It all began with a map of France. An idea for exploration; for kit testing; for a challenge. From daydreams to reality, staff rider Tim Wiggins turned his 'Coasts and Cols' Tour into a great journey of discovery. Here's his report…
Last year, Wiggle began stocking 'Outdoor' apparel, accessories and kit; everything from tents to jackets, and stoves to sleeping mats. It got me thinking... how could I test this new kit, these new brands, these new opportunities? A challenge was brewing…
So was born the 'Coasts and Cols' route: from a starting point on the northern Spain coastline, I would head south into the Navarre, then traverse eastwards to the Pyrenees. On reaching the mountains, I would cross into France; then ride down the spine of the Pyrenees, ticking through the major climbs en-route. When I was done with climbing mountains, I would head for a day's rest near Carcassonne, with a good friend. Finally, I would finish the trip by riding north; back up the Bordeaux coastline, through the Vendee and Brittany, to St. Malo - where I would catch the ferry home.
1,900 kilometres. 28,000 metres of climbing. Roughly 100 hours of riding.
The plan was set. It would test bike, body, kit and mind.
Day 1 - So it begins…
The Brittany Ferries to Santander arrives in Spain, delayed only slightly by a Force 10 storm. I roll out onto foreign ground, and make my way out into the hills. The first day is just 40 kilometres, but sees me pass over the first Col of the trip, and set up camp in a deserted (except for a few cows) field, looking back on the lights of the city.
Day 2 - The Spanish Sierra
Day 2 is the real start. Up early, I pedal into the Basque country, and head southeast - the city of Pamplona is my target, just over 200 kilometres away. Lakes and mountains are passed; gravel roads are ridden. I finish the day on schedule, and with my planned mileage on the clock. The JetBoil MiniMo comes into action, and I cook up a dinner of noodles, Romesco sauce and chicken - #fuelfortheride.
Day 3 - Approaching France
Dawn departure from my roadside camp. Today, I'm on the road to France. Leaving the Navarre to the west, I head into the Pyrenees. Late afternoon, and with a darkening sky, I begin my ascent of the Port de Larrau - the pass between Spain and France. Before reaching the summit, the heavens open though; my body temperature plummets, and I descend on the unmade road, into France, as fast as I safely can. Bienvenue en France.
Day 4 - The Pyrenees High Mountains
I awake to the patter of rain on my Kathmandu tent. Crawling from my warm sleeping bag, I pull on wet weather riding kit, and head out onto the road. Today features major mountain passes - the first real challenges. I climb the Col de Marie Blanque, it is damp. I descend, ride along the valley floor, and reach the Col d'Aubisque by lunchtime. I climb, deep into the cloud; then descend, through the building mist. The weather deteriorates fast; so I decide that the Col du Tourmalet is best left till first light, as snow threatens. I check into the first proper campsite of the trip; shower, cook, clean and sleep comfortably.
Day 5 - The Tourmalet. The Longest Hour.
Clear skies over the Tourmalet, to start the day. I begin my ascent. By the summit, the temperature is 5 degrees Celsius, and snowing - I am wearing every bit of riding kit I have. It is a great achievement to have summited the pass, though; so I descend to coffee and cake. Next up, the Col d'Aspin. Then, the Peyresourde. Then, the Col de Mente. The light, and my legs, are fading by the time I begin the final climb of the day; I end up camping next to an abandoned barn, just short of the summit of the Col du Portet d'Aspet - 5,500 metres of climbing on the clock.
Day 6 - Descending to Civilisation
Out of the mountains, and into the sunshine; today headed to The Corbieres, and a rest day with friends. I stop only briefly for pastries and route planning; so to ensure the fastest course to a hot shower and comfortable bed.
Day 7 - Rest Day Revival
Kit cleaned and drying, I head out to spin the legs over, with a good friend. A chance to borrow some more fresh Castelli kit, and explore the Corbieres in the sunshine. Cassoulet for dinner. Perfect.
Day 8 - Northward bound
Leaving Carcassonne and the mountains behind, I begin my second leg of the journey - northbound towards home. Over the Montagne Noir, and onto the flats of Bordeaux; I pass vineyards and orchards - the Kona Private Jake eating up the miles.
Day 9 - Mechanical mishaps
The ride has been a test of kit and body so far, and the first victim of the mileage is a double tyre failure. Disaster is averted by a trip to a local bike shop, for a replacement pair - some trusty Michelin CX tyres. Back on the road, I eventually set up camp just north of Bordeaux, in a disused vineyard (there aren't many of those!).
Day 10 - Making-Up Mileage
After the previous day's events, I'm a little behind schedule; time for some head-down pace setting. I reach the Atlantic coast, and head north through La Rochelle and Rochefort, then onwards into the Vendée. I finish the day camped amongst the windfarms, and rest my legs, after more than 10 hours in the saddle. I am grateful for a warm Kathmandu down jacket, as the temperatures notably drop in the evening sun.
Day 11 - The Final Charge
With a welcome tailwind, I make the final charge north; needing to make up the miles, in order to reach the ferry home. Vendée to the Loire river; then, up into Bretagne. After 272 kilometres, and over 11 hours of turning the legs, I eventually lay down on my Nordisk sleeping mat, for the final time this trip.
Day 12 - Dawn Departure
The last 40 kilometres to the port of St. Malo, are done in the gradually building light of dawn. I'm thankful for a GoreTex Jacket once more; but little can dampen my feeling of achievement and success. It has been a challenge; but an incredible way to see a changing country and landscapes; all whilst testing mind, body and kit. I reward myself with a final French coffee and pastries, before boarding the boat home. (I travelled Brittany Ferries from St. Malo to Portsmouth).
- 1933 kilometres - Total Distance Ridden
- 94 hours 20 minutes - Total Riding Time
- 28,629 metres - Total Elevation Climbed
Best Kit Selects from the 'Coasts and Cols'
I used every item of kit that I took with me on the trip; except, fortunately, my LifeSystems First Aid Kit.
What are my best selects though? What topped the rankings? Here are my 'Top Ten':
- Kathmandu Ultralight Tent - provided shelter and protection from cold and wet Pyrenean nights
- Mountain Hardwear Lumina Flame Sleeping Bag - cosy, packable and perfect in a mix of night-time temperatures.
- JetBoil MiniMo Cooking System - from noodles to porridge, this was a great way to cook.
- Gore Bike Wear Oxygen 2.0 Active Shell Jacket - I couldn't have been without this on those damp days
- GripGrab Cloudburst Gloves - stopped my fingers freezing on cold wet descents
- Nordisk Ven 2.5 Sleeping Mat - the compact solution to a comfortable night's sleep
- Castelli Fawesome 2 Vest - Ideal for chilly starts and cool evenings
- Adidas Supernova shorts - lightweight and loose fitting; ideal after a day spent in Lycra
- Restrap Seatpack - great for carrying tent, stove and camping kit
- Wahoo ELEMNT GPS Computer - guided me faultlessly, every day of the ride
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