A ride of 750km to take in 27 cols and every iconic Pyrenees climb on a coast-to-coast route – that sounds like a recipe for adventure to us!
It’s exactly the trip that Aaron and the British Adventure Collective crew were inspired to take on earlier this year.
Aboard an assortment of Datums and Croix de Fers, the quartet set off from the sea near Biarritz, with seven days of riding in store before reaching the coast just outside of Perpignan.
We join Aaron as he recollects a particularly steep slope in the Basque Country, where he picks up the story of his adventure.
It’s 34 degrees. The hot afternoon sun is beating down hard and the air is humid and suffocating. Although it feels as though a big storm is brewing, my prayers for rain appear to go unanswered as I wrestle my bike side to side up the steep slopes of the Basque Country.
Having chosen to attempt our Pyrenees sea-to-sea traverse in September for the cooler conditions, I have to say this was not the plan.
Our 750km route from the Atlantic all the way to the Mediterranean unapologetically aimed to include every iconic climb the Pyrenees has to offer, taking in a grand total of 27 cols and 18,000m ascent. Barely into our first afternoon of this adventure and it was hard not to wonder whether we’d bitten off more than we can chew.
Although it may seem as though I’m some sort of pain-seeking sadist, I really am in it for the downhills. Four sweaty messes eventually do reach this high point, and we lean into the fast, open and electrifying descents that seem to go on forever.
With the generally quite modest gradients, the downhills can be over 20-kilometers long, easily clocking speeds in excess of 80kph between the sweeping hairpins. It’s all too easy to forget about the sweaty struggle.
Our first few days are clagged in and the west of the The Pyrenees boasts lusciously green rolling hills that wouldn’t feel out of place in Yorkshire, although that could be the dense fog and periodic downpours that make us feel right at home?
After a couple of tough days though, our legs are starting to condition to the bikepacking weights that comes with a self-supported journey, and as we enter the Haute Pyrnees (means high en Français) and the landscape starts to feel distinctively Alpine and the days get even punchier.
Waking to another day with beautifully soft morning light, and riding at higher altitudes where the air feels perfectly crisp, we make good progress over col after col.
We’re deep in the remote reaches of the range now, and the wildlife and dramatic scenery provide plenty to look at on the everlasting climbs. Eagles soar overhead and dodging herds of wild horses become our new norm, however facilities and cafes are getting fewer and far between.
Burning well over 6000 extra calories each day, consuming enough food is always a challenge but one we’re more than happy to rise to.
Paul (our Toulouse local and meticulous route planner) had kindly lined us up a beautiful cabane high in the mountains. We weren’t disappointed when we finally reached the bothy-like shelter, which although basic, provided much-needed refuge from the rain and we get a roaring fire going to dry off our sodden clothes.
Waking up to the quaint chimes of the cattle on some sort of pilgrimage to god-knows-where, it certainly feels like we’ve broken the back of this big adventure.
Soon enough, we’re on a 120km victory lap through French Catalonia, meandering through vineyards. In addition to the language change, these rolling hills feel noticeably more arid but before too long we can smell the fresh sea air.
With the Mediterranean in my sights, I accelerate towards the deep beach, my front wheel digging abruptly into the coarse sand, somehow staying roughly upright and we make a final run for the sea.
Jess did deliver on her promise to flop (not so) elegantly into the cool waters and we spray some prosecco in celebration. What a ride.
We experienced some of the most beautiful riding France, or perhaps even the world has to offer. The Pyrenees should not be underestimated.
The ascent feels totally relentless and you’re entering an isolated wilderness that brings changeable mountain weather, but the beautifully varied scenery, culture and food make it all worth the trip!