Through the Auvergne volcanos

By the time to leave my barn, my clothes are still wet or humid. The weather outside is cold, and the first kilometers are not pleasant at all. I find refuge in the shops of Massiac to complete the drying and have different breakfasts. Around 11, I feel ready and decide to go for my main course: uphill for the next 50 kilometers. The sun is finally out and it makes a huge difference.

 


 

 

20121122-IMG_0707
Getting out of my barn

 

I meet on the way the man who showed me the electricity and water the day before. The road moves gently on the plateau that I just reached. Mostly inhabited by cattle. And angry dogs in the farms bordering the road.

 

20121122-DSC_1929
Big mining machine

 

20121122-DSC_1932
Wild wild Cantal

 

20121122-DSC_1934
24 MW in the cows

 

20121122-DSC_1936

20121122-IMG_0713
Crossing another pass … I can start a collection now

 

20121122-DSC_1940
Allanche

 

20121122-IMG_0716
And again … Pass of Montirargues, 1139 m

 

20121122-DSC_1946

20121122-DSC_1947

It goes fine until I see a “Pass Pas de Peyrol: closed” sign on the way. It would mean I have to take the big-trucks-road to Aurillac and miss the views on the volcanos, i.e. my reason to climb until here. 

20121122-IMG_0718
Pas de Peyrol: closed

 

It’s already November – closer to December than to the 1st – and cold, but I don’t see why another pass at 1300 m is open and this one at 1589 m is not. After all, I have already pushed my bike in the snow in the col du Jaman in Switzerland, so let’s make the mistake twice and go forward.

The “pass: closed” sign comes another 2 times but the valley is beautiful, and the sun is about to set behind the pass. I see clearly the sharp outline of the mountains. It’s a stratovolcano, so the landscape looks like something exploded here.

20121122-IMG_0720
Frank and Andy have been there- looks like a recent Tour de France route

 

20121122-IMG_0721
Now on the tracks of Cadel Evans

 

I maintain a good 10 km/h in the steepest parts and I have the tip of my ears like a hot coal. But as soon as I enter the shades, I really feel how cold it is. Not for long, as the pass of the Pas de Peyrol is here, at 1589 meters. The reason why it was closed is because of road works on a tiny segment. I’m glad I made it and can enjoy the scenery. It’s a double celebration, of the highest pass so far and of the 1000th kilometer reached during the ascent.

20121122-DSC_1951

20121122-DSC_1958
The shadow of Puy Griou

20121122-IMG_0731

20121122-DSC_1967

20121122-IMG_0732
Pas de Peyrol, 1589 m, the highest pass of the Massif Central

 

I can put on my jacket and gloves and enjoy the descent. Not too fast and carefully, as it already happened today that I slightly slipped on an ice spot, on a sad and sneaky part of the road that didn’t enjoy the sun for most of the day. It’s already a bit dark but the scenery is really worth the ascent (this is the highest pass of the Massif Central). I stop in some parts of the way to avoid missing one turn because of gazing to the horizon …

20121122-DSC_1977
The moon behind Puy Mary at 1787 m

 

20121122-DSC_1983
Puy Griou from the Pas de Peyrol
20121122-DSC_1985
View on my descent

 

20121122-DSC_1994
Puy Griou

 

If I think I gain 1°C per 100m of elevation lost (i.e. 2 km of road on this southern face of the pass), my fingers will unfreeze soon and I’ll sleep better. I reach the first post-pass town, Mandailles-Saint-Julien, in the first darkness of the evening. Strangely enough for those mountain villages where everything is shut down for the month, there is still one shop (almost) open and I can get pieces of local cheese, that make friends with my saucisson auvergnat to prepare a good dinner for me. It’s 2°C outside but I’m getting used to this temperature range. If only I could save the freshness for later when I need it …

 

20121122-DSC_1995

20121122-IMG_0735
Dinner at home

 

 

 

A warm night later, and I’m up again for what should be my last day in the paradise of passes. To get out of here, I can either go down the valley until Aurillac, either change valley to take a road going straight south, to Laguiole, my goal of the day. As I choose the later, I have to exit the valley the hard way: a pass at 1309 m (+350 meters) when I’m just out of bed.

20121123-DSC_2005
Last view on the volcanos. All those peaks erupted until 7 million years ago. The valley is actually the collapsed caldeira.

 

20121123-IMG_0740
I had to push a bit for this steep one. Pass of Pertus, 1309 m

 

I get down on the other side, to Saint-Jacques-des-Blats, in the valley of the Cère. This pass was also featured in the Tour de France, in 2011. I have a bit of a descent but must climb again, to the last one. But this time, my thighs take fire already in the beginning. It burns when I push on them, they’re really fed up (me too) with this land that doesn’t know flat roads.

 

20121123-IMG_0746
Last one, pass of Curebourse, 997 m

 

This pass is along the via romana, and the name come from the tax travelers had to pay to continue their journey.

I am then finally out of the Massif Central, and can enjoy the flat road of the Aveyron until Laguiole.

 

20121123-DSC_2014

20121123-IMG_0750
With this, I guess I’m done with the culinary discovery of the Auvergne

 

20121123-IMG_0749
Place names in local dialect

 

The landscape is actually not flat at all. It’s quite a disillusion. I am now on a plateau between 800 m and 1200 m, and it never goes straight, or flat. I am always in between 2 climbs. Actually, I am making today the biggest total climb with 1710 meters, this is greater than the pass yesterday and that any day in the Swiss Alps, even without a major pass.

20121123-DSC_2017
Sarrans lake, its ugly dam and 2 ugly gates for evacuating floods

 

20121123-DSC_2024
A powerstation of 3 x 40 + 1 x 63 = 183 MW

 

20121123-DSC_2034
Sarrans dam: 225 m long, 105 m high, 450 000 m3, 800 000 tons of rocks, 400 000 tons of sand, 100 000 tons of cement, and 300 tons of dynamite

 

20121123-IMG_0755
The dam construction over 5 years required the hosting of 3000 workers coming from Europe and Africa

 

The road never stop rolling on the hills and I see the night coming soon. The pressure to get to Laguiole, town of knifes and cheese (good combination) gives me the extra energy that I don’t have and I make it to the town a few minutes after sunset. I find Fabien’s house and get warmly welcome by his parents. The Massif Central was great, but I can only think now of easier roads and warmer temperatures.

20121123-DSC_2035

Tags: , ,    
SHARE Share on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestEmail this to someone