We crossed over to France where we took smaller highways to get from valley to valley. These roads are all marked for cyclists and always begin with Col which means mountain pass. These are the same passes they use in the Tour de France.
The first one we tackled was Col d’Aspin which was innocent enough but was the first indicator of what we were in for. These passes are quite narrow but have two way car traffic. At their widest the lanes are exactly the width of the car and usually they are only that wide at the lower elevations. The higher you go the road looks more like a paved bike trail and your car is at least one foot into the other lane at all times. There are few guardrails and the edge of the road is a cliff of doom. This is compounded by the fact that the mountains are socked in with fog and it’s raining. On top of that you have cyclists, cows and crazy French drivers to deal with.
Col du Tourmalet was the first really scary one. This is one of the most famous Tour de France passes because of its height. In the winter it’s actually a ski resort and the road switchbacks under a ski lift.
We also drove Col d’Aubisque which is rated a hors catégorie climb in the Tour de France. From Wikipedia: “Hors catégorie is a French term used in cycling to designate a climb that is “beyond categorization”, an incredibly tough climb. A climb that is harder than Category 1 is designated as hors catégorie. The term was originally used for those mountain roads where cars were not expected to be able to pass.”
After four of these passes I hope we are done with them or at the very least the fog breaks. The last road we were on was a nice break, it was called the Route de Fromage. This post chronicled two days of driving, but in-between we hiked to Cirque du Gavarnie which is the Pyrenees’ greatest sight. More on that next post!