Saturday, August 30, 2014

Day 6: Fog Happens

Yesterday's route features some of the most stunning vistas of the whole cycling trip. Unfortunately, we saw none of them because all around us was enshrouded in fog. 

We started out yesterday morning under cloudy skies. Mist hung over the mountains and down into the valleys.

All of our bikes were set out under the chestnut tree, ready for their riders

We had some nice views of the Gorge de la Bourne

We passed through this village, which was kind of cool

We decided to stop around 10:30 or so at a pastry shop in a small town through which we passed, Saint Jean-en-Royans. It was the first decent patisserie we had encountered since arriving in France ten days ago. Some of the pastries I had not seen since being here 30 years ago on my Mormon mission. It was difficult to choose which one I wanted. I ended up with one with a brioche base topped with glazed raspberries and chantilly cream.

As it turned out, we were both glad we had stopped for nourishment because the first big climb of the day - Col de la Machine - lay ahead.

The tour company arranged a picnic

The eeriest part of the ride was after lunch, when we started climbing to the Col de la Bataille. We rode into a dense forest, and it wasn't long before we were immersed in fog so thick we often could not see riders 10 meters ahead of us. At other times, they were ghostly figures who became briefly, darkly visible, only to be enshrouded seconds later. Fog cascaded down slopes or rose up out of the forested decline below, enveloping us. After a while, it became claustrophobic when anxiety arose that we would never get out of it. 

At times, such as in the lead photo (which was taken before lunch), we knew that we were on the edge of a precipice, but couldn't see anything at all. At other times, we sensed drop-offs on both sides of the road with the wind tossing the fog to and fro, reminding me of those taffy machines one sees at county fairs, working the taffy back and forth and up and down. 

Finally, after descending from the Col de la Bataille, we got out of the fog, emerging into a valley bedecked with wild flowers. After one more lower ascent, we began a long descent into the wide valley of the Rhone. It felt so, so good to be bathed in sunshine. 

Today, we set off for Provence and Vaison-la-Romaine, where we will be for three nights. Can't wait! 

The valley of the Rhone near Valence, France

Happy Hour and Boules Under the Chestnut Tree

Mark loves to get out the bocci ball set for gatherings back home. So when the opportunity presented itself to play boules (pronounced "bule", something like "mule") at our last hotel - Le Marronnier (the Chestnut tree) - he was all over it.

This was done in conjunction with Happy Hour, that period of the day after we've pulled into the hotel for the day, have washed out our kits in the bathroom sink and showered, then gone downstairs for conversation and drinks.

Sign in the bar of Le Marronnier

Briefly, boules involves tossing a little silver ball onto the ground some distance away, then the players toss balls, trying to get as close to the silver ball as possible. Sometimes (often), one has to look closely to see whose ball is the closest, as in the following picture, and the result is manifest. At other times, such as in the second picture below, it is necessary to measure distances.

Note Michelle's universal sign of triumph

I suspect that, as we move further south into Provence, there will be more boules, or as it is called in Provence, pétanque.

I was first introduced to boules while on my mission 30 years ago. In every town in which I was stationed as a Mormon missionary, you could always find men of a certain age playing under sycamore trees on a hard, gravely surface in the center of town or elsewhere. The following picture was taken when I was in my last area, Pau, in the fall of 1985. Note that they, too, are measuring.

The following pictures depict what life is like at the end of the afternoon wherever we go: cycling kits hanging over railings to dry.

Note, too, the towel over the radiator and how small the room is (but certainly sufficient). Our bed in this hotel consisted of two smallish twin beds pushed together. We were grateful, however, for our view. Others on the trip were put in an adjacent building, giving them views of the older building where our room was located.

Our friends from Salt Lake, Ross and Patti. They are on the terrace, and in the background one sees long tables. The night before, we had a "barbeque" out on this terrace. The owner cooked various meats on a grill, and salads and french fries were set out on another table. 

Friday, August 29, 2014

Day 5: Chartreuseian

I learned something yesterday. We have been admiring the beautiful green and yellow colors in this area where we now are. As the picture above shows, these colors are stunningly vivid, and though the photo was taken with a lowly iPhone, I would defy an artist to capture this scene and reproduce it on canvas.

What I learned is that these colors are chartreuse-ian, that the color "chartreuse" is named after a French liquer that was originally produced by monks at a monastery not too far from here in the Chartreuse mountain range north of Grenoble.

This map shows where we now are in relation to Grenoble and the Chartreuse Massif above that city. Yesterday - which was a rest day - we rode down the valley, through the Gorge de la Bourne to Villard-de-Lans, then up to Autrans and back, stopping for coffee in Autrans and lunch in Villard-de-Lans.

Gorge de la Bourne

Gorge de la Bourne

Stopping for coffee in Autrans

By the time we reached Autrans, Mark was experiencing problems getting his cleat disengaged from his pedal on the right side, to the point where he found it almost impossible to do so. He went inside a small supermarket on the village square to look for some lubricant (unsuccessfully), and went I went in to look for him, I discovered that they had small bottles of Blue Sapphire gin - something that is not always found in rural areas. Since we had our small, lightweight backpack with us, we seized the opportunity, purchasing a bottle and surreptitiously carried it all the way back to our hotel. If you look carefully at the pack on Mark's back in the picture below, you can make out the outline of the bottle on the left side. 

This incident reminded me of the time two years ago that we were on our cycling tour in Corsica. We had ridden into a small town on a Sunday afternoon, looking for a place to eat before we headed to our hotel. We luckily found a place and, after the meal, asked the owner if there was someplace we could buy a bottle of gin, since we were out. He replied that all the stores were closed, but he would be willing to sell us a bottle (even though, he pointed out, he wasn't supposed to). We bought a bottle of Gordons, but then we had to figure out a way to carry it while on our bikes back to the hotel. Mark improvised, tucking it into the front of his bibs:

To finish Mark's pedal story, he found a sport shop where a guy simply sprayed some lubricant on the pedal and in his cleat. Problem solved. 

From Autrans, we headed down to Villard-en-Lans, where the following scene greeted our eyes. Again, the chartreuseian landscape. 

Mark telling the story at lunch of a parrot he once had who would sip his gin and tonics, getting so tipsy on occasion that he couldn't make it back to his perch.

Mark and Dan heading back up to our hotel.

Rencurel, the hamlet where our hotel is located

Le Marronnier, our hotel, which is owned by a middle-aged couple. The husband used to be a nuclear physicist until he got burned out and decided to buy the inn.

This morning, we will cycle through the Vercors, then down to the Rhone River valley near Valence. The following day we will enter Provence!

Stats: 34 miles, 2600 feet.

Day 4: Climbing Into the Vercors

The bane of a blogger is poor internet access, and that is something I am struggling with so far on this trip. Nevertheless, one carries on.

Yesterday started out quietly. Our morning ride was uneventful and not too challenging as we cycled through rolling farmland.

Me talking with Tom before heading out in the morning.

Terri took these shots of Mark and I mid-morning

This is a common sight at virtually every intersection. Which way do we go? What does the map say? What does the Garmin say?

After lunch, our big challenge was the 3000 ft. climb into the Vercors. As we ascended, I wondered how the heck we were going to get out of what faced us (see the picture that follows). It appeared that we were being boxed into a canyon. We climbed and climbed, mercifully mostly in the shade of forests, until we came to the shelf road. The road was the alternative to a kilometer-long tunnel; it is no longer maintained, and piles of rock prevent cars - but not cyclists - from using it.

The shelf road

Looking down on the way we came

Looking down

A close-up of the view down and out on the valley of the Isere. We crossed the bridge pictured in the middle of the photograph, then shortly began our ascent.

This photo shows the wider picture. The bridge in the previous picture is a tiny yellow blurb in the distance.

Me looking at the plaque pictured below.

A monument to 10 resistance fighters who held off an entire German column, supported by artillery, in June of 1944. This region of the Vercors was a base for the resistance, and the Germans were determined to wipe them out.

Patti and Ross

The debris-strewn shelf road

Sometimes it got worse before it got better. We had to traverse this on foot.

The end.

Entering the Vercors

Massifs rise above and around us
The view from our balcony. We continue to luck out on room assignments.

There is more I wish I had time to write. But the days are full. We had a "rest" day today that I will write about in my next post. Tomorrow (Saturday), we move on to the valley of the Rhone before heading south into Provence.

Stats: 67 miles, 6400 feet. The following graph tells the story. 3000 feet at the end of the day on an average grade of 6.7%.