by Tobias Mews
‘Fancy winning a luxury trail running holiday in the Pyrenees with Mark Webber and Tobias Mews?’
Those were more or less the words that appeared in The Times, in a collaboration between Aussie Grit Apparel and Secret Pyrenees, a boutique bed and breakfast for trail runners and cyclists, nestled in the foothills of the French Pyrenees.
The competition was won by 37-year old Hongtao Liu (who we affectionately called Harry), originally from China but now a resident in London for the past 12 years.
Fast forward several months, and Harry is running up a mountain with myself, Mark, and a few of our friends. Harry had never before been trail running. This off-road world, he was discovering, was something totally new.
The weekend began on Friday night in Pau - the capital of the French Pyrenees. It’s not only the birthplace of Formula 1, a town that Aussie Grit Apparel founder Mark Webber was also visiting for the first time, but the perfect place from which to explore the Pyrenees.
The route I’d chosen to take Harry is referred to by the locals as ‘Les Tours des Lacs d’Ayous’. Situated smack bang in the middle of the Pyrenees National Park, it’s a popular 14km circular route with an 800 meter climb up to the Refuge d’Ayous, which at 2000m, offers one of the most photographed views of the iconic Pic du Mid d’Ossau.
Only an hour from Pau, these trails can get pretty busy in the summer. But come October, when Autumn is in full swing and the leaves turn a magical golden colour, it’s possible to have the mountains almost entirely to yourself - less for the vultures hovering above.
The initial part of the trail isn’t too taxing. With fresh legs and a tummy full of a yummy breakfast, we made light work of the initial undulating twists and turns. But around 3kms in, the path starts to climb. And quite steeply.
'Describe to me what you’re seeing, Harry?’ I asked out of curiosity, as we made our way up a glorious section of singletrack that wound its way up through a wood. ‘Lots of rocks’ was what came out accompanied by a grin, or perhaps a grimace - it was hard to tell!
As we climb, the weather, which was supposed to be clear all morning, starts to turn. The trees which hitherto had offered some shelter, were no longer protecting us as we gained altitude. Out in the open, the wind suddenly picks up, the sprinkle of rain becomes heavier and the temperatures start to drop. And at around 1850m, next to the first lake, where a waterfall majestically poured into it, we made the decision to turn around and head back.
The words, ‘Who fancies a warm coffee?’ didn’t need to be repeated.
As we stood around the trailhead, I looked at Harry chatting with Mark, joking and making light of the rain and the ‘cursed rocks’. However weary Harry might have been from his first trail run, you could see he was glowing. As were all of us. Indeed, it was one of those special moments.
Ever since I moved with my family to the Pyrenees some three years ago, I’ve come to regard these mountains as my church. They are my place of sanctuary. A chance to reflect. And as I stood there, in the company of old friends and new ones, I also reminded myself how lovely it is to share them.
Images and video by Skyrise Productions