The plan, simple. Point car south, drive 15hrs until big hills get huge. Decamp, aclimatise, clip in, drop out.
Temperatures rise gradually as a blue horizon draws closer. Hit the bottom of France then turn right. Two more hours and a house and friends await. And hills. Proper hills. This is what my good wheels have been waiting for.
Wake. Brew. A still warm air envelopes as I walk outdoors, coffee in one hand, shoes in the other. A warmth so resonant, it’s unheard of in northern Europe. This is why we are here. 90psi on this tarmac. Bone dry grip and quality finish make warming up a joy. Not a car in sight. Not village in sight. Vineyards line every verge, their distinctive sulphur aroma reminding that humans do come here occasionally. Stop to faff. Faff done, pee. Standing amongst future vintages lapping up early morning sun while it’s still on my side. Hilltop aerials get closer. Perspective changes. No longer looking ahead to a distance. It’s all got close focus. Twelve turns before the view. Birds of prey silent above. The obligatory battered french car trundles past heading up. Approach the top and look back. Hard to imagine those turns made it this high. 12 turns exchanged for 1100m.
Hard breathing, full zip undone. my route turns north facing. Zip up and head down. Winding through green trees the other side of the red rock. Still pockets of moisture hang on as small bridges over the ravenes. Snow capped pyrenees appear fleetingly in the spectrum in front and curl away again behind pines just as quickly. Freewheel past the house with the hounds. Hear my greeting. Rename stretches as I go. Turn after turn becomes short steep climbs back up to the next ville floure. I remember the Madonna statue on the corner before the field of goats. Her freshly painted cloak of bright blue against a white backdrop. So fresh and clean she stands out here. The goats have moved, to their shed roofs. Hooligans – Hooligoats.
Through hamlet after hamlet. Lazy dogs lie around in the shade. Cats draped over walls doing the same. Not moving, one eye opens just to check. The village stood still. A life stood still. Wine runs out from a pipe in a wall like a blood stream. Wheels roll past, skewers rattling. Short hard breaths gulp dense air – rich and warm. Up then across. Up then across again. The sound of wind caught in delicate trees. Euclayptus I think. Beautiful leaves shuffle together around me. Smell the figs on the branches. Sweet warm aromas. Feel like Dorothy in the poppy field. Just…lie….down….here. Do not stop. Nature beguiles. Climb further. The road thins out, quality slips. Shifts are slick on new cables. Cattle block the path. Take in the view while they do their thing. Sit, eat, breathe, look. Stop and just look. Sit. Look some more. A day ago…I was back there, and now. Goodness me. Sit, feel, disengage to re-engage. Frequencies align. Mountains loom. Not a cloud. Path opens. Restart, ears filled with wind rush. Breeze welcome. Descend passed ruins. Life that was. Wind through pine forests like Bavaria here. Sit up and stretch. Freewheel clack. Cicadas sing to each other. Gekos chase each other into cracks in stone walls. Salute locals sitting wondering why anyone would live anywhere else. Ponder. Clif bar nibbled.
Up through dappled light, it’s pattern cooling. Vapour trails above. People sit in rooms in the sky. Looking at me looking at them, Terra firma. The red earth is dry. Rocks too hot to sit on. Gloves slip on clammy hands gripped by bar tape. Cadence is ok but not good. In two hours I will be in the sea. In one hour I will have iced tea in my hand looking back at this moment and feel satisfied. In one hour I will not need this like I do now. 7% becomes 10% becomes 12%. Turns feel vertical. 34/ 28. See another on wheels. Accelerate to catch up. Just caught before the last descent. My wife waits at the top. Climbed no 3 in reverse to sit in front of the mountains and bumped into me. Happiness all round. Spin the descent together. Weaving and winding. Tucked in like Sean Yates. Get scared then sit up and air brake. Speed into home straight. Unclip and straight into our private river rock pool. A friend bears cheese. Bikes hung and rested. Forgotten until tomorrow. Repeat. Simple is usually best. It is decided. I will live here.