It was a shame to have to head down over into France and on a road out of the Pyrenees the other day. I feel like I have unfinished business with these hills, so good have they been.
The highlights have been plentiful, in particular staying in uber friendly refuges or hostels that provide a cold beer, a hot shower and an enormous fill of rustic, home-cooked fare, usually enough to finish you off for the evening after a day on the mountainsides. Unless, of course, you can stay awake for a little shot of a local liqueur.
Villages have often been beautiful, sometimes spectacularly perched on a cliff or rock, so that you have to wind around tiny alleyways on impossible gradients. The number of empty houses is worrying, however, along with the lack of younger generations - I guess the attractions of rural life are not that many, understandably enough. And the economy means that many of those who invested in a holiday cottage can no longer afford the upkeep.
The terrain has meant for some punishing climbs, and, of course, countless thrilling descents along rocky cliffside tracks. My GoPro has seemed to be permanently out of battery as there has been so much to shoot.
Coming down into Baguergue was breathtaking. There was an initial 35km gradual climb up through a lush green valley, the peaks on either side dotted with patches of snow not yet melted, and a crystal clear river making its way down through occasional settlements. At the top was a ski centre, the lifts and white airport-style buildings looking out of place without the white all around.
And then when I made it over the top there was a massive drop into the valley below. A road hairpinned its way to the bottom, but crossing that was one of the most impressive tracks I've ever ridden down, with such amazing views in every direction that you had to keep stopping to take it all in for fear of not looking where you were going and riding straight over the edge, which in many places would surely have been a fatal mistake.
And once at the bottom you find your bearings and start the long slug back up the next pass to repeat the process... Immense fun!
I won't miss the occasional swarms of horse flies tracking me up the hills, impossible to swat as they land on your shoulder and get tucked into some blood while you are trying maintain momentum. But I will miss pretty much everything else to do with this stunning mountain range, and I'm a little apprehensive that the Alps are not going to live up to the Pyrenees, especially as I'm unlikely to have them to myself in the same way as school holidays will mean more holidaymaking families around.
However, I am sure that there is at least one more summer to be had out of a trip to northern Spain, and I will definitely be back at some point... :)
Part-time teacher, full-time lover of all things adventurous, some might say even a little crazy...