We dropped too soon out of the Pyrennes, and wanting to prolong the mountains, rode along in the foothills for a few days. We were regularly passed by all the Tour de France wannabees, as this is a classic stage of the race. Actually, we stayed in Arette for two nights, and they have the wall of their town office plastered with photos of all the locals who have competed (and won) the Tour de France. Caleb was suitably amazed at all the old men who were biking, in their 70's and older with calves of steel. In Arette, we avoided a campgound and chose to camp on a bar in a creek. We loved the camping, but it looked like it could rain any minute, every day. Early the second morning, a friendly farmer waded into the river in his gumboots to warn us that a orange grade thunder and hail storm was coming and we could wait it out in his barn (forshadowing...)We checked out two ancient barns, both of which required climbing through manure, and decided to tackle the rain instead. Several rain showers and beautiful towns latter we groceried up. There we met an 84 year young man with a bike equally as old and about 30 lbs of groceries, who chatted us up and turned down a glass of wine (only because it would upset his stomach) then started his 2km ride back home.
Marty, using his nearly unfailing campsite finding skills (forshadowing) quickly led us to an elevated river bar downstream from Mauleon-Licharre on the Saison Gave (which means river that comes from the Pyrenesse) not unlike the bars we are familiar with in BC. Green pool drop rapids, beautiful forest, rocks and sand. We set up camp as it started to rain. Although it seemed unlikely our bar site could be flooded, we used Caleb's knife to hack down some greenery, and made a platform higher up on the bank. Unfortuantely, bees started coming out of what we thought was a birdhouse (french people put their beehives in trees, research to follow), so we were back on the bar. A couple litres of cheap Rose put us at ease even as the thunderstorm raged for the next three hours, with Marty sleeping peacefully. Caleb hunkered under a tarp tent and made us dinner. When it was fully dark, we noticed that the level on our water stick had changed by about two feet and water was starting to flow over our bar. Thankfully we had made our highwater tent pad, and the dark had calmed the bees, so we moved to the riverbank, with headlamps, as everything is easier in the dark. About twenty minutes later, brown water was flowing in the channel between the bar and the bank. It seemed highly unlikely that the river could come up more, so we went to sleep. We were wrong. When Marty woke for a pee at 3am, the bank channel seemed far too quiet, and when he turned on his light to see if the river had gone down, the river was calmly flowing inside our tent beside Jorja. We carried Jorja, in her soaking bag, up to the farmers field, and then moved all our gear for the third time that night by lifting our tent over the farmer's fence. Then surprisingly, we slept till 8. We feel fortunate to still be learning the lessons that you are meant to wrap up in your twenties.
The next few days were character building. We rode in and out of rain, hiding out when we could, and biked downhill to the coast. There were beautiful churches in out of the way towns, we biked through a corner of Pays de Basque, where the language looks like Icelandic, and we saw fields of ducks and geese for fois de grasse (fatty pate...). Turns out the storms have been intense throughout France with record lightning strikes, flooding in towns, and closed airports. So we count ourselves lucky that we have made it to the coast, and are for the most part sheltered from the rains in the rest of France. We many not see much of history, but we will stay dry!!Read more