Climbing the Mighty Mont Ventoux

This story originally appeared in the February 2020 issue of Delta’s SKY magazine. I would have posted the link, but the magazine went out of business a few months later. It wasn’t my fault! Really, it wasn’t. I hope. Anyway, this story is about climbing the Ventoux on my 60th birthday…

It’s October 2, my birthday. A big one: Soixante.

That’s French for 60 and seems appropriate as I’m in Bedoin, France. At the base of Mont Ventoux, the Giant of Provence. It’s considered the toughest, most leg-shattering, lung-bursting climb in all the Tour de France. Tom Simpson, a British rider, died a few kilometers from the summit during the 1967 race. His final words were supposedly “put me back on my bike.”

 Can I do it, can I still cycle to the top of the Ventoux, or has Father Time and a near-fatal bike crash five years ago taken too much of a toll on my body and brain? That’s why I’m here, to rage against my age and prove to myself the crash hasn’t diminished what I can accomplish on or off my bike.

The crash was bad – really bad. I was hit from behind by an intoxicated driver who fled the scene, leaving me unconscious on the side of the road. I had a fractured skull and traumatic brain injury [TBI], whiplash, broken ribs, collapsed lung, cracked vertebrae, broken shoulder and ankle. Susan, my amazing, patient wife, nursed me back to health. The hit-and-run driver? He was eventually caught, convicted and spent three years in prison.

Off I go.

The first six kilometers of the 22-kilometer (13.6 miles) climb are relatively easy, but I know what’s coming. I’ve ridden the Ventoux before, the last time in 2010 when I attempted this crazy thing where you climb the mountain three times in one day, from each base town (Bedoin, Malaucene and Sault) to become a member of the Club des Cingles du Mont Ventoux. Cingles translates to: Crazy, mad, loony. Yep, that sounds about right. 

On my first Cingles attempt, it was 70-degrees in Bedoin and snowing at the top of the mountain. Snowing! A total, windy whiteout, in September. I came down with a bad case of hypothermia, started shivering and shaking uncontrollably, and had to abandon after one ascent. Two days later, when I had finally thawed out, the weather had calmed down a bit, I became a Cingle.

(Here’s the link to my Biking Provence eBook)

At the six-kilometer mark, there’s sharp left turn and the real climbing begins: The grade averages 9 percent the rest of the way. “Relax,” I tell myself. “Take your time, turn beautiful circles with your pedals. Don’t get impatient. Relax. Enjoy the moment.” 

At about the 9-kilometer mark, Susan passes me in the rental car. She’ll be waiting at the summit. This is a brutal stretch, with a 10.5-percent grade. Every one-percent increase is like adding another 5-pound brick to the imaginary knapsack on my back. I’m going slow, about five miles per hour. Any slower and I’ll topple over. “Keep turning beautiful circles and relax your neck,” I tell myself. And yes, I talk to myself a lot while climbing mountains. And worry about my whiplashed neck and achy back.

At the 15-kilometer mark, I exit the forest and can see the summit. Everyone describes the rocky, barren mountaintop the same: It looks like the moon. And it’s windy up here, really windy. A few 100-kilometer gusts almost blew me off the road and over the edge back in 2010. The summit looks so far away. “Don’t worry, it’s an optical illusion,” I tell myself. “It’s really only six kilometers, less than four miles. Drink some water. Stretch your neck. You did it three times in one day. You’re a cycling machine.”

 Three kilometers to go. I pick up the pace and begin to struggle. “Slow down. You’re getting impatient. You’ll bonk if you keep going like this. Relax. Enjoy this.”

French philosopher and Tour de France fan Roland Barthes called the Ventoux “a god of Evil, to which sacrifices must be made. It never forgives weakness and extracts an unfair tribute of suffering.” Roland nailed it. 

Less than a kilometer. Lots more unfair tributes and suffering. And I know this stretch is extra steep – sneaky steep – as you turn the final corner. Some riders slow to a stop and walk. Not me. No way. 

There’s Susan, up ahead, waving and smiling. I pedal toward her. I’m at the summit: 1,909 meters high. It’s cold and windy, and the view is spectacular.

There’s a time-honored tradition when you reach the top of the Ventoux: Get a photo of you and your bike in front of the summit sign. Lift your bike, if you can. “Hurry, it’s heavy,” I say. Susan clicks a few photos. I take a few deep, cleansing breaths, smile, give Susan a hug, and start back down the mountain. “Take that Father Time and 60. You too, Ventoux; and I’ll see you again on my 70th birthday.

Salamanders & Silly Tourists in Chambord

Here’s another story from a past trip … and, who knows, maybe next year we’ll be able to cycle in France again!

June 21, 1985, Chambord Chateau in the Loire: I found the bike rack, locked up my bike and took a look around the castle. The ceilings are covered with salamnders. Hundreds of bas-relief salamanders embedded in the ceilings. Maybe thousands.

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I learned later that back in the times of Francois I, there was this crazy belief that the salamander had super powers, and could live in the midst of a fire and not get burnt to a crisp.

FYI: Crisps are what the British call potato chips, and salamander crisps are the worst-tasting chips of all.

Here’s the link to my Biking the Loire eBook now, back to Chambord…

Interspersed among all the salamanders are hundreds of bas-relief letter Fs. This, I understoof immediately: Francois I was the king and a bit obsessed with himself, as kings and certain American presidents tend to be. Francois I was a few centuries ahead of his time when it came to the whole concept of branding. I bet he’d be huge on Twitter.

The coolest thing inside Chambord is the double-helix staircase designed by Leonardo da Vinci, who spent the last several years living in nearby Amboise.

A double-helix staircase? A helix is a three-dimensional shape that winds around a cyclinder or cone, or, in this case, the center column of the staircase, in a corkscrew or spiral fashion. Single-helix staircases are fairly common. You’ve seen them. Somehow, Leo figured out a way to wrap two seperate helix staircases around the same center column. Like a circle within a circle or something like that. Hey, he’s the genius, not me. You can start at the bottom of Leo’s staris, someone else can start at the top, and you can get to the top and the other person can get to the bottom … and you never cross paths. It’s a magical staircase.

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After my tour of Chambord, I headed back out to my bike. And saw an American couple, and their bikes, at the bike rack. I could tell they were American because they were speaking American English.

Me: “Hello, where are you from?”

The guy: “The United States.”

Me (to myself): Duh … I just heard you speaking American English.

Me (to them): “Where in the United States?”

The guy: “Boston.”

I should have said “have a nice ride” and left it at that. Nah. I was by myself, it was my first day of my first-ever French bike trip and I was hoping they could give me some tips on where to ride and what to see. That’s what cyclotourists do.

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Me: “Where are you headed?”

The guy: “I don’t really know. We’re with a tour group. They tell us where to go and we follow them. I think we’re going to a town that starts with a B.”

Here’s what I thought to myself: “How the hell can you not know where you’re going? What are you, a couple of sheep?”

Here’s what I said: “Is it Blois? That’s where I’m coming from, it’s a nice ride from here to Blois.” I pronounced it Blue-ah.

The guy: “I don’t know … Tracey (Tracy? Traci? Tracee?), is that where we’re going?”

Tracey just shrugged. She didn’t look very happy.

Me: “Have a great ride.”

Later that day, at a café in Blois, I saw them again. “Bon jour,” I said. They stared at me. And had no idea who I was. I took a seat near them, and overheard their conversation. OK, I was eavesdropping.

The guy (looking intently at the receipt the waiter had just handed him): “How much is 22 francs?”

Tracey: “I don’t know.”

The guy: “I think it’s 20 dollars, no, 30 dollars.”

Tracey: “Thirty dollars. Everything is so expensive here. I hate it here.”

And then, Tracey went on, and on … and on some more, in great detail and quite loudly, about how she hated every aspect of their week-long cycling tour through the Loire. Especially the actual biking, and the scratchy, pink toilet paper.

She had a point about the toilet paper. Charmin, it is not. And, why pink?

Twenty-two francs was about $3.50. I was tempted to tell them this international-monetary fact, but didn’t say a word as I sipped a glass of vin rouge. I think this experience, on the first day of my first French bike trip, is what soured me on the whole concept of organized bike tours. And turned me into a bit of a snob when it comes to them. Because I carried all my stuff, on my bike, and mapped out my own routes on my Michelin maps, I believed I was experiencing France in an infinitely better way then all these flocks of sheep being herded around on tours. And saving lots of money, as bike tours are a bit on the expensive side, especially for a struggling freelance aviation writer.

Over the years, I’ve mellowed a bit and have begun to see the advantages of an organized bike tour. Especially if it’s your first trip to the country and you’re a little nervous or anxious about the adventure. Will I ever actually ever go on one? Maybe. Who knows? It’s possible. Not in the foreseeable future. Perhaps when I’m a bit older and have more money. The getting-older part is inevitable, while the more-money dream is 50-50. I remain optimistic, as it would kind of suck to be 84 and still carrying 30 pounds of stuff on the back of my bike while I pedal across France on a self-supported trip.

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No, this isn’t Tracey back in 1985. It’s Susan, in 2013.

Two Old Men and a Mountain (in Luxembourg)

“Bonjour,” the older-looking guy said, hardly out of breath, as he and his friend pulled up alongside of me as I struggled up one of the tallest mountains in Luxembourg. OK, I know: Luxembourg is a really small country, and so are the mountains, especially compared to the Alps or Pyrenees. The top of this mountain, near the town of Marnach, was “only” 520 meters.

“Bonjour,” I answered, totally out of breath.

oneThe older-looking guy then launched into lots more French I didn’t understand.

“Je ne parle pas Francais,” I panted. “Parlez-vous Anglais?”

“Oui,” he answered. “Are you British?”

“American,” I said.

It seems this guy, and his bike buddy, were from Belgium (one country over to the west) and were on vacation, with their wives, who were spending the day shopping while they went for a ride.

“It’s a beautiful day for a ride,” the guy said. “And not too hard for someone who is 20, yes?”

“I’m 33,” I said. “And this is hard.”

“Thirty-three,” he said with a triumphant smile. Then he pounded his chest with his right arm. “I am 60.”

“Good for you, old timer,” I mumbled to myself. Then he began speaking to his friend, in French, or maybe it was Dutch, which they also speak in Belgium. The second guy laughed and then pounded on his chest.

“He is 62 and says this is an easy ride,” the first guy said.

Easy? What the hell were they talking about? I was already over the 1,000-mile mark on this trip, and feeling pretty darn good about myself and my cycling abilities. And then these two Belgian chest pounders have to go and ruin it.two

And then, to make matters worse, they stood up on their pedals, starting spinning faster and pulled away from me. Quite easily. How dare they! I wasn’t about to let these two old guys kick my ass, and quickly rose up and began pedaling faster and more furiously. Nope. Not even close. They kept pulling further ahead of me, and the pain in my thighs and lungs got worse with each and every pedal stroke. I sat back down on my bike seat and began to pedal slower, gasping for breath.

The 60-year-old turned and gave me a wink and a wave, as they pulled further and further away.

In my defense, these were most likely two former professional cyclists. In fact, they were probably once among the top professionals and, perhaps, one or even both of them, had won a stage or two of the Tour, maybe even a mountain stage. Yeah, this sounds plausible.

FYI: I’m now 61 as I write this, the same age as these guys. And can, and have, kicked the butts of some much-younger riders on the way up some pretty long, steep hills. I have not, however, ever pridefully pounded my chest in triumph as I pedaled past and dropped these young riders. That can wait till I’m 70. I’m looking forward to it.

FYI(2): I don’t have any photos from the 1992 trip. The pictures above are from 2018 and Provence.

My First-Ever French Bike Ride

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June 1985: I was an aviation writer, in Paris, to cover the Paris Air Show. It’s the world’s largest air show and is held every other year at Le Bourget Airport, which is where Charles Lindbergh landed in 1927 on his historic trans-Atlantic flight. This was my third consecutive Paris Air Show. After the previous two, I spent a couple weeks visiting major European cities, by train, followed by a six-month European tour (by train) in 1984 that was financed by my freelance aviation writing.

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Photo by Thorsten technoman on Pexels.com

My aviation specialty: helicopters. Really, it was helicopters.

Anyway …

It was extremely hot and hectic at the 1985 Paris Air Show. And, no, I don’t expect any sympathy. It’s hard to make an overseas assignment, in Paris no less, sound anything but amazing. Nevertheless …

“Enough!” I told myself when the air show was over. Enough of the big, crowded cities, enough of the long lines and annoying tourists at museums, all jockeying for position to see another Monet or Van Gogh painting. I want to see the famous French countryside that inspired these legendary Impressionists. What would you rather see: A painting of a field of sunflowers or an actual field of sunflowers?

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Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

Exactly.

I consulted my Let’s Go France travel book (yes, we used travel books back then, actual books made of paper that we carried with us) and decided on Blois in the nearby Loire River Valley. I had come to depend on Let’s Go during the past few years of European travels to help me decide where to go, what to see, where to stay and eat. On the cover it claims to be the Bible of the Budget Traveler and is written by specially selected Harvard students. Plus, the New York Times called it “invaluable.”

Who am I to argue with the New York Times? I’m not Donald Trump.

Then again, invaluable makes it sound as though it isn’t very valuable. Shouldn’t the New York Times have called it “a really valuable” book? But, like I said, who am I to argue with the New York Times?

FYI: A few years later, I did some freelance sports writing for the New York Times. It was an invaluable experience.

Back to Paris, 1985, and my Let’s Go France book. I read about the town of Blois, which is located on the banks of the Loire, has a chateau, which I was pretty sure was the French word for castle, and was once “home to French monarchs Louis XII and Francois I in the late 15th and early 16th centuries.” Unfortunately, there was nothing in the book about how to pronounce Blois, which would have come in really handy.

I also read the following in my Let’s Go: “Unquestionably the best way to see this fecund valley is by bike. Distances are relatively short, and the terrain is flat and lush.” That sold it for me: I was going to get a bike when I got to Blois. My Let’s Go even listed a place to rent one: Atelier Cycles.

The only problem was, I had no idea what the word fecund meant. Never heard it uttered, never read it in a magazine or book until I read it in my Let’s Go. Is it a French word? English? Italian? Has to be a good thing, right? Some sort of compliment. Scenic? Historic?  Damn those genius Harvard students and their superior vocabulary.

What the hell, whatever it meant, I was going to bike around the fecund Loire.

***

I slowly made my way to the front of the long line at the ticket counter at the train station in Paris.

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Photo by Adrien Olichon on Pexels.com

Me (very politely): “Bonjour, parlez-vous Anglais?”

Ticket Counter Guy: “A little.”

Me: “Un billet (that’s French for ticket) pour Blois, s’il vous plait. Avec return.”

I took a wild guess and pronounced it Blue-oz.

Ticket Counter Guy (in a tone I found more than a little condescending): “I do not understand.”

Me: “Blow-oz?”

Ticket Counter Guy (in an even more condescending manner … and no one, except maybe French café waiters, can do condescending better than French civil servants): “I do not understand.”

Me: “Blue … blues … blows … bloss … blahs … blue-ah … blue ass?”

Blue ass, by the way, was the mood I was now entering. Actually, flaming-blue ass. One of the least-known but most dangerous Marvel super heroes.

Ticket Counter Guy: “I do not understand … go to the information window.”

And then he dismissed me with a wave of his hand.

Now trust me, I’m not that American tourist. I’m respectful of the local culture and customs, don’t expect people to speak English, appreciate it when they do, and always learn a few words of the local language. Especially how to say “do you speak English” and “how much?”

But this, a condescending wave from Ticket Counter Guy … No way!

Me (talking slowly, calmly, yet forcefully, like Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry): “Give … me … your … pen … s’il vous plait.”

Ticket Counter Guy eyed me up and down; I stared back. I wasn’t moving; I wasn’t backing down; I wasn’t going over to the information window and waiting in another long line.

It was a standoff.

Finally, with a look that seemed to say, “these Americans are such barbarians,” Ticket Counter Guy sighed, shook his head from side to side and slid a pen through the little opening at the bottom of the window.

I wrote “Blois” on a piece of paper and held it up to the window.

Ticket Counter Guy: Ah, oui, Bl…

He said it with a such a big mouthful of smug and so damn fast I still had no idea how pronounce the name of the home of Louis and Francois.

Me: “Whatever … un billet, avec return.”

Ticket Counter Guy: “This is 147 francs (this was back in the days before the Euro, and there were anywhere from five to almost six francs to the dollar, depending on the day of the week).”

I had a 100-franc and a 50-franc bill in my pocket. That wouldn’t have been any fun. Instead, I dug through my wallet and pulled out my one-and-only, and very precious 500-franc note. One of the things I had already learned about France and the French is they have a pathological hatred of changing large bills. Why? I have no idea. But they do. With a passion. Maybe it has something to do with World War II. Everything over here seems to have something to do with World War II.

Ticket Counter Guy glared at the 500-franc bill for several seconds as if it had dog poop on it (which, BTW, is everywhere on the streets of Paris, so, watch your step and maybe wash your money). Finally, and with another impressive sigh, he pulled the 500-franc bill through the window … and gave me my ticket and change.

I turned to walk away, toward my train – and kept his stinkin’ pen.

That’ll teach him not to mess with … actually, I doubt it will teach him anything or even if there was a lesson for either one of us to have learned, other than the fact that Blois is hard for Americans to pronounce. Actually, come to think of it, I did learn a valuable lesson: Whenever buying a train ticket in a foreign land, always bring a pen and a piece of paper. You never know.

FYI (1): All of the above is true, although I may have exaggerated a bit.

FYI (2): All these years later, I still don’t know how to pronounce Blois, and I’ve been back, by train, a few times. No problem. You can buy tickets online or at a kiosk in the train station and don’t have to deal with Ticket Counter Guys. I guess the internet and kiosks have put a lot of Ticket Counter Guys out of work, which is a bad thing. I feel sorry for them. Well, most of them.

***

After arriving in Blois and polishing off a croissant and a pan au chocolat, two of the greatest foods ever invented and the French versions of energy bars, I went off in search of Atelier Cycles. Found it. It was filled with sleek racing bikes, like the one the guys in the Tour de France ride, and sturdy mountain bikes, like the ones the guys who race down mountains on bikes ride. At the back of the shop, working on a bike, and wearing a yellow, one-piece mechanic’s suit that made him look like a giant banana, was Monsieur Atelier.

At least I think it was Monsieur Atelier. It had to be Monsieur Atelier.

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Me: “Bonjour.”

Monsieur Atelier: “Bonjour.”

Me: “Parlez-vous Anglais?”

Monsieur Atelier (in a very pleasant and non-condescending manner): “Non.”

Followed by a bunch of French words I didn’t understand. Who knows, I may have been the first American to ever rent a bike from Atelier Cycles. Remember, this was 1985. I was a bit of a pioneer.

Using sign language, smiles and my limited French vocabulary, and finally getting it through my thick, American skull that the word “velo” means bicycle, after Monsieur Atelier kept pointing at bicycles and saying “velo,” I was able to explain to him that I wanted to rent a bike … I mean a velo. And no, not a mountain velo; I wanted a Tour de France velo, one with the ram’s-horn handlebars and thin tires. Like the Schwinn Continental I had ridden in high school.

Monsieur Atelier: “Ah, oui …”

Followed by a bunch of French words I didn’t understand.

He picked out a yellow road bike that matched his outfit and had “Atelier Cycles” written on the top tube. I’m pretty sure yellow was his favorite color. For all I know, he could have been a former professional rider who once wore the famous yellow jersey of the race leader of the Tour de France.

The bike seemed perfect, and even had a rack on the back onto which I could strap my knapsack with the bungee cord already wrapped around the rack. How I’d carry my stuff on the bike wasn’t something I had thought about until that very moment.

I was such a cycling novice.

Monsieur Atelier began pointing at various parts of the yellow bike, talking faster and faster. And I kept nodding, faster and faster, even though I had no idea what he was talking about. He then took a bunch of stuff out of a little pouch hanging under the seat and started explaining and demonstrating what to do with all the little tools inside. He even pantomimed a demonstration of how to fix a flat tire, something else I hadn’t considered.

A flat tire?

Holy crap, that would totally suck, as I had no idea how to fix a flat, and no idea what Monsieur Atelier was saying about how to fix a flat tire with the tools in the little pouch under the seat.

I was such a cycling novice back then.

Finally, Monsieur Atelier wheeled it out of the shop and onto the street. I hopped on, ready to start pedaling my way through the fecund Loire Valley.

Or so I thought…

***

I’d never before ridden a bike with straps on the pedals (also called cages, or sometimes rat traps), and hadn’t ridden any sort of bike in at least seven or eight years (I was 26 at the time). Did they even have straps on the pedals of bicycles in the United States back in 1985? I had no idea. And the thing of it was, it was something any and every 7-year-old French kid did with ease. I could get one foot into the strap while standing still, with the other foot on the ground. But then, no matter how hard I tried, and I tried really hard, I couldn’t manage to turn the pedal with the one foot and get my second foot into the strap. The more I tried, the more frustrated I got. My feet felt huge, like giant, uncoordinated clown feet and the pedal straps seemed to get smaller and smaller the more I tried to get my second foot into them.

On the third or fourth try, I fell … and went down like a sack of pomme de terres. I bounced back to my feet and managed a sheepish grin as Monsieur Atelier did his best to hold back the laughter. I appreciated that. My right hand – upon which I had just landed – was a little scratched up, but other than that I was fine, more embarrassed than hurt.

Finally, after a few more futile efforts, Monsieur Atelier motioned for me to get off the bike. He wheeled it back into the shop as I stood there, feeling like a complete and utter idiot.

“That’s just great,” I told myself. “He’s taking back my bike. He thinks I’m the biggest idiot in the world, too stupid to be trusted with his nice, yellow bike. Now what the hell am I going to do? You can’t go for a bike ride through the fecund Loire Valley without a bike. Can you? No, you idiot, you can’t. That’s called hiking.”

A few minutes later, Monsieur Atelier emerged from the shop with the bike … minus the pedal straps.

Monsieur Atelier: “Voila!”

Followed by a bunch of French words I didn’t understand.

Me: “You’re a genius.”

Followed by a bunch of English words he didn’t understand.

I got on the bike, started pedaling, turned to wave goodbye to my new friend, wobbled and nearly lost my balance, but quickly righted myself, and pedaled off into the sunset. I think I saw Monsieur Atelier cross himself. Was his prayer for me – or for his bike?

***

Reading through my journal from the 1985 trip, I discovered my last day at the Paris Air Show was June 6 and that I didn’t immediately head to Blois. As I had remembered. Or misremembered, to be more precise. Instead, I stayed in Paris for a couple more days and eventually headed south, by train, to Nice, for about a week, then back to Paris. And arrived in Blois on June 20. The next day, June 21, I wrote in my journal: “Got up early and went to the bicycle place … got a bike for 35 francs a day.”

Here’s my description of that day’s ride, my first-ever French bike ride: “Went to Chambord, Chambord, Villesavin, Cheverny and Beauregard. Whew!!”

Yep, two exclamation points. And not much description. But hey, 35 miles. Not bad for a rookie. The next day, I wrote: “My ass is killing me, so I took it easy – only to Chaumont and back.” That’s about a 25-mile ride.

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Chambord … many years later, with Susan

Chambord is this immense castle in the middle of nowhere. No town around or beneath it, no nothing. Just the castle surrounded by hundreds of acres of fields and forests. And several large parking lots, for all the cars and the invading army of tour buses. I approached the castle on my bike, turned off the paved road and into one of the parking lots, slid when I hit the gravel of the parking lot … and went down. In front of a few dozen tourists getting on or off one of the tour buses. Several of the tourists found my fall quite amusing.

I was such a cycling novice.

Again, I landed on my right hand. And this time a few pieces of gravel were embedded in my palm. Ah, this is why cyclists wear gloves.

As I’m discovering as I write this: Memories aren’t an exact science. Especially mine. I remembered my first French cycling trip being one continuous ride around the Loire. My journal told me otherwise. After those first two rides, from my home base of Blois, I returned my bike to Monsieur Atelier and took the train to nearby Amboise and got a hotel for two nights. On the second day, I took the train back to Blois, re-rented “my” yellow bike, minus the straps, and rode to Chenonceaux, the castle that goes across a river (the Cher), and then cycled back to Amboise. About 35 miles. Then on to Tours, Azay-le-Rideau and then all the way back to Blois in a single day, about 60 miles, by far the longest and most amazing ride of my life up to this point in time.

Here’s what I wrote about the castle at Villandry: “The gardens were incredible, perhaps the most beautiful thing I’ve seen so far.” I’ve been back a few times, and 1985 Steve was right on the money about these gardens. Amazing.

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Here’s what else I wrote: “I am really enjoying the riding and would love to keep going.”

After six days and maybe 200 miles, my ass was a nightmare (ah, so that’s why cyclists wear those fancy, tight spandex pants!), but I was totally and absolutely hooked on bike touring. The freedom, the wind in your face the sights and sounds, the challenge of mapping out a great route, and all the incredible sights along the way had me hooked. This was so much better than touring yet another large, crowded city and visiting one museum and tourist attraction after the next.

FYI: Eventually, I looked up fecund in the dictionary and: Full of flowers and plants and botanical stuff.

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Beauty Is In the Eye of the Beholder

You never know what’s around the corner, down the cycle path or just past the medieval village on a French bike ride. Like this…

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This strange statue is on the Roger Lapebie bike path that runs 57 kilometers from Bordeaux to Sauveterre-de-Guyenne. I first rode the path in 2018 on my Biking Bordeaux trip, and the statue was just a big block of cement with a few cuts and carves in it. A work in progress.

On my 2019 Biking the Dordogne trip, I rode the Lapebie path again, from Bordeaux to St-Emillion, due to a train strike that prevented me from taking the train to Sarlat. Familiar territory, a nice ride. And there it was: the finished statue, in all its concrete glory. I just had to stop and stare, wonder and even chuckle. I apologize to the artist, as I’m sure he/she put their heart and soul and artistic talents into this. Perhaps some of the cyclists who ride by will like this statue. What do you think? Art is subjective.

Perhaps it’s not finished and the artist will carve out more of the bike. I guess I’ll have to go back and see.

This statue reminded me of this giant, plastic sculpture, which is one of my all-time favorite sights in France. It ranks right up there with the Pond du Gard, Mont Ventoux and the view from Domme…

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What the heck is going on here? Why are the members of this family stacked one on top of the other? And why is the father coughing? Is he sick? Dying, and this is the family’s final vacation together? If so, wouldn’t the kid be sicker. maybe they haven’t told him yet. This plastic bit of kitsch is on the D 110 just north of the little village of Villandrut, where this castle resides…

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I know: The Villandrut castle is a wonderful and an amazing example of medieval castle building and architecture, a reminder of past glories. But come on: Modern man is still capable of creating works of art that will be enjoyed for centuries.

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