After yesterday’s visit to the Caroux, and having spotted that there was lots of riding to be had, I decided that it was about time that I headed up there with a bike. The first challenge was to get there though! The drive up to the little hamlet of Douch, where the rides start from, is both spectacular and a little nerve wracking, with great views but very narrow mountain roads! Arriving safely in the car park, it was now time to decide which loops to try. Not knowing the area too well, I opted for the medium length route, and if there was time, a short loop.
I was really looking forward to seeing how the riding would differ up here compared to down in the valley, and it was certainly different! After a rocky and enclosed climb, I broke out of the woods and was greeted by more stunning views. I was very pleased that the weather was so good as being up on this very exposed plateau in bad weather could be really nasty!
The trail started to follow a stunning ridge-line that felt very alpine. It was here that I met a couple more riders, however they were on a slightly longer ride, being two days into a seven day off-road ride, ending down in Carcassonne. I felt very lucky not to be hauling a bike laden with tents, stoves and supplies over this rocky and unforgiving terrain!
The trail was a real mix of riding styles with the open expanse of the plateau, wide fire-road climbs and narrow wooded single track, it had a bit of everything and all very different to back home!
As I was having so much fun, I only stopped to take a handful of pictures (trying to take some ‘on bike selfies’ with the timer setting), so I hope that they give an idea of what the area was like.
I was not the only person getting exercise today however as Blaise also got out for a run on the voie vert and sent me a lovely picture when she got back showing why water (and I guess sweat) proof make up is a good idea at times – sadly I’ve been told that this picture will not make the blog!
Tired but very happy having explored an area that I’d not ridden before, it was time to head back down the twisting road to Lamalou and an afternoon of research for our last stops on la grande aventure – I can’t believe that it’s nearly over 😦 – followed by a very tasty (but quite fiery) shark marsala cooked by GUB.
Another day beckoned and there was more riding to be done! The route today was closer to home, but one that I’d not fully completed before and the longest of the official routes in the area. Touted as being a difficult route (now knowing that they really mean it here!) I was ready for a challenge!
This time I’d already ridden the first half of the route and knew that it was a gentle start, however soon enough the climbing started! Nearly an hour after the climb began, I’d reached the high point of the day and gained over 500m in height! The great thing here was that it meant that there was a lot of descending to be done and I was sure that there’d be some ‘interesting’ trails to come.
I’ve ridden in the area for a few years now and very rarely see others out on the trail, so it was with some surprise that as I rounded a corner, there was someone else out on a bike in the middle of nowhere! Stopping to say hi I discovered that my fellow rider, Bjorn, had travelled all the way from Norway (I know the feeling!) and was on a mission to record as many trails as possible in Europe for an app he was developing – Trailguide – whilst living out of his campervan.
After a few minutes of discussing the area and routes that we were following we went our separate ways, only to meet up again in a tiny hamlet a few minutes later and as we were heading in the same direction I had a riding buddy for the day! The remainder of the ride was another lesson in steep, rocky and very technical riding that was fun and challenging in equal measure!
Eventually we made it off the hill and just happened to stop at a little bar for a cold beer – well we had earned it! Unfortunately Bjorn had been having trouble with the rear wheel on his bike (four months of riding alpine descents every day will do that!) so we dropped into the local bike shop to see if it could be fixed but sadly no joy. As we were now at the lowest point of the day, and Bjorn had started his day a few miles uphill, I offered him a lift back up so we headed back to the house of GUB to collect the car.
After a quick coffee and introduction to Blaise and GUB, we loaded up and headed off up the hill. As we set off, Bjorn mentioned that he was looking to get some local wine and did I know anywhere that was good – well that was an easy answer, so I swung the car in the direction of Faugeres and our current workplace Les Amants de la Vigneronne. Wine tasted and purchased, we finally made it back to the tiny hamlet that was currently home to Bjorn and his girlfriend. Bjorn, bike and wine dropped off and goodbyes said, it was finally back to the ranch for dinner and a nice long sleep!
Whilst at the vigneronne yesterday, the owner let me know that we’d be needed for work this morning, which meant that we had to hurriedly change our plans for the morning and psyche ourselves up for another early start. Fortunately it turned out to be a relatively short session, and we were back in time for lunch and more importantly more riding time for me!
Leaving Blaise reading, I headed off for a quick couple of hours in the surrounding hills on some of my favourite trails before reluctantly taking the bike back to the shop.
To soften the blow of this possibly being my last mtb ride before we set sail for home, GUB offered to take us out for dinner to one of our favourites – Petite Abbaye – a great informal place, now full of locals as most of the tourists have gone home. A couple of hours later, we all waddled out having eaten our own body weight in shoulder of lamb, duck breast and tartiflette, followed by gooey chocolate pudding, caramel biscuit ice cream and for me, a pint glass full of chocolate mousse – I think some healthy eating will be needed soon!