Friends: How sweet it is to be back on The Tour route after a two day hiatus, not only to have the way marked and to see the many bike decorations and tributes to The Tour, but also not having to worry about explaining what I am doing camping along the road.
For the first time ever in my bicycle travels around France, and just about anywhere, someone came to my tent two nights ago well after dark with a flashlight wondering what I was doing camping where I was and asking that I leave. He feared I might be a gypsy establishing an encampment, as they are known to do, though generally in campers.
I was on the outskirts of a small village in the mountains. It was a semi-desperation campsite, as I was caught on the climb through a canyon after dark and had to continue biking for nearly half on hour by starlight looking for a place to disappear to. I tried several spots with the assistance of my headlamp, but they were too overgrown with vegetation and not flat enough for a comfortable night. The cycling was so good with virtually no traffic and pleasant cool temperatures, I was happy to continue riding, as I had a lot of miles to do to catch back up to the peloton.
I finally settled on a little meadow with a few trees just above the road. Half an hour later, at eleven p.m., while I was still eating my dinner, the town mayor came by to question me. He wasn't welcoming at all. He told me there was a camp grounds down along the river just five kilometers away, and was rather insistent that I pick up and go to it. After a couple of minutes of halting conversation entirely in French through the tent wall, I realized he wasn't going to back down. I figured I ought to get up out of my tent and show myself, to win his favor.
I emerged holding my half-filled bowl of couscous and caussolete stew. He commented, "Ah you're still eating." "Mange" is a word I well know, as I once spent a week in the Sahara of Morocco on a camel with a Berber guide who continually encouraged me to "mange" when he had finished preparing our meals. "Mange" was one of the few words of French he knew, and the only language we could communicate in.
It was so dark, the mayor hadn't noticed my bicycle leaning up against a tree behind my tent. When I pointed it out to him, he softened up a bit, but he was still determined to make me pack up and leave. I finally told him I would be gone by seven in the morning as I was headed to Mende, 45 miles away for The Tour de France. That finally earned me some respect. With his favorable response to The Race, I dug into my pannier for a couple of Tour souvenirs, a polka hat and a stocking cap the Etape Hotel chain has been giving away. He was pleased with both, and let me be. I went to sleep half-expecting him to bring his wife and family around in the morning to meet me and to bring me breakfast as well. But the only morning visitor I had was a dog prowling outside my tent, awakening me shortly before seven. Though I needed a bit more sleep, I let him be my wake-up call and was glad for it, as I needed every minute I could muster to catch back up with The Race.
I made it to Mende just at 12:30 after two unexpected climbs of ten miles each. I was pushing it to make it by 12:30, as that's when the supermarkets ordinarily close for lunch. I rode five miles of the stage's route into Mende. There were no supermarkets on that side of town, just a sign for a Hypermarket on the other side of Mende. Hypermarkets are so large they generally don't close for lunch, but I wasn't sure if Mende was a large enough city for such a policy. Fortunately it was. Also at the hypermarket was a van of the Nestle's people who give away coffee and The Tour newspaper. It was a bonus getting the newspaper from them.
I couldn't stick around for the peloton as I had to make an immediate start on the seventy-mile transfer to the next day's stage start in Rodez. Rather than seeing the exciting finish at the airfield just above Mende in person, I saw it on television-- Contador dropping Schleck, then chasing down his teammate Vinokourov, though failing to win the stage as he was nipped by a fellow Spaniard who had tagged along with him. I reached Rodez half an hour before dark, passed by quite a few vehicles in the Tour entourage the last 15 miles. I went directly to the central plaza and found the arrows leading out of town. The first three miles were a neutral zone, and didn't count as part of the mileage for the stage. Then I continued four miles into the day's stage before it was too dark to keep riding on a road with more traffic than the night before.
The next day I made it to within 20 miles of the stage finish before I had to stop and wait for the racers to pass, finally arriving in Revel ninety minutes after the peloton. In my wanderings around town looking for a cyper cafe who do I run into but Skippy, the first I've seen of him in nearly a week. He's been cyclo-touring himself, as he lasted only one day with the Belgians and their camper, and didn't care to go back for his car. He was in search of the Santiago de Compestela hostel as he had no tent or sleeping bag as I do, just a pack of clothes strapped to his triathlon bars and a small pack on his back.
This cyper cafe is closing. I've two hours of light to get down the road as far as I can. Now I have 250 miles to Pau where I plan to meet up with Yvon, my French buddy, for several stages in the Pyrenees using his brother's house as a base.
Hardly a moment to catch my breath.