The sound of traffic, mostly large trucks, was the wakeup call of this morning. Not what one likes to hear when travelling by bicycle. I got out of bed and went out onto the balcony for more bad news. It was overcast, again, but this time there was the smell of rain in the air. Our weather luck had run out.
We got dressed and packed, as the breakfast hour is a bit late, also. We were downstairs at the scheduled hour, but they were still setting up so we sat on the cowhide covered couch in the lobby to wait. Finally, the breakfast buffet looked ready even though all the young staff (children of the owners?) had disappeared (gone to school?). We helped ourselves to the buffet, enjoying some meat and cheese that had been absent from the breakfasts on the French side of the border.
Sarah checked us out of the hotel, and paid the bill, while I did some minor tweaks on the bicycles and pulled them out of the garage. We then headed south, with the hope that most of the traffic on the road would be headed to/from the Tunel de Vielha. Before we reached the split in the road the rain started, a mist at first, then a steady light rain. As we entered the town of Vielha we decided to add rain protection and pulled into the covered entrance to a parking garage. We covered our bar bags and Sarah put on her shoe covers. I opted to ride without the waterproof (SealSkinz) socks for a while as the sweat in them is often worse than the rain.
The route continued uphill through the rain, never too heavy but with no sign of a letup. We passed through a series of towns lower down, including our original goal for the night before, Arties. With the late start, due to the late breakfast, it was past noon when we pulled into Baqueira, a ski resort town and what looked like the last good option for food before the other side of the mountain. I spotted a cafe that had a sign indicating it was open and we quickly dove into the dry, warm retreat. The waitress explained that lunch would not start until 1PM, and that the workers from town would get first priority so we could not get a full lunch until 2PM. If we wanted sandwiches, we could get them in 10 minutes after the staff ate, and we agreed to that. She did serve us hot tea before she ate her own lunch. Eventually, she served us warm ham and cheese sandwiches for which we were thankful. The entire time we sat in the cafe we watched the cloud bank descend further down the mountain until it enveloped the town. When we sat down we could see the buildings and ridges a couple hundred meters up the mountainside; by the time we left we could barely see up the drive and across the road.
The rest of the ascent was in the fog. Bad, in that visibility was poor, good in that the rain was below us so we were out of it for the moment. I wished we could have seen the surroundings, but perhaps another time. We rode for quite a ways in the peaceful fog, the road going more or less straight towards the pass. After a series of four switchbacks I knew the top was near based on the map and the altimeter reading. Suddenly a foreign sound caught my attention. Sarah pointed out it had to be cowbells. Sure enough, a minute or so later I could make out the ghostly images of cows enshrouded in the fog standing on a ridgeline just off to our right. Just past that point we came to the top of the ski lift from Baqueira and then the sign indicating that we were at Port de la Bonaigua. We took our photos in front of that sign then quickly pulled on extra clothing for the descent. While we were standing there by the sign a group of German motorcyclists topped out and took pictures of the sign ... with me standing in front of it digging in my bag for my jacket and leg warmers.
We started down the east side of the pass, and were soon in the rain zone again. Within the first half kilometer we had a bit of a scare as a young foal ran out into the road in front of us and kept dodging back and forth so we could not get past it. We were afraid it would collide with one of us or vice-versa. It finally got to the right far enough that we could pass safely on the extreme left side of the road. We had no further close encounters with livestock on the descent, but we were continually dodging their droppings which were the biggest danger for the rest of ride down.
The east side of the pass was beautiful, now that we could see some of it. Lots of waterfalls and streams from the snowmelt converging down into the river below. We passed a Refugio and another herd of cattle that had (just) crossed the road before settling into the descent. Sarah was cold, but when I asked what she wanted to do she answered 'continue to Sort'. I knew that Sort was 36km or so from the bottom of the descent, and I was not sure that it was wise for us to attempt that with Sarah being so wet and cold. I suggested we look for a place near the bottom. Sarah seemed to agree, but then she passed a nice looking place at València d'Àneu; when I asked why she did not stop she indicated she had thought it was just a restaurant. I suppose I will have to get into the habit of calling out hotels. Once we entered Esterri d'Àneu and turned onto the highway towards Sort there was a small hotel and Sarah agreed to check it out. The bikes were soon stored under the stairwell in the rear of the hotel and we were upstairs where Sarah could lounge in a warm (not hot) bath. A short-ish ride of only a little over 30 miles, but enough given the conditions.
We cleaned up, rested, and warmed up for the remainder of the afternoon. We did take a walk down to the bar attached to the hotel for warm drinks, coffee for me and hot chocolate for Sarah. There was a group of 20 or so Brits, hikers by the clothes and equipment, taking up all the outside seating so we stayed inside to drink our beverages. The weather reports indicated this was the last of the storm. I looked over the maps, did some calculations, and then told Sarah it looked like we would get to Barcelona at least a day early. The thought of the Mediterranean buoyed her spirits. There were options we could take that would include some passes over 1500M, but Sarah seemed interested in keeping the route as low as possible while avoiding the large towns.
Late in the afternoon the storm appeared to be clearing and I sat watching the swallows fly against the backdrop of the Pyrenees while Sarah napped. I was a bit sad to be leaving, wanting more time to explore more of the smaller roads. But the coast was calling, especially to Sarah. Another trip will be necessary, one devoted to just the Pyrenees, avoiding the trappings of the lowlands to the north and south.
We ate at the hotel's restaurant which we had more or less to ourselves. We had large salads and beef (steak for me, hamburger for Sarah), followed by flan for dessert, all washed down with a young Spanish Chardonnay.