My nose bore the brunt of the beating; my eyes streamed as my face contorted against the beating from the hail stones. It had been a long climb on a rough dirt track to the pass at just under five thousand metres (16000′). The weather had been kind to us, but the threat of rain was omni-present with clouds following us up the valley, driving us on each time we stopped to eat. Crossing the pass the wind built up, the temperature dropped, and ominous black clouds loomed in on us from the south. We stopped to wrap up warm. We ate a little bread and cheese, released our brakes and let gravity drive us. The road this side of the pass was rougher. Descending we dodged rocks and mud and patches of loose sand, we passed streams of water fresh from the snow melt just above us; then the hail began.


Our faces screwed up tight against the stinging pellets of water we nearly missed the tent and two bicycles just a few metres from the road side. We pulled up and hailed them. ‘Hello, good afternoon; hellooooo’. No responce. We moved closer. The bicycles were European for sure. ‘Ola ciclistas’ cried Sebastian in Spanish. The door of the tent opened and out popped a smiling female face, ‘ola’ she said. ‘We too are cyclists’ explained Sebastian in his finest Spanish. At this she seemed quite surprised. Quite why we could not tell. As is tradition for cyclist we were dressed in a particularly ridiculous manner. Brightly coloured coats and wooly hats, skin tight britches and big boots, what she found cavorting outside her tent was either European cyclists or a pair of garden gnomes, she seemed to suspect the latter.
We exchanged pleasantries and learned that their stove was not working, we gave them some bread, and moved on down the slope a little to where the land lay flatter and a stream flowed, it was time to stop for the night.


‘How about a weather report’ suggested Sebastian. It was a little after sunrise and we had just woken. I opened the inner door and still laying on my back I reached for the zip to the tent’s outer door. I gave it a pull, it didn’t move, ‘ahh, frozen then’. I rolled onto my front to allow myself a better angle of attack. I gave the zip another tug, it opened, the door moved, and it snowed inside the tent. ‘A chilly night then’ we concluded.


The day had dawned bright and the scenery was nothing short of stunning. We took our time drinking coffee and drinking in the beauty of our surroundings as we waited for the sun to rise and dry the tent out and warm the earth. To the north was a range of snow covered peaks, this was not a bad way to start the day.
Tent dry, all packed we set off. We crossed two more passes, the highest one being just shy of 4900 metres; our progress was hampered by the constant desire to stop, savour the beauty, and take a pic or two.


A spectacular down hill followed, a thousand vertical metres of gravel track, then five hundred vertical metres of winding tarmac taking us to a dirt track and a beautiful new valley with vegitation green and thick and splendid. The grass on the river bank, kept short by grazing sheep, cried out to me to pitch the tent. I felt sure that if we did camp here we would have the company of hobbits as we drank our wine. Alas we needed food and so continued La Union, a dusty ramshakled town seemingly in the midst of clebrating something or other with a tirless New Orleans marching jazz band that played with far more enthusiasm and volume than skill.
La Union, far from a perfect town, but the end of a most perfect day.



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