An Ode to Justin: My Happy Traveling Companion

Thank goodness Justin is here.

Then again, since he’s been here: My nephew has endured a train strike and rain every single day, anything and everything from a drizzle to a cold downpour. However, he hasn’t complained. Not even once. Not even when I get grumpy. Like today, after it started pouring rain when we were halfway through our ride.

Anyway, and also, what with Justin being so young (29) and full of energy, he’s now also assumed the role of advance scout I once happily performed when Susan and I did French bike trips. He’s Steve and I’m Susan. And, speaking of Susan (who I do speak to every night on WhatApp), I was getting kind of lonely without her … and then Justin arrived. He’s quite the conversationalist, even if about a third of what he says is way over my head and/or beyond my comprehension.

Advance scout?

So, a couple of days ago, after we arrived in the hilltop medieval town of Rocamadour, dripping wet of course, Justin went on a walk. Way, way down into town via the steep serpentine stone road. He scouted out places to see and places to eat. Me? I took a nap! A really nice and well-deserved nap. Later, he showed me the walk … and the restaurant.

Justin5.jpeg

Yesterday, when we got to Beaulieu, a place I stayed earlier on this trip and thought I knew … Justin went for a walk/hike while I … napped. Hey, after riding in the rain and then, even more so, the long drying out process (first myself and then all my clothes), I’m exhausted. Justin discovered a path down to the river and a pedestrian bridge across it (the photo below) and a whole new section of town I’d missed. He showed me the route later, after I woke up from a lovely nap.

IMG_6313.jpeg

Then there’s the tech issues. Justin is a PhD in genetic engineering (and specializes in computational biology) and is a computer genius. Every time I have an issue with the blog or wifi or editing photos or … anything really, since I always seem to have problems with technology … he patiently fixes it. Plus: He figured out a way to download Google maps to his phone so we can use it while we ride, even when we don’t have wifi. Genius! And, he has a translation app that also works without wifi. More genius! The only thing Justin can’t seem to do is explain, in simple English, what the heck it is he does at work.

He also explained to me the story behind the Leroy Jenkins reference on Barry. So now, as we reach the bottom of a steep climb, I shout: “Leroy Jenkins.”

And today … Justin talked with the animals. Livestock loves Justin. They approach and want to talk.

justin2.jpeg

And now, right now, while I’m writing, Justin is on the Duolingo app, learning French. By the end of this trip he just might be fluent. Darn, listening to him learn French is making me sleepy … think its nap time.

From the Bottom to the Top of the World, All in One Drizzly & Fantastic Day

Today was a day of extremes: A river deep below the surface of the earth; and then way up and looking down on an incredible medieval village. The one constant was: Rain. Lots of rain.

Before I describe our downs and ups, there was some good news: Clean laundry! The nice people of our hotel did a load of laundry for us. There will be a charge, an unknown one at that, but whatever it is, it will be worth it. Unless it’s more than 10 Euros! There’s something about clean, dry laundry that brings a smile to your face.

So, off we went, about 18 Ks to the Gouffre de Padirac. The guy at the desk told us this is one of those things you must see in your life. And … he was right. Add Padirac to your list. BTW: Gouffre means a pit. And this was one helluva gouffre. See for yourself…

roc21.jpeg
This is the pit you climb down to find the start of the underground river

Back in 1889, three French guys dropped a long rope ladder down a giant gouffre, climbed down and discovered an incredible underground river. And lived to tell about it … and turn it into a tourist attraction. Not sure if I would have had the courage to climb down a rope ladder and then willingly crawl into an underground river.

These days you climb down a couple hundred meters (on stairs) and walk through the Gallerie de la Source, with the river at your feet and huge rock formations and stalactites dangling above you. One of them looked like a Wookie, another like an alien and a third like Mick Jagger’s lips (no matter what Justin said). Here’s the Wookie…

roc30.jpeg
Am I right: Wookie! 

Then, you get in a boat and travel down the Riviere Plane to the Lac Superior (a lake) and a grand gallery with even bigger rocks formations and stalactites. It was hard to capture the grandeur in photos (and you’re not allowed to take photos while you’re in the boat), but here you go…

roc23.jpeg
This is the Lac Superior

roc22.jpeg

roc24.jpeg

We rode back to our hotel above Rocamadour, in a drizzle, of course, dried off and walked down into the medieval village. According to the tourist website: “The first shock is the place itself … Built into the cliffside on successive levels, 120 metres in length, it clings high above a canyon through which flows the Alzou. As early as the Middle Ages, Rocamadour excited people’s admiration. In the 12th C., pilgrims crossed the whole of Europe to come and pray here. The village housed the relics of Saint-Amadour (a famous hermit who sought solitude in Rocamadour).”

Solitude? Not when the tour buses roll in.

roc27.JPG

roc26.jpg

To get down to the bottom, you walk through the chateau up top (where there are amazing views across the cliffs and gorge) and then down a serpentine path. At each S-turn, there’s a statue depicting one of the 14 stations of the cross. Down, down, down … and finally you reach the bottom and a street lined with shops, cafes, restaurants and a couple hotels.

roc28.jpeg
That’s me over on the upper right, doing my King of the World Impression (Justin came up with this line and took the photo)

We had dinner … and by the time we were finished, it was pouring. Rain, that is. And we had no choice but to walk up the winding path, through the 14 stations of the cross until finally we reached our hotel.

We opened a bottle of wine, and started trying to dry out all of the day’s damp clothes. We’ve got stuff on top of the heater, on a bungee cord across the bathroom, in the closet and on the backs of chairs. Ah, the circle of damp life! It’s never ending.

Tomorrow: We move on to Beaulieu, where I was previously on this trip. It should be a great ride, except, yep, it’s supposed to rain.

I’m Stinkin’ Up the Dordogne

You know there’s a problem when you say to yourself: “Yuck, what’s that smell?”

And realize it’s you.

This began to happen a few days ago. But hey, it’s not my fault. It’s rained pretty much every day the past week, there hasn’t been a good place in any of my hotels to dry out my bike clothes after I sink wash ‘em. And there hasn’t been a laverie (laundromat) in more than a week. Things are getting stinky. And stinkier by the day.

Justin has only been here three days, so he’s just starting to ripen.

Oct21-4.jpg
Here’s Justin doing his sink laundry … and yes, the wringing out “cycle” is very important. 

Even my bike shoes have become a bit fragrant. Maybe especially my bike shoes. They got soaked yesterday, for like the third straight day, so I spent several minutes this morning trying to dry them out with the hair dryer. They dried out a bit, but are still on the pungent side. Like a fine French cheese. Fortunately, they’re pretty far from my nose when we’re cycling.

I’ll get back to the laundry situation, but first an update: The train strike is over! We took the train to Sarlat and rode to Rocamadour, a medieval town on a cliff, and … no laverie. And, no surpermarche. This is a total tourist town, and tourist towns don’t seem to have laveries and supermarches. Laveries I understand: The people who live here have some Euros, and their own washer/dryers. And most tourists are a bit above using a laverie. But the no supermarche? That’s just inconsiderate. But there were 26 shops that sold pate and some sort of special, local nut paste. We checked online and the closest supermarches are in Gramat, which is about 10 Ks away. And so, that’s our first stop tomorrow,

Back to the laundry situation: A bit desperate, I had to wash not only my bike clothes in the sink today , but also a T-shirt, and pair of socks and underwear. I know, desperate times call for emergency laundry measures. And, there’s nowhere to hang any of the stuff to dry in this hotel room (where we’re staying for two days).

Other than the laundry problem: A great day of cycling, and Rocamadour is a wonderful town … so, please excuse me for whining about laundry. Who knows, we may yet find a laverie.

Oct21
I thought I should also include a more picturesque picture of Justin…

How A Train Strike Impacts A Bike Trip

Unexpected stuff always happens on a bike trip. At least to me. This time it involved trains. Or, to be more precise: A French train strike that wreaked havoc across the country for millions of travelers. Including Justin. The poor kid. After getting off the overnight flight from Chicago, his train to Bordeaux (where I was waiting to meet him) was delayed almost two hours by the strike. It could have been worse. It could have been cancelled. Whew, he/we dodged a bullet.

Sort of. On Sunday (today) we planned to take the train to Sarlat and then ride to Beynac, where I had a nonrefundable hotel reservation.

Sorry, no trains to Sarlat today (I’m not sure why I was able to get a train from Sarlat to Bordeaux on Saturday, in the midst of the strike, but am glad I did). The strike continues. For how long? Nobody knows. They just kind of shrug and go on with life.

It’s a 140-mile bike ride to Sarlat/Beynac, so that’s not possible. When we got Justin’s rental bike this morning (in the rain), I was hoping Jonathan from O2Cycles would have a solution to get us to Sarlat. No such luck. No buses to Sarlat and, even if there were, Jonathan said he wouldn’t let us put his bikes in the luggage area. I don’t blame him. He had to go to Toulouse on bike business and was too busy to drive us there (and said it would have cost 300 Euros, which would probably have been a no go). Justin checked Uber, and it would have been 366 Euros. Wow.

Time to reassess. To come up with another plan. In the early-morning rain on the mean streets of Bordeaux (they really are a bit mean near the train station). OK Steve, just accept the loss, and kiss the money for the hotel in Beynac goodbye. It won’t kill you. Just deeply wound you. We can’t get to Sarlat/Beynac, but we can ride to Saint-Emilion, a wonderful medieval town in the heart of Bordeaux wine country (I stayed there last year). It would be nice for Justin to see a medieval town. But there aren’t many hotels in Saint Emilion (they didn’t do much bike touring back in medieval times). We’d have to take out chances when we got there.

We headed out of Bordeaux and eventually onto the bike path that heads east, and the rain started coming down harder. And it was cold. Not freezing cold, but uncomfortable cold. Three-layer cold. We were soaked. Justin, trooper that he is, and still trying to get past jet lag, didn’t complain. Not even once.

We got off the bike path and headed toward Saint Emilion, through Branne and … it stopped raining.

“Look, there’s a rainbow,” Justin said.

emilion1

Sure enough, there it was, a perfect arc, off in the distance, above the vineyards. Maybe, finally, hopefully, knock on wood, our luck has changed.

A couple hundred meters later we came upon this beautiful field of flowers…

emilion2

The sun peeked out, briefly, and we rode into Saint Emilion, which is as cool and medieval as I remembered. We wound our way up through town, up the steep, cobblestone streets, and it all started to come back to me. There should be a hotel right up ahead, the one I stayed in last year, around the corner. And yes, there it was and … we got a room.

Dodged another bullet. Maybe our luck really was changing.

We put all our stuff in the room and went for a wonderful, 20-K ride through the vineyards. So, all in all: a pretty nice day, and a great first day of riding for Justin.

Tomorrow?

Well, they say the strike could be over (knock on wood). If so, we’ll take the train to Sarlat and then ride to Rocamadour, where I have a non-refundable reservation for two nights in a hotel. Wish us luck.

FYI: I emailed the hotel in Beynac and told them what happened. And that we wanted to stay there on October 27 (or 27 October as they write it here). We’ll see what they say.

 

A Lot of Luck and An Epic Ride

I think I owe the Dordogne an apology. But first, a little deviation … and some amazingly good luck.

So, in the midst of a brilliant and wet 56-mile ride from Beaulieu to Sarlat, I came across this sign just past the famous Grotte s de Lacave…

Oct18-5.jpeg

Uh-oh. I know enough French to know what this meant: The road was ferme (closed) up ahead in four Ks. There was a barrier of some sort. Oh crap. This is pretty much my only way to get from here to there and to Sarlat. The alternative is to backtrack and take a traffic-heavy red road for a few Ks and add at least 20 Ks to my already pretty long ride. Damn it, I’m going. What’s the worst that could happen? Let’s not think about that. This is pretty risky Steve, are you sure about this? It might be easier to just turn around now.

And yes: I talk to myself when I’m riding.

So, I rode a few Ks and came to a sign that said the road was closed in 400 meters, and stubbornly kept going. I got to the bridge under construction that was causing all the deviations and barriers. Here it is…

Oct18-6.jpeg

And, I could get across it! Right through the middle. A car couldn’t, but a bike could. And there was nobody around to tell me I couldn’t go across the bridge. Whew, that was a relief. I was soaked, but smiling.

Oct18-12.jpeg

Back to my apology to the Dordogne: I’ve been raving about the Lot and Cele the past week, since, well, that’s where I’ve been riding. But now that I’m in and on the Dordogne, everything is pretty darn picturesque. Even in the rain. Especially in the rain. And fog. It makes it more romantic. I guess this is why this area is such a popular tourist destination for cyclists, and for those crazy people who choose not to tour the Dordogne by bike. They’re really missing out. For example…

I know, pretty cool. I rode through a steady drizzle clouds, fog, along the river, along cliffs, up and over ridges, through pretty little towns and was constantly enthralled. The Dordogne is an amazing cycling destination and, I’m just getting started. Here’s another video and some more photos.

Oct18-8.jpeg

Oct18-11.jpeg

When I got to my hotel in Sarlat (a Best Western, of all places, which is high living for me), I was a wet and muddy mess. Not just me but my bike and my panniers and shoes and, well, everything. The kind woman at the desk was nice enough to give me a towel, a blue one they use at the pool (which is closed for the season), to wipe everything off. Otherwise I would have had to destroy one of the nice white towels in my room. And that’s not very nice. And would totally undue my good luck at the bridge and lead to some sort of bad luck in the coming days. And yes, I’m superstitious and believe in karma.

Oct18-9.jpeg

Let’s hope everything dries out by tomorrow…

Oct11-12.jpeg

Tomorrow: Train to Saint-Emilion, then ride to Bordeaux where I meet up with Justin (my nephew) who’s coming in from Chicago for his first French bike trip. We’ll stay the night in Bordeaux, and take the train to Sarlat the next morning and ride to Beynac.

Oct18-2.jpeg