Friday, May 30, 2014

Mazamet, France

For the first time in five days since resuming the biking after twelve days of cinema, it wasn't depleted legs that ended my day, but rather rain.  I have been battling fierce head winds since I departed Cannes, wearing me out. I always lose some of my conditioning during the festival, but even more this year, staying in town, depriving me of the four-mile bike ride to and from the campground I had stayed at my previous ten Cannes.

The head winds finally relented late this afternoon when a front came through, but it brought with it some precipitation.  The rain was a very small price to pay to put an end to the wall of air I've had to push into all day long for over three hundred miles.  I've battled strong headwinds in France before, but none that lasted more than a day or two.  This could be further testimony to the changing weather, to go along with the coldest early May I've experienced in eleven years of biking from Paris to Cannes.  It was cold enough for tights nearly every day.  Most years I never need them.

But I'm in no great hurry now.  My only deadline is to make it to the UK by June 20 to meet Janina when she walks off the Queen Mary.  I had been hoping to make it by the tenth to spend some time with my friend David, another bicycling buddy, who moved back to London a year ago after twenty some years in Chicago.  And the more time I have in the UK the more Carnegie libraries I can search out.  There are a hundred or so scattered around the domain.  Though the winds have set me back a bit, I know  my mileage will pick up as I regain my strength and the winds desist enabling me to knock off the 1,200 miles of my less than direct route to the Channel in ample time.  When they let up this afternoon, I was once again fully possessed, as I usually am, by that euphoric end of the day sensation of not wanting to stop riding that the wind had denied me the previous four days.

I've been riding roads and passing through towns across the southern extremity of France that I'm familiar with, but I am most happy to renew acquaintances with all of them and remember past visits, some just last year with Andrew from Sydney right after Cannes and others with Glenn, the Englishman, later in July during The Tour de France.

Every time through Arles, former base of Van Gogh, is a memorable one, perhaps the most when it was on The Tour route and I passed through with a Japanese cyclist who had competed in the Nice Ironman just a few days before.  I've visited all the Roman ruins and Van Gogh shrines in Arles, but never its library until this year.  It is a French classic, half historic and half modern.  It is partially housed in the hospital where Van Gogh was taken after cutting off his ear.  It has a magnificent three-story glassed atrium addition that adjoins another centuries old building behind a wing of the hospital, a superlative example of the French honoring the past but combining it with the new.

It was a wonderful place to spend a couple of hours recharging my iPad and reading bicycling and cinema magazines of a depth that those in English barely approach.  I also glanced at a handful of newspapers to see their coverage of the Giro.  It was minimal, either none at all or a mere paragraph, and this the day after the Colombian Nairo Quintana, who finished second in The Tour last year, won the 16th stage in dramatic fashion to take the Pink Jersey and the French rider Pierre Rolland moved up to fourth.  Already the majority of the sports coverage was devoted to the World Cup, even though it is over two weeks away.  It is also indicative of the interest the French presently have for cycling other than their Grand Tour, when every newspaper will have pages and pages devoted to The Race.

Though the cycling these past days has been wiping me out, putting me to sleep for ten or eleven hours a night, it still takes no effort to get back at it every morning knowing what serene and sublime scenery awaits me through vineyards and olive orchards and stretches of rugged mountainous terrain and arcades of plane trees, one of those symbols of France, combining beauty with practicality, providing shade from the sun and some barrier to the wind.

And every so often is a picnic table, another of those amenities that comprise the inalienable rights of all the French.

I'll be passing through Toulouse tomorrow and then on to Maubourguet, which will host the start of the 19th stage of The Tour.  I will head north from there following the peloton's route to Bergerac and then ride the next day's 32-mike time trial to Perigueux, the only time trial of this year's Tour on its final day before everyone is flown to Paris for the finale on the Champs Élysées.  

Toulouse is a fairly easy city to manage with direct main thoroughfares passing through it, unlike Montpelier, a hilly city that is a genuine nightmare to navigate.  It has stymied me half a dozen times, and even yesterday with the aid of a GPS device for the first time, I still managed to go astray a couple of times.  I burned up twenty-five per cent of my iPad's battery, having to use it so often, sometimes after just a couple of blocks, to figure out where I was and which way to go.  I'll be passing through it again in July during The Tour on the way to Carcassone, departure city for the sixteenth stage that will take the peloton into the Pyrenees.  I'll also be meeting up there with Janina once again, as she'll be spending the month of July at an artist's retreat north of the city working on her book.  

My latest attempt on Montpelier solved some of its mysteries.  It will be much easier next time, saving me a good hunk of time, which will be quite precious by then, not only trying to keep up with the peloton, but time to spend with Janina as we both wind up our summers in France, both returning home on the same day and then heading up to Traverse City for the third year in a row to attend Michael Moore's film festival, celebrating its tenth anniversary.

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