We had a relatively traffic-free and mostly flat final fifty miles from Nimes to Notre Dame de la Rouviere, a triumphal roll completing our sixteen-day 500-mile ride. Janina was mostly aglow, just flummoxed from time to time by any surge of cars reminding us of the technological oppression that rules the world. After one torrent of cars assaulted our tranquility she pulled over and spewed, "I can't think. Every time any car goes by it shatters my mind. I can't get any psychic rest." It didn't make her want to give up the bike. She only wished motorists could be more sedate behind the wheel or wizened enough to make the transition from four wheels to two (of the pedalling variety).
She doesn't trust a single motorist. She fears each and every one is a threat to run her down. She flinches and sometimes comes to a complete halt when a car approaches us from a side road even when they have a stop sign and we don't. She dreads roundabouts. Even with me taking the lead and running interference for her she shouts out, "I'm terrorized, I don't know what to do." But she bravely soldiers on despite her near disability when it comes to coping with cars.
We had one final prolonged afternoon break from the heat that is stifling the entire country. Much of the country, including Paris, has activated its heatwave alert program. Our heatwave response was to sit in the shade in a small plaza between the cathedral and mairie in the small village of Sauve. We took advantage of three nearby spigots of flowing water to soak our garments to help us thwart the heat. After a couple of hours we took a stroll down its narrow medieval streets that the sun wasn't penetrating in hopes of finding a park or stumbling upon R. Crumb, who has lived there since 1991.
We found neither, but did notice lots of posters advertising cultural events from a dance performance to gallery openings. It was a town of artists and hippies. We could thank the heat for allowing us to be introduced to Sauve. Janina was ready to move there. I had biked past Sauve several times over the years, but had never crossed the bridge over the river separating the town from the road to explore it. I've always been too eager to get to Craig and Onni, just twenty-seven miles away. And I would have sped past again after soaking my head and shirt under the faucet at the cemetery outside of town if it hadn't been for Janina not wishing to try to endure the heat. It was another worthwhile experience I could credit to her.
Her preference for campgrounds rather than wild camping has also enriched our trip. Our final camp site was in a municipal campground half a mile south of Ganges on a river where we took a swim. Only ten of the sixty campsites in a large semi-forested meadow were occupied. Our preference is always the municipal over private campgrounds, even though they don't have swimming pools, as they offer much more authentic camping, with no distracting frills. The private campgrounds are dominated by small prefab cabins, making them more mobile home parks than campgrounds. As at just about every campground we've stayed at, when I presented by US passport, I received a startled, "Americans! We hardly ever get any Americans, maybe one or two a year."
Much as Janina likes to camp, she has become very self-conscious of us eating sitting on the ground besides our tent while all around us our fellow campers sit at portable tables they've brought. "I feel like a barbarian," she said. "I should have at least brought along a tablecloth to lay on the ground for us to eat on." She likewise felt self-conscious walking around Apt a few days ago. She observed that no other woman was wearing a hat, so she removed hers. She also feels she's letting down her sex every time we walk through a supermarket, as all the women are dressed up in some manner or another unlike the custom back home, and she's wearing her grungy cycling garb. I think that earns her favor, but she doesn't agree.
When we arrived at Craig and Onni's Monday morning Onni said she hoped we could stick around until at least Friday as a friend was having a soirée we were invited to. That was the best news Janina had heard in days. She wanted to stay put for days, unless her daughter in Beirut made a sudden decision about meeting up in Paris or Istanbul. As much as I'd love to linger and do some biking with Craig, I needed to be on my way to reach Düsseldorf 700 miles away in time for the start of The Tour the following weekend.
I was hoping to take a ride up Mont Aigoual with him and Ralph, who was due to arrive later that day, the next morning and then be on my way, giving me ten days to make it. I wasn't certain about my conditioning, not only to make it in time to Düsseldorf for the team introductions, but also to be able to keep up with The Tour for three weeks. We'd only been riding thirty miles a day until the final four days when we'd upped it to forty. But maybe my interval training, pushing Janina on the climbs riding at my limit for three or four minutes until my thighs were burning and heart pounding, then dropping off to recover for a couple minutes, then repeating, would have me in shape. I'll soon find out.
Craig couldn't join us on the twenty mile climb to Aigoual, his regular training ride, as he had to go to Le Vigan to buy a pump and other supplies to insure his garden has enough water. His battle over water rights with a contentious neighbor had escalated with the neighbor cutting the pipe that led from his cistern to Craig's garden even though Craig had legal rights to the water that goes back to Napoelonic times. The battle has been going on for months and would be worthy of a book. Craig was also awaiting a call from his dentist for an appointment to replace a filling. The dentists across the country were on strike to raise their rates, but Craig was hoping his small town dentist might still be taking emergency cases.
It is always a pleasure to go for a ride with Craig, whether for a several day tour as we've done three times here in Francd, or just a good ride in his mountainous backyard, so it was a disappointment that he couldn't join Ralph and I. Ralph was wishing he could drag Boris Johnson, the former mayor of London, and presently on Teresa May's cabinet, along on our ride. Johnson was at the forefromt of the Brexit campaign. Though Johnson is a strong bicycle advocate, Ralph thought he'd be so overmatched by the climb it would have give him a heart attack. As a Scottish national, Ralph has a predilection against the Brits, even though he keeps an apartment in London. When he's not berating Trump, he's ranting about British politics. He keeps us laughing, especially when he laces into Thatcher with a profanity-filled tirade.
We got a late start on our ride. I had hoped to reach the summit by noon so I could be back by two and then on my way to Düsseldorf by three. When we reached a restaurant five miles from the summit at 12:30 I turned back. I was able to keep to my schedule. Ralph continued on and was back down in time to see me off. With luck we'll meet up for a day or two at The Tour in two weeks as we managed to do last year.
Janina rode out of town with me, wishing in a way she could keep going, though knowing she needed to rest. She admitted her body had the urge to be biking, and her spirit too. If it doesn't work out for her to meet up with her daughter, she just might stay in Notre Dame de la Rouviere for a couple weeks and work on her book. The sheep farm where Ralph is staying could be the perfect place to write.
It was nice to return to my routine of biking late and finding a place to camp without having to register to do it, though I had begun to appreciate the ease of finding campgrounds on my GPS device and knowing how far it was to reach them. If I have energy left I want to keep biking, especially in the cool of the evening when the roads are nearly bereft of traffic. I lifted a barrier down a side road that didn't look like it had been driven in a while. It led to a cluster of bee hives for my first wild camping in ten days. Janina would have been initially nervous about camping here, but then would have loved it.