Andy's Travel Updates
"The real thing is not reaching, the real thing is the journey, the very travelling. If you are too bothered about the goal you will miss the journey, and the journey is life - the goal can only be death."
France by bicycle
FRANCE | Thursday, 22 July 2010 | Views 
Having climbed the Pyrenees from Spain, the first order of business was a beautiful descent into France. There wasn't an official border but there was a sudden change in the architecture, the road, the language and (of great interest to a cycling tourist) the bakeries.
Once in France I headed to the Col du Tourmalet, one of the most famous mountains in the cycling world. I did the 19km climb (the same climb that could decide this year's tour on Thursday) at just under 10km/hr without stopping (and without luggage). The views were great and the ride itself was brilliant. A local Frenchman slowed to talk to me for half an hour, telling me all about the climb. He had first ridden it when he was 15 and (now in his 40s) rides it every week. Some Aussies I met at the top told me Lance had been there the day before. Apparently he slowed down to cycle beside a car and chat, until the girl in the car mentioned her husband... at which point Lance said he needed to get back to training.
After Tourmalet I had a date to meet Susan and Tom in the Alps and I had some nice long rides on the way there. One morning I realised I had left my water bottle on the roadside and decided to go back for it. I didn't realise it would add a hilly 25kms to a 135km day. By the end of the day I was tired so to save backtracking up a hill (after taking a wrong turn to a dead end) I asked a local if it was possible to take a shortcut along a small dirt road. They seemed to say yes so I did, but soon found the road got worse then became a vineyard. It was probably terrible for my bike but it was all downhill so I pressed on and made it through the vineyard to another road. It was kinda fun.
In France I found the kms are much slower going because the towns are closer together (often less than 5kms apart) and I needed to check the map more frequently. For example, a 135km day could take 9 hours on the road and 7 hours in the saddle (which is enough to get a sore backside!).
One day I hurt my wrist by lifting my bike at an awkward angle. For a couple of weeks I couldn't lift anything with my right hand but I found I could still cycle. Only I couldn't go uphill in the usual way(ie. sitting down, which requires your wrists to keep your weight forward). I had to stand out of the saddle which is faster but much harder work. It added an extra challenge to a 145km day, into Nimes. 50kms out of Nimes one of my panniers (bags) got caught in the spoke - because of how the bike moves side to side when climbing out of the saddle. It tore a hole in the pannier and warped (bent) the wheel. It also made a great sound when it got caught. But it left me on the side of the road (in a country where I don't speak the language) thinking I had broken bags and a broken bike... and that I was unable to move either of them because I couldn't use my right hand. For a moment, it was a thrill.
Fortunately, swapping the left and right panniers kept them out of the spokes and I could tape up the hole to stop anything falling out. The back wheel wasn't straight and rubbed against the brakes but I decided
to risk riding on it into Nimes.
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