Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Reflections on a Trip to New Mexico

I've lived in a few Western states: Colorado, Montana, Wyoming, Utah and Washington. Those states have bullet holes in the roadsigns as well. But nowhere do they blow holes in their roadsigns with more enthusiasm than they do in New Mexico. In fact as you are driving around, it tends to give you the 'willies' when you think it would be possible for a bullet to come through your windshield. I imagine the wood behind the sign (above) stops the bullet, but the simple metal speed limit signs don't even slow them down.
This door opens into the courtyard of the Palace of the Governor's in downtown Santa Fe and is easily eight feet tall. It must have been difficult to open because they made a little four foot high door for easier access for a human or two. Open the doors all the way and you could bring in a horse drawn wagon loaded with casks of wine or a load of hay. The beautiful shade of blue reminds me of old doors I've seen in Mirepoix.

They turn out all the lights on Canyon Drive on Christmas Eve and it is impossibly crowded with people making it hard to navigate, especially with a black dog that becomes almost invisible. But Fergus got some real love and affection when they finally did see him. One street over, the crowds diminish and you can actually see the traditional luminarios or farrilitos. For those who have never seen this wonderful form of Christmas lights, they are ordinary brown paper bags filled with a little sand and a candle. They line the top of walls, sidewalks and any other places you can imagine. They also make another similar arrangement, like a small kite or hot air balloon, and with the heat of a single candle rise into the night sky until they catch fire and send sparks and ashes cascading towards the ground. I've often wondered how many house fires and forest fires these start, but perhaps none, because they've been doing it for years.

This is the plaza in downtown Santa Fe. In the center is an obelisk commemorating soldiers who fought or died in the early days of Anglo New Mexico. (Again, you can see the luminarios set up for the evening.)

This is on one side of the obelisk, and on another side is a commemoration to the solders who fought in the Civil War at Glorieta Pass. As you can see, someone at some point has taken umbrage, rightly so, and taken it in their own hands to remove a reference to "savage" Indians. (I should clarify that I think it is right to be offended by the term 'savage' and possibly 'Indians', but I think it is incorrect to vandalize the monument.) I am also wondering, was the first line also changed at some point? And if so, what did it say?

This plaque sits nearby, and I don't know when it was placed......before or after the vandalism of the obelisk. Interestingly, in Colorado at the present time, there is an ongoing debate whether to rename a mountain from Kit Carson Peak to another more culturally sensitive name. Kit Carson, a famous frontier figure and Santa Fe resident was married to a Ute woman, as I recall, but also killed a large number of Native Americans and some don't want to honor him with the name of a mountain. The debate goes on. Should we rename Cortez, Colorado or Columbus, Ohio and Montana so as not to honor these historical figures for their murderous exploits? How about Squaw Flat Campground; the Montrose High Indians? For right now, I'll stay neutral.

On Christmas Day this lady was having fun giving out free hugs to anyone who wanted one. I'll leave you with a few videos of musicians in the plaza sending out Christmas Cheer. Happy Holidays, wherever you are.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

We Fabricate, You Decide

I know it's been a long time since our last post. We've heard about it from friends via facebook, e-mail and on the phone. Yes, we're all right, we're still here. I will give two excuses for our lack of posts and you can decide which one you want to believe.

Number One: We've been so incredibly busy doing all sorts of wonderful and exciting things that we have simply not had time to break away from those activities and write it down. I'm talking about working in the yard on some xeriscaping, gathering rocks for that project, ripping up sidewalks, tearing down cabinets and putting them in new places, finishing the exterior of the doorway to the remodeled bathroom that we finished last summer, and so on and so forth.

Number Two: We've done nothing, absolutely nothing worth wasting your time reading about on our blog so we didn't bother to post about it. I'm talking about working in the yard on some xeriscaping, gathering rocks for that project, ripping up sidewalks, tearing down cabinets and putting them in new places, finishing the exterior of the doorway to the remodeled bathroom that we finished last summer, and so on and so forth.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Home Again, but Not Without a Story

We survived another trans-Atlantic journey but not without a hitch here and there. We returned our leased Kangoo to the Renault dealer and they gave us, along with Fergus and his kennel, a ride to the Toulouse airport. We got our boarding passes and put Fergus in his cage and sent him off to Denver. We then had to go through security which was heightened because of some unknown threat. In the past, travelling though Toulouse has been wonderful because of the ease of going through security.....but not this time. We had to take our wallets, keys and change out of our pockets, remove our shoes and belts, put our laptop and cameras in a tray, take off my sweater..........and still I had to be patted down and frisked with an electronic device.

We arrived in Frankfurt and after a bus ride to the terminal, had a quick jaunt of a few kilometers through that massive, dysfunctional airport, and through passport control. I'm pretty sure I know where all the grandsons and grand-daughters of the Nazi SS are now working. Yes....passport control.

Because we were flying to the US, we had to go though security again. Keys, wallet, camera, laptop, belt and shoes. We reached our gate and began boarding, but we had to pass though a turnstile. The electronic eye was supposed to read the boarding pass and allow us through the gate, but it didn't work for Nancy. By this time we were frustrated and angry. People were giving Nancy advice. "Turn your boarding pass sideways." "Turn it over." "Stand up, sit down, fight, fight, fight." Just before the mob behind her became unruly, Nancy got down on her hands and knees and crawled through the turnstile, the throngs cheered, but she immediately got the attention of the Lufthansa staff.

Then we squeezed ourselves into our seats for the nine to ten hour battle with claustrophobia. I swear, next time I am going to take some kind of powerful drug and just spend the entire trip asleep and snoring, perhaps in one of the latrines.

We arrived in Denver in a frazzled state, went through passport control, got our luggage. Fergus arrived in his kennel and then we went through customs. After Nancy walked Fergus, I took off in the shuttle bus for a distant parking lot where my sister had left our car. I had told her to put the keys in the tailpipe, and she had done that. I could feel the keys but I couldn't grasp them. They were a half inch too far up the tailpipe. I wandered around the massive parking lot until I found a beat up old pickup (I can tell you, owners of beat up old pickups don't seem to fly much) and lo and behold, in the bed of the pickup, I found what I was looking for. A piece of bailing wire was mixed in with some hay, a few sticks of firewood, beer cans and the rest of the junk that accumulates in the back of an old pick up. Voila, the keys were in my hands and off I went to retrieve Nancy, Fergus and my sister Peggy who had just flown in from Seattle.

The Denver airport is the size of some counties and closer to Kansas than Denver, but I got back there eventually. I drove to the concourse and discovered there are three levels. Unfortunately the one Nancy and Fergus were on was a level that only buses can access through a security gate. I didn't have a cell phone and I couldn't leave the car and try to find Nancy on foot. They would tow any unoccupied car in this age of paranoid security. I was frazzled; pissed, fatigued and anxious to get to Nancy's location on the secure level, not really thinking clearly. After about three trips around the airport at about five miles a circuit, I piggy-backed through the security gate behind a shuttle bus. It's a trick I learned, but had not used, this summer on the French tollways. The bus driver was on the radio quite quickly reporting the security breach, but I didn't care. I was finally on the level where Nancy and Fergus were waiting for me. Except that they weren't there.

Some nice security agent had informed Nancy that I would never find her on that level in a million years and she should move down the the next level, which she wisely did. Meanwhile, I was driving around the secure level looking for her. I was just about to leave that secure level before I got apprehended, and begin a search of other levels.....when flashing lights appeared in my rear view mirror.

When you are stopped by security, of course, protocol must be followed. I needed to be dealt with by persons much higher up than the ones that stopped me. I endured two lady security personnel tell me what a dumb fuck I was, while I tried to tell them how screwed up their security system was. I don't believe that either of us changed our minds on the major issues, but we agreed to see if they could find Nancy and let me know of her whereabouts. I'm sure that if they had not been able to find Nancy with a handsome black Labrador, and now accompanied by my sister Peggy, the security personnel might have found me very suspicious and hauled me off to jail, or to be waterboarded. After a mercifully short lecture by the chief of security I was on my on my way on another five mile jaunt around the airport to get to the next level, to finally find my family. The sight of them waving to me as I drove up was the best thing I've seen in years.

We went to Peggy's house where we were greeted by Tony and the delicious smell of chili on the stove. I sucked down a bottle of wine, ate chili and salad and went to bed. We were awakened by jet lag at 2:00 am, so we got out of bed and tried to quietly leave the house and start the six hour drive back to Montrose. But we were beset by one more frustration......a flat tire at 3:30 in Brighton. But I can change a tire like a NASCAR professional and soon we were on the road again with coffee, and an egg-a-muffin, watching the sun come up on Monarch Pass.

Friday, October 8, 2010

French Chainsaw Massacre

The biennial ritual has begun. Pollarding the plane trees. I have read some about this arborist practice of "extremely radical pruning"the leafy growth in order to control the height and size of the tree. It is commonly done to certain species in urban areas in Great Britain and Europe; but I don't think I have ever seen it done in the US.

Leran is now undergoing "French Chainsaw Massacre". A highly efficient crew is working its way along Cours St. Jacques, removing the canopy of massive plane tree leaves. For those of you who have never seen a plane tree, it is similar to the sycamore tree in the US with the papery-thin camouflage bark. I imagine these city employees having to attend "pollarding school", where they learn the techniques of cutting off just enough but not too much.

It may be good for the trees. It certainly keeps the city employees busy for several days. And by next summer, there will be a new full canopy overhead. But from now until then, there won't even be bare branches to look at. Because what is left is just stubs. Butchered stubs. It is like a blight has wiped out the village.

In a country that treasures fine wines, cheeses, breads, art, and architecture, it is aesthetically reprehensible to butcher the most famous tree in France.

There must be alternative solutions, ones that are more visually acceptable and yet accomplish the goal of restraining tree height and size. As I watched the crew buzzing away, it occurred to me that rather than pollard every tree every other year, why not pollard every other tree every year? Get it? This would always leave some leafy foliage until it drops, and branches to soften the harshness of the stubs. If you agree, drop a comment to your local city council person.

To say that Cours St. Jacques has that eerie post-apocalyptic feel and look would not be a stretch. Time to go.

A Day Out of Order

Our friends visiting from Montana, Ursula and Dee Dee, probably love garage sales as much as I do. So, when I was describing the concept of a vide grenier to them, their eyes lit up. In the thick of summer, there are hardly enough hours on a Sunday to hit every one being held. But they are getting a little sparser as the weather proves to be more unpredictable. Last Sunday in Bram felt a little like being in the Wizard of Oz. The wind was whipping up gusts that was tormenting people selling any lightweight objects. It gave us buyers the edge.

Ursula concentrated on one particular table, loaded with odd hand tools and old keys. These are perfect components for her metal sculptures. Her carry-on bag will now weigh double her body weight. Dee Dee on the other hand, outfitted herself for under 5 Euros with a fabulous scarf/shawl and a gorgeous dress.

Initially, I wandered around, not finding much of anything. Then I stumbled upon a couple folks selling boules. Not new ones, or even slightly used ones. But these were boules that I'm assuming go back a few years. One gentleman showed me how they have a wooden core, then filled in with nails or tacks in various patterns. Some of them had initials woven into the pattern. Of course, these were more expensive than the store-bought variety, but I just have this feeling. I was able to negotiate a little, and chose the "fish scale" pattern. The owner indicated that he was 58 years old and this boules was 53 years old (if I got my numbers right).

Since shopping works up quite an appetite, we headed to Chez Marie's La Table Cathare in Fanjeaux for...what else...cassoulet and chevre chaud and rose. We have been to this restaurant several times and have never been disappointed. The food is great, and Marie is even better.

When we drug ourselves away, the weather was improving, and we certainly needed to work off an excessive lunch. The next thing I knew, Ursula, Dee Dee, Fergus and I were on our way to Montsegur---and not just the village but the Cathar castle.

About half way up the trail to the top, I realized the gravity of our error. Doug was the smart one, by staying home and letting his lunch 'settle'. My cassoulet was rising. Suddenly I couldn't breathe, my chest hurt, there was a bowling ball in my stomach that wanted to be released. I had to sit down. Ursula and Dee Dee wet a bandana to put around my neck. People passing by wanted to know if they could help. Hopefully, I'll never run into any of them again. The bowling ball finally calmed down and I resumed the walk without requiring an ambulance.

I learned a good lesson from this. A vide grenier, cassoulet and a hike make a splendid day---but next time get them in the right order (vide grenier, hike...then the cassoulet).

Monday, October 4, 2010

The View Was to Die For

On Saturday Nancy and I, along with Ursula and Dede, our visitors from Montana, got out of the car at the parking lot at Queribus and our view was what you see above. It was the first day's outing with our friends to show them the beautiful section of France that we live in. In Leran, it was clear and sunny, but over near the Mediterranean coast, we had a cold and wet fog.

The view from the parking lot should have been something like this (above). My apologies to Jeremey Fressard for stealing his picture, but on a lot of other days, I could have shot this just as well as he did.

A cobweb at the first informational sign was dripping with moisture telling you everything you need to know about the weather.

We climbed the gravelled trail up to the fortified entrance to Queribus and I took a picture of Ursula and Dede taking a picture of me. This is the chute that was over the doorway, down which you would pour boiling oil on your attackers. Ouch. There were arrow chutes in all the strategic places; anyplace an attacker would stand to try to break down the door was exposed to arrows.

We could barely see where we were going, and we could not see the top of the chateau.

At one point, it was if the interpretive signs were trying to rub the nasty weather in our faces. There, below the stone guard rail was this sign pointing out all the majestic beauty of the valley below us. At least it's what we would have seen if we had more than about 20 yards of visibility. At the very top of the photograph above the rock wall is the gray void of fog. Still, the chateau was fascinating the way it was perched upon the rock and had a commanding view (or so it's said) of the likely routes of the invading armies.

Nancy and Dede were happy because there were dungeons and circular stairways, a chapel and a latrine, a cistern and a tower; everything a good castle should have. Queribus is one of the so called "Five Sons of Carcassonne", along with Aguilar, Peyrepertuse, Termes and Puilaurens. The five castles were strategically placed to defend the French border against the Spanish, which was somewhat to the north of the present day border. In 1659, Louis XIV of France and Philip IV of Spain signed the Treaty of the Pyrenees, sealed with the marriage of the infant Marie Therese to the French monarch. The treaty changed the borders, moving the frontier south to the crest of the Pyrenees, the present Franco-Spanish border. The fortresses thus lost their importance. Some maintained a garrison of soldiers until the French Revolution, but they slowly fell into decay, often becoming shepherd's' shelters or bandits hideouts.

It was a very spooky visit due to the lousy weather. We all felt as if snow was imminent, but a few hours later we sat outdoors at a cafe near the river in Quillan and had a glass of wine in the warm sunshine.

Rick Steves Has Been There Before Us

Nancy and I were wandering around Minerve, over in the Herault, and we decided it had to be in some popular guidebook or another. We heard plenty of North American voices, Canadian or US, I couldn't say. The village of Minerve is in a gorgeous setting, situated as it is, along some limestone bluffs carved out by the River Cesse. Obviously, it was constructed there for defensive purposes, because it was sure hard to get to, even by car. The bridge you see in the picture was constructed in the years just before WWI, and it is intended for use only by the residents.
It was a town of narrow streets winding through archways and cobblestone pavements everywhere. People had found places to put gardens and terraces where they could get a little bit of air and sun.

If you walk through the village and down into the gorge, you can walk under the bridge and back up into the other side of town. Meanwhile, when down in the gorge you can see the two natural bridges. During the wet season, water flows out of the cavern pictured below. This is the smaller of the two natural bridges. The informational signs explained that just a little while ago (in geological time) there was a minor uplift in the Minerve region, and the river then had to carve it's way through the rock and over time created the gorge (and some natural bridges). Just like the Grand Canyon, only quicker.

I thought that this house on the rim of the gorge and sitting on top of the natural bridge would have been an incredible setting for a house. You would probably want a very good insurance policy paid up at all times, and wild drunken parties would be a very bad idea.
A few days later, our friends arrived from Montana and they brought along a copy of Rick Steve's guidebook to all of France. There are entire guidebooks on the Languedoc alone, and deservedly so. But, among the very few places in Languedoc that Steves recommends is Minerve, hence all the familiar voices.
And of course, Minerve has a colorful history. Once again, I briefly quote from Wikipedia: In 1210 a group of Cathars sought refuge in the village after the massacre of B├ęziers during the Albigensian Crusade. The village was besieged by Simon de Montfort, 5th Earl of Leicester. The attacking army besieged the village for six weeks before it capitulated. They set up four catapults around the fortification: three to attack the village, and the largest, Malevoisine, to attack the town's water supply. Eventually the commander of the 200-strong garrison, Viscount Guilhem of Minerve, gave in and negotiated a surrender which saved the villagers and himself after the destruction of the town's main well. However, 140 Cathars refused to give up their faith and were burned to death at the stake on 22 July.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Live...It's Saturday Night....In Leran

Last week, from Wednesday evening until Friday morning, there was a national strike going on in France. As part of a national movement against the government's retirement reform, all air traffic controllers, SCNF (French national railroad) workers, and Paris public transportation agents took a few days off. Strikes are not unusual events in France, and people learn to adjust. So did Barry-Oke, when he learned that his Thursday flight was grounded, and he couldn't escape Leran until the following Monday. He was forced to cancel his weekend singing gig in England, and extend his 'Tour de Leran' for another night.

Since our social calender had prevented us from catching his earlier performance, we were delighted to hear the unfortunate airway news. Marek, the village crier, was quick to issue an email invitation. When summoned, Leran answers, and a crowd appeared.

Barry's regular sidekick and provider of musical accompaniment in Leran, Alan Simmons, was off in Spain. Emma, a recent addition to Leran, luckily travels with her guitar and graciously offered to stand in. Additionally, she added back-up vocals.

Lynn, Barry's lovely wife, made the trip to Leran this time. We had not met her before, and thoroughly enjoyed our conversations. Lynn suggested that one of the bar's staff, Lise, come up and sing a few songs. Lise is French, and working at the bar is improving her English at a lightning pace. Lise and Barry belted out a few songs back and forth in French and English. Then Barry turned Lise loose.
I spent several hours attempting to upload video clips we took that night of Barry, Barry and Emma, and Lise. Only one would load. I wish you could have heard it all. I guess either Blogger or Sony are on strike. (Click on the video to play)

Sunday, September 26, 2010


This strange, devilish statue is just inside the door of the little church in Rennes-le-Chateau, where it has been standing since 1896, when a poor parish priest undertook a major renovation of the church and grounds in the tiny isolated village near Limoux. This little church has quite a notorious past, however, most of it is entirely speculation.

A few days ago we visited Rennes-le-Chateau, a place made even more famous by the movie "The Da Vinci Code". The church and grounds are beautiful, to be sure, but the real story is of the priest, Father Berenger Sauniere. Beginning with his tenure here in 1885,the priest transformed the run down, ready to collapse church into a thing of beauty. The mystery, and the most enjoyable thing about the visit, is learning the theories about where Father Sauniere obtained funds to finance this restoration. We bought the comic book version of the story (which is probably pure speculation but just as reliable as anything else) and it postulates that Sauniere found a stash of gold that was hidden in the church just before the French Revolution. The gold was thought to be that of wealthy parishioners who died in the violence or fled France. There are other more magnificent theories that say the gold was Templar treasure, Visigoth loot or a stash of gold hidden by Cathars before being persecuted out of existence. Even mention of the Holy Grail pops up here and there.

Here's a page from the comic book. You can see the good father's housekeeper, Marie Denarnaud, who, it is said was quite attractive, who never married and who was buried right next to Sauniere, thirty years after his death in 1917. So, we've got speculation about finding gold and the unspoken suggestion of illicit sex between a supposed celibate priest and his unmarried housekeeper. Wow, this is good stuff!

Besides refurbishing the church, Father Sauniere also bought property in Marie's name (hmmm...she must have been a good housekeeper) and built towers and greenhouses and a sumptuous cottage where he entertained important guests. He sounds to me more like a crooked mayor, or a gangster, than a priest. But the villagers loved him, perhaps because they all worked for him on his renovation projects. The good father was defrocked in 1915 because the Catholic hierarchy suspected him of dipping his fingers into church funds. While he was no longer a priest, Marie still owned the nearby villa, gardens, tower and greenhouse, so Sauniere didn't have to move too far away. In fact, only a few feet.

The greenhouse is very cool indeed and has a great 360 degree view of the vineyards and mountains nearby. I was surprised to find that no one has accused Father Sauniere of growing marijuana in his greenhouse.

Here's the final resting place of the good father, and Marie is supposed to be buried nearby, but I didn't find the spot because I wasn't looking for it. Well, it's all quite a good yarn, but there may be no truth what-so-ever to any of the speculation. Father Sauniere may have raised the cash legitimately from anonymous donors and Marie may have been quite plain looking and died a virgin with some nice real estate. But one thing's for sure: in this part of France, with all the other fantastic things to see, the chateau is hardly worth a visit without all of the lurid speculation.

Friday, September 24, 2010

From the Department of Strange Coincidents Department

Remember this young lady that I photographed on August 24th near Leran?
And this young lady, remember her? I shot her a few days before on August 20th, a few miles away, in Lavalenet. They are the same person.

I just realized that it was the same person while looking at my photos. It certainly didn't dawn on me at the time. She must lead an interesting, very un-conventional life, travelling around in a horse drawn wagon, fashioning baskets from willow shoots. But she doesn't seem very happy, or maybe she doesn't like me sticking my camera in her face.

I can't confirm that it's the same ring but it's on the same finger. Now, if I can just get another photo of her someday, maybe I can get her to smile.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

French Laundry

The laundry system at our house in France has always been a sore point with me. Since we don’t have a yard or garden to string a clothesline, we either must hang the clothes indoors or use the dryer. The dryer also is a less than ideal choice, since it vents inside and ends up creating a sauna-like atmosphere when you don’t really want it (i.e., on some hot, muggy summer days). I know I shouldn’t be griping, because anything beats sitting in a laundro-mat, reading 6-year old copies of Reader’s Digest. Bear with me, as my whining does have some good merit.

After fussing with those portable laundry racks for a couple years, we found a 5-line retractable clothesline unit in one of the bricolage stores last summer. Doug installed it between two beams in the salon on the deuxieme etage (USA 3rd floor). We generate most of the dirty laundry on the deuxieme etage, where our bedroom and bathroom are, and then it has to be hauled down to be laundered and then back up to be hung out. I finally just got tired of carrying the laundry basket up and down the 29 steps, knowing that one day I’d miss a step and take a unexpected shortcut down.

So I started lobbying for a solution, some sort of pulley system to lower and raise the laundry basket. The stairwell is open and I thought there might be a possibility, but it takes some odd twists and turns and didn’t look too positive. When our friends John and Eileen were visiting, I mentioned my dilemma, and Eileen suggested rigging the pulley outside the back window in the little courtyard. Eileen, being a long-time follower of Alicia Bay-Laurel, as well as an occupational therapist since college, is always crafting up clever solutions.

All at once, a brilliant plan went into action. John and Doug did a quick assessment of materials needed: pulley, rope, big eye hook, S hook and long stick (the French equivalent of an 8’ 2 x 2. I bet you are trying to figure out why the long stick. The eye hook was to be screwed into the roof sheathing outside our bedroom window. Without hanging in mid-air out the window, there was no way to reach the edge of the sheathing, so first they taped the cordless drill to the end of the long stick to drill a starter hole. After cutting a saw kerf in the end of the long stick and inserting the eye hook, they then used it as an extra long “reacher” to screw in the hook. The long stick wasn’t done yet. The pulley was taped to the end of the stick and “hooked” onto the eye hook. Within an hour the first load of laundry was hoisted up.

Four minds came together on a summer’s afternoon. A simple plan, well executed.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Tour des Pyrenees Mountain Challenge

We had heard about the Heritage clan's trans-Pyrenees Mountain bicycle challenge, from St. Jean de Luz on the Atlantic coast to Collioure on the Mediterranean. A mere 750 kms distance (450 miles) and 11,000 meters elevation gain. Julian and Gwenda Gray transported their son Tom back from England so he could participate with Craig and Jo. Since Strath and Cam couldn't drop out of school for the week, Julian and Gwenda also transported the lads on Friday afternoon so they could share the weekend torture.

We figured the least we could do was take a leisurely drive into Spain, spend the night in Bossost, and watch the athletes summit the Col du Portillon. As luck would have it, we ran into Julian and Gwenda just in time for lunch. We learned that the past couple days cycling for the Heritage group were pure hell---rain, cold and monster hills. It had been 3 degrees C (37 degrees F) on the Col du Tourmalet. My personal experience included commuting by bicycle for several years and taking several long cycling trips, so I can attest to what an instant morale buster bad weather can be.

When we arrived at the top of the Col du Portillon (1293 m), it was great to see that Jo was all smiles. The sun was shining, the sky was a cloudless blue, and it was shirt-sleeve temperature. Tom Gray had already made it to the top and Jo was waiting for her crew to arrive. The bad weather had taken its toll on everyone, and spirits needed rejuvenating.

Within a few minutes, Strath rounded the bend. And if you click on the photo below, I'd say that look has that "piece a cake" attitude, as if he did this every day.

Cam pedaled the final bit with a huge smile on his face, which made me think he must be out of his mind. But then, youth can sustain anything.

Jo was beside herself with pride in Strath and Cam, and who wouldn't be. It's not everyday your family hops on bikes and pedals over the Col du Tourmalet, the Col d'Aspin, the Col de Peyresourde and the Col du Portillon. Some families wear themselves out working the buttons of the TV remote control.

Last, but not least, Craig powered up the hill. I think he just wanted to make sure the boys got up before him. He might have been sweating a bit, but I don't think anybody noticed.

I'm pretty sure I heard these guys say that this was going to be an annual event. Didn't I hear that? Or was it once in the spring and once in the fall?

Julian and Gwenda head over to Collioure to help with the shuttle back. It's just damn lucky that these bicycle challenges occur in some spectacular places. Well done, all.