Wednesday, October 28, 2009


I came across this link on the randon wire, Got me thinking. I did not approach riding in the Pyrenees as though it was a very safe thing, the roads are smaller with no shoulders and the drivers are just in the same big hurry. Maybe I was somewhat prejudiced by Jean Phi's constant admonishment to be careful and that the drivers here are crazy.
I did not find much broken glass and human debris on the roads, but there are always debris from falling rocks in the mountains. Conspicuously different was the attitude towards cyclists. One motorist swung his vehicle around one of the switchbacks on the Tourmalet rolled down his window to yell at me "Allez! Allez!" The attitude reflected, to me was "I wish I was riding today". Workers on a roof stopped for a moment to cheer you on.

Day Three: Tourmalet and Croix-Blanche
Yumi is driving SAG today as she will for the rest of the tour. A minor mechanical, actually "Vince breaks something else", takes us to the local cyclery in Argeles. Problem solved at a decent cost of 5 Euro's and Yumi drives off with Trudy to the foot of the Tourmalet. She looks nervous, it is the giant of the Pyrenees, it is steep and long.

I ride up from Argeles with Jean Phi and we catch Trudy. I know I will irritate her on her climb so I push on after a while leaving that job to Jean Phi. This side of the giant is moonscape with cliffs I would not want to overshoot.

And the last kilometer gets a little more steep

I ask a spanish cyclist at the summit to take a photo. He asks me if it was difficult. I give him my standard answer; "it is always difficult".

It is getting cold, I put on my coat and why not a hill repeat.

I go down to join them for the last 2-3 k.

And that last steep pitch. I will pay later.

Congratulations T, you have conquered the Tourmalet.

Then Jean Phi leads me on the descent. A quick bike check at La Mongie and we fly all the way to Bagnere. This side is greener with more shade and will be a more clement climb in the summer.

But there is more, Jean Philippe knows the Pyrenees better than the back of his hand and takes me on a scenic tour of this area popular for its healing natural springs.

And beautiful old Churches.

Rolling Pastures, that got me thinking, if sheep are so stupid, how come they make wool.

After a steep Climb of about 1000ft we stop for a picnic which Yumi and Trudy will spread from the SAG. Jean Phi stretches, for he knows what lies ahead.

For after rolling through the most beautiful countryside on a road that would not fit 2 cars side by side.

We climb to Croix Blanche through a brutally steep 1000ft. I can barely stay with Jean Phi at this point. At the top I take a sweeping look at the panorama.

Before Collapsing like Roland.

But clouds are beginning to gather in the mountains quickly.

No sniveling, time to go home, hope the clouds clear by tomorrow, Oh! who can think that far?

Back at Argeles Jean Phi asks Dominick, the wife of the Chef and owner of the Mirramont to add an extra bowl of pasta to my Dinner. "Pas de Probleme" I will need it.
10, 000ft of climbing in just over 70 miles.

Thanx to the people of the Pyrenees

Monday, October 26, 2009

Breche de Roland

Charlemagne and his forces have been forced by the Moors to retreat from Spain through the Pyrenees, he has left his cousin Roland with his men at a strategic location in the Mountains as a rear guard. He will come to his assistance once the withdrawal is achieved. At least in one version, when Roland blows his horn, a signal for the relief effort. Charlemagne ignores the signal. Roland then pulls out his broadsword and cuts a gap in the mountain, the breach of Roland, an impressive 300 by 200 foot vertical cut in the mountain ridge. His men escape through the gap and Roland dies of exhaustion. Or so the story goes.

Day two: Col de Boucharo
After soup, salad, main dish and desert the night before. I did not feel that I had packed in enough calories, so I was still pigging out on bread, Nutella, pastries and orange juice when Jean-Phi arrived promptly. His plan was to get me 10,000 vertical feet of climbing. He has several options but as a cyclist I am sympathetic to the story of Roland. He would be kinder to Trudy and drive her up to Luz to start her Climb there, while I am to start from Argeles almost a straight shot south to meet with them at Luz.

It is a cold and frosty morning, I am in wool and a softshell, but there is sun and no storm clouds up in the peaks.

I ride up with the river (Gave de Gavarnie) and it is a non-punishing grade, there are contemporary bridges across this river as well as bridges built by Napoleon and the Romans.

I meet up with them and we head up to Gavarnie. These sleepy little towns come alive in the summer with tourists and soon during the Ski season.

We make a right turn and head up the Col de Boucharo riding past Our Lady of Gavarnie as she looks over and protects the sheep in the valley.

As the grades start to exact a toll,

Our guide stays with Trudy while I run up to the Port de Boucharo, the door to Roland's Breach.

I have mountain bike shoes I may be able to get to it.

As I get there I am thinking that a mighty glacier must have been before.

I cannot find a place to hide my bike for the hike.

And I do not want to declare "Je suis Perdu" like Bob Brudvik on the Rev.

Realizing that I am by the lost mountain between France and Spain.

I cross over to Spain and I shout "Hey Pistolero" (Alberto) "will you fire your piece at the top of the Tourmalet next year"? As if he could hear.

They come looking for me, and we all manage a careful descent back to Gavarnie for lunch.
A beer and pizza, I am ready for the second climb to the Cirque de Tromouse, Jean Phi's favorite.
Oops! once again I break something on a bike.

Plastic Bike! I can hear Bill Olsen say. I can coast to Luz were we get the car and drive to Bagnere. Alain is helpful he replaces it with the slightly smaller size that I passed over the day before.
45 miles and 6,000 accumulated vertical feet, I guess that will have to be enough for one day. Trudy quickly agrees.

Thanks to Alain and the Laurent Fignon Centre

Friday, October 23, 2009


Day one:
With service of Expedia and the Star Alliance Trudy and I set off for the Pyrenees. I have to admit this was my dream, but Trudy had done a lot of the logistics work from this end. I wanted to ride with Jean Philipe in the Pyrenees, where he was born and bred and served in a mountain rescue unit. We start off already tired for different reasons, and though I dislike long flights I appreciate the opportunity for sleep in the cramped up position.
Like Jung I believe in synchronicity, well next, maybe determinism. So here lies the cascade of events. I had been to France before, Paris, No not PBP but as a fugitive family from the defeated Biafra. As a child of war the tensions I felt were incredible. My Dad had been serving for a little more than a year in the African, then called the Portuguese Island of Sao Tome as Biafran envoy. Even at that very young age I realized how lucky we were to escape all the death and starvation in Biafra.
When Biafra was defeated I can only Imagine the stress my Parents went through. Six children and a pregnant mother, No Country! But we had the Catholics. Both strong Catholics, I believe my parents knew every Catholic Priest in that part of Africa. CARITAS saved many a life in the blockaded Biafra and the food that they flew into Biafra was often via Sao Tome.
Somehow they got us (my Dad and the five older children) to Dublin through Paris. I have a very less than romantic memory of Paris, the donated and ill fitting winter coats we were wearing. My Dad whom I had the pressure of trying to be everything his humble beginnings denied him was everything that I am not. With little or no money he still hired transportation to show us the Champs D' elysee and the Eiffel tower. What did I care? I had just parted from two Gems in my life, my Mother and my only brother who, was not yet of school age, they had flown to Libreville in Gabon where my last sister Lota (Remember) was born. They would stay there till my Father figured out his next move. The rest of us were enrolled in school in the Catholic and English speaking (actually bilingual) Republic of Ireland.

The Muoneke Children before departing Sao Tome.

A Catholic Family The O'Malley's in Dublin Volunteered to shelter me. My Dad dropped me off with Mrs O' Malley. She had six children of her own, Chris was same age, so I would share his room and a bunk bed. I hit that bed and slept for almost 24 hours. Looking back I have known depression as a child, I am positively glad the diagnosis was not made as it is frequently made now in this part of the world, so no therapy.
I adapted to my new life and my next bout of depression would come with the news more than a year later that my father had returned to Nigeria and we were to follow. I had come to completely love my new life, Yes! I am fickle, selfish and was growing independent.
The O'Malley's now including me had 8 children, I am including Sophie their Pyrenees Mountain Dog(Patou). She was the friendliest sentient being in the world. I hardly ever saw Dr O'Malley who was out early and back late. He would always be present in his tweed jacket and tie at recitals/barbeque that his wife would hold at their home for the parish choir in which she sang.
He would also join us in our frequent idyllic forays into the outdoors of their beloved Ireland, the land of Lochs and Glens. I always sat with Chris and Sophie at the very back of their Peugeot station wagon. Chris adored Sophie but having come from a different culture, still remember the somewhat unpleasant experience of her strong breath and friendly drool especially in the summer days.
In the Pyrenees, they highly treasure their sheep and the Brebir Cheese they make from its milk. So they are particularly fond of 3 breeds. The Border Collie which is very intelligent unlike the sheep they herd, but with intelligence comes some fear especially with the storms in the mountains. The Labri is a small and fearless herd dog. The Patou while usually docile and friendly will face down a bear to protect the sheep and often work with a nail studded collar to protect them from the wolves that go for the throat.
We arrive in Toulouse, via Frankfurt without our luggage but I have my wool, shoes, pedals , gloves, helmet, eye-ware and electronics in my hand luggage. I am ready to ride. Our luggage will arrive in Toulouse on the next plane from Frankfurt 4-5 hours away and they can deliver it to the Pyrenees Midi the next day. We squash all riding plans for Day One and hang out for a while in Toulouse. We call Alain to inform him of our late arrival.

In Toulouse it is cool and sunny, great weather if you ask me. most of Europe is in a cold front.
The French call it the Pink City on account of the bricks favored for building in this area.

After walking around the city for a bit we settle on L'Entrecote for lunch. We are a little early (the French are very rigid about their meal times) but this proves to our advantage as a line quickly forms behind us. "Must be good" I thought.

They serve only one thing, beef steak and French fries and the only choice is rare, medium rare, medium etc. both items are cooked I believe with duck fat which is loved in this region.

An of course French bread and red wine.
We pick up our luggage after lunch and drive an hour and a half to Bagnere, Jean Phi picks up his bike and we head to the Laurent Fignon Centre for ours.

There the Geant of the Pyrenees sits looking up at the Tourmalet were he will be taken amidst fanfare for the 2010 Tour de France.

Where the winner next year will probably be decided in a mountain summit finish.

There is History all over but this is a very modern training center with its own hotel.
Alain the manager of the centre is very warm and sets us up with a couple of Time machines.
My Orange Fizik Alliante sticks out like a sore thumb.

Next: Argeles-Gazost and more sleep glorious sleep.

Forever Grateful To Trudy, Jean-Phi and Yumi

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Endless Mountains

Endless Malfunctions
How I longed that it disappear
I cannot believe the things I hear
More than a few bonus miles have led me to a wall
And each passing day brings unpredicted cold rains of fall
And looming right in front of me
An invisible and ominous line between
What I am and what I came here to be
Why was this not foreseen?
Undulating line in space
That my courage must erase
I try to think beyond what I seek
And the fear that I may be too weak
Thru the Brothers, Henk and Vince I peek at the other side
Quakertown like an Amish girl soon to become a bride
Yet it all depends on the B B
Bittersweet uncertainty

Endless Memories

Liberty or...