With day after day of heavy overcast, intermittent rain and cold winds, I might be in Scotland. It was hard to appreciate, or even notice, the lush, pastoral countryside under the dreary pall that smothered its beauty. I did know these weren't the moors of Scotland, but when I entered Aubigny-sur-Nère and was greeted by a statue of a bag-piper wearing a quilt in the town's central round-about, I knew I was on the right track to be thinking of Scotland. The town has had a 400-year relationship with Scotland and has an annual festival honoring the alliance.
The town also was scattered with works of art as part of an art festival. A smaller round-about was a mini-artist's studio with a painter's desk and a painting.
A decorated bike was mounted on a pole outside the library.
I needed a little brightness after five straight days of rain since leaving Mulhouse. My Goretex jacket keeps my torso dry, but I rely on the regular steep climbs through the undulating terrain to keep me warm. Booties cover my shoes, but water still seeps in from the bottom cutout for my cleats. My feet are wet and cold all day. It's not until I retreat to my tent at day's end can they finally dry out and warm up. With the solstice drawing near it is light until after ten, but I can't take advantage of it as I need to quickly set up my tent anytime after six when there is a long enough break in the rain for my legs and shorts to dry out. The rain can resume at a moment's notice, and I don't want to be more than damp when I take to my tent for the night. It has deprived me of my favored evening cycling when my corpuscles are all aglow from a day of biking, not wanting it to end. This has been in-door weather. Riding in the rain, defying the elements, can be a pleasure, but not when it is interminable.
As dreadful as setting up the tent in the rain is taking it down in the rain. That I can generrally avoid, simply by delaying my departure, though I have been caught by the rain midway through the process. I have been marooned in my tent until after eleven once already. Fortunately I'm in no rush at this point, other than to get an adequate number of miles on my legs in preparation for The Tour, now just fifteen days away. I need a couple of 100-mile days, but I've been lucky to do even 80 under these conditions.
The soggy ground has limited my camping. One night when I had not quite reached my 80-mile goal, I was inflicted with a downpour. The forest beside me was a swamp. I was lucky to have a railway underpass nearby to take shelter under. It was on higher ground. A pasture around the corner from it was slightly hidden by a patch of trees. I erected my tent in the dry of the underpass and then walked it over to the pasture. I was still rained upon, but at least the interior of the tent didn't get wet, as it would have if I had to erect it in the rain.
Unable to lose myself in the splendor of my surroundings as I've been pedaling along in such conditions, I have been distracting myself with podcasts. For a week many of them were devoted to the life of Muhammed Ali. He is another who can thank the bike for his career. After his bike was stolen whe he was twelve, he learned how to box so he could beat up the thiefs. One of the tributes to him in Lousivllle was a bike ride that drew 500 participants who rode the fifteen-mile funeral route the evening before. Those on the ride were greeted by chants of "Ali, Ali" all along the way.
Dick Ebersol of NBC Sports told the remarkable story of how it took him months to convince the Atlanta Olympic committee to have Ali light the Olympic flame at the opening ceremony of the games. They considered him a draft-dodger and preferred to give the honor to the boxer Evander Holyfield, who was from Georgia. When they finally agreed that Ali would be the best choice, they kept it a secret. Ebersol didn't even let his announcers Bob Costas and Dick Engberg know so their thrill at seeing him mount the steps for the lighting would be genuine. They couldn't rehearse the lighting, so when Ali did it, he struggled and nearly scorched his arm.
I've also heard a lot of coverage of the NBA playoffs. Cheers go to the Warriors coach Steve Kerr for using The Tour de France as a metaphor. After his team won the first two games of the finals by lopsided scores, he said the point differential didn't matter as it wasn't like The Tour de France where riders carry their time differential from stage to stage.
Many of the analysts perked my ears when they rattled off the number I was known as in my bike messenger days--"5-6-7." When my dispatcher called me on the radio it was always by that number and that's how I would identify myself when I called in for work. Florence, who I'll be visiting soon in Tours and who worked seven years as a messenger in Chicago, is "1-1-5" to me, as I am "5-6-7" to her. The NBA commentators made regular references to "games 5, 6, 7," not only those games the Warriors won in their come from behind victory against Oklahoma City after being down 3-1, but also the possible remaining games in the finals with the Cavaliers. When I'd hear that "5, 6, 7," my initial reaction would be to report my location to my dispatcher so he could give me some work if he had any in the vicinity.
My number these past few days has also been taken into realms beyond the final three games of a seven-game series. Tim Legler within two minutes on the Mike and Mike show used it twice, first to say that one never knows when the Warriors might go off with "5, 6, 7 threes" and then that the "first 5, 6, 7 minutes" of the next game could be very important. Nor has my number been strictly confined to the NBA. Michael Wilbon, summing up the career of Roger Federer, said he was more significant "5, 6, 7 years ago." Steve Sands of the Golf Channel in discussing the upcoming US Open said the use of the "5, 6, 7 irons" would be important on the course they were playing. Mike Golic said Von Miller of the Denver Broncos is still working on getting a "5, 6, 7 year deal." It seemed as if whenever my mind started to wander I was brought to attention by someone calling out my number. Such is what all the rain this week and the weeks preceding it have done to me.