Refuled with a cold Coke (sry, but CocaCola is just so good) and Orangina (for a change) and icecream and Müsli bars and a sandwich…. I was ready for the last bit to Casteil. Prades is at just under 400m alt. And Casteil just over 800m. So, calculating optimistically, that’s a last 400m climb. It started smoothly again; hardly noticeable that the gradient was already in the positive.

Here you see the road leading into the main mountain ridge of the Pyrenees; Casteil would be somewhere in between the mountains in the back.

(last stretch to Casteil)

I was a little worried even, because I had only 15km left, and every single meter at a low gradient would mean that in the end I have to climb up much steeper roads. Indeed it got up to 8-10%… but somehow it all went rather quickly. Also because I luckily deviated a bit from my GPS route in order to maintain every little altitude gain and not to cycle downhill anymore.

After some friendly, motivational honks by a line bus driver (and all the united passengers, as I vividly, but certainly falsely imagined), I was up there in Casteil. Turning left into a final few dozen meters at >15% to reach the entrance of the campsite; heavily breathing, soaked in and dripping from sweat… The lady behind the the restaurant bar gave me some empathic looks that somehow created a very immediate, personal bond through the chaos of our (well… ‘my’) verbal language barrier. She opened the office and showed a lot of patience while I constantly interupted the formalities with a reach for my camping towel.

A (as usual) heavenly shower and changing session later, I found myself in the campsite-restaurant, nipping on a beer and ordered and devoured a large main dish. And a second one, to the astonishment of other guests sitting on the restaurant terrace by the pool. This is where a great social encounter with a super nice, modern, young Dutch couple and their kids picked up.


I’ll leave it at this ‘cliff hanger’, as the next day would start in exactly that social setting. I now arrived at my base camp; and as you know, the base camp is the last moment of rest (or peace?) before the madness; tomorrow would be the central climb over ‘my’ Pyrenees summit and a very eventful day full of uncertainties, exhaustion, happyness… all features that already characterized today’s trip. It is all a bit overwhelming to me, I must confess. So much stuff happening in, with and around me in just the course of a day. Life is pretty dense these days…

STRAVA: click


06 Tarn – Carcassonne (203km, 2683m) – A long day in 3 dimensions

You are now at post Nr. 06 out of 10 for this tour.
If you want to read the post of that trip in order, voilà:
00a Freiburg – Barcelona preparation
00b Freiburg – Barcelona READY to go
01 Freiburg – Lake Neuchâtel (206km, 1200m)
02 Lake Neuchâtel – Geneva (119km, 968m)
03 Geneva – Lyon (167km, 1585m)
04 Lyon into the Cevennes – on climbing and descending… (157km, 1885m)
05 Lac St. Martial – Tarn (187km, 2900m) Prototype of THE cycle touring day
06 Tarn – Carcassonne (203km, 2683m) – A long day in 3 dimensions
07 Carcassonne – Casteil (148km, 2635m) Arrival at the ‘base camp’
08 Walking over the Pyrenees and cycling down into Spain (110km, 2671m) – reality checks
09 Hot as hell. Tortellà, Costa Brava, Canet de Mar (145km, 1468m)
10 La Final: last 48km to Barcelona & recap. What a tour…


This is the last day of my tour’s middle section leading me to Carcassonne. It concludes the rides through the Massif Central/the Cevennes. I started after a relaxed rest day at the river Tarn (swimming, eating, hiking, reading). The route lead through the south west end of the Massif Central before reaching the flatlands that stretch from the mediterranean through Carcassonne. In the planning this route was tricky because there were no obvious valleys to follow which lead to a lot of accumulated altitude. (about the 30th of Jul. 2017, written on 5th of Aug. 2017)

Of the 3-day-stretch from Lyon to Carcassonne – 549km in total – I had finished 346km in the two previous stages; so for this day from Rozier at the Tarn to Carcassonne there were 203km left. These numbers I established now in hindsight – I originally thought this trip through the Massif Central would have 100km less in total (3 x ca. 150km). That is certainly a distance that would occupy me all day, but what made it trickier: There is no one obvious route to take. No long-stretched valleys in the direction of travel; instead, several mountain-rows to cross (two main ones) = many accumulated meters of climbing – 2683m in the end.


I had considered changing my route going south around all the mountains (passing just North of Bezier), but I figured the convenience of having a prepared track to follow (on my GPS) is worth more + it would have been more km in distance (like 280… thanks, no, not today) + I trusted my past self (the one that prepared the route) to have taken all things as well as possible into consideration.

It started of course at the Tarn in Rozier: Packed my tent and stuff around 8 in the morning. Got into some fresh cycling gear and headed off along the Tarn to the next bigger city Millau.

Bye bye Rozier (taken from it’s Tarn bridge):


There I added a little breakfast to a banana I had earlier – very nice café with very good music (“smooth rock” I’d call it). Millau was the warm-up milestone about 30km into the ride. Now would follow a longer stretch, slowly gaining altitude before reaching the first real mountain row. It started with one warm-up climb that made me pass under this apparently famous bridge which they call a viaduct.

Viduct As viewed from before Millau…:


…and after Millau:


I continued towards a place called Saint Afrique. On the way I noticed one thing again: It is hard for me sometimes to visually tell if I’m cycling slightly uphill or downhill. All the way to Saint-Afrique and beyond, visually it looked like I was on a completely flat or slightly descending road (0 or -1% gradient). The more surprised I was how hard it was for me to keep a normal flat-land pace of 28-30 km/h. Instead I was crawling around at 22km/h. Only my Garmin would remind me that I was climbing.

I had envisioned this first part on the D992/999 to be very long and tiresome; maybe because I spent a lot of time with it in the planning, because it was a bit tricky to find a good route connecting Rozier and Carc.. At some point – after Montlaure – I turned left into a very wide flatland, passing an airfield that I remembered as a landmark (again: surprised I was there already) and at Belmont-sur-Rance (see photo) started the first real climb – from 450m to 1000m of altitude.


By now it was pretty hot and the afternoon started. After the arrival on top I surfed quite a bit downhill into Lacaune (see elevation profile; the first dip on the first high top). I was very much looking forward to a cool coke, refilling my bottles and having a bite to eat. In Lacaune it turned out there was some local street-“festival” going on: Many Cafés were open, people sitting on the streets, a fleamarket. That might all sound very idyllic to you – but it wasn’t to me. I was tired, hot, it was Sunday, so apart from the Cafés nothing was open, and the Cafés were severely under-staffed. it was quite dirty, crowded, loud. I was not in the mood. At some point managed to get a cold coke, found a fountain to fill my bottles, and then escaped the town – it took all much longer than I had planned or hoped. Outside the town, the next climb started, back to the previous 1000m(alt.). But before, I sat down on the first pole after the town-exit-sign and made and ate some sandwiches and stretched my legs. Then ready to go.

And then again, on top, followed by a well needed descent to a large water reservoire. Another ascend and descend to the village Anglès, and one more ascend. Finally the cascade-pattern of my descending was broken and I was about to have a long and smooth run down to Lacabarède.
The following picture was taken on top of that last… top – probably around “Le Rec”. You look to the South and the wide view indicates a long downhill ride. But you also see that mountain chain in the background? Yes – that wall was still between me and Carcassonne. So: I was already pretty beaten by that time, and really had to force away any thoughts about that last “super-climb” coming up in order to enjoy the long descent first.


At some point I arrived in Lacabarède. Here it turned out that apparently I was a bit sloppy in my route planning 2 weeks earlier: My GPS would have lead me straight up the mountains on some unpaved and presumably super-steep paths. It looked like an extreme shortcut to the long car-route that was going over the mountains at a healthy angle. No way; so I had to improvise a new route: Simply follow the main road for the cars (which – as usual – later turned out to be a normal, rather quiet country road). I feared I’d run out of energy for that climb. So while I was cycling westwards through the valley towards the entry of the pass through the mountains, I suddenly came across this extremely cute little caravan-bar on a parking lot. As if it was sent from heaven. The owner was very nice. And after some other custumer – who had a very obnoxious way of speaking to me and referring to my Germanness – had left, we had a charming chat about e.g. the fact that he was there with his Caravan bar – from 1970, self-refurbished – two months every summer at this parking lot, serving passers by with all kinds of snacks. I had fries with chorizo and lemonade and a coffee. Perfect!!


That really made me feel fine again. I thought I was ready for the climb – still wondering which route exactly to take. The app Komoot (which I sometimes consult because the planning interface is pretty nice to handle) suggested to me a way up on more “hidden” paths, narrowly winding their way to the top. I was a bit sceptical, but also that bar owner said it was a good and beautiful route for the bike. I have no idea what kind of killer cyclist HE is, but: I went on and into that little suggested path that should get me to the summit on a shorter route – and miserably failed. Already before the first bend I knew: I wouldn’t manage: Too steep, too much gravel and rocks – not for me – I had to turn around and did what a road cyclist is supposed to do: took the road (the D88 from Albine to the summit just before Lespinassière). The gradient was actually really fine. I mean, mathematics worked out again: the longer the leg of a right triangle, the smaller its angle (=my road’s incline) to the hypothenuse… that I could have figured out earlier.

Here, in the following pic, I was basically on top. And this was also where for the first time I saw Carcassonne on a road sign:


Quite a relief to know that I did not have to climb anymore. And now followed the return on investment that I mentioned in my blog post 04: A loooooong descent through a very beautiful and narrow valley!

Lespinassière, the mountain village on top:


Suddenly the air was different. More humid, maybe? Somehow it smelled more summery and… more Mediteranean, which makes sense, because I was basically on top of a wall that was previously separating me from the Mediterranean Sea. All this made me feel like new born; I knew I had not much energy left today, but it didn’t matter, cause despite the still ca. 45km left to Carcassonne, there was hardly any work left to do.


When I arrived down at the bottom at Caunes-Minervois and saw the first houses and village after being on the Mediterranean side, the change became even more visible, in very predictable ways: The houses looked more roman/greek (more columns, those roman roof tiles, flowery ornaments) and the flora: I saw the first palm tree of my trip! My previous intuition to consider Carcassonne a landmark and a valid geographical dividing point of my trip was already confirmed.

The new, Mediterranean look (grey clouds in the background but Sunlight from the right(West)):


Now I just had to make it through the flatland to Carcassonne. 30km left. Luckily, the roads were still declining a little towards the river Aude in Carcassonne, so I had an easy and very high-paced ride on very straight roads with not too much traffic and interesting new landscapes: Very softly hilly landscape that was patched by either thick green or dry farm ground – wide views. I’m not exaggerating when I guess my average speed must have been around 38km/h here – aero bars, a feeling of relief and happiness and the so common energy boost that kicks in on the last miles, no matter how tough the day before was.

The day before I had announced to my land-lady of the BnB that I’d arrive around 21h. I arrived at 21.03h. Damn. Too late!

I was damn tired. It was humid, dark… but I was there. On schedule. And – as usual – a shower put me back together.

I will leave it at that, because telling you about how I experienced Carcassonne (spent there two nights)  would destroy the positive note I hope to just have left us with. So, that’s it for now: I arrived in Carcassonne, exactly according to my plans after 6 days of cycling. So far this trip was working out so well: the landscapes, the rides, the people and friends I met (that was during the rest days), my gear… it all was even much better than I had hoped in my most optimistic ideas of the trip.

STRAVA: click


05 Lac St. Martial – Tarn (187km, 2900m) Prototype of THE cycle touring day

You are now at post Nr. 05 out of 10 for this tour.
If you want to read the post of that trip in order, voilà:
00a Freiburg – Barcelona preparation
00b Freiburg – Barcelona READY to go
01 Freiburg – Lake Neuchâtel (206km, 1200m)
02 Lake Neuchâtel – Geneva (119km, 968m)
03 Geneva – Lyon (167km, 1585m)
04 Lyon into the Cevennes – on climbing and descending… (157km, 1885m)
05 Lac St. Martial – Tarn (187km, 2900m) Prototype of THE cycle touring day
06 Tarn – Carcassonne (203km, 2683m) – A long day in 3 dimensions
07 Carcassonne – Casteil (148km, 2635m) Arrival at the ‘base camp’
08 Walking over the Pyrenees and cycling down into Spain (110km, 2671m) – reality checks
09 Hot as hell. Tortellà, Costa Brava, Canet de Mar (145km, 1468m)
10 La Final: last 48km to Barcelona & recap. What a tour…


So far my travel days consistently progressed both in terms of their physical challenge and scenery. This day is no exception. It was extremely exhausting to me at times, particularly on the later climbs. But equally rewarding: the landscapes: no words. And how I flew down into the Tarn valley: a mind blowing experience. Here’s more: (today also more photos/videos)

I got up around 7.30h to put together all my stuff (packing the tent, bags and bike, dressing, etc.). Sadly I was optimistic enough to leave my high quality 4x-USB-charger and one battery pack in the socket in the bathroom. Someone took it. Damn, this was really a valuable piece of equipment. Also when building up my tent the night before, one part of the tent bars broke… an improvised fix did it for the moment.
Bye bye Lac de Saint-Martial (for video impressions check the previous post):


I decided not to leave on an empty stomach and got a small breakfast at the beach bar of the little Lac de St. Martial. Luckily! Because the day would start with a long and heavy climb. The gradient hardly ever went below 5,5% and by noon I already had accumulated 1000m of altitude. Yes, it was exhausting. But these views made it very bearable (also for my ‘climbing psychology’ check the previous post):

What is particularly striking is the smells around (again, more on that in the previous post)… especially when riding uphill, the pace is slow enough and one is sheltered from any headwind, so the fragrances can really work there way into my nose and mind. In this region it’s often the smell of pine trees, camomile and other things I do not manage to identify but smell very familiar.



Oh, I like that prospect on my Garmin:


And (intermediately) finally: arrival on top:​


On the summit I had a chat with a couple who recommended me to do a just 200m(!) detour to see the source of the River Loire! Without meeting these two I would have raced right past it! Voilà: “Here starts my journey towards the ocean”… how I love personifications – so powerful. Cute in this case.


But this was just a tiny fraction of that day’s stage. Naturally it continued with a great downhill ride…

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…followed by a lot of up and down on a high altitude (about 1200m) towards Lagogne. There was also a short piece of gravel on the way: almost lost control of the bike on the pebbles and sand… (simply due to the filming with one hand. Yes, mom and dad, I’ll be more careful!)


In Lagogne I really needed some calories. The bar owner was just about to close for the noon break, but was willing to make me a pizza and let me sit outside while he closed; also had a nice chat about Tour de France (which I don’t know much about…)

What followed was a somewhat ‘risky’ bit: the D71 leaving Lagogne to the south. There was no streetview available for that road; which is usually a sign that it is not paved. But: this road was the perfect connection of the route, I hoped it to be scenic (just judging by  the terrain profile and intuition) and I believed, if this road has a number as a name it must be paved. This time my optimism turned out justified. The road started with a pretty level stretch, actually even a descent:

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…but quickly turned into a real long climb. Exhausting, really. But boy/girl was it worth it: Naturally it was followed by a downhill ride from heaven; it started here, on the summit of that road. Surfing down into the valley:


From there on it was a lot more up and down… e.g. via the D41 (in case you’re bothered to look it up). A lot more down than up actually, which was nothing good: in a moment when I was already very tired, I had to do another ca 800m (of altitude) climb to get onto a plateau into which the river Tarn  – my destination for that day – had cut its way throughout the passt millionenia (yes, a new word. From now on). That was really heavy. But at some point I did reach the top, and it had its very own beauty:


The God of the cyclists (Merckx or someone) wanted to torture me a little more, though. This came in the shape of needles; almost literally: very sharp peaks on the plateau: short, but really steep climbs (>10%) in combination with headwind. Luckily relief stages in between, like it’s supposed to be for a solid torture session. But – to keep it biblically – at some point I saw the light: DOWNHILL. Into the Tarn valley. Not just a bit: really long, incredibly well paved, pretty steep, no sharp bends. I think I broke my personal speed record: 75 km/h. With luggage. In these situations my chosen setup really pays off: it is rock solid. Nothing is moving, all bags tightened – in combination with the stability features of my road-configured cyclocross bike: pure control!

Here’s one impression of that ride. Excuse my scream. It was honest. Hell yes!


And at some point, very suddenly, the Tarn valley opened up in front of me. These are moments that will last for as long as I do.

That silence after the wild ride… unforgettable. The town at the bottom is Sainte-Enimie. From there it was still another 35km to the campsite that I had in mind in Le Rozier. Sure, I could have put up my tent here. But since my next stage (after one chilled day at the river) should get me to Carcassonne – and not jut 35km before – the old rule was valid once more: every km I make today is one I don’t make tomorrow.

Luckily the wind didn’t reach out into the niches of the deep canyon and I was cycling along the direction of flow of the here still pretty wild water (meaning going at a slight but helpful decline). On top of that, now set in what I experienced already many times in the final part of a day’s stage: a sudden boost of energy that makes the pedaling feel so easy. I’m sure this is to some extent a psychological/psychosomatic effect – somehow the body ‘knows’ that the end of the tour is near, but that there’s still work to be done.

In any case, this is roughly how it looked. Of course there were places like crazy tunnels in the rock, brick-bridges, weird rock formations, chateaus, etc… but I really wasn’t in the mood for taking more pics. Yet here’s one impression:


At about 21.30 I arrived at the camp site. I had previously announced my arrival by phone. Turned out it was run by a Swiss family. And their snackbar-caravan was still open so they made me an excellent burger! I put up my tent, showered and slept; not necessarily in that order (except for the sleeping). I don’t remember. I was too tired… it was a long and eventful day.

STRAVA: click

04 Lyon into the Cevennes – on climbing and descending… (157km, 1885m)

You are now at post Nr. 04 out of 10 for this tour.
If you want to read the post of that trip in order, voilà:
00a Freiburg – Barcelona preparation
00b Freiburg – Barcelona READY to go
01 Freiburg – Lake Neuchâtel (206km, 1200m)
02 Lake Neuchâtel – Geneva (119km, 968m)
03 Geneva – Lyon (167km, 1585m)
04 Lyon into the Cevennes – on climbing and descending… (157km, 1885m)
05 Lac St. Martial – Tarn (187km, 2900m) Prototype of THE cycle touring day
06 Tarn – Carcassonne (203km, 2683m) – A long day in 3 dimensions
07 Carcassonne – Casteil (148km, 2635m) Arrival at the ‘base camp’
08 Walking over the Pyrenees and cycling down into Spain (110km, 2671m) – reality checks
09 Hot as hell. Tortellà, Costa Brava, Canet de Mar (145km, 1468m)
10 La Final: last 48km to Barcelona & recap. What a tour…


or: On Climbing & descending – the beauty of investment and return with compound interest…

What a day… things are getting real. I started in Lyon and from there entered the Cevennes. It’s amazing what (other) beautiful landscapes we have in the heart of Europe. To get this across I’ll include the few pictures and clips I took that day. And besides that I have a short text about roadbike climbing and financial investment… äh.. yes.

[pardon the inconsistent use of tense] On my third day to Lyon I already felt the training effect. The two rest days there apparently didn’t do harm. My legs are fine and as usual after a couple of kilometers they’re back in their flow. The route started several kilometers southwards along the river Rhone, and just before Saint-Pierre-de-Boeuf right (west) into the Cevennes. This is where the first smooth, longstretched climb started. At some point down into the valley towards Annonay and again a loooong valley climb through e.g. Saint-Julien-Vocance. Some more of that and at some point in the evening I arrived at my destination; the Lac de Saint-Martial, which I had picked mainly because it was at just the right distance from Lyon (not too much less than 1/3 towards Carcassone, which I wanted to reach within 3 cycling days), and because it looked pretty cute in the satellite/Streetview pictures. As you will see below, reality did not disappoint me!

Climbing & descending – the beauty of investment and return with compound interest.

As mentioned above, there were multiple long stretches of climbs today that added up to 1880m altitude gain (on 157km). Quite something when you include luggage in the equation and the fact that I have hardly and longterm mountain experience. Luckily though, most of those climbs were stretched out enough to have gradients between 4 and 6% with some outliers up to at least 10% (estimated). I remained mostly in the saddle. In fact I realized again how inefficient standing up is on climbs – but sometimes necessary and good just to change the position, stretch a bit and shift the load onto other muscle groups – just for a few dozen meters, and then back into the regular position, slowly but consistently winding my way up.

A skill I gained now and value a lot is pacing: I follow the basic principle as I do on flat stretches: choose a gear light enough to have just a little perceived resistance at a healthy cadence (I counted once: 90rpm feels good to me). I am not shy with the small chainring (34T currently). On a climb I will go slow. I never checked my power output, but I guess it is rather low. But I know that by cycling on low pressure I will endure for quite a while; and greatly: it does not feel much heavier over the course of a climb (or day, in case of flat stages): at my healthy power/cadence the end feels almost just as exhausting as at the beginning and I can go on for quite a while.

While climbing I try to not think too much about the climbing. For one thing, climbing makes for a very different placement in the surrounding: because of the low pace and because often the mountain shields from headwind, there is no wind noise in the ear which lets you hear all of the wonderful sounds of your immediate environment: grasshoppers, bees, wind moving leafs, sometimes other animals being busy in the bushes (with ‘other’ I do not mean ‘other than me’ but ‘other than the bees’. Just to clarify. But sure, in the end I’m also just an animal pacing that world).

Then, the lack of moving air also makes scents much stronger: usually the smell of pine trees, other wood, camomile, and other things that smelled incredibly familiar but I couldn’t identify. In any case: like a high class and and ‘all natural’ (whatever that’s supposed to mean) soap bar box. Just more subtle.

And another effect from the slower speeds: I see more; obvious. I can stick for much longer to little details that are very close by: the pattern of the year rings in that log, two butterflies mating on the pavement, the old lady on her bench on her front porch, the multiple times rolled over ferret-kind-of creature whose tragedy is approaching me with every creaky crunchy turn of my tires and crank… beautiful!

When those things do not keep me busy enough, I prefer to deviate my thoughts into anything from e.g. tonal excercises, doing accents, contemplating past events or human relationships or silly mind games. One of the latter that was circulating around my mind is about climbing. I think an analogy of financial investment very much matches my psychology on climbs:

Winding my way uphill is an investment; I give away and invest current ressources – namely calories and more importantly the (primarily clearly) negative experience of work and exhaustion – and receive a return in the future – a downhill ride that is a fun experience, cooling, physically relaxing, usually had a great view and also moves me forward on the map very quickly. The thing is: that investment is very solid: I know that I started on several hundred meters above NN in Freiburg, and I will end on 0 NN in Barcelona. The return is guaranteed; like with a current German government bond. So you’d expect there to be no interest on it (since there’s no risk involved (no: Barcelona will not rise from the sea anytime soon)) – but there is: a future descent has a much higher value to me than a current descent. That is because a future descent includes the descent itself, and the hindsight memory of it, but also the joyful anticipation of it! On another level there is even some sort of cumulative interest involved: because I have the feeling that my joy on a downhill ride increases exponentially with it’s length and the length is proportional to the amount of uphill riding which naturally in turn is proportional to the time spent. So: the longer I climb, the exponentially higher the return. What a deal! Take my money!!

So, ja, I admit it might sound a bit far-fetched but I think that’s about the mechanism at play. Bottomline:

  • I like climbs because they pay off very profitably
  • Climbing makes you make up weird analogies

But here’s the practical application: The day was in fact concluded by a very solid climb that climaxed in a really steep section on the very last few hundred meters. Strangely, my destination, the lake Lac de Saint-Martial was situated right on top of that last climb, which means that one edge of the lake (my arrival edge) was immediately bordering a steep valley front; almost surprising that the wall of the sea bed is apparently stable enough to hold the lake. As you can imagine, this situation made for a great arrival: instantaneously from ‘torture’ to paradise – impossible withought the climbing. Just look at this video that I took right at my arrival:

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​Just a few meters before the campsite.​​


Landscape

I knew of course it would be pretty. But I didn’t expect this… even parts that I in my planning expected to be rather dull, necessary sections to bridge the highlights turned out to be really pretty. But as we all know: pictures say more than 1000 words (I realized now that I don’t have too many pictures/clips available; sorrrry. Many though in the next post):

Cola break in Maclas:

Lunch break:



​​
More (and more valuable) photos will be in the next post!

STRAVA: click


03 Geneva – Lyon (167km, 1585m)

You are now at post Nr. 03 out of 10 for this tour.
If you want to read the post of that trip in order, voilà:
00a Freiburg – Barcelona preparation
00b Freiburg – Barcelona READY to go
01 Freiburg – Lake Neuchâtel (206km, 1200m)
02 Lake Neuchâtel – Geneva (119km, 968m)
03 Geneva – Lyon (167km, 1585m)
04 Lyon into the Cevennes – on climbing and descending… (157km, 1885m)
05 Lac St. Martial – Tarn (187km, 2900m) Prototype of THE cycle touring day
06 Tarn – Carcassonne (203km, 2683m) – A long day in 3 dimensions
07 Carcassonne – Casteil (148km, 2635m) Arrival at the ‘base camp’
08 Walking over the Pyrenees and cycling down into Spain (110km, 2671m) – reality checks
09 Hot as hell. Tortellà, Costa Brava, Canet de Mar (145km, 1468m)
10 La Final: last 48km to Barcelona & recap. What a tour…


I’m not sure a cycling day could be any more diverse than this third one…

  • from strong rain to blue sky
  • super hot to really cold
  • perfect pavement to heavy gravel
  • long 5-15% gradients to Dutch-type flatness
  • -Thick air to stable headwinds

In general this day was another good preparation for the centralparts of my trip (Massif Central and Pyrennees) because today’s distance was pretty ok, and there was some climbing involved. I mean, in the end I got myself (and 25kg of equipment) over the southern Jura mountains.

After a very sleepless night in a hostel (I had a room’mate’ who remarkably mastered both smelling and snoring on a pro level) and a pretty decent hostel breakfast I started off at blue and cloudy but dry weather in Geneva.

The ride started with this bright encounter: Within the first couple of km I approached two cyclists with a label “Barcelona” on their panniers! We had a brief chat. Turned out that Florian and Johannes were also German (started in Ingolstadt) and we’re following a similar route as I am (generally more South). We briefly exchanged contacts and I’m confident we’ll meet up for a Cerveza later to celebrate our arrivals together.

I went on, and the weather turned. Sadly I was so optimistic about the conditions that my feet were already kind of wet by the time I put on my rain gear. In any case: real rain… wrapped up like a mummy, I arrived at Chancy, a little border bridge, and entered France. And that’s where also the Jura starts. By now it was sunny again. The first road into the Jura turned out to be a super steep, slippery and rough gravel road – This can happen… that I missed some of those spots in my route planning. But more problematic (to me) was that from the first second of that climb I was accompanied by an aggressive little dog that – as far as I interpret it’s behavior – tried to catch me. It almost had me… but I gave all I had and escaped; perfect: that adrenaline got me through the next steep and rough 400m. (Ja, I’m not really a dog kind of guy).

Some impressions from when I entered the Jura (still at lower altitude): here the feeling of exploration and adventure really set in; because I have never seen this kind of area (while I had already ideas about the previous landscapes in Switzerland)


Then paved road again and the real long climb began… Gained about 800m altitude over a rather short distance. 7% gradient on average, I guess. And now it was hot and sunny. Certainly better than climbing in the rain.

Judging by the chalk letters of famous cyclists on the ground I was following a Tour de France road.


At some point I arrived at 1100m where I had a nice chat with a local who like me enjoyed this fantastic view and agreed to take my picture. In the background behind the clouds, usually the Montblanc would be visible.


Up there it was really cold and now there was no mountain between me and the solid west wind anymore. But generally very quiet up there!

From there it went mostly (not exclusively) downhill. But once more I ended up on heavy gravel in the woods. And in terms of rain now shit hit the fan. Felt like a wet winter. Here’s an impression from a rainless moment in the woods:


Luckily no uphill fights anymore. At some point I reached a low altitude where it was warmer and greener again. And then surfed down a valley… unbelievable:


Sadly, at some point my potential energy that I worked for so hard earlier, was gone.. At this point I was really exhausted. Just the perfect moment to get the Bifi Roll into the game that I received from Diana and Micha three days earlier.


At some point I was liberated from the shadows of the Jura and absorbed by the width of the Rhone valley landscape. 60km to go to Lyon. And now strangely I felt really strong. I put on some motivating music.

Soundtrack of that Stage:

  • Tom Misch and
  • Talking heads

Perfect!

I raced down towards Lyon. Apart from another unwanted gravel episode on the last few km along the Rhone, everything went really smoothly and fast. I guess I nailed more than a 30km/h average there.


Arrival in Lyon about 20h. That night (and the next 2 days) I would stay at my friend Bérengère’s and her boyfriend’s place. We went out to have some original Lyonnaise food that night. My Lyon stay is something for some other post, but let me say that these 2,5 days with Bérengère and Geoffrey were very lovely and relaxed and fun! Thanks so much to both of you once more! Bérengère and me had not met in 6 years…


STRAVA: click

02 Lake Neuchâtel – Geneva (119km, 968m)

You are now at post Nr. 02 out of 10 for this tour.
If you want to read the post of that trip in order, voilà:
00a Freiburg – Barcelona preparation
00b Freiburg – Barcelona READY to go
01 Freiburg – Lake Neuchâtel (206km, 1200m)
02 Lake Neuchâtel – Geneva (119km, 968m)
03 Geneva – Lyon (167km, 1585m)
04 Lyon into the Cevennes – on climbing and descending… (157km, 1885m)
05 Lac St. Martial – Tarn (187km, 2900m) Prototype of THE cycle touring day
06 Tarn – Carcassonne (203km, 2683m) – A long day in 3 dimensions
07 Carcassonne – Casteil (148km, 2635m) Arrival at the ‘base camp’
08 Walking over the Pyrenees and cycling down into Spain (110km, 2671m) – reality checks
09 Hot as hell. Tortellà, Costa Brava, Canet de Mar (145km, 1468m)
10 La Final: last 48km to Barcelona & recap. What a tour…


A rather easy day here! And a short blog post…

I had the idea to spend a night either in Lausanne or in Geneve anyway. Lausanne would have been too short (60km); Geneve at a relaxed distance (120km).

The ride was divided into two parts: firstly from my campsite through some hilly terrain to Lausanne, and then from Lausanne along the Lake Geneva to Geneva.


Part 1: After getting up I packed my stuff (took a while), had some spare food from the day before for ‘breakfast’ and headed off. Between the Lake Neuchâtel and Lausanne you find already some softer folds of the pre-Alps and Jura. Those had to be crossed. These 60 km were pretty tiresome and I overestimated my completed distance at any given time by sometimes 50%. So, the lesson after 2 days was: climbing means half the speed/double the time.

At some point the climbs turned into descends. Arrival in Lausanne. The air seemed to be notably more Mediterranean (even though we’re still far from it); the city is located on a steep slope.


However, I did not dive too much into the architectural and historical features of Lausanne, but instead put the emphasis on culinary experiences:

Part 2: The trip continued southwestward along the Lake towards Geneve – another 65km – under headwind that turned out less bad than expected; that menu (depicted above) had such reviving effects that all went quite smoothly.

Pretty!

Arrival in Geneve:


I arrived around 19h and had plenty of time to stroll around the city and sort out everything in the hostel I had booked.

From here i was just 1 daydistance from Lyon.

Strava: (click)


01 Freiburg – Lake Neuchâtel (206km, 1200m)

You are now at post Nr. 01 out of 10 for this tour.
If you want to read the post of that trip in order, voilà:
00a Freiburg – Barcelona preparation
00b Freiburg – Barcelona READY to go
01 Freiburg – Lake Neuchâtel (206km, 1200m)
02 Lake Neuchâtel – Geneva (119km, 968m)
03 Geneva – Lyon (167km, 1585m)
04 Lyon into the Cevennes – on climbing and descending… (157km, 1885m)
05 Lac St. Martial – Tarn (187km, 2900m) Prototype of THE cycle touring day
06 Tarn – Carcassonne (203km, 2683m) – A long day in 3 dimensions
07 Carcassonne – Casteil (148km, 2635m) Arrival at the ‘base camp’
08 Walking over the Pyrenees and cycling down into Spain (110km, 2671m) – reality checks
09 Hot as hell. Tortellà, Costa Brava, Canet de Mar (145km, 1468m)
10 La Final: last 48km to Barcelona & recap. What a tour…


First of all: Greetings from Lyon/France! I arrived here on Monday, 24th of July, in the evening and was welcomed by my old friend Bérengère and her great boyfriend Joeffrey.

That was after my first three days of travelling. As I had hoped, I think they were a good physical preparation for everything else to come. But one by one…

Day 01: Freiburg(GER) – Lake Neuchâtel (CH) (206km, 1200m)
Very importantly: the Friday evening before the first cycling day I arrived by train in Freiburg/Germany – after a somewhat troublesome train connection – where I was welcomed by my Friend Diana and Micha with a) super kind and nice to talk to company and b) a very rich and delicious pasta-dinner. It was just the perfect start of my vacation! Thanks so much again to both of you!


After some good sleep I started the trip on Saturday, around 08:00h. Weather: some clouds and a bit of wind. Ideal conditions I’d say. I simply followed the peeps of my Garmin that I had previously fed with my routes (see my post 00a for the preparation).


The ride went pretty smoothly, disregarding some unexpected gravel paths and re-routed roads. The landscape around Freiburg, bordering on the Black Forest was beautiful, of course – the Rhine however rather unspectacular. No problem, since the only ‘goal’ was to start the trip in Germany; easy to bridge the gap to the Swiss border.

The urban area of Basel approached at just the right moment when I was longing for some change. Passing the border, I had a break and a refuel at the central station in Basel (proper coffee, refilling my bottles, cheesy pizza-bread. Anything that works)


Until that point it was all known terrain to me, since I’ve cycled that bit on a Essen – Luzern trip years ago. But now my GPS-beeps sent me into the unknown territory of the Jura Mountains south of Basel along the road 18 and the river Birs. In fact, in hindsight the cries of my GPS had something of Odysseus’ Sirens: luring me into misery by sketching out a bright future.

Ok, I’m exaggerating a bit. Yes, it was almost continuously going uphill for dozens of km, but at a very harmless gradient. I could have picked an alternative flat route south around the Jura, but I figured this would be a good way to get used to some climbing from day 1 on. I think it was a good decision. But then: rain – on and off – weaker and stronger. I got very skillful in putting on and off my rain jacket quickly. Thanks to my overshoes which I was testing now for the first time, my feetremained dry! Who would have thought this exists: actually rainproof “rainproof overshoes”! (Brand: Velotoze. Basically condoms for your feet)



But this was my first day… while I cycled more this year than in past years, I’d consider myself far from a well-trained cyclist. Also, besides myself I had to lift my bike and especially my luggage over those mountains. So I was having my lows… it was getting colder, I was getting weaker, my jersey wetter (from sweat or rain or a delicate mix). At some point (close to “Moutier”) needed another major break. Now I was already in the francophone territory and could test how much of my French skills remained by asking for a sandwich, some water and my beloved Magnum Double icecream.

And the journey went on. I was surprised how little of the distance through the mountains I had made yet. Another phase of gravel paths, where I misjudged the pavement in my planning. Then a more open plateau with cold headwind. And then I came to a sort of bottleneck where I had to go through a longer tunnel at La Heutte. After that, at “Friedliswart” I could have gone straight down to Biel and then along the Bieler lake. Instead I went left though Orvin along the lake on a higher altitude – in the hope that this way I would not have one rapid descent, but instead spread out my release of potential energy over a longer distance  and thus capitalize more on it. I was SO wrong: now started the toughest climb of the day! long, tedious. Really, that was incredibly shitty. The weather still unstable, wet.

At some point I reached the top point st 800m altitude. I agree… not really impressive; but tiring enough. Then I had the super steep descent (-15%) that I wanted to avoid for economic reasons. It was a pleasure though… the width of the view was in line with my feeling of relief of leaving the climb behind.


At this point I had 170km on the counter. Yes, i had planned to keep this years distances at a lower level, but on the other hand: why not suffer a bit more today in the shitty weather and do some km that I don’t have to cycle tmrw anymore..!? So, I decided to continue a bit and approach a campsite on the South side of the Lake Neuchâtel at a place called Delley Portalban – hoping it wouldn’t start raining again. 35km to go. Tough ones though: weak bones, wind, and worst of all, the last 10km turned out to be the bad kind of gravel road. Thunder and lightening in the distance. Darn… quite a fight.

Arrival at the campsite: 21h. So it was a surprisingly long day. Too late to encounter anyone at the reception of this huge campsite. So I pitched my tent next to the other smaller ones while a thunder storm started. Had a ‘Terrine du Maison’ (weird but good meat with bread) in the beach cafe, and went to sleep.

In summary: this first day was a good preparation in terms of distance, climbing and weather. Freiburg – Lyon is ca 460km of which I did 206km already. Arriving – as planned – within 3 days won’t pose a problem.

STRAVA (click)