After last year’s microadventure there was no way we were getting through the next summer holiday without trying something different, but one of my children wasn’t keen on the idea of it just being the three of us – so I hatched a plan with a friend, who was also keep to try the same with her girls. And so the tour de Montbel with an overnight camp plan was hatched!
We met at the starting point, in the car park on the Montbel village side. There were going to be six of us so the plan was to carry all our gear in our two trailers so the kids could just ride, however we had to quickly shift that to one trailer because my friend turned up in the van frantically apologising because she’d set off by bike and her trailer had broken, so she wasn’t sure she could come. No Big Deal, I said: we can slim things down and I’ll pull all our gear in our tardis like Burley trailer, so fret not: let’s pack it up and get cracking. So that’s what I did.
The ride from Montbel to the dam at Leran is one I’ve ridden a couple of times, once with the trailer, so I had no worries about getting round. The kids were really buzzing – especially the two youngest! It wasn’t long before they all shot off leaving me, the trailer, and my friend, plodding along at a steady (sensible!) pace behind. To be fair I’d only started riding carefully after a bit of a near miss on some ruts where the trailer nearly launched me down a steep bank: I think it was pretty close to it’s maximum weight limit, if not over it, and wasn’t built to be loaded to the brim with extra stuff strapped on top.
The only downside of leaving fearless children to dash off in front was that accidents can happen. After the second crash (my DS “jumping” a small drop off and ending up in a bush) we put a grown up in the front to keep them in check. This was actually pretty necessary because although the path is generally wide and swooshy there are also places with some steep drops and ditches. They’d clearly demonstrated they were too giddy to be careful and we wanted to get to our destination in one collective piece!
We made it to the dam much sooner than I thought we would and as it was fairly late in the day decided just to carry on past and find our camping spot. Then we could pitch up and eat while the kids explored. The lake was so very low that it wasn’t safe to swim, so there was not point in going to the beach section anyway.
After passing a few other wild campers set up just off the trailer we easily found a sheltered, flattish spot. The kids yomped off and we got our tents and sleeping stuff sorted.
Then it was time to eat.
As it started to get dark one of us, probably me, made a flippant remark about wild animals so before bed the kids set to rigging the campsite with homemade alarms made from string, rocks and sticks. Very inventive! Despite wanting to sit up and chat with my friend we both found ourselves so worn out that we accidentally fell asleep while snuggled up to our kids for stories at bedtime. The next thing we knew it was morning: time for breakfast (and coffee) before packing up and continuing our loop of the lake.
With everything loaded up into the trailer we set off. All the kids were enthusiastic and for the first part of the trail we were able to ride. Then it narrowed a bit, got a bit twisty and rooty (in other words, a nice techy trail!) which slowed things down. I had a nearly nasty accident with the trailer, which must have tipped slightly on a camber then flipped over to the side, the momentum taking my bike with it. A more cautious person wouldn’t have had that accident, so I became that more cautious person for the rest of the ride home as my leg had narrowly missed a nasty looking tree stump that could have put me out of cycling for a while had I landed on it. The kids were moving pretty slowly so it was no big deal for me to go slowly too – which meant walking so I could slowly navigate the trailed around the trail.
At this point the group could quite easily have lost our minds about this relatively difficult ride but luckily they Tigger – sorry, me – with them: we’ll get there in the end, we’ll ride when we can, look at that flower, rock, stick, bird, etc. And of course, lots of snack stops 🙂
We had a very stop/starty ride back, riding the bits we could, walking the bits we couldn’t. Luckily that side of the lake was quite shaded so we could take our time in relative comfort.
After one epic push UP out of the woods (to the VTT piste sign pointing back in the direction we’d come from!) we were descending then following the tarmac road back to the start.
Honestly, I would not recommend that route with a loaded trailer to anyone who isn’t into Type 2 fun!
As my friend and I are both firmly on the Type 2 fun side of life let’s just say it was hard(ish) but we had a blast. Really, I can’t say anything bad about it: we weren’t cold, wet, or injured; we camped and achieved our objective, so as far as I’m concerned it was raging success.
Would I do it again? With a loaded trailer, no, but having reccied the trail and knowing the capabilities of my kids I’ll definitely take them back to ride the full loop in a day. It’s a great day ride: only 17km with cafes on each side of the lake with the only caveat being that this being France they may no be open outside of high season, so plan accordingly!
It is also possible to do this route while on holiday as there is bike hire available locally, via VeloMundo. They’ll meet you at the lake. Again, it’s all walkable but best done in a day. And I’d avoid a trailer unless you’re a pretty confident rider with an extra pair of hands to help you deal with any trail issues, as I discovered on my first trailer loop.
If you’re considering visiting the area and would like my tips about family cycling in Aude and Ariege, feel free to drop me a message! Or read on for more bike adventure tales en famille!