Photo by Jason DeVarennes

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Fall Five

This week, a unique solo stage race, Fall Five is being hosted by our local bike and coffee shop, Ride Studio Cafe (RSC). While RSC is clearly one of the best places for cyclists to hang out, drool over cool bikes and accessories and clothes, drink espresso and meet with cycling friends, the proprietors do recognize that we all have very busy schedules, and sometimes it's just not possible to coordinate and all get together for a ride/race at the same time. So they came up with this clever stage race, that let's us compete with each other, on our own schedules.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Two Chicks on a Tandem do the Great River Ride

This week my Tuesday ride had 4 riders of the female persuasion and one lone male. When Bob joined us en route, I commented to him that he was lucky to ride with 4 chicks. He agreed that we were delightful company, but commented that while we were allowed to call ourselves chicks, he probably was not!

Ah well, I've never been one to worry much about political correctness. I love telling the story of one of our fleche rides. We had three gals riding fixed gear bikes, and our team name was "Fixie Chicks".  But that's not the story. My two teammates were 10 or 20 years younger than me. We were close to the end of our 250 mile/24 hour ride, when we came to an intersection. I must have been slightly ahead and crossed safely, but the other two stopped and got a kick out of watching the guys passing by on Harleys, who apparently twisted their heads around quite noticeably checking me out! So now I call myself a post-feminist, because my reaction to that was to think that this was pretty cool!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Missed Opportunities

We will definitely make a return trip to the Cevennes. First and foremost to visit our friends, Eddie and Chisa. But we missed a few climbs, and we must do them all. We also missed about half the Gorges du Tarn, and according to some sources, the part we missed was even more spectacular than the part we saw. We didn't ride across the top of Mt Lozere. We never made it back to ride through  the Ardeche Gorge. And we totally missed out on Nimes. When we arrived in Nimes at the beginning of the trip, we really only saw the area immediately by the train station. It was all under construction and just wasn't appealing. Eddie's GPS then picked the most unattractive way out of town. And with all the construction in the area, Eddie was none too impressed with the city and made his feelings known.

For our return trip, Eddie drove us back into Nimes, where we'd spend the night and then catch the TGV the next morning to get back to Paris for our flight home. As we wandered around Nimes that evening, we realized we'd have to come back and spend some time there. I managed to get a few shots the next morning before we caught the train.

Monday, October 22, 2012

One More Day to Climb

We had one final day for cycling in France and it was a exquisite one. We had such a nice time climbing Mt. Bouquet the first week that we thought we'd head back out and take Eddie with us this time. We decided to make it a shorter ride than our first journey, since we needed to get back and take the bikes apart and pack up all our stuff before getting a lift into Nimes where we'd stay the night before catching the train to Paris the next morning.

We also decided to approach the mountain from the opposite side this time, which would make it a completely different ride for us. The interesting thing about this approach was that we could see the mountain sitting out in front of us for miles and miles, where the route we took the first time left the climb as a sudden shocking surprise. We suggested to Eddie that he could bring folks he didn't like up the surprise way!

The End Is Near

After the drama and excitement of the day before, our ride back to Vezenobres seemed almost like a let down. Moreso, since this was our last day out touring. It was sad to think our holiday was almost over. I think this made me ride slower and stop more often just to make the trip last longer.

After coffee and many thanks to Vincent for his kind hospitality (Joelle had left for work very early), we rode into town to find some food for breakfast and lunch. We would be following a lot of the roads we had ridden with Eddie when coming back from Mt Aiguoal, and we remembered that there weren't many services along the way, so again it would be a good idea to stock up where we could. 

The Kindness of Strangers

Josie Dew is one of my favorite authors. If you don't know of her, you may suspect, based on my cycling obsession and my fondness for her books, that she writes about cycling - self supported cycle touring to be specific. Twenty-some years ago, she started taking off on long self-supported tours, first with a boyfriend, and later, once he proved too fragile, solo. She wrote a book about one of those early tours, and then soon after wrote another and another. After a while books just kept appearing after some extended bike tour in some exotic or not so exotic place. Her writing style is quite humorous and very much to my taste.

The kindness of strangers is a recurring theme in her books. Maybe because she was a female touring alone, with an enormous load, including the kitchen sink it seems, she would often have folks stop and give her things, like food, and Hello Kitty paraphernalia (that - mostly when when she was touring in Japan). Now no one has ever stopped us while we were touring to offer us Hello Kitty socks, or cans of soda, or asked us to come home and camp in their back garden. I suspect part of the reason Josie got more attention is that she was a female, traveling alone. And given the load she was already carrying, what's a little more! Oh and we've never toured in Japan, so maybe we would get the same treatment there and need to carry an empty pannier to hold all the gifts!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Simply Gorges!

Today we really learned what makes the Cevennes so special. I hinted a couple of days ago that it seemed to be much more about the valleys or gorges than the mountains, and our ride through the Gorges Du Tarn proved that beyond any shadow of a doubt!

We have hundreds of photos from today, and have tried to select a nice subset. It's the reason it has taken so long to get this post out. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Learning Not to Trust the Weather Forecast

I've been a cyclist long enough to know better! Honestly I do know better. But I'm an optimist, so I still look at the weather forecast, despite the forecasters abysmal record at getting it right. And I still trust them when I see predictions like sunny, warm, light winds, etc. The forecast for Monday was for exactly that - clear skies. We had a pretty good thunderstorm overnight, but we did see bits of blue sky when we came out for breakfast, so we felt it could be a good day. However, by the time we were ready to head out, the clouds had closed back in, and in fact, it was starting to spit rain just as we were saying thankyou and goodbye.

We bid adieu to Chisa and Siobhan and headed into town to pick up some more snacks and lunch supplies for the day. We were quite surprised to find Vialas was all shuttered up and closed on Mondays! The boulangerie and small grocery were both closed as was everything else, meaning we would now be dependent on finding lunch on the road. By the time we rolled out of Vialas for good, it was really beginning to rain.  Well at least we had a few miles of climbing ahead of us to warm up! We were heading back up the same 10km section of road that we had descended twice in the last two days! John stopped to take a few photos and I reached the col well ahead of him. The wind was howling in my face, and it was raining quite steadily. Had I looked at a forecast for a different country? I managed to find some shelter where I put on my legwarmers and well... everything else I had with me. John arrived shortly and we started down.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Mont Lozere in the Clouds

Before our wonderful multi-course classic French meal with our Irish, French and Japanese friends, I had a quick look at the map and noticed some nice twisty scenic roads with triple arrows all around  Mont Lozere. I mentioned the possibility of doing a loop ride around the massif the next day. Christian and Siobhan instead suggested a loop up and across the massif. They recommended a dirt road that turned off the main road shortly after the ski station at Le Mas de la Barque. They had ridden it on their mountain bikes but said once up the first steep bit from the paved road, it should be quite rideable with our road tires.
We were starting to notice that these mountains were a bit different from those of the Pyrenees and Alpes. Here the mountains, while dramatic in their own way, were more of a backdrop to the main feature: the valleys. It was actually the valleys or gorges that seemed to have the most spectacular scenery. The mountain tops tended to be the large causses with prairie like scenery, that is until they dropped off dramatically into a gorge.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Mountains Calling - a short bike tour

After getting a taste of the mountains of the Cevennes on our two day tour to Mt Aigoual, we wanted to get back and explore more. Chisa was planning to spend a few days with her friend, Siobhan and her husband, Christian, at their mountain home in Vialas near Mont Lozere. The ladies were planning a lunch out and some hiking. Siobhan offered to do B&B (and dinner) for us if we wanted to head up that way. How could we turn a great offer like that? So Vialas became our destination for the first day.

We again pulled out the Michelin map and looked for the green highlights that mark the scenic roads.  By looking for twisty roads with triple arrows and green highlights, we were able to plot out a nice route that would have a few climbs and hopefully some nice scenery. We aimed initially for Anduze, as the gateway to the mountains. From Anduze, we followed a gorge west for a while before turning back east to climb the Col d'Uglas, bringing us back down toward Ales. Next we followed some more green highlighted roads over the Col de la Baraque, before picking up some tiny roads that would bring us up to a ridge road that headed for the Col de la Croix de Berthel. From there is would be downhill to Vialas.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

A Day of Surprises

After getting glorious dry sunny weather at the wettest place in France, we had to pay the price and Friday was forecast to be dull and dreary. Eddie wanted to take the day off, but he made a few suggestions for areas we could explore on a day ride. We initially thought we would head for the Ardèche Gorge, but when we mapped it out, it was a bit long for a day ride - at least one with nice scenery where we'd want to stop lots for photos! So we decided to still head in that direction, taking in a few other sights along the way, and then plan to get back out to the gorge later on our longer tour the following week.

Someone failed to notice that spike in the profile!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

A Lot of Descending

We spent most of the first day climbing, so the return journey from Mt. Aigoual should be mostly downhill, right? Well it was certainly a net downhill and certainly easier than the ride out, but we did still have a few cols to go over on our way home.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Wettest Place in France - on a Sunny Day

I only learned well after our ride that our destination, Mt Aigoual, situated where clouds from cold Atlantic air converges with warm Mediterranean currents resulting in over 7 feet of rainfall annually, is the wettest place in France! Amazingly we found sunny skies. We had a bit of wind to contend with, but no rain on this visit!

Eddie had mapped out a 200km route from Vézénobres out to Mt Aigoual and back that he planned to submit to Audax Ireland as a permanent. He'd ridden the outbound leg, but still needed to check out the return journey. 

Mt Aigoual is the highest point in the Cevennes and features prominently in Tim Krabbé classic, The Rider. It was on John's list of must see places. So we were happy to join him on the scouting mission. We decided to split the ride into two days to allow lots of time for taking photos, as well as the potential need to change the route for the sections Eddie had not yet ridden. This would also eliminate the need for lights with the shorter Autumn daylight.


On Tuesday, the forecast called for heavy rain. When we awoke, the visibility out the door was zilch and Eddie felt it would be a bad idea to ride. While he took the day to get caught up on chores around the house, we decided to explore Vézénobres and then do a 6 mile hike, followed by some shopping...

Eddie and Chisa's place is next to the Marie and the tourist office is in the lower level around the back. Armed with a map of a 6 mile hike, we headed out into the fog to explore town and try to find the markers for the hike. After about an hour of wandering around the medieval village, we stopped into the tourist office to try to find the first blaze for the hike. We'd seen lots of yellow signs for longer hikes, but hadn't spied any green signs, as our hike was supposed to be marked in green. Leaving the tourist office armed with the route for the first kilometer, we finally sped the tiny green blazes painted on various signs and buildings through town. The map had a verbal description (in French), and between the verbal description, the map, and some GPS consulting, we managed to find our way onto the trail. Since part of the hike went through the center of town, it wasn't simply a matter of following a worn track through the woods! And the blazes were about 1cm high by 3cm wide - and could be generously described as being placed discreetly! We had a great game of trying to find the next blaze as we made our way out of town. Fortunately we did eventually turn into the woods and it was a bit easier to follow the worn track than  it had been scanning for turns along the village streets!

I'm sure there were mountains out there yesterday!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Pont du Gard

A few years ago, Eddie and Chisato, friends of John's from Ireland (and Japan), bought and refurbished a lovely home in the south of France, in the center of the medieval village of Vézénobres. Chisa now spends 6 months of the year there, running it as a La Maison Yoshimi B&B. Eddie is still gainfully employed in Ireland, and until he can properly retire, doesn't get to spend quite so much time there. We've had a longstanding invitation to come visit, and this year took advantage at a time when Eddie would be around and able to cycle with us. 

We flew into Paris and took the TGV to Nimes, where Eddie picked us up and drove us to the village. Despite a bit of sleep deprivation, we reassembled our bikes, and then enjoyed one of Chisa's fabulous Japanese meals, before collapsing into bed. 

There is a bike in there - some assembly requitred

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Sevens en Les Cevennes - Climbing

We have just returned from a two week trip in Les Cevennes in France. When we ordered our Seven Cycles bikes last year, we had two major requirements. They must fly and they must climb. They do both quite well.  I'll post about packing and unpacking the S&S bikes, as well as some packing lists for our tour later.

Let me just say that I am quite happy that I've been doing so much climbing this year. I do believe that all the hill-climbing has trained me well for this holiday, especially the windy conditions from Newton's.

Just to provide a teaser for upcoming posts, here's shots from some of the climbing we did. We have about 1000 photos to sort through, and I will start getting a few pictures and stories from each day up soon. I had hoped to blog along the way, but our days were full enough with riding and eating, so there just wasn't time. But I have lots of blog material now for a few weeks!