Friends: There were no signs in the Paris suburb of Montgeron, about fifteen miles south of La Tour Eiffel, directing pilgrims to the restaurant/hotel that was the starting point of the first Tour de France in 1903, but the receptionist at Montgeron's town hall unhesistantly told me how to find it. It was just a mile away, straight up the town's main street I'd been riding on, to its northern extremity, where it merged with National Highway number 6 on in to Paris.
It would have been hard to have missed it if I had kept on riding, as the round-about in front of the hotel featured a colorful, modernistic, metal sculpture of a rider on a bike formed by the contortions of the town's name. It was more of a gimmicky, than stately, monument to the Tour's inaugural departure site, but it was an eye-catcher. The grassy plot it resided in was
ringed by badly chipped enamel tiles with each winner's name and nationality and year of victory through 2002, as it was erected prior to the 2003 centenary Tour, the fifth of Lance's conquests.
A plaque on the restaurant also acknowledged the significance of the location. It being July, when much of France is on vacation, the restaurant was closed, so I plopped down on the sidewalk in front of it and had a can of ravioli. It hardly needed heating, as it was plenty warmed having spent half the day in my pannier baking in the intense heat.
These past few days, if I had a support vehicle supplying me with bottles of cold water whenever I wanted, as the Tour riders do, I could have easily outdone Landis' record of 70 bottles that he poured over his head and down his throat on his historic day in the Alps. Instead, I just remain on alert for cemeteries and their water faucets, remembering Yvon every time I take advantage of them and silently giving thanks for the best advice I have received in years.
The heat gives me delusions of fantasy, imagining a day when 7-Elevens, or some such convenience store, gains a toehold in Europe with their self-service soft-drink and ice machines. I continually recall one of my fondest cycling memories--a 64-ounce cup, half-filled with ice and then topped off with Gatorade and coke in the Mojave Desert, four pounds of fluid that my body effortlessly and joyfully absorbed. I long too for the small grocery stores of Thailand with their one kilo bags of ice. Here, the coldest drinks I can look forward to are barely tepid, refrigerated juices or sodas.
France is slowly becoming Americanized. Some grocery stores open on Sunday mornings and not all close for lunch. Both are such noteworthy features that they are prominently advertised on billboards. "Non-stop" or "sans interruption" is the phrase for not taking a mid-day break. The city of Tours had a couple of small convenience stores which stay open 24 hours, an almost scandalous innovation, but popular.
I was thwarted by the limited hours of the bike museum in Moret-sur-Loing, a small town about 50 miles south of Paris, as it was closed yesterday and didn't open until two p.m. today. If it were open this morning, I would have lingered, as it had a special exhibition on Rene Pottier, winner of the 1906 Tour, and local boy. The monument I visited with Yvon back in May, at the summit of the Ballon d'Allsace, was in his honor, as he was the first to crest the first major climb in Tour history. He was also the first Tour winner to commit suicide. He hung himself in his garage the year after winning the Tour, distraught over his wife leaving him for another.
Last night I camped in a forest in a residential area near Orly Airport with planes landing overhead until dark and resuming at seven this morning. Tonight, I will camp in a clump of trees alongside Charles de Gaulle Airport with jets landing not more than a hundred meters from me. I verified that my private encampment was in tact when I arrived in May, marked by worn out tires from my previous tours.
I look forward to home, but just as much to next year's Tour, which begins in London.
Thanks for reading, George