It’s Scary On Top of the Pont du Gard

Susan found this photo from 1995 … 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.

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.

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.

And so, lots of people climbed up to the top level. Maybe not lots, but several. Many. We saw them from down below.

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

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We also paddled our way to the Pont du Gard in 2007. 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.”

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 to tall.

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.

Bike Bashing In Blois (BBIB)

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

Oh, but it was … and I blame my sister because, well, it was totally her fault. I’m telling mom!

It was 2013: The start of our Loire bike trip. We’d spent a few days in Paris, then on to Blois (a city in the Loire), where Susan and I were gonna ride for a few days. Susan was then heading home, while I got to stay, ride and gather information and photos for my new 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 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, hung out for a few days, 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).

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.

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

Whew, that’s a relief.

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.

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. Anyone can tell the difference between a …

Think I went into shock. A little bit. Just stared and stared, not believing 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, 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.

Thank goodness the guy at the desk (the hotel’s 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.

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 three days in. And then my back.

At the end of the trip, 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. And, in retrospect, this made for a good story … and blog post. Wouldn’t have been half as interesting if she’d sent my 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?

Bungee Cords and Bike Trips

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Here’s a time-tested, bike-touring tip I can’t stress enough: Bring a few bungee cords with you.

How many? I recommend three or four.

What color?

Doesn’t matter.

Why bungee cords?

Well…

Use #1: Pannier protectors

pannier1Panniers are the packs you attach to either side of the rack on the back of your bike.

They hold your stuff.

And sometimes, especially when you go over a bump, they tend to fall off. Which is quite annoying. And kind of dangerous.

So, wrap a bungee cord around them and … voila! … they stay on the rack.

I also usually put a small knapsack on top of my panniers and, yep, a third bungee cord keeps it in place.

Use#2: Laundry lines

You’re gonna do a lot of sink laundry on a bike trip.

Sorry, it’s inevitable.

So, I string my bungee cords across the window and hang my damp bike shorts and jersey and gloves on them.

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And hope for the best.

They’re usually dry by the next morning.

Only once, in Chateau-Thierry (a little east of Paris) were we yelled at by the hotel owner. “This is not possible in France,” he told us, pointing up at the laundry hanging from our window.

Oh, but it is … and lots and lots of bike travelers do it.

Use #3: Glove rescuer

Once, in Lourmarin (a little north of Aix-en-Provence), we’re at a hotel. I did a load of sink laundry, hung everything on my bungees … and, the next morning: One of my bike gloves had fallen off the cord and landed on the roof over the balcony one floor down.

Uh-oh … I really need this glove.

Susan declined to let me hold herb by her feet and dangle her out the window. I’m pretty sure it would have worked.

So, connected the hooks of two bungee cords together, wrapped some duct tape around them so they wouldn’t separate … lowered down my bungee rope … and tried and tried to hook an edge of my glove. Finally … voila! I Hooked it … and carefully reeled it in.

And, speaking of duct tape … bring a small roll. So many uses.