Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Le Vigan, France

Friends: The forecast of snow for today was no exaggeration. Though none has graced my shoulders, I have seen chunks of it along the road fallen from cars coming down from the higher elevations. When the clouds occasionally lift revealing the mountains above I can see fresh patches of the snow. I am passing through the Cevannes, which are not as high or as dramatic as the Alps or the Pyrenees, but still have an allure.

This is the fifth straight day of rain, but by far the coldest and hardest and most prolonged, and genuinely miserable. I've been able to see my breath as I've huffed up the climbs, and for the first time in my European travels I entered a tunnel that was actually warmer than it was outside it.

Julie was wise to call it quits yesterday. She wasn't prepared for the cold and the wet. "I'm not enjoying this," she said, "I don't want to suffer." She decided to take the train back to her home from Millau, rest up for a week, and then take the train to Cannes and join me in the campground.

It'd been three years since her last tour and she was a bit rusty. She was having difficulty readapting to her bike seat. What adjustments we made caused her Achilles tendons to protest. She doesn't particularly care for the hills, and there were a few too many.

She's never toured solo and has found it increasingly difficult to find a traveling companion now that she's a "woman of a certain age." She has lots of "gonna friends," friends who are gonna join her on a trip or come visit, but they're just "gonnas" and not doers. She says all the guys she meets over fifty claim they're fit, but they have guts and complain of some ailment or another and find it hard to keep up with her.

All her friends told her she was crazy to bike to Cannes, especially since she recently had a severe enough back problem to fly home to the States for an MRI and treatment. But she's not the type to stick to something she's not liking to prove others wrong. The back held up fine. Watching movies for twelve hours a day for a couple of weeks may be more of a strain on it than the biking.

One of her biggest regrets in not completing the trip is not being able to get a ride in Craig's Duex Chevaux, the vintage French Citroen car that hasn't been manufactured since 1990. In all her years in France she has never been in one. We'd see one or two a day, always a pleasurable site, and a sharp reminder that we were in France, in case we had forgotten.

Even riding with a companion I am capable of getting lost in a revery and forgetting where I am. I was startled to glance up and notice a couple of white faces in an approaching car the other day, as I'd been mentally transported back to Africa, and when I came to, forgot I was in France.

Despite the uninviting weather, there have still been quite a few gallivants of one stripe or another out on the roads drawn by the glorious French countryside. On our first day out of St. Cyprien for half an hour or more matching sports cars, some with their tops down and others with them still up, zipped by us, often with a trophy wife in the passenger seat. A couple days later an entourage of 50 Harley-Davidsons roared out of a town just as we were arriving. The day before an equal number of recreational bicyclists strung out for over a mile passed us going the opposite direction. Julie greeted them all with a ring of her bell.

There was a gathering of horse people in Etaing Sunday morning as we set out, saddling up in the town square for a ride into the surrounding mountains. And for a couple of days out route coincided with the Camino de Santiago, or Chemin de St. Jacuques, as it is known in France, allowing us an occasional glimpse of full-fledged backpackers. We've seen just one other touring cyclist, a lone Dutch-looking guy headed in the opposite direction. Julie and I were enough of a curiosity to one Santiago pilgrim we talked to that he asked to take our picture.

I'm just ten miles from Craig's house. Le Vigan is the largest town near his village. He and Onni come here every Saturday for its market and a New York Herald Tribune. Craig flies into Paris today and then takes the TGV to Montpellier where a neighbor will pick him up and drive him the 50 miles to his village in the mountains. I may arrive at his house before he does. I hadn't intended on arriving today, but I've had to keep riding all day to stay warm. I may end up camping somewhere along the road anyway and allow him to begin his jet lag recovery before we set out to Cannes.

Its been three years since our last ride together in France. I've been looking forward to another ever since, as I know many of my readers have. With his French fluency and inquiring and helpful nature, not to mention expertise as a bike mechanic, he makes for an ideal traveling companion.

Later, George

1 comment:

parrabuddy said...

Following your travels on a michelin road map with 85km blocks for scale leaves a lot of the little villages unmarked.
Out of the frying pan into the freezer with this trip!
Have been near some of these areas on the TDF but unsure which towns you passed thru featured in recent years.
Getting rough weather in Mallorca at present so not surprised to see your weather is just as bad, coast is not too far so you should have it easier if you avoid Mont Ventoux and similar side trips!
thanks for the entertaining commentary, best wishes for warmer weather before Cannes