Friday, August 03, 2001


After a few days which were both too short and rushed to fully catch up with our friends Richo (John Richardson) & Paulette Montaigne in Tarbes in the south of France near the Pyrenees Mountains, we have headed over the border on four wheels this time to Spain. Paulette & Richo gave magnificent support to both Bob and I during our rather unequal races on Sunday, mine a very challenging mountain run, and his the same run followed by a 68km cycle over a category one climb of 700m in glorious national park, followed by yet another 10km run.
Paulette and Richo (well maybe not Richo ~ he is a Woden runner in substance and style, and that may never leave him) were the most gracious and generous hosts imaginable . . . we had the most wonderful time whilst there sharing their company and hospitality.
Leaving Tarbes after sharing a lunch of baguette, salad and cheese we piled our gear into the wonder car; a Renault Laguna Nevada (station wagon), where we succeeded in fitting both bikes in the screened boot with their front and rear wheels removed. The rest of the luggage fitted neatly and relatively unobtrusively in the rear seat. We were off!
After a short stop in the nearby picturesque town of Pau (pronounced Po), we headed up hill and down gorges (apologies to Dale) along secondary roads, passing through village after village each only a few kilometres apart. The mountain passes grew increasingly narrow as they wound through the border country and thick woods along the 'Route du Fromage’, which stretched from Italy through France and Spain. Pale, placid cows were everywhere, with many farms offering their own produce as well as basic camping facilities. We were suddenly in the land of ETA ~ signs had been bi-lingual in French and Spanish, however the Basque language and script began to dominate, and it's flowery Gaelic script was often hard to follow or read.
Around 7 p.m. we stopped at a dot on the map, Batzan on the river, which is misleadingly large. This provided us with the opportunity to go to an ATM for instant Spanish currency (too easy, even before Euros), and hunt for a pensione or similar. Despite many blocks of apartments, bars and shops; accommodation was not to be seen. The first bar with a hotel attached was approached, and I began to see if;
a) if my memory of being able to communicate competently, if not correctly in Spanish in the past was merely an elaborate dream; and
b) if Basque was to dominate to make my attempts futile anyway.
Thankfully, neither was true. Although rusty and searching for words I knew well to start, my accent and ability to convey the meaning was quite sufficient. Thus I found that although the hotel was more expensive than we had hoped to pay, with a full bathroom (all were superior), it was the least expensive in town.
Ensconced in a degree of luxury, we changed and headed out to check out the bars and restaurants. A few options presented themselves, and I enjoyed ordering and buying Bob a couple of local draught beers and a tortilla (slice of potato omelette with bread), although the nature of it at room temperature wasn't to his cultural liking. On his recommendation, we headed back to the restaurant attached to the Hotel and Bar ~ where the menu was not so easy for me to make out. Here the 'Real Castillano' (Kings' Spanish) was certainly not being used. We took a punt on the menu, it was cheap enough, and he ended up with a full bottle of superior chilled light red wine ~ half bottles on others tables only came in the house variety; excellent bread, and - wait for it - soft eggs, bacon, chips and tomato sauce! He couldn't believe it! My plate of salad, grilled chicken, half a boiled egg and anchovies (& the ubiquitous chips), was very good, and luckily I didn't need to eat (too) much of!
Bob is so very helpful. A shared flan (creme caramel) and cafe for me finished off the meal at around $34. The wine accounted for about half of that.
Yesterday we drove with Richo out to a forest on the outskirts of town for a much-needed run through some bush instead of fighting traffic. It was very beautiful, and we thoroughly enjoyed it. Tomorrow, Bob has surveyed from the hotel window the mountains and plans to take us up there. With the Basque flags lining the streets and homes, this is a fascinating area. Breakfast, in the French style, shall be served at the highly respectable hour of 8:30-10:30a.m., with a noon, or thereabouts checkout. Bob has been asleep as I tap this, so I should finish before he awakes and disturb him.
More later,


Thursday, August 02, 2001



Well, here I am, standing in a queue of 100's & 1,000's, having parked the car nearby in an underground spot (love the reversing) waiting to enter the Guggenheim. The building appears ~ from the rushed glances I took as I sought entry (Ha!) to get to a 'loo pronto ~ that the architecture of the building is as great as touted. I just hope that i) they accept credit cards for admission; and/or ii) it is not more than about $18.

4 Hours later.
Having a coffee. I could pay my entry by credit card, and am increasingly intrigued and enchanted by this place, more so than any other museum or gallery I have ever been to. Bob is back in the rural house where we are staying 60-odd km away attempting to recover from a bad cold. Modern Art, and installation exhibitions especially, aren't much his stuff anyhow, although I love what is here, especially the floor devoted to an Armani exhibition. (Noted fashion bunny, I am not).

I wish that I could spend more time here, it does not close until 9pm, but that would not be fair to Rob. It is well worth a special trip, although I get more out of wandering around small towns and cities (after a day I am a local in the local pueblo near where we are staying), however this is different.

Tuesday, July 31, 2001

L’Ours Course de Pied

12km of Sauvage mountain running in the French Pyrenees
Sunday, 29 July 2001

The village of Fos on the border of France and Spain in the Middle region of the Pyrenees mountains was in annual festival mode for the Summer Holiday running of the Duathlon International Val’d’Aran; a significant event in the region, and one of the few of the notoriously hard Powerman circuit.

We had decided for Rob to enter the Powerman, only three days after we were due to arrive in Nice, about 8 hours drive to the west on a whim before leaving Australia. The World Championship Duathlon Team was not to be announced for a long time, and Val’d’Aran had the advantage of a sister event of a foot race (course de pied) prior to the big event which meant that I could participate in some way as well.

All things did not run smoothly and seamlessly from our arrival in Frankfurt in Germany, missing our connecting flight to Nice. With no other real option, we headed to the Hertz Rental Car desk, and drove to a town outside Nice, some 1,600 kms away, during the day. It was a deliciously hot, dry day (for me) ~ however a heatwave in France, for which all others suffered. The air-conditioning was on throughout to make Rob more comfortable until we stopped around 10:00 p.m.

After around 30 hours on the flight since leaving Canberra, and about 12 hours on the Autobahn’s (I caused white knuckles in a fully grown man as I took the wheel from the start of the journey and felt very comfortable driving at a pedestrian, slow lane speed of 150 km/hr), and then 130 km/hr on the French Auto routes, where Rob took over the later part of the driving as my head started to ache, a mix of up evening and morning medications not assisting the stress of continual driving and the unfolding realisation of how long it was going to take us.
Rob was feeling increasingly nervous and uncomfortable in his ability to attack the frightening mountain profile of the Powerman course in 48 hours time. A very late attempt to obtain a hotel room in the picturesque, and Riviera pumping village of Fe Jus proved unsuccessful, so we back tracked to the apparently cheap and basic chain of Hotels’ – ETAP which jutted the autoroute’s at regular intervals for travellers. A basic room was sufficient for our needs, and I climbed into the unmade bunk bed above the double bed below and sought sleep for my now raging mal d’tete quickly whilst Rob emptied the car of bike boxes and luggage as required for security.

He had an early start to return the Hertz Mondeo and collect the Renault Nevada Estate (station wagon) as part of our lease/buy back arrangement. If the Mondeo was a pleasure to drive, with a sports steering wheel and a curious brushed aluminium finish highlighting the interior, which I came to really like. The Renault on the other hand is a special delight to drive. As this was to be our sheet metal home on wheels for the next 10 weeks, this was a distinct advantage!

Time constraints required that we take the quickest possible route to the Duathlon region, bypassing many charming villages and settlements en route. The climb up the mountain from Fos, base camp (and transition area) of the

Monday, July 30, 2001

Duathlon Central. Fos, French Pyranees

Duathlon Central Fos, French Pyranees (on the Spanish border)

We are waiting for the after race rage and buffet ~ due to start at 7 pm, however predictably are waiting to be let in. It has been an extraordinarily long day, even by race day standards. I had entered "L'Ours" ~ the name of the region where we are staying, but in this context meaning the Fun Run held prior to the B.I.G. Duathlon. With no information other than it's start time (9:30) & that of the presentation (10:30), we assumed maybe a 6km course around the town for locals. Wrong! It turned out to be the same course of the first run of the duathlon, a winding mountain climb over cobbled streets and impossibly narrow lanes that separated the eighteenth century homes from the cliff face and the crystal clear stone strewn river fed by the snow of the highest peaks. Ancient residents who were too infirm to don officials T-Shirts supported loudly from their kitchen chairs dragged out their door to the footpath, or geranium-packed window box & shuttered homes on each corner. The path left the town on a rough goat track, still climbing through increasingly densely wooded forest. Some respite in flatter or slight downhill sections was a cruel, brief & occasional Illusion. The village of Melles lay ahead, perched precariously against sheer rock faces, with lanes leading off each other at impossible angles, with some geriatric groups at each one to lend support and ensure that one headed in the correct direction. This we discovered on the return on the roadway was Spain via a goat track, demanding one to jump creeks and run through boggy sections of rough terrain. Eventually the roadway was reached with border traffic being restrained by the most gorgeous looking cops in thigh high leather boots. Concentration through such stunning countryside was difficult enough, however this was an unfair distraction so close to civilization! Too soon the race was over, my only curse being the sensible pacing over the unknown and treacherous course leaving me plenty of energy, although not enough time to get the value of a finishing burst. I was nevertheless very satisfied and excited at the end, having conquered a mountain run of epic proportions in a good time and feeling way-too-fresh at the end.

Now for the main event: Bob to tackle the same run as a prelude to a 68km cycle of switchback mountain climbs and hair-raising descents. The same route had claimed the life of a US Postal Team member a few years earlier. A 10km run which was to follow was apparently as difficult, despite lacking the climb of the first run. That is another tale.For now, Adieu. Interepting the beaurocratic French telephone (et al) system is enough to spend time on in an attempt to send this missal.