A Bicycle No More

13/10/18

We drove back to Gavarnie to tick one more item off on our list. We wanted to cycle up the Vallée d’Ossoue as far as the waterfall and see the views of Vignemale. Vignemale is the highest Pyrenean mountain on the French side of the border, we weren’t expecting anything particularly exciting from this bike ride, but we’d attempted it earlier in the week and the weather had driven us back. It felt like unfinished business.

The cycle route up the Vallee d’Ossoue is not that difficult, initially a single track road and then a track that ascends to the barrage. The road seemed quiet as we ascended, but there were multiple cars and even some small campervans parked in small parking spots near the barrage; hikers who had braved the uneven rocky surface of the track to get as close to their destination as possible. 

Looking back down the valley
Looking up the valley, Vignemale in the distance

From the barrage onwards there is a relatively flat and open valley that leads towards the waterfall. It looked passable on the map, but in practice it was either too rocky or too boggy for us to cross and after getting about a quarter of the way and constantly having to dismount we decided to turn around. Our binoculars revealed that the waterfall was not worth the pain of crossing this terrain. 

The valley above the barrage, with views of glaciers and the multiple peaks of Vignemale
Starting to see some parked cars as we approach the barrage

The best bit about the ride, of course, was the view. The sun had finally come out above Gavarnie. Vignemale and it’s glaciers were sparkling in the sunlight. Behind us we could see glimpses of the rock walls of the cirque, trust it to finally be visible on the day we were planning to leave.

Distant views of the mountains surrounding the Cirque de Gavarnie

After taking in the view we dragged our bikes back to the barrage and settled in for the ride back downhill. As usual I was some way behind Paul so I was surprised to turn a corner and find him in front of me, staring in bemusement at his bike. As I got closer I could see why he was so bemused. It had fallen apart! The derailleur was on the floor and twisted into an odd shape, the chain was wrapped around bits of the frame it shouldn’t be touching and part of the frame seemed to have snapped off. How Paul was in one piece I don’t know, the only damage was to his temper. 

We were approximately 10k away from Bertie on a road that we wouldn’t drive up, so we had to get back down to the van. I was alright, I could cycle down, but Paul would possibly face a two hour walk. At this point Paul’s practical ingenuity needed to be exercised, a few cable ties later the chain and gear cable had been fastened out of the way, the brakes had been checked and Paul was freewheeling down the hill, still managing most of the journey faster than me! A few uphill sections allowed me to catch up and eventually overtake him though (not that it was a race of course).     

The road and track follow the Ossoue river which has carved interesting shapes into the limestone rocks

Paul’s immediate and grumpy thought was that he had broken his bike. Eventually (later that afternoon) he admitted that it was his fault for riding in the wrong gear with his chain far too slack. By this point he could admit culpability because we had realised that what we though was a broken frame was actually the derailleur hanger; a small piece of metal that joins the derailleur to the frame and is a deliberate point of weakness. It had done it’s job well and means that we should have a reasonably cheap repair bill rather than an expensive bike replacement.

That afternoon Paul needed some cakes to cheer him up, so we drive north to Argeles-Gazost and hit the supermarket. As this is a bit of a mountain biking centre we hoped that we would find a bike shop with some parts, but it wasn’t to be. Most of the shops were bike hire places and although they had spares they were only for the brands of bike that they hired out. 

We finally stopped for the night at the free aire in Pierrefitte-Nestalas. Oddly scruffy compared to most French aires it reminded us more of an Italian sosta, but it had everything we needed. Ironically it was right next to the Voie Verte cycle route to Cauterets. Oh well.