OK, now that I have your attention, there was no actual consumption of human flesh today, though conditions were beginning to favor it. The group (I'm having trouble deciding how to refer to us. 'Thomson tourists' is technically accurate but superficial; tourists may eat 6-7000 calories a day, like us, but store most of it as fat, unlike us. 'Crazed lunatics' is another potential moniker, though within our own world we are simple like-minded cycling enthusiasts who judge each other as sane. Moreover, over half the group is composed of doctors and lawyers, whom normal society relies on for sanity and good judgment. 'The Adventurers' implies more unknowns than we are exposed to. Maybe we should be called the 'Rough Riders', because believe me the riding has been rough. Especially today.)
So back to my train of thought: The Rough Riders rode almost non-stop in hard, cold rain today over three major mountain passes, the Col de l'Aubisque, Col de Marie Blanque and Col de l'Ichere, which created major logistical problems. (Paul, help me here and add the ride profile to Blogger.) I refer you to Paul's entry for graphics, since I'm still having trouble with the upload. Layers were essential, but on the way up they caused us to overheat, and on the way down the sweat-soaked garb caused us to shiver. Meanwhile, we hungered and thirsted, but stopped at the bottoms of descents at our peril, since the chill only intensified with inactivity. Lacking enough dry clothes (since the dryer at the previous hotel essentially didn't work), the only way to stay warm was to continue peddling. So I did the whole stage of 105 km and 6500 vertical feet on one stop for a sandwich and one cup of hot chocolate. Reaching the next hotel I was soaked and ravenous, but this was our short day! Where we finished 3 hours before dinner in a town with no stores. Fatigue gave way to a nap, and thus crimes against humanity were averted.
Which brings me to today's quiz. What does Phil dislike most in life? The hint is that the answer is the title of yesterday's blog. If you said war and current US health care policy, you would be close, but wrong. If you said 'cold' you get partial credit. If you said 'rain' you also get partial credit. If you said 'cold rain' you get full credit! And for extra credit, what kind of weather did Phil least expect in the Trans Pyrenees Challenge? 'Cold rain' is again the correct answer. So how is this making me feel? Ordinarily 'miserable' would be the correct answer, but I've actually found some measure of satisfaction in designing new challenges and simple solutions to take the edge off. For example, I pride myself on being the only Rough Rider to have brought a Balaklava. This makes me feel like a most experienced adventurer, and a contributor to the suggested equipment list of the next Thomson Tour. Second, I brought my cheapo Performance bike rain jacket, which when worn under an expensive Gore jacket has helped keep me in denial that I am wet, and denial can be a useful state of mind. Third, I have donned my Nike baseball cap under my helmet to take advantage of the lid to keep rain from pelting the eyeballs. Other Rough Riders look at me like I'm Edison when they see this. Fourth, I have made new friends with whom I gab up the climbs, which makes the time and suffering pass much more pleasantly, especially if you're going at a proper pace to have enough breath left to talk. Today's friend was Mike, a lawyer and triathlete from Colorado, who is on the tour with his dad, with whom he works in a law practice. We actually were on fire and rode ahead of the entire C group, even catching and finishing before everyone from the B group, fueled by a lively conversation. Conversation seems to improve performance, which I should have known from watching enough trash-talking basketball players over the years. In cycling though, we don't trash talk each other, but work on society's ills and each others' biographies. You'll notice I left something out. My ski goggles!! Not that I've given up on my crusade to bring this essential cold weather protection to everyone in cycling, but except in the morning when the temperature has been in the 30's, it hasn't been low enough to need them. I picked up from one of the pro riders the technique of inserting toilet paper to dry wet shoes. The expt is now in progress and I will let you know tomorrow how it went.
After receiving all your feedback in response to my question 'Why am I doing this?', I've given it some further thought, and found that the real answer was not actually among the options listed in yesterday's blog. The real reason is the spandex. It makes me feel secure all over, which is needed in life in general and while hurtling down a mountain pass at # miles per hour. There are very few things that men experience that make them feel more secure than spandex. And life is all about establishing security. Social security, financial security, IT security, national security may or may not be there in the right amount when you need them. Spandex security is a physical feeling felt immediately when it is donned and lasting to the moment it is shed. Try it! if you haven't already. I've got to find out who invented it. I'm sure it's a byproduct of fossil fuel though, so as society greens we will have a new dilemma: how to replace spandex.
Even though today's conditions were brutal, we were treated to some spectacular scenery that we could appreciate in the remotest area in France, and one of the most remote in Europe. We are actually in terrorist territory where Basque separatists from Spain hide out and plan strikes out of the reach of the Spanish police. There is graffiti supporting ETA, their political organization, everywhere. The roads wind through an incredibly pastoral setting with pastures dotted with sheep and goats reaching high up to the mountain crags. Descending is more hazardous for flocks of sheep or cows milling about the middle of the road, than for cars. I saw a gorgeous eagle flying through one canyon, and several weasels up at the top of a col. The only blemish on this scene is the shepherds who now tend their flock using cars.
I really appreciate those of you who have commented on my blogs. I really look forward to reading them in the morning and they picked me up from impending depression towards the middle of the week when I just couldn't face the regimentation any longer, or a morning without the Washington Post, not to mention facing the thought of climbing another ten thousand feet. Many of the guys are starting to talk about this possibly being too much of a good thing, although in general we're talking about incredibly serious cyclists here, people who routinely look for big adventure challenges all over the world, so optimism and triumphalism tend to be the dominant isms here. I'm obviously not 'in their league', that is in terms of looking for big adventure challenges, but I feel like I've been getting stronger every day and hope you would be happy with the way I've represented the State College/Montgomery County Mama's Boys, not to mention my family, my country and my belief systems. You may be wondering what I look like at this point. About the same. I haven't skeletonized, and won't and really feel good. I'm getting very little sleep, 4-6 hours a night, but at this point it's higher quality. Peter Thomson, the Scot and owner of Thomson Tours, who rides the whole tour with us, and has to basically throw two huge sit down parties (lunch and dinner) for 30 people every day and tend to a million other things, conducting business from his jersey pockets and cell phone while riding a bike, always makes sure that the hotel restaurant gets me a vegetarian meal. Although, this is a bit alien over here and I noticed that they slipped some pork into my greens tonight, so Paul, watch out next year! The food in general has been great: fresh, local, ample and varied. The problem has been forcing so much down. Of course great cheese, bread, pastries are readily available along the roads in the villages we pass through, and the vans stock fresh and dried fruit, snickers bars, cookies and water. Masseurs were available in the first hotel, haven't seen any since.
One day left, 134 km horizontal, 7600 feet vertical, highlighted by the feared Col de Bagargui, where Tyler Hamilton won a Tour stage with a broken collar bone a few years ago. This is 21 km long with a 3 km patch of 11% and 6 km of 8-10%. I have two intact collar bones, but wish me luck anyway. I'll be thinking of you, who mean much more to me than riding a bike, and praying for clear skies, warm air.