Pic du Nore

It’s a gray, rainy afternoon in the Corbieres. The rain is welcome and much needed. We pulled all our flowerpots into the center of the little terrace so they could get good baths, and we opened up the front windows so we could hear the pounding of the rain. The creek across the road has risen, so we also hear the water rushing over the rocky streambed. It definitely feels like fall.

A few sunny days ago we drove to the top of the Pic du Nore, the highest point in the Black Mountains. Ray had ridden his bike to the top about a month before, and wanted to see it again with his camera. We had lunch on the way in a little roadside café—frites and croque-monsieurs—and got to the top early in the afternoon. Naturally, a herd red cows was waiting for us, munching away on the purple heather that covered much of the mountaintop. On clear days one can easily see the Pyrenees from this point, but on this day a haze covered the peaks. We could, however, look down on the giant windmills that are a telltale sign of the winds that dominate our weather here.

Heading down by a different route we passed picturesque villages hugging steep mountain slopes. The road was narrow and curving, and though traffic was light there were lots of cyclists--the Pic is a popular destination. They were young and old, experienced and novice, and it was fun watching them meet the challenge of the mountain until we saw a man in brightly colored cycling gear laying motionless beside the road, his bicycle nearby. A few people stood around him, strangers in an attitude of waiting. A village was within sight so we knew a doctor would be on his way. There was nothing we could do.

We continued a downhill to an intersection where a cyclist—a man about 55—was circling slowly through the three-way corner, also in an attitude of waiting. Ray braked the car and put his head out the window.

“Monsieur,” he called. “Did you just come down the mountain?”
“Oui, from Pic de Nore” he answered, smiling.
“Were you with a friend?”
“Oui, two people,” he said, holding up his thumb and forefinger.
“There is a cyclist about 200 meters up the hill,” said Ray, and struggling for the right words he indicated with his hands that the cyclist was down.

As the rider grasped what this meant, the muscles that animated his smile collapsed and sagged, as though gravity had suddenly increased by a factor of 10.

“This is true?” he asked, and when we nodded yes he turned immediately and pedaled back up the hill.

It may not have been his friend, of course, but could we leave him circling there, waiting?

I thought of that downed rider many times during the remainder of the day. I don’t usually worry about Ray riding here; there is little traffic in our mountains, and generally cyclists are treated well. But the possibility of disaster always exists.

About an hour later we heard a helicopter fly over, and I wondered if it was ferrying the cyclist to the hospital in Carcassonne. I hope so.