The switchbacks of Luz Ardiden

Allez la Douze: Dropping Flies

Allez la Douze: Dropping Flies

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An ancient Velominati legend states that when the The Prophet created the common fly, he gave it a maximum air speed of exactly 12 kilometers per hour. When he created the common Cyclist, on the other hand, he gave us a maximum climbing speed of 11.9 kilometers per hour.

The worst flies on the planet live in the Pyrenees, where it is hot and humid. I recall an overcast typical day in the Pyrenees, the kind of day where the flies pull back the drapes, look outside, and decide to take the whole family out to the Cols for an afternoon of Cyclist Surfing. As it happened, we were on a big ride that day; we started with the Col d’Aspin, went over the Tourmalet, and ended at Luz Ardiden as the sun was tucking in behind the shoulders of the mountains surrounding us.

It was here, on the lower slopes of the last climb, down within the suffocating effect of the tree line where our sanity was most severely tested. Luz Ardiden is the cruelest kind of climb, the sort that is always one hour from ending, as Will Fotheringham once pointed out. With 13km to go, the speed you climb at is 13km/h; with 12km to go, the speed drops to 12km/h, then to 11, and so on with always an hours’ riding left before you.

The guns had been thoroughly drained of any power after 160km over two of the most fearsome climbs in the Pyrenees; the mind was not far from cracking. I do not know what is worse; the noise of their flying droves, or their endless dancing upon the arms and legs, but the flies here are incessant. It is hard enough, climbing at track-stand speed, without the added challenge of doing so while wildly swinging an arm or two about and cursing every manner of airborne invertebrate.

Our reserves were tapped and the bottom of the V-Well scraped for every bit of speed in an effort to escape this torturous hell. Above the treeline and into the pastures, the flies found more appealing hosts than boney Cyclists, and we were left to once again commune with butterflies – the only sort of flying insect I find at all tolerable.

Every summertime climb I have ever done has beeb accompanied by these pests; and every summertime climb – irrespective of my fitness – has been enjoyed at a maximum speed of just under 12 kilometers per hour. Having insects capable of flying a bit faster than the struggling cyclist is Nature’s enforcement of Rule #5, it is the Way of Things.

Vive la Vie Velominatus.

// Cyclotourism // Folklore // La Vie Velominatus // Nostalgia

  1. @Nate

    @frank Horse flies are big but that is their weakness; they are an easy target. Dear flies bite harder, and are smaller and faster.

    As for the “horrible” Australian fauna, I am beginning to suspect it’s a myth intended to keep others away from what is actually a really nice place. Kind of like the horror stories about endless rain in the PNW, right?

    SSSSSSHHHHH!!!

  2. @frank

    What is that? I can’t see a goddamned thing. Oh, it must be the PNW.

    Just got back from far SE Oregon, where you can see forever. Mostly sagebrush, but you see a fuck-ton of it.

  3. Had the same this August climbing Sa Calobra in Mallorca. Same fly terrorised me for a couple of k’s but I managed to squash fuck out of it on the bars. The euphoria was worth another couple of kph for the rest of the climb

  4. Oh boy, a new photo from the vault! I still see the windbreaker, is the man-waist-purse (mwurse?) slipped around the back due to velocity?

    Insects, what about mammals? A few years back I noticed something barreling towards me from the side. Is that a fucking cat? Cats don’t run at things though?

    I was going at a decent pace and somehow a raccoon managed to kamikaze me, yet passed under the DT and right between both wheels, so he either had really bad aim, or really good aim. Maybe the goal was to knock me off and feast on me with his pals. That was bonkers.

  5. @Ron Hah, one time I had a squirrel run at me on a downhill false flat.  I was flying and just held my line.  Little fucker did a 180 at the last second, thought the better of it, did another 180, went right under my front wheel, and with that the local squirrel gene pool was naturally selected against that last 180.

  6. @VeloVita

    @Mike_P

    @Frank you Dutch photographic plagiarist. I refer you to my gravatar, shot by me as I topped Luz Ardiden last year ha! For me, the most beautiful view in that part of the Pyrenees.

    I’m confused. Shouldn’t a gravatar simply be an avatar of your gravel bike?

    Ha that’s smooth!

  7. @frank

    @ChrisO

    My vote goes to midges too… much worse than any standard fly.

    Not as bad individually as a horsefly but those tend to be lone attackers. Midges swarm.

    We have the occasional wasp – a bit like the ones you get in France. I had one go down my jersey once and he just kept stinging me until I could get him out.

    But my single worst insectal experience on a bike has to be the time that a bee flew into my mouth and stung me on the tongue. Lucky I’m not allergic, but it was extremely painful and swollen and I had to get tweezers and pull the sting out when I got home.

    I’ve had both those happen, and also in the helmet. September seems to be bee/wasp stinger.

    My worst insect experience was somewhere in the woods when I stopped to answer the call of nature and accidentally peed on a ground bee’s nest.

    I think the wasp thing in September is based on three things

    a) they know they haven’t got long to go and so they are generally a bit pissed off with things and so will pick a fight with anything.

    b) they are mainly chewing on fermented fruit in September and so in the afternoon are generally a bit pissed (US folk that means drunk) and so will pick a fight with anything.

    c) in the mornings because of being depressed by a) and as a result of the hangover from b), are generally pissed off and will pick a fight with anything.

  8. @frank

    @girl I have it on the excellent authority of Google that the March Fly is what we call Horse Flies. They are indeed bastards and I’m willing to bet they are bigger in Australia, partly to compensate for @Marcus’s inferiority complex.

    It is very satisfying to catch one, roll it between your fingers and then tear the head off. A tad sinister, but when you’re at your wits end, weird things happen.

    Forget ‘Straya mate – Africa is worse. My idiot nephew had a pretty bad insect experience when he and another idiot nephew and two idiot mates thought it would be a good idea to ride their bikes 6800kms from Tangier, Morocco across the Western Sahara to Ghana.

    About halfway through idiot nephew #1 got what seemed to be an infected knee – which kept getting worse. After a few days of pain, he had to stop the ride and seek medical assistance. Turns out he had a tumbu fly, ie. a fucking maggot had hatched in his leg. He got back on the bike though.

    For anyone with a spare 15 minutes (yes, you all have it), watch this for the ride. Its quite entertaining.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IuyRXnBuaQs

    Or you can go straight to watching them squeeze fly larvae out of his knee (around 4:30)

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fiHkvHRPhaI

  9. Behold the ubiquitous deer fly – bane of Northern Minnesota. When they bite, they leave craters in the skin.The determined ones [I’ve personally never met any but this kind] can bite through spandex. I’ve considered mixing DEET into my chamois cream, but it’s unclear what effects this might have on the aging prostate. These sons of Hell have given chase at speeds up to 25 kph. The Velominati  enjoys spontaneous practice at riding with no hands, when these winged devils manage to get lodged in a helmet vent. The only hope is to keep it in the big ring and seek escape velocity.

  10. All this bravado about flies has me laughing like Hinault must laugh at today’s “hardmen” boasting about how grueling their rides are. You all know nothing of flies.

  11. @gregorio You in NorMin?

  12. @Marko My parents took me camping on a lake in NorMin when I was 1.  On the first night I got bitten by 1000s of mosquitos. On the second night I got bitten on the forehead by a spider.  My whole forehead swelled up and I looked like an alien.  The next morning we got back in the VW and drove back to Missouri.  I haven’t been back to that part of the world but I have a perverse desire to do so.

  13. @Nate

    @Marko My parents took me camping on a lake in NorMin when I was 1. On the first night I got bitten by 1000s of mosquitos. On the second night I got bitten on the forehead by a spider. My whole forehead swelled up and I looked like an alien. The next morning we got back in the VW and drove back to Missouri. I haven’t been back to that part of the world but I have a perverse desire to do so.

    You’re welcome any time. I’ve got space for any Velominati, whenever, standing invite. I’ll take you graveling and we’ll get chased by swarms of deer, horse, and black flies.

    But nothing, I mean nothing, compares to the flies of Northern Manitoba. Particularly those on the eastern shore of Lake Winnipeg. The locals refer to horse flies there as bulldogs. I’ve never seen anything like it and I can endure bugs like Eddy can endure lactic acid baths.

  14. @Marko

    @Nate

    @Marko My parents took me camping on a lake in NorMin when I was 1. On the first night I got bitten by 1000s of mosquitos. On the second night I got bitten on the forehead by a spider. My whole forehead swelled up and I looked like an alien. The next morning we got back in the VW and drove back to Missouri. I haven’t been back to that part of the world but I have a perverse desire to do so.

    You’re welcome any time. I’ve got space for any Velominati, whenever, standing invite. I’ll take you graveling and we’ll get chased by swarms of deer, horse, and black flies.

    But nothing, I mean nothing, compares to the flies of Northern Manitoba. Particularly those on the eastern shore of Lake Winnipeg. The locals refer to horse flies there as bulldogs. I’ve never seen anything like it and I can endure bugs like Eddy can endure lactic acid baths.

    How many spare blood bags should I bring?

  15. @Nate

    @Marko

    @Nate

    @Marko My parents took me camping on a lake in NorMin when I was 1. On the first night I got bitten by 1000s of mosquitos. On the second night I got bitten on the forehead by a spider. My whole forehead swelled up and I looked like an alien. The next morning we got back in the VW and drove back to Missouri. I haven’t been back to that part of the world but I have a perverse desire to do so.

    You’re welcome any time. I’ve got space for any Velominati, whenever, standing invite. I’ll take you graveling and we’ll get chased by swarms of deer, horse, and black flies.

    But nothing, I mean nothing, compares to the flies of Northern Manitoba. Particularly those on the eastern shore of Lake Winnipeg. The locals refer to horse flies there as bulldogs. I’ve never seen anything like it and I can endure bugs like Eddy can endure lactic acid baths.

    How many spare blood bags should I bring?

    I believe the correct measurement for blood bags is known as a “cipollini” , they come in lots of 25.

  16. @teocalli

    I think the wasp thing in September is based on three things

    a) they know they haven’t got long to go and so they are generally a bit pissed off with things and so will pick a fight with anything.

    b) they are mainly chewing on fermented fruit in September and so in the afternoon are generally a bit pissed (US folk that means drunk) and so will pick a fight with anything.

    c) in the mornings because of being depressed by a) and as a result of the hangover from b), are generally pissed off and will pick a fight with anything.

    Sounds like Glasgow.

  17. @frank

    It is very satisfying to catch one, roll it between your fingers and then tear the head off. A tad sinister, but when you’re at your wits end, weird things happen.

    Catch one, tie a piece of string (cotton) around it’s body under the wings and you have a pet!! Watch it try and fly away then! Also used to like pushing sheoak needles up their arse and the letting them go. They can fly but due to the weight it’s head straight up.

  18. @Barracuda

    @Nate

    @Marko

    @Nate

    @Marko My parents took me camping on a lake in NorMin when I was 1. On the first night I got bitten by 1000s of mosquitos. On the second night I got bitten on the forehead by a spider. My whole forehead swelled up and I looked like an alien. The next morning we got back in the VW and drove back to Missouri. I haven’t been back to that part of the world but I have a perverse desire to do so.

    You’re welcome any time. I’ve got space for any Velominati, whenever, standing invite. I’ll take you graveling and we’ll get chased by swarms of deer, horse, and black flies.

    But nothing, I mean nothing, compares to the flies of Northern Manitoba. Particularly those on the eastern shore of Lake Winnipeg. The locals refer to horse flies there as bulldogs. I’ve never seen anything like it and I can endure bugs like Eddy can endure lactic acid baths.

    How many spare blood bags should I bring?

    I believe the correct measurement for blood bags is known as a “cipollini” , they come in lots of 25.

    I would have thought they would have named the unit by reference to a GT contender rather than a sprinter.

  19. @Nate

    @Barracuda

    @Nate

    @Marko

    @Nate

    @Marko My parents took me camping on a lake in NorMin when I was 1. On the first night I got bitten by 1000s of mosquitos. On the second night I got bitten on the forehead by a spider. My whole forehead swelled up and I looked like an alien. The next morning we got back in the VW and drove back to Missouri. I haven’t been back to that part of the world but I have a perverse desire to do so.

    You’re welcome any time. I’ve got space for any Velominati, whenever, standing invite. I’ll take you graveling and we’ll get chased by swarms of deer, horse, and black flies.

    But nothing, I mean nothing, compares to the flies of Northern Manitoba. Particularly those on the eastern shore of Lake Winnipeg. The locals refer to horse flies there as bulldogs. I’ve never seen anything like it and I can endure bugs like Eddy can endure lactic acid baths.

    How many spare blood bags should I bring?

    I believe the correct measurement for blood bags is known as a “cipollini” , they come in lots of 25.

    I would have thought they would have named the unit by reference to a GT contender rather than a sprinter.

    Nah, the International measurement is definately one in “cipollini’s”

    i.e. ” Man, that was one tuff tour this year, glad my team had two spare cipollini’s for us”

    http://www.cyclingnews.com/news/report-cipollini-used-25-blood-bags-before-2003-giro-ditalia

  20. @Barracuda Hah, I was thinking a “cipollini” should have been a reference to podium girls

    Or insane skinsuits

  21. There is one surefire way to climb quicker…go to any area with horseflies….those motherfuckers will tear new orifices in your body and have you in a race against reaching the top before blood loss takes its toll and you wind up the unforntunate victim of what is essentially and airborne pirahana!

  22. @Marko Yup. Grand Rapids, on the west end of the Iron Range.

  23. @gregorio@Marko

    Minnesota has its reputation for cold winters, but people forget about the hot, muggy summers. The woods of Pillsbury Forest taught me a thing or two about deer flies, that’s for sure. Beautiful country, though.

    Seattle has no bugs; until we had our windows replaced last summer, we didn’t even have screens in the windows. And its not hot. Or cold. But you can ski and ride year round.

    Gregario – are you doing The Heck of the North weekend after next?

  24. @Barracuda

    @Nate

    @Marko

    @Nate

    @Marko My parents took me camping on a lake in NorMin when I was 1. On the first night I got bitten by 1000s of mosquitos. On the second night I got bitten on the forehead by a spider. My whole forehead swelled up and I looked like an alien. The next morning we got back in the VW and drove back to Missouri. I haven’t been back to that part of the world but I have a perverse desire to do so.

    You’re welcome any time. I’ve got space for any Velominati, whenever, standing invite. I’ll take you graveling and we’ll get chased by swarms of deer, horse, and black flies.

    But nothing, I mean nothing, compares to the flies of Northern Manitoba. Particularly those on the eastern shore of Lake Winnipeg. The locals refer to horse flies there as bulldogs. I’ve never seen anything like it and I can endure bugs like Eddy can endure lactic acid baths.

    How many spare blood bags should I bring?

    I believe the correct measurement for blood bags is known as a “cipollini” , they come in lots of 25.

    Wow, this disintegrated perfectly. Well done all around.

    And fuck my tits, that’s a lot of dope. I’d expect nothing less from Super Mario.

  25. @frank Missed the postcard lottery back in May. By default I’ll be over in Park Rapids doing my favorite century ride.

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