Funny story- A few years ago we were riding a bus in Austria and the bus pulled over and stopped. When we asked the driver what was happening, he told us that we were “powsa”. We didn’t know what he meant and he finally said angrily- "you don’t know powsa??" At that point we realized he meant paused and we needed to wait 10 minutes.
This is why we have to keep riding our bikes.
It’s a beautiful June day in Northern Provence. We wander up and down the stairs and streets of Sisteron, buying groceries, reading books and watching to see if and when they will fill up the local swimming area. This is an amazing artificial lake called the Plan d'Eau and it is filled from the Durance River.
We have been on this trip for 7 months and ridden nearly 5000 kilometers. Now we are taking it easy and feeling pretty lethargic and unmotivated. All the daily logistics of navigating and where to stay and what to eat have caught up with us and it feels like it’s time to pause and reset for a few weeks. When we started out riding, the vineyards were full of bare sticks, but now we ride past green leaves and vines and blossoms. It is a turning of the season in Provence and some internal turning for us as well. We are more than halfway through our time in Europe. What will we do with the next few months? Our ideas ricochet from Greece to the Arctic circle, but we settle on a series of bike packing gravel rides in Northern France and Belgium.
Endless pine forests/ the Atlantic and the reflecting pool in Bordeaux
Our last post had us riding out of the Pyrenees and catching a train to Bayonne on the Atlantic. We spent 4 days watching the rain pour down in sheets outside the ninth floor windows of our high rise hotel. It was a great place to take shelter, with endless coffee, snacks and good wifi. On our last night in the hotel, we had the good fortune to meet another biking couple from Victor, Idaho. It was great to share stories of the road and to speak English instead of our garbled French. Our apologies to the very patient and kind French people who have put up with us as we mangle their language. When the rain finally stopped we rode 5 days on the Velodysee- a bike trail system along the coast. It is easy cycling on separated bike trails, but we never seemed get a view of the sea and we quickly tire of endless pine forests. There is not the same energy and reward that we got in the mountains- although it is easier to cover some miles.
We stay in towns along the coast, so we enjoy ocean sunsets and wine and eventually make it to the large city of Bordeaux and catch another train- this time to Carpentras at the base of Mount Ventoux.
The upper slopes and Tom Simpson memorial on Mt. Ventoux.
The summit of Mt. Ventoux is 5000 feet of climbing up from our hotel. It is a steady unrelenting grade much of the way to a café 6 km from the summit. The last slopes are a little easier and spectacular as the road winds through the moonscape of Ventoux.
Karen wants to rest her knees and try an electric bike so we find a shop at the base and rent one for the day. Instead of the ride being a sufferfest, she has a blast. The effort required is so much less and the bike still has plenty of juice after all that climbing. I can see our future and it looks electric.
Mt. Ventoux is a real highlight for us as we join several hundred other cyclists that day and feel like we are part of our tribe. We also stay in a great B & B where the proprietor shows me a machine gun and ammo clip he scavenged from a burning column of german tanks as a 9 year old in Normandy in 1944. He tells us tales of living in a trench for months, meeting the Americans and being introduced to chewing gum and cigarettes. His stories about how exciting that time was for him really made our day. I'm pretty sure his parents did not feel the same way about the war in their front yard. Meanwhile his grandson danced with Michael Jackson on Karen's iPad. It is a strange and wonderful world sometimes.
Key lessons from the past 6 months:
Forecasting the mileage and elevation gain each day is not an exact science. It is wise to add at least 30%.
When taking pictures that you care about, look at the screen to see what you actually photographed.
When your wife sends you this text message you must respond post-haste.
Our style of bike touring and travel is made easier by access to cellular data. In fact you could argue that it would be almost impossible to navigate routes, book hotels and campsites and find out information without it. So when it doesn't work and you have to chase Wifi it is way harder.
Don’t make train reservations too far in advance because plans always change. In fact, it is better to make them on the way to the train station if you have data- see Wifi chasing above.
Check the weather before you make a plan. Invariably when you make a plan the weather will change it for you anyway.
When you make a hotel reservation double check the date and make sure they have real Wi-Fi- hopefully we will only make the check the hotel date mistake once.
Karen is leading our nightly gin rummy tournament by 500 points. Still time for a comeback if we stay here till October.
As my hero Peter Sagan says-" I have never some strategy; I go by the moment." Words to live by?
Now we are back in our adopted town of Sisteron, which is starting to feel more like we belong here. We are welcomed back by being invited to the neighborhood party. These parties ar a national event and they occur all over France in June. Each neighborhood puts together a party and our event takes place just down the street where we meet our neighbors; eat and laugh and drink and even sing together. The next night we go to the café to listen to Janis Joplin tunes sung with a French accent, make some more new friends and stay up past our bedtime again. It is a good lesson in community and staying in one place for a while. We have visited many beautiful villages and cities and castles over the past months, but the memories of our time here are indelibly marked by the folks we have met.
This 7 month mark really is a major reset for us. I have just returned from the U.S. where I joined family and friends in the celebration of my Dad's 90th birthday and their 68th wedding anniversary. My parents were adventurous travelers all of their lives; my father worked in schools all over the world. As a result, I lived overseas until I was 10 years old. So I have my parents to thank for my love of travel and adventure....what a gift. I also got to see Riley on his way to his summer firefighting job. Woohoo.
I brought back my big gravel bike-(currently delayed in Marseille in baggage- yikes) so we will be set up for camping as well as more travel off the paved roads. This extended stay in Sisteron has been great for resting and restoring our mojo for getting back on the bikes.
*I can't recommend going to and from Sisteron to Seattle in the span of 7 days! I might be too much of a "pensioner" for that kind of travel.