Pyrenees July 2011: Arreau to Carcassonne

Arreau to Carcassonne – 242 miles

We planned to head into Spain and onto the N260 heading east, before leaving the N260 around Mont Louis and heading North to Carcasonne through Axat, Quillan and Limoux.

The day started off well enough with coffee and croissants in the main square. Unfortunately it was market day so we parked the bikes fully loaded where we could. This didn’t cause anyone a problem apart from Taj, who firstly almost managed to leave his wallet and documents on the café bar – luckily Monsieur spotted this and handed them over to him. Secondly, when Taj was trying to manoeuvre his bike towards the direction of departure he almost managed to wheelie it up a wall which caused a certain amount of amusement for the locals.

Anyway we were on the road and again it was over the Peyresourde to Bagneres Luchon where we were to pick up the road for Bossost – the D618 – and then head South on the N230 to Vielha.

We managed to stay together until Bagneres. There having split up to refuel Phil, Cat and Andy managed to miss a turn in town and ended up heading for some ski resort. Phil realised his mistake and turned around. Back in Bagneres he found the right road but no one else. He headed on and found Bossost but still no one else so cruised on to Vielha. Here he was caught up by Kyle who had found the right road and had stopped for a coffee in Bossost.

They decided to get going and wait in Sort. They rode out on the C28 which takes you up the Port de la Bonaigua. They had ridden this road with Taj 5 years before on the way back from Andorra, in the opposite direction. The road over the top had been the subject of major roadworks and Chris Bown had come off his bike on loose gravel near the top. Now all the road works had been completed so you had a fast smooth surface with constant radius bends pretty much all the way up the pass and then down to Esterri D’aneu. At Esterri the road becomes the C13 and runs down the valley all the way to Sort. This is a terrific road and highly recommended.

At Sort Phil and Kyle decided to stop for a break and wait for the others. Picking a café on the main drag they were soon joined by the others. Taj was having another trauma – the road he had thought was wonderful 5 years before was no longer any good at all and his riding was crap. He was on one so the rest of the group let him get on with it.

They refuelled and turned onto the N260. This section to Ribera D’urgellet is one of the best pieces of road anywhere – a real must ride road. We kept up a really high average pace with Kyle leading the way in fine fashion.

After Ribera we stayed on the N260 but this section had a lot more traffic on it so although we were making decent progress it wasn’t that quick. It was also very hot but still for once we were managing to stay in a group. Crossing into France near Puigcerda the road became the N116. We continued on to Mont Louis where we turned North onto the D118. Fairly typically on the French side of the border the road surface deteriorated. However, the scenery was nice and it was an education for Phil, following Cat, to watch him wrestle his V-Max around some tight twisty stuff. After a final fuel stop near Axat we headed for Limoux and the final run in to Carcassonne.

We had a short stretch on the A61 motorway which was congested due to a combination of roadworks and an accident and Gaz’s Blackbird which had shown signs of overheating earlier in the trip now got seriously hot as he filtered through traffic to the extent that he thought it was seizing. Anyway he managed to get to our base for the night, the Hotel Gentilhommiere.

We had thought that we would head into Carcassonne and appreciate the architectural triumph that is the walled city but Taj set to work seeing if he could find out the problem with Garry’s bike and the rest of us set to work on a few beers. The owners, who were Russian expats, were keen that we should stay for dinner and the beers and heat had sapped our willpower so we left the delights of Carcassonne to another time.

Taj meanwhile had established the cause of the Blackbird’s overheating. Gaz had had a fit of home mechanics and decided to replace 2 hoses in the cooling system. They looked identical but had quite different purposes and he had fitted them the wrong way round. The net effect was that pressurised water wasn’t being retained by the cooling system but was p***ing out when the bike got hot. Swapping the hoses round solved the problem for the rest of the tour and beyond. The moral of the story was don’t let Gaz work on your bike. We all knew not to let him ride them after the effect of the curse of Gaz on Cat’s bike on the Galibier a few years before.

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