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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.