A Rainy Day on the Dordogne Is Still A Pretty Great Day for a Ride

Uh-oh … it was raining when I woke up. After breakfast it was coming down even harder, and the same at 11AM and at noon. Damn, would this day be a washout? Without a ride? And, there’s nothing, nothing I tell you, to do in Beaulieu. Nothing. I have a book, In the Midst of Death, a detective novel by Lawrence Block (who I think I’ve heard of), written in 1976. I found it at the hotel in Figeac and tucked it away in my pannier. Just in case. Today was just in case.

Two chapters and one murder in, I fell asleep, and woke at 1PM. It was starting to clear up a bit and off I went, to do a loop NE along the Dordogne to Argentat and back, riding the road on either side of the scenic river. This section of the Dordogne, from Beaulieu to Argentat, is a bit off the main tourist path. There are no famous sites, castles, caves or towns, just great riding, It’s a somewhat famous bike route, and I needed to do it. My entire trip would be a failure without this ride!

It started raining as soon as I started riding (of course), but it wasn’t too bad. A steady drizzle rather than the earlier downpour. Here’s the start of the ride, and as you can see, cyclists rule this road! The D116…

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This video is fairly typical of the 25 Ks to Argentat … and I think you can see it’s a little overcast, foggy and drizzly. But nice.

Here’s another scene from along this side (the south side) of the river. I think I like the ride on this side a little better. The valley between the road and river is wider and there’s a lot of farming and cows grazing.

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The town of Argentat spans the Dordogne.

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Rather than turn around and head back, I decided to ride a bit further (5 Ks) on this side of the river. I mean come on, how often do you get the chance to ride such a beautiful route? Even in the rain. Then it was back to Argentat and the D12 to Beaulieu. I immediately noticed this side was paved so much smoother than the other side, which made the ride easier and faster. Then again, what’s the hurry? The sun even began to come out a bit, and then some more. Look blue skies…

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Here’s a video fairly typical of the ride along the D12…

OK, we’re almost back in Beaulieu and I’m almost dried out. Here’s one last photo, and my first cow photo. You can’t ride in France and not post cow pictures. They’re everywhere…

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Tomorrow: On to Sarlat.

Writing Is A Lot (and Cele) Of Work According to the Ancient Monks

It “only” took humans about 5,000 years to get from here…

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To here…

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To here…

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I learned this today at the Musee Champollion here in Figeac, where there’s not much else to do on a rainy day. It’s a museum on the history of writing, named in honor of Jean-Francis Champollion. He grew up in the house where the museum is located … and went on to decipher the hieroglyphics from 1810 to 1822.

I now feel a lot of pressure to make this an extra-fascinating blog post (assuming the previous ones were ordinarily-fascinating). Then again, writing is hard and writing well is even harder more better! At the museum, there’s a quote from an 11th Century monk on writing: “It dulls the eyesight, makes one stoop, hurts the ribs, the stomach and gives one backache; the whole body is filled with loathing.”

It seems that when monks are allowed to talk, they have plenty to say. And a lot of pent-up complaints to express.

Champollion died in 1832 at the young age of 41. I think I know what killed him: the hieroglyphics. FYI: Spellcheck knows the correct spelling of Champollion! If only the monks had spellcheck back in the 11th Century, their lives would have been so much easier. Unless they were burned at the stake for possessing such magical technology.

Anyway, today’s blog is all about the difference between the routes along the Cele River Vallee and the Lot River Vallee, and which one is better.

I’m gonna stick to the most traveled/touristy sections: The Cele route from near St Cirq (where the river starts) to Figeac; the Lot route from St Cirq to Cahors. Here’s my Michelin map, with the two different routes highlighted in pink, the official marker color of French cyclists!

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And the winner is: The Lot. Not by a lot.

Why? There’s a little more variety, a couple of climbs, and you can ride on both sides of the river the whole way. You’re mostly level with the Lot, but sometimes you’re up high with a view down. Like this one…

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But, to get the full Lot/Cele experience, here’s what I suggest (and what I did):

Day 1: From my hotel just outside St. Cirq , I rode up to St Cirq, then down and down, back to the river, a little further west. This is where the famous Chemin de Halage (the walkway carved into the bottom of the cliffs) are located.

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Cross the river at Bouziers and a kilometer later is the start (or end?) of the Cele. I rode the first 20 Ks to the town of Marchilhac along the D41. Great road. Quiet, with cliffs on your left and the river and valley to your right. Marchillac is a nice little town … with a small grocery. This is always important.

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From Marchillac, up and over the ridge between the Cele and Lot and down to Cajarc, a fairly big town. I never could find a grocery there, but did find a pastry shop and got sandwiches, water and an Orangina.

Then it was back to my hotel near St Cirq along the Lot, but on the south side, the lesser travelled side. Past the castle at Cenevieres and then along the really, really quiet and beautiful D8 back to my hotel. I think this loop ride is the best one-day option.

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Total: About 35 to 40 miles.

Day 2: The ride to Figeac. I opted for the Cele route, but going via the Lot would have been just as nice. One advantage to this route: You don’t have to go up and over and down a ridge to get to Figeac. You do on the Lot route.

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Total: About 35 miles

Day 3: From Figeac I headed out of town on the D662 and up to the picturesque little town of Faycelles. Here’s the view…

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Then it was down to the Lot and Cajarc on the north side. The cliffs were to my right, as were the old railroad tracks, including several abandoned tunnels dug out of the cliffs the trains used to go through. One was at least a kilometer long. Most of this road, still the D662, was low and along the river.

At Cajarc, I went back to the pastry shop and stocked up (two sandwiches). Then I crossed the river and headed back toward Figeac on the south side of the river. After five quiet Ks, it was time to climb about 5 Ks to the view at Saut de la Mounine. It was well worth the climb. A big portion of this ride along the D86 was up higher with views down to the Lot.

At some point, I had to cross back over and go up and over the ridge to get to Figeac. I crossed on the D822 and then rode back up to Faycelles … and had my second sandwich. Then it was a long, long downhill all the way back to Figeac.

Total: About 40 miles.

Tomorrow (finally): I’m headed north to the Dordogne. Let’s see how this river compares to the Lot and Cele. It’s definitely more famous.

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This Trip Has Gone to the Dogs

In case your getting sick of/or jealous of all the beautiful pictures and platitudes, I thought I’d change things up a bit today and tell you about how I was chased by a dog today for the second time on this trip. The first time might have been kind of cool; the second one might have been kind of scary. It’s hard to say. Plus, years ago, I was bitten by a dog on a bike ride, right on the butt, so I’m a little anxious when I see one coming. Especially a big dog.

I don’t have any photos to go with these stories, for obvious reasons, but I do have one of a horse…

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The first time: It was a couple of days ago as I rode east along the Lot, west of Cahors. I saw a large white dog on the left, but he seemed content to stay on his farm. And then, on the right, two large black dogs came running at me! But there was a fence. No chance they could get at me. No need to panic. And then, all of a sudden, the white dog appeared on my right and was running between me and the two large, black dogs. Was he protecting me from them? Maybe. After we passed the fence, he (or maybe it was a she) peeled off and left me. What do you think? Was this dog protecting me from evil? And does he do this often, as he lives along a popular bike route? Maybe this dog is famous among local cyclists.

Today: Soon after I crested a long, steep climb and saw this view…

… I was rolling through a farm. I saw a dog, on my left and he started barking. But seemed to stay put. But then, I looked up and to the left into my bike mirror … and there he was. Coming after me. It was flat by the farm, so maybe he could have caught me if he really wanted to. I’m not sure how fast I was going as my bike computer isn’t working. I picked up the pace and he kept coming and started getting closer. I could see the beginning of the huge downhill off in the distance and started riding even faster. Adrenaline is a great performance-enhancing drug. Did this dog know there’s a big downhill coming and, if so, will he make his move before I hit it and speed away from him? Are dogs smart enough to think about all of this? Or do they just like chasing cyclists? I made it to the downhill and quickly put a lot of distance between me and the dog.

In all my years biking in France these are the first two times I’ve been chased (or protected) by a dog.

One more story: Yesterday, I stopped for a snack along the Cele River in the little town of Corn (the name of the town is Corn, it’s not actually made of corn) and leaned my bike up against a wall. I took off my helmet and put the strap onto the handlebar.

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So, I finished eating, started pedaling and after maybe a kilometer or so I heard a car coming behind me. Looked up and to the left and … nothing, my mirror was gone. I had no other option but to turn around and head back to my snack spot in Corn. And there it was, on the ground … and it wasn’t even broken or cracked. Whew, that’s a relief.

BTW: A French guy who didn’t speak any English started talking to me a couple of days ago. After I told him I only spoke a very little bit of French, he pointed toward my mirror and started motioning backwards, indicating/asking if I used it to see what was behind me. “Oui,” I said. He was very impressed by the whole bike-mirror concept. I guess they don’t use them over here.

That’s about it. The weather forecast is calling for an all-day rain tomorrow. I’ll stay an extra day here in Figeac and work on a blog about the big question cyclists in this area have been trying to answer for decades: Which is better, the ride along the Cele River or the Lot River. After today, I am now an expert and have come to a decision…

Getting Lost And Found In Figeac

I had a dilemma of sorts, but a good one: To get to Figeac, should I take the road along the Lot River or the road along the Cele River? When in doubt, I did what more and more people do: I asked people I only know through social media, or, in this case, a Facebook page devoted to people who love cycling in France. You know, people like me. I’ll let them decide. They’ll know.

Two people responded. Gert recommended the Cele for the scenery and quietness, while Lorraine wrote: “I would definitely go via the Célé. Did it in May. Absolutely superb!”

That settled it, I’m taking the Cele River route along the D41 all the way to Figeac. You can’t go wrong either way, so why not go with Gert and Lorraine.

Another dilemma: How the heck do you pronounce Figeac? So many possibilities.

Gert and Lorraine were right, thank you, and here are a few photos along the D41, followed by an interesting issue I had finding my hotel here in Figeac…

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Let’s hope this video works…

I had no problem finding and following the signs to the center of Figeac, and stopped and pulled out my iPhone and took a look at the screen shot I’d taken the night before of where the Hotel Le Quatorze is located.

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OK, follow the D813 – that’s easy, I’m already on the D813 – right along the river, bear to the left and make a left onto the road at the big intersection, which turned out to be the Rue Emille Zola. Look for the Chez Celia, there it is! I’m almost there, it should be right up here … except it wasn’t. Maybe it’s on the street to the right of where Google maps says it is, the Rue de Claux. I went around to that street. Nope. Maybe I rode past it on Emille Zola. Nope. Maybe it’s further along Zola. Nope.

Maybe the hotel has up and vanished and I can do a podcast on this amazing disappearance. Google maps can’t be wrong, can it?

I rode around and around some more, through the narrow, windy streets of Figeac, and finally saw a sign for the Tourist Office. Found it … and it’s closed on Sunday afternoons. Well that’s not good.

I don’t have data over here and can only use wifi at my hotels. So, you can see the Catch-22 situation I was in. But, you can call up emails you’ve already opened, which I did, and found the confirmation email from hotels.com. It said the Hotel Le Quatorze is located at 14 Place de l’Estang. I hope they know better than Google maps.

Maybe I can ask someone where is the Place de l’Estang. There’s a bunch of people around, someone has to speak English. But wait, over there, on the wall, there’s a large map of Figeac! With an index at the bottom that listed the Place de l’Estang. It’s at E7 on the map. Found it. It’s not far from here. Only a few streets away. I took a photo of the map, because, well, I can only remember one turn and getting there required three … and found it. FYI: This is how we found places, like youth hostels and hotels and train station back in the 80s and 90s. I think we may all be a little too reliant on our devices and have lost the ability to find things on our own.

BTW: Susan says you can contact Google maps and tell them when they get something wrong. But that seems like a lot of work, and maybe something the people at this hotel should do.

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As I rode back by the tourist office I saw … a laverie. And a pizza place. Perfect, the rest of my day is set: do laundry and pizza for dinner.

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FYI: This hotel is so nice (a walk-in shower, teapot and super-thick towels) that I’m staying a second night, and will probably do a ride back along the Lot River tomorrow. Unless the internet tells me otherwise.

 

A Vallee, A Ridge, Another Vallee & A Well-Deserved Nap!

I just woke up from a wonderful nap, so I guess it’s time to post. I dreamed I was riding my bike in France. Oh wait, I am.

Today, I’m gonna describe my day in photos, starting with breakfast, which is pretty much the same over here at every hotel: coffee, yoghurt and maybe a little fruit, lots of bread products and all sorts of jellies, jams, spreads and even cheese and meat to put on your bread products. Today: Hard-boiled eggs. For the first time. I had two. I knew I needed fuel for the day to come.

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It’s only 2 kilometers from my hotel to the town of Saint Cirq … but it’s all uphill a really steep uphill. I made it, thanks to those 2 hard-boiled eggs. But I have to admit: Climbing on stiff, morning legs is a tough way to start the day. The tourist website calls it a “heart-stopping” village, and I think they’re referring to the ride up.

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An uphill means a corresponding downhill, and this one was all the way down to the river. Here’s what it looked like.

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At the bottom is the famous Chemin de Halage, which are a long tunnel carved into the cliffs. You can walk through them. But you can’t ride your road bike along them. At least I can’t. I left my bike at one end, put on my “regular” shoes and started walking. Pretty cool, here’s two shots…

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Then it was over to the Cele River Valley, which is similar to the Lot River Valley, maybe even a little more picturesque. Maybe. I haven’t decided yet.

Here’s the view…

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When I got to the town of Marcilhac it was time to head back to the Lot River, which meant going up and over the ridge between the two valleys. Here’s the ridge…

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Yikes! Fortunately, it wasn’t as tough as it looks, as you ride along the side of the mountain and not straight over it. And, with my legs warmed up and without all my stuff … it was a piece of gateau. And, once up and over and down to the Lot here’s the view. There’s something magical about cliff-lined valleys with rivers at the bottom. And, why aren’t these routes along the Lot and Cere called gorges? Do they have to be a certain height, width or length to officially be a gorge? Are there are any gorge experts out there who can help answer this all-important question?

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Only 25 or so Ks back to the hotel, and, again, my bike computer went on and off all day. My best guess is I went a total of 47 miles. Here’s the Chateau Cenevieres. I wonder who has visited the most French castles? I just googled it … and couldn’t find anything. I bet there’s some kooky man or woman out there who’s life mission is to visit every one and has an Instagram account on it. I bet I’m pretty high up on the all-time of list of people who have ridden by and not stopped to go into the most French castles. I’ve been by hundreds, maybe a thousand or more! And I’m adding to my record every day.

OK, only a few more Ks to go to the hotel, and here’s one last shot from my great day of riding…

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