You have a lot of time to think on the ride up to the summit of Mont Ventoux.
And, when it also happens to be your birthday, a big one, you tend to get a little introspective. And nostalgic. At least I do. When I’m on a mountain. Riding my bike on my birthday. Especially when it’s the Ventoux, which has played a big part in my cycling life. This was my 11th or 12th time cycling up this damn mountain, which is considered the toughest, most leg-shattering, lung-searing climb in the Tour de France.
The first 6 Ks are pretty easy, about a 5-percent average climb. Then you turn a corner, into the forest and … boom! 9- and 10-percent grades the rest of the way.
“OK Steve, relax, just take your time and turn perfect circles with your pedals. Don’t get impatient, like you tend to do. Take your time, don’t try and go too fast. Enjoy the moment.”
Here are a few of the thoughts that swirled through my brain today as I climbed the 22-kilometers to the 1,909-meter summit of the Ventoux.
Wow, I’m 60 today … how is this possible? 60 is really old, right? When we were kids and someone, like one of our grandparents, had a birthday, and they were in their 60s, they seemed so darn old. Ancient. Weary. Kind of decrepit.
I don’t feel old. Most days.
And yet, here I am: 60. The bog Six-0. 6 x 10. LX.
I think Susan keeps me young. Or at least feeling young. And optimistic about the future, which is one of the keys to feeling young.
Earlier on this trip, during the 20 days of biking Bordeaux on my own, I realized: Back in the old days, the 1980s and early 1990s, I travelled alone for weeks and sometimes months at a time. It turns out it’s easier to travel alone, when you are alone. Now that I have Susan in my life, it’s harder to be alone, without her, for an extended period of time.
Even if I’m on a bike trip.
OK, Steve, 12 Ks to go … and this next K is a 10-percent grade. Just relax, untense your neck, turn those beautiful circles and take your time. Every 1-percent increase in the climbing grade is like putting another cement block on your back. And, the cement block for 10 percent is a little heavier than the one you added for the 9-percent climb. But look, over there, through the forest … the summit of the Ventoux. Damn, it looks really far away. And high.”
Speaking of bike trips: The Bordeaux bike trip was something I needed to do, on my own, for myself. To prove that I could still do it … after “the incident.” The near-fatal hit-and-run crash on November 3, 2013. It changed me and my brain in so many ways, making me more anxious, less confident about dealing with problems, especially the inevitable problems you face when traveling. I’ve withdrawn from life a bit, missing out on a lot of things I really shouldn’t miss out on. Biking Bordeaux was a way to prove to myself that I can still do now what I did in my 20s and 30s.
I did it … and handled any and all of the issues that popped up. I feel a little less anxious and a little more confident. I can do this. I did this. And can do it again. But maybe next time, a little less time away from Susan. Better yet: With Susan. Now that we’ve discovered E-Bikes, she might be up for biking the Dordogne. Or Brittany. 40 or 50 miles a day? No problem on a E-Bike.
“OK, I’m out of the forest, at Chalet Reynard, the café. Only 6 Ks to go. But this is the hardest part, the barren, moon-like top of the Ventoux. Where you can see the road, the really steep road you have to take, to get to the summit. It looks more like 16s than 6 Ks. Don’t worry, it’s an optical illusion. It’s only 6 more Ks. Definitely only 6. And you’re doing fine. Have a drink, relax, stretch your back and neck … and take it easy. You’ve done this plenty of times before. You’re a cycling machine!”
I spent a kilometer or two thinking about journalism. Newspaper journalism. Several of my Columbus Dispatch friends recently took the buyout offered by the mega-company that now owns the paper and is determined to cut costs at any cost. And that means getting rid of great journalists. And that’s sad.
I had a good run, at papers in Philadelphia, Bucks County (PA), Allentown and Columbus. I met, interviewed and wrote about an incredible assortment of interesting people. I covered pretty much everything, and learned a little bit and sometimes a lot about an incredible array of subjects. I learned all about the world, the people and institutions in in it … and myself. And got to work with scores of great journalists.
I’m thankful for my 30 years as a newspaper reporter. And sad that what I loved so much no longer exists … and that the world is worse off because of this.
“OK, only three Ks to go. Hey, slow down a little. You’re getting impatient and riding too fast … and putting yourself into the red zone. Slow down. Enjoy this. This could be the last time you climb the Ventoux. No. I’m coming back. On my 70th birthday. Maybe even my 80th. Who’s the oldest person to ride the Ventoux?”
Ah cycling. It’s been such an important part of my life since 1990, when I spent the summer riding from Paris to Nice.
I love the adventure, the excitement of riding in and discovering new places, and the challenge of planning the perfect route. And sharing my adventures and routes in the e-Books I now write about biking in France. They say travel is the best way to learn about yourself.
Who is they? I don’t know. Maybe it was David Sedaris. He says and writes a lot of stuff. Whoever said it was correct. Even if they weren’t a cyclist.
And, best of all, I get to share these new cycling adventures with Susan. We’ve ridden through Provence the past three days, through an amazing gorge, to a couple of medieval towns, pasts vineyards and amazing views of the Ventoux off in the distance.
“OK, less than a K to go. Now remember, take it extra slow, there’s that last sharp turn to the right, where it gets even steeper, like 11 or 12 percent for a hundred meters. And then you’re there. At the top. And Susan’s there, waiting for you, which is the best birthday present in the world.”
Thinking of biking Provence and the Ventoux? Here’s the link to my eBook that describes everything you need to know to plan a trip.