Finally! I’ve been wanting to head to Andorra for a bit. Not that the whole tax heaven or shopping is of much interest to me, it’s just a way of saying “Mountains!”. A classier way.
To get there, all I had to do was cross some mountains. I’d found out about the Col de Pailheres, culminating at 2,001m … wait. Do passes culminate? Not sure. You know what I mean.
That seemed high enough, and a quick Google StreetView glance revealed hairpins and small road. Let’s do this.
All I had to do was cross Georges’ Gorges (yep, actual name, still giggling), a very short but essentially vertical gap in the moutains.
And very quickly things get interesting. By interesting I mean the treeline stops, the air becomes brisk and the sun shines hard. Also, cows appear.
Now the road looks narrow, doesn’t it? It was narrow. How narrow? This narrow.
I filmed the whole ascent … absolute blast as you could imagine.
Getting to the top you get an amazing view of the road you just went up, as well as the early stages of the mountain range.
Look at that contorted little bit of tarmac!!! Sweeeeeeeet!!!
Those cyclist guys were doing a ton of cols/passes in the Pyrenees, from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean, in a week! This was their last day, headed towards Perpignan. Mad respect to them, that’s some hardcore cycling right there.
Worth mentioning, around here cyclists are not motorcycle-hating hippies. We had a pleasant chat, ending with the dude going “come on, let’s hear those Termis!”. I was shocked, used to the North American standard for cyclists.
Well that’s official now. 2,001m, Col de Pailheres. The sign doesn’t lie. Very few stickers, surprisingly enough. I would’ve thought it was a popular pass.
I decided to go back down the way I came up for some pictures and videos, the other side wasn’t as pretty.
Now look at this picture. Look at it. Have you looked at it? Ok, good. Do you know how much effort it takes to run up a damn mountain, wearing full gear at 2,000m elevation? I thought I’d die!!! So look at that picture. And say it’s nice. I’m waiting.
As I was lying down gasping for air, I did notice a flower. It’s not very pretty, but it made a fancy “oh, look at this bokeh” picture. So there. Prettier purple flowers were all over. I stepped on them, but no pictures.
More pictures of the road going down, this is pretty close to the top of the pass.
Again, I’m taking random pictures, catching my breath. And trying to devise a plan to not have to run about so much for my damn shots.
I failed the whole “let’s stop running far away all the time” thing. I added an extra “let’s park the bike real close to the edge and climb up that little cliff, it’ll look great”. In my defense, it does.
Let’s zoom in a bit more. More better! And yes. I’ll be ripping up that perfect curve in a few.
Beauty shot!!! I do fancy this bike.
Oh! That’s me! Riding up the hill! Magic. I’m on both ends of the camera. And no, I did not set the timer, run downhill with full gear on like a maniac and ride back up. Witchcraft, that’s how it works.
A bit lower, I stopped to say hi to Mama Horse and Baby Horse. They weren’t very friendly … there again, I was walking around in their lunch plate. I’d have been unhappy too.
That video you watched at the beginning of the post? That’s when I filmed it. After making it back down and going up again. Useless timeline fact, but I like to be accurate.
Going down the other side of the Col was a major PITA. The road was covered with fine gravel, almost sand. On purpose, by the DDE (DOT equivalent) for no other reason than fucking up awesome roads, I presume. It was sketchy, and maddening. Very unpleasant.
Thankfully, things improved and I made my way in Ax les Thermes. The descent on the city is spectacular. And the town itself is chock full of bikers. Every cafe, bar, restaurant has dozens of bikes lined up in front.
I struggled a bit to find some much needed gas. I usually hit reserve around the 140km mark. Yeah, that’s 80 miles, I guess I’d run dry shortly after 100 miles. Anyways. Fuel was found, and poured in the tank. Let’s make it disappear again.
Leaving Ax les Thermes is a major fast-ish road with lots of traffic. I love how cars almost always move to the right to let you through. It’s almost embarrassing not to ride like a maniac “no thanks, I’m really comfy taking it easy behind here! thanks, no, I’ll stay behind”. Again, a totally new to me habit, you’d never see this in America. I love it.
Then, the much anticipated Pas de la Casa, the climbing road leading to Andorra. So much fun. A bit of traffic, quickly dealt with with a swift twist of the throttle.
It’s Saturday, Pas de la Casa is busy as hell. Like a giant mall. Overcrowded for my liking. I just ride through the
mall village town. The road keep climbing, great. Maybe I can find a peaceful spot for lunch.
I had no idea I was climbing the Envalira Pass, apparently the highest of the Pyrenees at a quite impressive 2,408m. That’s 7,900′, for the metrically challenged.
Please note the prankster Andorrans called it a port. Clearly that’s bogus, there were no ships in sight. Funny guys.
And indeed I found a nice place to have lunch and ditch the gear a bit.
Baguette, saucisson and Opinel knife. Yeah, we’re in France alright. Oh wait. In Andorra. Shit. Nevermind.That’s me! I tried to look menacingly funny towards the saucisson. I think I failed. Screw you, I ate it anyways. I win.
Coming back down, I had to stop at the ski lift. You know. For ski related purposes. That was a bad call, I lost my earplugs somehow.
Rode back down a bit, and headed up the Col de Puymorens. Nothing special, other than I’d been there a couple years back when going to Spain.
A bit more boring road, with a few too many cops (2) and I’m entering Bourg-Madame. Why is this important you ask? This is why.
Unfortunately, it turns out Spain is full of Spaniards. So I turned around, towards Font-Romeu. I was too late to see the giant solar toaster, might have to do that at a later time.
Villages have funny names here.
Yeah. Those are real names, apparently. Either people are really lazy, or they steal letters off signs. Or they just have a funny language. Oh crap. Now all the Catalans are gonna go after me. Well … it’s been nice knowing y’all.
This being said, the roads were quite nice at times. Quiiiiite nice.
There were gliders all over the sky, I even raced one as it was landing. It won, disappointingly enough.
I stopped at the Matemale dam. Turns out it’s where the river Aude starts. The same river going through Carcassonne where I’m staying. Funny, no? No? Really? Okay.
Then followed 40km of painful sand covered bumpy tight roads. Fucking nightmare. I’ve been out since the morning, not exactly “fresh and focused”, I’m not liking this at all. And by gravel, I don’t mean a patch here and there. It’s patches. All across the road, in the middle of a corner. Hate.
I did ride by this village. Escouloubre. Yeah, another funny name. Pretty funky, as you have the road, lined with a cliff on one side, a small gorge on the other … and houses on the other side of the gorge, with bridges leading to them. I wouldn’t call those driveways. very cool though.
Shortly after, one of those houses was very nicely restored, and it just looked fantastic. I only took pictures of the derelict one though.
I clearly remember thinking “ooooh, that was a good break from this gravel stress”. The road was still shit, but I was a bit more relaxed.
Eventually the gravel finally ended. Turned into a bumpy-as-fuck (yep, that much) tight road. Not pleasant, but at least I can start breathing again.
Crossing Georges’ Gorges again on the way back. Giggled again.
I was unusually happy to see a main road, straight and smooth. I wasn’t even tempted to hurry! Set cruise on 110kph, use tankbag as a pillow and head home after a grueling but fantastic 350km.
What a day.
this is truly inspiring. all the pictures are awesome. I have been following this since you first said you were leaving. ride safe, and keep all the pictures and updates coming. i look forward to them like new episodes of my favorite tv shows 😉 im very jealous
Andy Mitchell said:
I have a house in the Auzat just down the road from Ax Les Thermes on the other side of the Col de Paileres, I am just sorting out an advert for MCN and found your awesome shots of the Col with the Duc, would you mind if i use one of your pictures? The picture will be much reduced forming the centre of a 3cm square weekly advert. The shot i have chossen is of the pass and does not have your bike on it. Yours are the best shots i have found featuring the roads close to the house. I am also updating my website to include a tab for motorcyling and would like to use three or four of your pictures ? I will place a link from the house website to your site if you like ?
House available at a reduced price should you fancy a trip back to the Pyrenees !!!