This day I could either spend collecting a lot of modestly high cols and then go back to Lourdes for only the last night or I could try and get back to Lourdes right away in order to have one final cycling day in that area. I now had to choose between these things because of the lost day with the passport trouble in Asturias. I decided I was too tired and lacked a bit enthusiasm now to continue with pass collecting, and only wanted to make sure I came home safely and on schedule. But at least I decided to pick up a few passes on the way, partly to avoid boring main roads.
I left Dancharia and continued on a nice road close to Spain with much traffic. First minor pass was Col de Pinodieta (176) on the main road. Just as you arrive at Espelette (58) there is a road taking off up the hills. You will have to consult the map a couple of times here to find the road I took. Here the IGN map is preferable. You should get on the D249 road to Menta (95) and continue on it (signed for Itxassou, I think) and then take off on a small road that is steep from start (or soon). It is very steep with several ramps above 20%. If you would take this road and then go up to Artzamendi, you would probably have climbed the hardest climb in this part of Europe (closest rival would be the Angliru mountain in Asturias). You reach Col de Legarre (349) rather soon and then the road goes down and up another pass called Harlepoa (305), from where I took the first of my two photos for the day up toward Artzamendi and the Spanish mountains behind.
I did not go up to Artzamendi. I had planned to take right at Laxia (40), but did not check my map and thought the road only went to a hotel there. The road down here is very nice, very narrow and popular with tourists.
I took the main road to St. Jean-Pied-de-Port (175) and went in a good speed to get in time before shops close at 13. However, St. Jean-Pied-de-Port is the tourist central of this part of the Pyrenées and it has everything the tourist would want and shops open all the time. I bought a sandwich, fruits, soft drink, another film roll and sat down at the big gate in town to eat.
There are some optional roads in the direction of Lourdes from here. Most more direct routes go over small roads with steep passes just like my choice of road. I turned off the main road at St. Jean-le-Vieux onto the D18. The IGN map is a bit confusing here (maybe wrong). It is mostly sign-posted for Mendive, I think. I wanted to get on the middle of three posible roads leaving the valley over different passes (the northern higher one joins the middle one near the high point of the middle road). It is easy to miss the road you should follow and I cannot remember what the sign said, but it is the D417 you want to look for. I missed it myself, but when I approached the southern climb (a very different route over Col de Burdincurutcheta/Burdinkurutz (1135), that I had climbed earlier on the south side only) I turned back and found the road.
I believe all the three roads up here are rather steep and the middle one was no exception. On the way up (after a lot of climbing) you come to these cols: Col d'Haritxarte (735); Bestako Lepoa (841); Ilhareko Lepoa (905); and finally the highest Col Inharpu (1029). Thereafter you descend in wonderful landscape to Col d'Ibarburia (966), where I could have descended a short little steep road down to a very visible pass below and go back up again, but as I was in for pass collecting I skipped it. Here I took my second photo for the day. I then missed to get on a more southern road (actually the road I was on …) down, which would have taken me without any real effort over another pass and instead descended on a rather poor road to Aussurucq and Mendy (183).
South at Tardets-Sorholus, I stopped shortly for refreshments. It was now already 16 pm and I was only focussed on getting back to Lourdes in time for the night so I would be let in the hotel. I stopped at regular intervals for a Coca-cola at Arette next in the shop which I visited already in 2001, with friendly staff. There are many minor climbs on the quickest way to Lourdes here, but none qualifies as passes. Once again (also in 2001) I took the bad road from Asasp-Arros to Louvie-Juzon over the Bois du Bager which is also quite some climbing, but I was in a good mood and went really fast all the way from Tardets-Sorholus – probably because I felt like I was closing in on the end of this tour at last. (The Bois du Bager road did not appear quite as bad this time, but eventually it became bad. There is an alternative unpaved forest road that takes in a pass which may not be much worse, but probably slower on a road bike).)
A quick stop before Louvie-Juzon (outside Arudy) for another soft drink. Then the D35 to Igon and Lestelle-Betharram where I stopped because it started to rain and I wanted to call the lady at the hotel and tell her I was arriving. I said I would continue even though it looked like thunderstorms over lurked over Lourdes in a very ominous way! I wondered whether God was cursing all the religious people meeting up at Lourdes … . I put on some rain clothes, but somehow I escaped most rain and thought that God must like us atheists better.
A little late I came to the hotel and got a warm (or cold, as I was offered a beer) welcome back! I took a shower and went out to have dinner at the recommended pizzeria, I believe. It was good to be back in one piece, but I still planned to go out cycling a bit the next day to.
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