Are You A Cycling Fanatic? Here Are the Tell-Tale Signs…

OK, I admit it: I’m an obsessed cyclist. How about you? Here are several of the warning signs & symptoms I’ve observed during my 30 years as a cycling fanatic … plus a few more from some friends and members of the club … 

portaYou know the location of every porta-john and public restroom within a 25-mile radius of your home. You know which ones are the cleanest, the dirtiest and the most disgusting, and on what day they clean them. And that you should never, ever on a Monday use the porta-john in the park at Whetstone where thousands of kids played soccer on Saturday and Sunday.

You have flexed and stared admiringly at the quadriceps muscle on your legs, the one just above your knee, the one that gets really big and sexy by July after you’ve put in a couple thousand miles. 

You can tell the difference between Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas.

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You have several drawers and valuable closet space devoted to bike shirts, shorts, gloves and socks, several of which you haven’t worn in years, but can’t bear to throw out. This includes at least one jersey that for some unexplained reason is now too tight to actually wear (I blame the washing machine), but you’re totally convinced will one day fit as soon as you lose a few pounds. Hey, it could happen. My version of this jersey is the one I got at the gift shop at Chalet Reynard on Mont Ventoux in 2010.

I’m not the only one with a large jersey collection…

Greg Smith: “By my calculations, given current inventory and the rate I wear jerseys out, I have enough jerseys to last the rest of my life – if I live to be 175.”

Dave Hoodin: “I have one drawer for shorts, one drawer for knickers, & tights, one drawer for socks & accessories, a closet for jerseys, base layers and jackets, a bin for gloves and woollies, a bin for shoes, a bin for misc parts, another closet for maps and trip brochures.”

You plan your weekends around your bike ride – and have somehow convinced your non-cycling spouse this is OK.dordogneMap

This one’s from Fabi: “Your portable GPS is always on Cycling setting. Every now and then you forget to switch when driving to a place. It would normally take 30 minutes on the motorway. After 3 hours on small hilly roads you must admit to Susan that you dit it AGAIN!?”

Your vacations include cycling. Then again, Susan ( a different Susan than Fabi’s Susan, I hope) and I have reached a compromise, and we alternate between hiking trips (both of us) and cycling trips (mostly me, but sometimes Susan for portions of the trip). 

You’ve worn out your first copy of the Michelin Road Atlas of France and the second is michelingetting a bit tattered and dog-eared, especially pages 286 and 287. If you know what’s on pages 286 and 287, well, you’re a fanatic!

Speaking of vacations … You know you’re obsessed when you’ve written five eBooks on cycling in France (Provence, the Loire, Normandy, Bordeaux and the Dordogne) and one on Hiking the Isle of Wight. Sorry for the self promotion. FYI: I started accepting ads on this blog three weeks ago (again, I’m sorry) and so far have made $10.22! At this rate, I’ll be able to afford a cycling trip to France the same year Greg runs out of bike jerseys.

You get a wistful, sad yearning whenever you’re in a car and drive by someone on a bike.

From time to time, when you’re in the car and about to switch lanes, you look up and to your left, where the mirror on your bike helmet is, instead of your side-view mirror. And then chuckle to yourself. “What’s so funny?” Susan asks. “Oh, you wouldn’t understand.” You sometimes do the same thing when you’re walking and hear a car coming from behind.

This one’s from Tricia Kovacs: “You call out ‘car up … car back’ while driving in a car. 

Here’s one from Renovelle: “You walk into your garage and you can hear the bikes saying ‘Pick me, pick me today’ and sense their disappointment and attempt tp console them with a promise of next time.”

That’s a definite sign: Multiple bikes and assigning human emotions to them. I only have three. How many bikes do you have?

You’ve done a ride that makes your family and friends shake their heads in disbelief and think you may have a problem. In my case, it was a 24-hour, ultra race (318 miles), and traveling to Provence to climb the mighty Mont Ventoux three times in one day. 

balmYou have at least one jar of butt balm on the bathroom sink or shelf … and have talked to at least one other person about your personal preference in this area, and were not in the least bit embarrassed. My personal preference is Bag Balm or Chamois Butt’r. 

You’ve read Bicycling magazine off and on long enough to never, ever need – or want – to read another article about how to train for your first century or how to climb hills faster. OK already, we get it. And stop writing about and reviewing $10,000 bikes. None of us can afford one. Or a $200 bib shorts.

You watch the Tour de France every year and understand what’s going on and the strategies being employed for that’s day’s stage. And, you mutter, on a regular basis while watching: “If only bike racing had been popular where I lived when I was young, I could have been in the Tour.” And, you actually take yourself seriously when you think these thoughts. Hey, you never know. Here’s my story on the first Tour de France, in 1903.

Can you think of any other signs? If so, send them my way and I’ll do a follow-up post.

Oh wait, one more sign … Seeing this photo below makes you salivate!

Bike Bashing In Blois (BBIB)

“This is not possible,” I mumbled in desperation. “This can’t possibly be happening. It just can’t.”

Oh, but it was … and I blame my sister because, well, it was totally her fault.

It was 2013: The start of our Loire bike trip. We had spent a few days in Paris, then it was on to Blois, where Susan and I were gonna ride for a few days. Susan was then heading home (Columbus, Ohio), while I got to stay, ride and gather information and photos for my first eBook: Biking the Loire. Thank you Susan.

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We’d made arrangements with my sister, Debra, who lives with her family in England, to ship my bike to Blois. It was the bike – a men’s road bike (you know, curved handlebars and a straight-across top tube) – we bought during our 2007 French bike trip. We also bought a women’s hybrid bike (flat handlebars and an angled, woman’s style top tube) for Susan. We met Deb and family in Southern France back in 2007, hung out for a few days, and had a great time. They packed our bikes into their SUV and drove home to England (yes I know, you can’t drive all the way from France to England … they took the ferry across the channel).

And there our bikes sat, in their garage, gathering dust and cobwebs, for several years.

So, I asked Deb to take my bike to the local bike shop, have it tuned up, packed up in a box and shipped to our hotel in Blois.

“I did it, it’s on the way to Blois,” Deb emailed a few days before we flew to Paris.

That’s a relief. Thank you, Deb.

We arrived in Blois, and the guy at the desk told me there was a big box in the garage with my name on it.

That’s a relief. Thank you, Deb.

The plan was for me to ride my old friend, and we’d rent a bike for Susan. Her old bike, from 2007, was kind of a crappy bike. And she was only riding for 2 days.

Went to the garage, started opening the box … and … it was Susan’s bike. You know, the too-small, non-road-bike bike. The women’s bike. The hybrid. It wasn’t my bike. How is this possible? They’re totally different bikes. Different sizes and …

Think I went into shock. A little bit. I just stared and stared at the bike in the box, not believing or comprehending what I was seeing. Thinking that somehow, some way, if I kept unpacking the box, my bike would be in there.

It wasn’t.

Decided to assemble the bike … and ride it. What choice did I have?

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Sometimes you just gotta make the best of a bad-bike situation

And, too make matters worse, which is always possible, I couldn’t get the damn front tire back onto the fork. Somehow, someway, in the packing or shipping, or by osmosis, the front fork had been ever so slightly smooshed together … and the tire wouldn’t fit back in no matter how much I tried … or cursed. And I cursed a lot! Some of it in French.

(Here’s the link to my Biking the Loire eBook if you’re interested)

Thank goodness the guy at the hotel desk (the owner) is a former Tour de France rider.

“We will pull,” said Roland Le Clerc, who rode the Tour from 1987 to 1991. His best finish was 70th in 1988. That’s impressive.

bike11And so we pulled and pulled, each of us pulling on one of the forks, somehow stretching it a millimeter further apart, just enough to squeeze in the wheel.

“Voila,” Roland said after we got the wheel on and it seemed to spin properly. The French say “voila” whenever they accomplish something.

If I’ve learned one thing over the years on bike trips, it’s that you must always adapt and overcome the inevitable mechanical, logistical, geographic and psychological problems you will inevitably encounter. This was a big one.

And so, I rode this too-small, women’s bike for the next two weeks. It was manageable. Barely. Although my knees began to hurt on Day Three. And then my back.

At the end of the trip, I left the damn bike at the hotel in Saumur. In the garage. Never wanted to see – or ride – it again.

“You can have it … or let the guests ride it,” I told the woman at the front desk. “It’s a woman’s bike.”

PS: I eventually forgave Deb. Mostly! And, in retrospect, this made for a good story … and blog post. Wouldn’t have been half as interesting if she’d sent the right bike. So, Deb … here’s my belated thank you.

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I wonder if “my” bike is still sitting in this garage at the hotel in Saumur?

It’s Scary On Top of the Pont du Gard

Susan found this photo from our 1995 trip … of me standing on top of the Pont du Gard.

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You can’t tell from this photo … but I’m kind of scared. And maybe even shaking a little bit in my bike shorts. Hey, it was super high and narrow up there, and really windy. You weren’t supposed to be up there because, well, you could fall over the edge and plunge to your death. Which isn’t good for tourism.

And yes, I’m wearing a fanny pack. Hey, it was 1995, and they were cool back then. OK, fanny packs were never cool. But they were sort of practical on a bike trip. Back then. And yes, I was wearing a T-shirt, and not a bike jersey. I don’t think I made the transition until 2000.

So, here’s the story…

We were in the midst of a French bike trip, and did a day trip from Avignon to see the Pont du Gard. This aqueduct is considered one of the Wonders of the Ancient World, for good reason. It’s amazing. The Pont du Gard was built around 19 BC and carried water from Uzes to Nimes, a distance of 31 miles. Not much of the aqueduct remains. This section rises majestically 160 feet over and across the Gard River. Hence the name.

Back in 1995, you could climb up into the top level of the Pont du Gard. You weren’t actually allowed to, and there were signs saying not to, but there wasn’t anyone there to stop you. Tourism was much more casual back then.

And so, lots of people climbed up to the top level. Maybe not lots, but several. Many. OK, a few. We could see them from down below.

“Come on Susan, we have to do it,” I insisted.

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We paddled our way to the Pont du Gard in 2007 from the town of Collais. How do you like Susan’s hat?

You climbed into the top level, the top tier, and were inside the “tunnel” where the water once flowed. It was dark and spooky, with some shafts of light coming in from the holes up above.

“Come on Susan, we have to climb up through one of these holes to the top.”

“Are you crazy?”

“Other people are doing it.”

Here’s the link to my Biking Provence eBook

According to my memory, I don’t think Susan actually climbed up and out of the hole and walked along the top of the Pont du Gard. I did, and tried to coax her up. She was way too smart to give in to my peer pressure. But she did pop up just long enough to take this photo.

Although you can’t see them, there were other people up there. They must have been hanging out in the other direction. At least that’s how I remember it.

I walked around a bit, although walking isn’t exactly the right description. I sort of scurried along, low and slow, like a crab, clinging to the center of the way-too-narrow top of the post. Some maniacs sat at the edge, dangling their feet over.

No way.

I don’t remember posing for this photo. It was probably the only time I stood up.

Here’s what Susan remembers: “I immediately had to get down on my knees because it was so high. I did climb up there, but I couldn’t stay up there. It was too high and windy and wasn’t very wide. I felt like I was gonna fall. Taking this picture, putting a camera in front of my face, was about as much balance as I could handle. There were other people up there, but there weren’t very many. Don’t give people the idea there were a lot of people up there.”

I won’t.

We hung out a little bit, and then climbed down. Went for a dip in the Gard River, dried off in the sun, and started riding back to Avignon.

You can no longer climb up into and on top of the Pont du Gard. It’s probably for the best, but sure I do miss that view. It certainly got my adrenaline flowing.

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Ouef (Part Deux): The Yolks On You

OK, here’s an update on the whole egg disaster thing: success.

So, if you read my previous post, you know I totally embarrassed myself by cracking open a raw egg all over my plate and tablecloth a couple of breakfasts ago. Hey, who knew it was raw? It looked hard boiled.

This morning, I asked the server: “How does this work?” as I pointed at the boiling-water machine, hoping he’d take the bait.

He did: “You turn this on for two minutes until the water bubbles, then you put the egg in for three minutes. Would you like me to do it for you?”

“Oui … may I have two?”

“Oui.”

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Was it rude to ask for deus? Was that an ugly-American thing he’ll tell people about?

A few minutes later, the two perfectly soft-boiled eggs arrived at my table in their little soft-boiled egg holders. I felt like I was a Crawley (you know, the Downton Abbey people).

And, get this: there’s a special device to open up a small hole at the top of the egg.

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“You do this,” the server said and showed me how you put the little cylinder on top of the egg, pull up the plunger, release it … and it smashes down on the top of the egg, creating a small, circular crack that you can easily remove with your special soft-boiled egg spoon.

It worked.

The eggs were indeed delicious, all runny, yolky and eggy … and also kind of messy. I’m not exactly a soft-boiled egg eating expert (can’t remember the last time I had one) and managed to slop a lot of yolk down the sides of the shell and onto the dish below. Tried to sop them up with baguette, but they immediately hardened and stuck to the plate like glue. Is this normal … or am I just a really sloppy soft-boiled egg eater? If you’re an expert … please let me know.

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Oh well, it was practice for tomorrow … my last breakfast here at the Hotel Claude Darroz in Langon. Who knows what breakfast adventures await me at my next stop?

Back on the Bike: The Bordeaux Loop

I have to admit: I’ve been feeling a bit out of sorts since I got to France. Anxious, jet lagged and sleep deprived, missing Susan, wondering what the heck I’m doing here.

And then, well, I went on a ride today, my first on this trip, and I feel so much better. I remembered why I’m here and why I love biking in France … and, to be honest, this wasn’t even a great ride. Just a good ride. But sometimes good is good enough. And the better and best is yet to come.

So, here we go, my day in photos (and pithy captions)…

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Picked up my rental bike, a Cube, at 10:30 in front of one of the many ibis hotels by the train station. I think there are four … I’m at the ibis Styles (a bit of a misnomer, but it’s OK). There were also two Irish women (lasses?) picking up their bikes from 02Cycles and we chatted a bit. They’re headed to Agen. I think. The guy from 02 showed them the tools to fix a flat … and they sort of looked at each other, then the guy … and said they have no idea how to fix a flat. Uh-oh. Hopefully the luck of the Irish holds true for cycling.

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Bordeaux is a big city. A really big city. But it’s very, very bike friendly. There are bike lanes everywhere and lots of signs. I was looking for, and found, the sign for Sauveterre and the Roger Lapebie bike path, which takes you all the way to Sauveterre, which is 46 kilometers (about 28 miles) from Bordeaux. I was only going as far as La Sauve-Majeure, where there are the ruins of a big, old abby. Then back the way I came … a sort of test ride to check out the bike. The photo above is the bridge over the Garonne River. There’s another bridge right near the train station and my hotel, but the 02 guy said the train station bridge is “shit” and this one (above) in the middle of town is “beautiful.” He was right. Huge bike lane. 

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Here’s the map of the Roger Lapebie bike path. Who the heck is this Roger Lapebie? Well…

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He won the Tour de France in 1937. When you win the Tour de France, they name stuff after you … especially in the region where you are born. Unfortunately, a French rider hasn’t won the Tour de France since the mid-1980s. And they’re sure as heck not gonna name stuff after Lance or Floyd around here.

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Here’s one of the more scenic stretches of the path. Lots of forests, a few farms and a couple of vineyards. You don’t actually go through any towns/villages, but there are several a kilometer or so away, just off the path.

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Got to the abby, locked up my bike and started walking toward the entrance when … two cyclists started speaking to me in French. I kept nodding and saying “oui.” I’m pretty sure the guy was telling me the abby was ferme (closed) and wouldn’t open again until 14 heures (2 PM). Darn, it was 12:15, so I started heading back to Bordeaux.

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Saw these two guys laying down new bike/walk lanes signs. There’s fire shooting out the end of their fire hoses to seal in the paint for all of eternity.

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Back in my ibis hotel room, where there is a strange green tint … and my bike is taking a well-deserved nap. Think I’ll join him (her?) and take a quick nap if the glare from all this green doesn’t keep me awake.