Friday 7 August 2015

One last ride

It's our last day here and I have to pack up the bikes. It's a bit of a pain to do, and I'd rather not have to do it, so it's obvious that I should go out for a last ride. 

The quarry above St. Gens (with Ventoux in the distance).

A view of the Nesque valley from Venasque. 

An overhang above the road down from Venasque.

On the road from Venasque up to Le Beaucet someone decided (a way back in
time I'm guessing) to build an abode in the side of the cliff. Whatever works.  
One story: On the way up to St. Gens and the quarry I was chugging along at a moderate pace when a rider came up and "bon jour'd" me. He was still in his big ring, so I picked up a gear or two and stayed on his wheel. It really wasn't that hard, but he was keeping a decent pace for a climb. Anyway, it wasn't more than a minute or so and he looks back, gestures, and says "Wheel sucker" with a French accent. 

So I don't know how he knows I'm English, or maybe that's just the way a French rider insults another one, by telling him he's a wheel sucker, in English, but I pull out beside him and smile and say "Oui" and take the lead. The grade increases a bit so I step it up a bit and by the time I get to the village church, he's not there anymore, so I keep going up to the quarry. 

It was a fine ride. I'm glad I went.

M's Ventoux

After being my support team on Tuesday, M was inspired to try riding up Ventoux. I offered to ride up with her, in support, so we planned for Thursday. Team!

A lot of people ride up Ventoux, of all ages and abilities. They ride it fast or slow. They ride without stopping, or they stop once or twice, whenever they need a breather. There are three ways up the mountain, and they're all a challenge, in their own way. For M's ride up we drove over to Sault and started riding at 8:30 am. It was 23'C and the ride was beautiful from the start. 

The first 20 kms of the climb from Sault average between 3 and 4%. It's a beautiful road and landscape and well worth the ride, but you know that after those first 20 kms, you emerge from the forest at Chalet Reynard and you have 6 kms of climbing that is a completely different road. It ramps up to average closer to 8%, especially the last 4 kms. This is where the bravery begins. 

The struggle begins in earnest.
(Notice the guy roller-blading up in the background.)

The summit is in view.

It's heating up, so M ditches the helmet. 

The final push, at 9% and more. The top is just around
the corner to the right. 

The summit!

The team!
(We're wearing jerseys from the LBS in Pernes-les-fontaines -
- a fine father-son operation run by Havi & Jerome.)

Wednesday 5 August 2015

Three times out of my mind

To several people I had declared, before coming to France this time around, my hope, my intention to attempt to ride up Mont Ventoux from each of the three sides* - to join the Club des Cingles du Mont Ventoux. Typically for me I had no trouble declaring this intent before I got here, but once here I had doubts and, frankly, fear of both the effort, and failing in the attempt. I mean actually, I was pretty sure that once I started in on I'd find a way (unless they closed the summit due to weather - which is not unlikely).

So while I declared with some abandon while at home, once on the road I kind of turtled, and waited. I told myself that I'd do the climb from Bedoin again, on fresh legs after I'd taken the time to acclimate to the summer heat over here, then I'd take stock. Always delaying. Always hedging. Always thinking too much.

That ride went well, but I was still too much in my own head. I had reasons: heat, the effort, overall timing, being good to M rather than focusing on me. I spent a lot of time just before falling asleep playing out these excuses to all you folks, knowing that you'd be fine with it. That you'd be fine with me if that was my decision.

The thing about these excuses is that they were too much about what you would be thinking and not enough about what I was thinking - about me. What do I expect of myself? Do I do these things for others and their esteem of me, or for myself? After the Thursday I rode up from Bedoin we were sitting over supper with our visiting friends, when RA asked, pointblank, "So, you don't seem very happy about this, then why do you do it? Why the effort if you're not satisfied or celebratory after it?"

Fair question. We know each other well enough for her to ask it. And, of course, it is a fair question. Is this a benign-ish kind of self-harm? Is it a "because it was there" thing? Who or what do you do it for? I gave her a decent answer. I said it was because we live in a pleasure-saturated time, that we've lost our taste for the growth that comes from discomfort and effort. I said it was because I could enjoy the wine and fine food more after the work.

She was reasonably satisfied by these, but not totally, and neither was I. Mostly because they continued to locate most of the impetus for it all to some more abstracted, outside-of-the-self, ideological intellectualizations. Which, as I reflect on it now, are a kind of ego-has-no-clothes thing. They aren't really my answers. They're someone elses. They're good answers, and I like them, so they're mine in that way, but they're not really mine at the core.

The reality that after riding up the first time I could not put riding up three times out of my mind - that I couldn't sleep easily because I was thinking about it - said to me that I was missing my own points. That I was not making very good points. That I was dodging something.

So after a great ride on Sunday with M, where she rode like she'd not ridden before, up to the Abbey (Sananque) road, and then down to the Abbey, and then back up (which she gasped as she reached the top that it was her Ventoux), and then up and over and down the Col du Murs ...

M climbing up the 3 kms (avg grade 8%) from the Abbey. 

At the top.

A selfie at the Abbey. Why not?

... I asked for a consultation. I told M all my symptoms, not that she hadn't sensed them anyway, and I asked her to help me process it. So she did was she often does, she dove right into it and started working out the details - how we could make a day of it, that Tuesday would be the best day because she could drive me to Bedoin on the way to the market at Vaison-de-la-Romaine that she needed to get to, and after that she'd meet me in Malaucene after my first climb and descent, and so on, and so it went.

One of the best things about a long term relationship based on good things like love and common interests and a sense that the other is worth the time and effort just as much as for them as for yourself is that you get to understand intuitively what is needed, and what is not. And in those times when you get lost in yourself and you think that she doesn't know you enough it becomes completely apparent that there are times when she knows you better than you know yourself.

Because sometimes getting over yourself is understanding what your self needs, and then doing it with as much abandon as possible. (Which for me is not much as I have control issues and "wild abandon" often makes me ill, but at least I could focus on what was relevant and necessary at the time.) I needed to do this, and afterwards a good "why" would come - or not - who cares. Who knows these things?

I've been reading Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance over the holiday and he calls these things "quality" and "care". It's elusive and subtle but it's a start. The basic thing seems to be that thinking does not make it so, that thinking can keep you from making it so, that thinking isn't doing enough, that doing and details and care and seeking good are closer to it.

So at 7:30 we arrived at Bedoin, I put on my chicken socks (which are both cool and a gift from M), and I got started:

Chicken socks on, game on.

Up the first time, from Bedoin. (The dude who offered to help,
using my flip phone, took two of these finger-infused pics (not
much help at all) and then asked me to take a pic of him holding
up his bike for proof to his German buddies.)
After the descent to Malaucene I had the requisite croisant and quiche along
with an expresso, and a l'eau. M met me here and then followed me for the
rest of the ride.

The climb from Malaucene is unarguably more picturesque than from Bedoin,
and it's almost as challenging with a 7.2% avg grade (From Bedoin the avg grade
is 7.6%. And when it's your second climb of the day, it might as well be the
same. At both of these climbs are ranked (Bedoin (203),
Malaucene (299)) as more difficult than Alpe d'Huez (725), mostly because of
overall length.)
While I rode up from Bedoin without stopping, I took a fuel break just over
halfway up the second time.
Second time's a charm. Now I know it's doable,
barring weather issues.

And there was one weather issue. About halfway down to Sault the rain came
down hard enough to stop me. The brakes were not effective enough for me
to feel confident on a road I did not know. In about 20 minutes the rain passed.

After the rain and sweat I change kits. (Have to give both ABES kit some profile!)

In Sault we found a great cafe, Le Promenade, which had
"Burger la maison et Frites" on the menu. Obviously this
was the choice to make, and in French style I ordered it,
medium. M's Nesque salad is topped with "saumon fume".

The climb from Sault is the longest (26 kms) and easiest (4.5% avg). The first
20 kms are often near flat and likely average around 3%, but then you arrive at
Chalet Reynard and have to climb the same last 6 kms that you do from Bedoin.
Just when you allowed yourself to feel strong, you hit this corner and turn into a
steady 8-9% to the end. I managed to keep all of the burger down, but there was
some uncomfortable belching and poosting along the way. 

Yup. Three. 

The team! 

So what is it? Why? Well for me it is, in part, learning to be true to the "reasonable" (I don't always know what that word means, but I'm using it here, with caution) tasks your self asks of you. Here I speak of the self as that part of you that you do not fully understand and may never fully understand, but that you spend your life - consciously or unconsciously - trying to pin down.

I did this, for me. My self. And I. Then I could sleep. And now I can relax. Until the next task comes along. For now I'm back in my head and clear.

start - 7:38 am, finish - 9:19 am
climb time - 1 hr 41 mins (no stops)

arrive - 10:03 am
Croissant, quiche & espresso!
start - 10:28 am, finish - 12:01 pm
climb time - 1 hr 30 mins (one stop)

arrive - 1:40 pm
Burger & Coke!
start - 2:35 pm, finish - 4:19 pm
climb time - 1 hr 44 mins (one stop at Chalet Reynard to get set)

Finish at Bedoin at 5:01 pm
Total time: 9 hrs 23 mins
Ride time: 6 hrs 59 mins
Total distance: 137 kms
Avg speed: 19.6 km/h
Max speed: 65 km/h

Friday 31 July 2015

Col du Murs, and more

Nice ride tonight, up and down between and around the villages around here - Le Beaucet to Ste Gens and back, then to Vanesque, then over to Sananque (the Abbey), then to Murs, and then over the Col du Murs and down (a fun 8 km descent!) and then back through Vanesque and Le Beaucet to La Roque. 57 kms.

I stopped along the way this time to take some pics. Here they are:

The road up to Ste Gens (a steady 9-11% for 2 kms or so). 

At the end of the road, above Ste Gens, is a limestone quarry. You can see
Mt. Ventoux in the distance. 

Typical road and terrain up the D177 to the Abbey at Sananque.

Looking over the Luberon Valley from the highest point of Col du Murs.

Thursday 30 July 2015

Ventoux, etc.

So, yes, I have been riding. Not everyday, but close. Today (July 30) I rode the 20 or so kms from "our" place in La Roque to Bedoin and started right in on the mountain. Bedoin was just packed with people, mostly riders, today because it was overcast and only got to a high of 23'C. A good day to ride it, rather than waiting for the usual 30-40'C heat.

So up I went. I am a goal-oriented guy, but I don't much like the goal-oriented sort of language. That is, I have expectations, but I don't like to be too loud about it, at least when it's about something I'm uncertain about. Like how the legs will feel on any given day, and whether or not the expectations are realistic in the first place.

I had expectations. They were: to ride my bike up to the summit of Mt. Ventoux from Bedoin; to ride my bike up to the summit of Mt. Ventoux from Bedoin without stopping; to ride my bike up to the summit of Mt. Ventoux from Bedoin without stopping in less time than I did in 2011, when I rode up with several stops for pics along the way, achieving a "rest enhanced" ride time of 1:45.

I met my expectations. And there was much rejoicing in the land. I got to the top without stopping (without touching either foot to the ground) ride time 1:35. It was hard, but whatever. Of course. There was a north wind that made the open stretch after Chalet Reynard a bit more painful than I remembered it. The times when you turned right into the wind, the road pitched up to 8, 9, even 10%. Ooof. (It's remarkable how genteel and restful 6 and 7% feel after a steady run of 9 or 10.) And there were A LOT of people riding it today. Lots of people on mountain bikes and hybrids. Hmmm. Maybe next time. The granny!

One funny moment. I'm about 3 kms from the top and it's about as hard as it's been, and then I hear these two female voices coming up behind me, and they sound fresh and they're not breathless, and so I'm thinking, Wow, this is kind of awesome, until one of them passes me hardly pedalling an electric drive cruiser bike, and then the next one comes up along side me, but her battery starts to die, or something, anyway, suddenly she had to pedal, so she fell back complaining. It's weird how many people will drive their cars up to Chalet Reynard and then rent a bike to ride up from there, and some of those bikes are electric. Huh.

Anyway, when I got to the top I pulled out my handy-dandy flip phone to take a selfie, but found that the battery had completely crapped out. Fortunately, Mike and Carolyn (from Australia) were standing around enjoying the view (Mike liked my CAAD 7) and offered to take a picture of me in front of the sign. Then I went into the shop at the top to get some gatorade, and noticed that you could get the clerk to stamp something with her cool stamp, so I got that too, in my little moleskine (of course) notebook in which I write the names of the places and roads I'm passing through and riding on.

So there it is. Another day well ridden. The descent was fun and edgy too. It was cool and with the wind it felt less stable until after the Chalet. Then, in the forest, it was much smoother sailing. 65 km/h was not unusual.

Here are my notebook entries from my other rides, if you're interested. If not, carry on. (If it seems like there aren't enough pics, it's because my flip phone camera isn't the easiest thing to use while riding a bike. Suffice it to say, it's awesome out here, and you'd all love it!)

July 24 & 25

July 27

July 29

Bonne nuit!

Saturday 25 July 2015

First days in Provence

To be fair, this blog is ostensibly supposed to be about the cycling adventures, etc, that I have had. Since this trip however involves both cycling adventures and other travel adventures, the wheels will be a little out of true. Most times they'll wobble over to cycling (obviously), but other times they'll wibble over to travel, more generally. At times it may be about both cycling and travel, because they are one and the same. I apologize for this confusion of focus.

We're staying at 54 rue de Portail Haut, La Roque-sur-Pernes, which looks like this:

It's four stories of unassuming french loveliness.

July 22
The day after flying in to Paris, and driving 8 hours from there to La Roque on the 21st, we were both pretty bagged.

So we spent Wednesday sleeping, putting the bikes together, picking up some groceries, and some spare inner tubes (and meeting Havi and Jerome at Velo Pernes). During the day the temperature reaches the high 30s around here, but by the evening it was 31'C and I had enough energy to get on the bike. So I did. This is what I rode, and I felt pretty good.

La Roque-sur-Pernes to St. Didier to Le Beaucet to Venasque and back

Before the ride, at the local bike shop (Perne Velo) first Havi pumped up my rear tire to 7 bars (90 lbs), and then went over to help another customer while I finished putting the new tube in the front wheel, so Jerome pumped up the second one and told me that I shouldn't inflate them more than 7 bars because of the roads around here - which are not great he said.

He did not know that he was speaking to a Canadian prairie bike rider who knows bad roads when he rides them. He did know that a tire inflated to 7 bars has plenty of pressure to be both fast on hot pavement, and to provide some cushion over the bumps - which are relatively not many at all. The roads are, by Manitoba standards, quite fine. They're mostly well-maintained and, most importantly, the drivers here think that cyclists on roads are completely normal and deserve as much of a sense that they are safe and valued as anyone else. Everybody waves. Everybody gives you space. Everybody can drive. It's a bit of a utopian experience.

July 23
B and R, our good friends from Manitoba, who are joining us for 8 days, arrived in Marseille at 10:10 AM, so we left La Roque at 8:30 AM to drive down and pick them up. Smooth sailing. Everything went as it should, except for maybe a Starbucks Kenyan Latte that, in hindsight, might have caused me some discomfort. That or the jet lag and the heat. Anyway, on the way back everything went smoothly again, until we got into the house.

Then I was tired, and sleepy. So I lay down and would have slept the rest of the day away except that M woke me up around 3 to remind me that if I slept during the day I wouldn't sleep at night, and then everything would stay out of whack. So I got up and shook things off enough to accompany the others in driving to town to shop a bit more and then to head out to the Cistercian Abbey at Sananque. We missed the Thursday night vespers, but still walked the grounds. 

Then we headed over to the village of Gordes to explore further, and then to drive around the countryside to get a feel for things.

No riding on this day. A prudent decision, I think. I did stay up long enough to map out my ride for the next day.

July 24 & 25
At 7:30 AM I was on the bike riding. Though I want to get better at acclimating to hotter temperatures, the mornings are just too nice not to ride. It was 21'C when I got onto the road. On the first downhill I actually felt a bit of a chill. The route I'd mapped out was much like the exploratory drive we'd taken the night before.

La Roque-sur-Pernes to Venasque to Abbey Sananque to Gordes to Lagnes to Fontaine-de-Vaucluse to Saumane to La Roque-sur-Pernes

It's a great 60 km ride, so much so that I rode the same route again this morning (the 25th) (fyi, they'll likely all be great, so I'll stop with the adjectives now, and let the pics and details speak). It begins immediately out the front door and involves 1250 m of climbing, with an average grade of 5% and a max grade of 11% (see the elevation profile in the link above) and sights that a rider from Manitoba doesn't see, like these:

The bottom of the 6 km climb back to La Roque.

The road that winds up, and then down, to Sananque and the Abbey.

The beginning of the climb out of the bottom of the Nesques (river) Gorges.
You can see the Abbey on the left. 

On the 24th in the afternoon, in the heat of a hot day (temps as high as 39'C), with the intrepid M's encouragement we headed off to Fontaine-de-Vaucluse for a kayak adventure (pretty easygoing but the water was cool and overall the experience was ... European) on the River Sorgue.

Today, the 25th, I rode the same route as the 24th and cut the time of the ride from 2 hrs, 24 mins to 2 hrs, 20 mins. Mostly I think I just rode the downhills faster.

When I got back M, B, and R were still around (I had expected they would have already have headed in to town), so we all went in and spent time at the Saturday morning market in Pernes-les-Fontaines the town nearest the village we're in. We had to buy more food and wine. Of course. When in France ... !

Then, in the evening, before supper (get it? before supper - so French!) we headed out for a marche (a walk) on the trails south (I think) of the village. We found a borie (also see below), and a restaurant fine-looking (of course, it's French) restaurant, which looked good enough for us to make reservations for Sunday dinner at 8 PM (soooo French!)

After a late supper (soooo French!) we did the dishes and went to bed. Well, then I blogged, and then I went to bed. That is, now I'm going to bed. It's 1 AM. We're heading to Avignon tomorrow and even though my legs are feeling good, I'm going to give them a rest from the bike on the day of rest.