After four days of training rides in the Cevennes at our base in Notre Dame de la Rouviére at the home of Craig and Onni, Janina and I were ready to set out on the cycling venture we had been dreaming of for years. I have been exploring France on my bike for nearly a decade-and-a-half. At last I was going to be able to share the experience with Janina.
Our ride began with a nine-mile climb on a barely one-lane wide road carved into mountainsides thick with trees and an occasional habitation. We had ridden the first five miles of it two days before with Craig, so knew it was fairly gradual the first two miles before steepening a bit. Janina handled it with valor on her unloaded bike, and equally so with weight. She didn't once express the novice's lament of how much harder it was to ride a bike burdened with panniers. She was so aglow from her exhilaration of biking France and the spectacular views in this isolated nook of France she gushed, "This is overwhelming. I don't know how to describe it."
As we approached the summit we passed a menhir perched on a little knoll pointing skyward signifying this had been a place of genuine mystique. When we paused to admire it two older bubbly French women hikers told us a statue of a shepherd awaited us at the summit.
When we arrived a handful of cyclists were sprawled on the grass having a picnic. We broke into our provisions as well before beginning an eight-mile descent that took us to the Gard River, which we followed for fifteen miles as it descended through a gorge to the town of Anduze. We were passed by a steam locomotive hauling several hundred tourists.
We stopped along the way at a Stonehenge-esque picnic area overlooking the river.
We supplemented our snacks with mulberries off a cluster of nearby trees. Despite the Cubs' woes
with a losing record two months into the season, my bike is still adorned with a W-flag. I have yet to receive a notice of recognition in the thousand miles I have already ridden down from Paris to Cannes and then over to the Cevennes.
The roadside mulberries weren't as tasty as those from Craig and Onni's garden, where we also harvested even more luscious raspberries. Our taste buds were dazzled meal after meal by Onni's vegetarian fare from their garden and the local weekly market. It was hard not to prolong our stay to further partake of the fine dining and fine biking and fine comraderie supplemented by two other guests from Chicago--Deb, an aromatherapist and soap maker who has a shop at Racine and Grand, and her husband Sergio, the maestro of the scoreboard at the United Center for the Bulls and Black Hawks. They were also ardent travelers and conversationalists who were likewise loving their stay with Onni and Craig.
They both commute to their jobs by bike, so were happy to join us on one of our training rides. It was interrupted by a sudden downpour that lasted for more than half an hour. We were spread out so sought shelter on our own. I ended up under a plane tree. Deb and Sergio did too, but across from a hotel that catered to German motorcyclists, who beckoned them in. Janina and Craig retreated to a car mechanic's garage. Usually such outbursts last just a few minutes and a tree offers adequate shelter. But as this deluge continued I began to get wet, even holding my pannier over my head. After half an hour I was getting perilously cold. When the rain dissipated to a drizzle I resumed my riding to try to warm up. I was shaking so much I could barely hold a straight line.
Within a minute around a bend in the road I was hailed by Craig and Janina from the garage. They were dry. I was soaked and shivering. I took off my shirt and dried my torso then wrapped my self in a slightly oil-stained sheet. When the mechanic ducked in and saw my state he went and got me a t-shirt. After a few minutes the rain had slackened enough for all of us to set out. We were four miles from Craig's house with a final steep mile-and-a-half climb that would warm us up. After a couple of minutes we heard a shout from Deb and Sergio from a second-floor window of the hotel where they were ensconced. They were seated around a table with four burly German motorcyclists drinking beer and having a jolly time. Deb is of German heritage and speaks a bit of the language and had been welcomed as one of them. None of us was bemoaning the disaster of being caught by a storm. It had led to another travel experience that would stand out.
Janina was able to end the first day of her maiden French tour with a swim in the warm campground pool, just what her weary muscles needed. The hardest part of the day had been the long descent from the summit. Her wrists had grown so weary from braking she got off and walked for a few minutes, not only to rest her wrists but to look closer at the thick vegetation and the spectacular views of the ridges that lay in folds to the horizon. It wasn't as dramatic as the Alps or the Rockies, but it had a grandeur of its own.
We had a cliff-side to gaze upon from our campground. It was early in the season so only one of the three rest room and shower facilities was open, and as is the norm in France, it was unisex. The campgrounds was popular enough with the Dutch that Dutch was one of the three languages the signs were in along with French and English. Though camping wild is my preference, this was not an unpleasant place to be parked for the night.