We awoke to an overcast morning, again, but it still looked like fog rather than rain. We found the hotel breakfast buffet to be adequate for our needs, served in a sunroom added to the old hotel. The room was decorated with photos of the town and hotel going back to the 1920's - 1930's era, an interesting comparison to the current town. The most obvious change in the hotel, besides the addition of the sunroom and an exterior balcony above it, is the rear wing in which we stayed. That wing is absent in the old pictures.
After checking out of the hotel, at a hit of 58€, we went to the garage and retrieved the bikes. With the bags loaded we walked the bikes across the street to the pastisserie where Sarah bought some pastries for me to carry to the top. Then it was time to roll out and start climbing.
On the upper outskirts of Luz St. Saveur, Sarah's bike threw the chain to the inside of the rear cassette as she tried to shift to her largest cog. I was right behind her and had to deftly maneuver to avoid an accident as she suddenly stopped. I leaned my bike against a retaining wall the worked to dislodge her chain and check the derailleur alignment. The alignment was good but the shift goes past the last detente so there is a possibility of a slight overshift. This probably caused the problem. I warned her to ensure she did not go past the 'click' of that last detente on the shifter, but for the moment she was a bit unnerved and vowed not to use the largest cog.
The local officials have posted signs every kilometer on this climb, and most of the other passes we explored in this region, showing how far to the top, altitude at the top, current altitude, and slope of the grade over the next kilometer. Interesting information, but I think it can be disheartening if the countdown is not happening fast enough. We had a long discussion as we read one of the first signs about how much more sense it makes to have a metric system of measurement. The discussions helped to pass the time until we got to Bareges, the last 'town' (a ski resort, actually) before the top of the pass.
From the Michelin map I had anticipated the steepest section of the climb would be before Bareges. As we rode through the town I thought that if the worst was behind us then the climb to Tourmalet would be even easier than anticipated. Then we hit the steep section, reportedly about 13% grade, just above the town. Not too bad, but a surprise to me that the maps were wrong.
After that one steep section the climb was relatively moderate in difficulty, just long - 18km total from Luz to the top. We stopped near 'Super Bareges' to eat one of the pastries and to soak in some of the beauty of the mountains, which was becoming clearer as the fog retreated. Just after this brief rest we rounded the corner and passed a restaurant. There we passed the barricade indicating the road was closed. The barricade stretched across just more than half the road, so we rode around it and continued upward. The road surface was a bit worse for wear past the barricade, and we started passing roadside snow banks. Everything was fine until ..... the last switchback before the pass. Approaching that switchback we passed several riders headed downhill, none of whom said anything about problems ahead. We had to maneuver past a few large blocks of snow in the road in this penultimate straightaway, nothing worse. But as we turned to enter the last switchback we came face to face with a 4 foot wall of snow going all the way across the road and more. I checked out a path parallel to the road, but looking back from there it was obvious that the only way to the top of the pass was over the snow bank. I portaged the bikes, one at a time, up onto the bank then the 40-50 meters across to where I could lower them back down onto the road. Not much of a problem, but I was wearing sandals so my feet got soaked. From there is was an easy couple hundred meters to the top.
On top of Tourmalet things looked different than we had anticipated. We had see photos of riders sitting on a bench under a plaque indicating the top of the pass. That bench was nowhere to be found. Neither was the statue of the cyclist seen in most of those photos. We waited our turn to pose in front of the plaque, mingling with the Spanish club and an assortment of other cyclists that had conquered Col du Tourmalet on that morning.
After the photo session we started down, hoping to find lunch in Le Mongie. We were soon at that ski resort, but the only thing open was the tram to the top of Pic du Midi de Bigorre. With no option for food in Le Mongie we continued down the mountain looking for someplace to get lunch before everything closed for the afternoon. About a kilometer before arriving in Ste. Marie de Campan we spotted a restaurant/bar/campground off to the left side of the road. We pulled in, parked the bikes, and went down to see if lunch was still available. Fortunately it was, and the protected patio, sitting below road level, was warm for Sarah who had gotten chilled on the descent.
The small restaurant turned out to be a real find. The food and service were excellent. We had a garbure bordelaise, followed by Basque style chicken (braised in tomatoe sauce with sweet peppers, onions, and garlic), and topped off with a wonderful creme caramel du maison. The waitress even filled Sarah's water bottles for her while we ate dessert.
Fueled and rested we rode into Ste. Marie, but had to hit the brakes in the middle of towan as the road in front of the church was occupied by a herd of cattle. We waited while the herders gathered all the cattle into a group off to the side next to the church, then started our ascent of Col d'Aspin.
The ride up Col d'Aspin was a beautiful ascent through forests, for the most part. At the top there was a parked tour bus, the tourists apparently all out hiking, a few cyclists, and another herd of large cattle, all wearing bells. We took our photos by the sign, took some photos of the cattle, then sat down to eat the last of the pastries bought that morning. While we were thus engaged the Spanish cycling club we had seen on Tourmalet arrived at the top of Aspin.
It was time to descend and find a place to settle for the afternoon and evening. Another nice descent, with lots of sweeping curves. The only problem was trying to negotiate the turns while reading the old writing on the road from past Tour de France rides over this pass. We rode from the bottom of the pass into the town of Arreauto find lodging for the night. The first option, the Hotel France, was all torn up in front of the main door so we decided to look for other possibilities. A sign as we entered town had said that there was the Hotel d'Angleterre 500m up the road towards ???? I knew that was on the road towards Col de Peyresourde, and that there was an entrance off the main road going towards St. Lary. I led Sarah off in that direction. We found the turn off, turned in, and were soon back near the Hotel France. Confused, I looked to my left and saw a sign pointing up a road through town and indicating that way towards Col de Peyresourde. I told Sarah to follow as I launched off up that road. A few hundred meters later we found the Hotel d'Angleterre, a quiet place that had been recently renovated. I arranged for a room and arranged to store the bikes in the garage. We then went upstairs to find our room, a large one with a separate sitting area, a desk, tables, and separate rooms for the shower and WC.
We cleaned up and went out to walk around town. We stopped at the Petit Casino (where else) to get some laundry soap and sodas, then continued our circuit around the town. The confluence of several rivers meant that one had to move from bridge to bridge to traverse the town. Fortunately it is a relatively small town and the added walking is not that much. Our search had goals; we were looking for an ATM and scouting for dinner options. We found more bars than restaurants in town, and some of the restaurants were closed with a scheduled opening of June 2nd. Finally, short on options, we entered a small pizzeria where we had salads, lasagna, and shared a small margherita pizza. My hope of finding beer on tap was frustrated as they were serving only bottles. Sigh.