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Our Boys in the Pyrenees

posted 30 Aug 2013, 07:52 by Mark Burgin   [ updated 6 Sept 2013, 02:07 ]

Three Teams One Goal

We Wonder Why
Since the 11th century Europeans have faced the challenge of crossing the Pyrenees when making the great pilgrimage from the lands of western Europe to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in north western Spain.  Of course this was for many a huge adventure as it remained for us today in our expedition through the Pyrenees.

In researching our adventure and looking for peoples' personal reasons to take on the challenge of the Pyrenees we came across a blog where one individual was responding to another adventurer who suggested taking a bus over the Pyrenees on his pilgrimage.

"The utter beauty of crossing the Pyrenees is that once on the other side you absolutely know that you can now do anything anywhere, anytime, not just on the Camino, but for the rest of your life.  Take a bus or skip it and I think you are likely to continue as you start - to always choose the easier option.  The Pyrenees crossing also demonstrates how the Camino is a mental challenge much more that a physical one, if you think you can do it , your body will follow suit and do it.  But let your mind believe now at the foot of these mountains, that it is OK to follow the easy option, it will wait for you to do that every time you face a bit of a challenge."  - Welna Wilkinson summer 2012.
How true this is for all who venture to the mountains and certainly true for us as we set out on our adventure.

Our German Diplomat
Reflecting further on the history of the Pyrenees, our adventure took place in the summer of 2013. Exactly 200 years ago in the summer of 1813 Wellington and his 60,000 men chased Napoleon through the gorges of the Pyrenees following the siege of San Sebastian back to his home land of France.  As a foot note they met two years later in Belgium for their version of the spring classics at the battle of Waterloo where very late in the day as Wellington's left flank was on the verge of collapse the Prussians came to his rescue.  With all this in mind we were fast to recruit Heinz as our head of the flying squad and diplomat in chief.

Eugene the Hero
Moving forward in time 100 years to 1913, the legendary Eugene Christophe cycling for the Peugeot team in the Tour de France having started a Pyrenean stage at 3:00 am, with four cols already behind him he found himself at the foot of the Tourmalet in a position to challenge for the overall lead.  High on that classic of all Pyrenean cols he suffered the misfortune of braking his forks.  Not deterred by this misfortune he put his steel bike on his shoulder and ran 10 km through the pouring rain to find a village with a blacksmith.  The rules of the Tour forbad riders from receiving help of any kind, so having found a forge he proceeded to repair his bike himself under the supervision of the local blacksmith.  The story goes that the blacksmith's apprentice operated the bellows and as a consequence Christophe was given a severe time penalty.  Despite this major setback Christophe now several hours behind the leaders valiantly got back on his bike and completed the tour.

It's difficult to explain and understand why we take on the challenge of the mountains, but it is stories of these kind which provide the inspiration for many of us, a personal challenge that at times seems insurmountable finally being put to rest.

The Adventure
We set off from Biarritz airport, spirits high for what has become our traditional pre tour swim, this time at Saint Jean de Luz on the French Atlantic coast.

During the next week we succeeded in crossing the length of the Pyrenees and arriving at the Mediterranean where we completed our coast to coast adventure with another swim.  In all we rode for 733 mountainous km and climbed some 13,000 metres including the Marie Blanque, the Aubisque, the Tourmalet, the Aspin, the Peyresourde, the Col de Port, the Col de Jau and the Col de Marmare.

Days were tough but manageable, the weather was near perfect, cloud cover with some sunshine, a little cold on the very top of the big climbs, but all in all very favourable.  Days were always slightly guarded for fear of a mention in Brian's entertaining evening points competition where it seemed even the slightest of mishaps drew comedic value.

Hotels were in the main family owned and the better for it, some great feasts along the way.  Our support crew, the stars that they were produced some spectacular lunchtime picnics, remember those tarts!

It requires a little madness to sign up for a challenging adventures of this kind and to train throughout those long winter months in preparation, never quite certain that we had done enough.  Cometh the day, cometh the men (we hope) and for all of us,, in our own ways, this turned out to be the case.

Finally we would all like to say a huge thank you to our fellow adventurers for their unqualified generosity and friendship and to our hard working support crew without whom this would simply not have been possible.
Roger 'the wheel sucker' Scott.

Thanks to one and all

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