Friday, September 5, 2014

Day 10A and Day 11: Of Sisteron, Castellane and Cancer

Our day was not over following our ascent of Mont Ventoux. Rather, it was just beginning. We enjoyed a beautiful descent into Sault, where we stopped for a beverage, then continued on into a much drier area of Provence. Our destination was a picnic site the tour company had set up.

Mark and I have remarked many times over the course of this tour how often one sees a lone tree in the middle of a field - in this case, a harvested lavender field. Even in agriculture, the French express art.

The lunch spot was the half-way mark, but the afternoon ride was pretty straightforward, on to Sisteron. Along the way, we passed the Chapel of St. Bernadette, pictured in the lead photo, and quaint houses. The countryside was dry. I told Mark it reminded me of central Oregon. 

Our total miles and vertical feet for the day: 82.5 miles (making our longest day of the tour) and 7513 feet.

Our overnight stay in Sisteron was unremarkable. The lobby of the hotel was quaint; our room was not. The dinner was probably the worst we've had on the trip. I gave up writing about food because, frankly, there hasn't been much to write about.

Me navigating the streets of Sisteron

Dinner in Sisteron

Yesterday was not a particularly good day. (It reminded me of a day on our Corsican tour two years ago that I wrote about here.) I didn't have much to eat for breakfast and forgot that I had some Quaker instant oatmeal that I had brought on the trip. Unfortunately, there's not a lot I can eat at the standard "Continental" breakfast that most of our hotels have provided. My braces are problematic, preventing me from eating anything hard (like bread crust), and other things upset my stomach. I have made do the best I can, and that has generally been sufficient.

Yesterday morning, however, we started with a long climb right immediately after leaving Sisteron, as the above graph shows: 2500 feet in about 17 miles. I started bonking. Then I realized - duh - that all I had had to eat the day before (when we climbed Ventoux in the morning) was a couple of pastries, a tomato and a few chips for lunch, very little for dinner (because I didn't like it), and almost nothing for breakfast.

I was grateful for the support van that met us at the top of the ascent, where I was able to get at least a little nourishment. 

Roman inscription chiseled into a rock on the ascent.

This is the scene that greeted us shortly after starting our descent. When we came around a curve very shortly after seeing the above, we were greeted with the scene pictured below.

Fortunately that long climb was followed by a long descent, where our lunch spot was waiting for us. After a salad and an omelet and some fries, I was feeling much better.

The afternoon was a slog. The landscape wasn't particularly inspiring and we had a climb right at the end of the ride. This was the closest I've come on the trip to mentally bonking. All the cars, trucks and motorcycles passing, the exhaust, my lack of nutrition, my sore knees and achey muscles, missing my family, and lingering frustration with the quality of some of the meals we have had and places we had stayed (as part of the tour) - all of this brought me to the edge. As I commented in my previous post, I really felt like getting off my bike, throwing it on the ground and stomping on it (after 67 miles and 5700 vertical feet).

Mark, as always, was very supportive. He has his own aches and pains, but he rarely if ever mentions them. I've often thought in this regard of a line from a British comedy, "As Time Goes By," when Lionel, a character about our age (played by Geoffrey Palmer), while referring to Mrs. Bayle, his fathers housekeeper who has known Lionel since he was a child, says, "Mrs. Bayle is a spartan. If I had a spear sticking through my chest, she'd say, 'Do pull that out, it's ruining your shirt.'" 

Mark is a Spartan in some respects. He's driven himself his whole life - professionally and athletically. He's always felt that he had to try harder to work harder. He accounts for some of it as overcompensating for the fact that he is gay. Now, I see him driving himself because he wants to prove to himself that he is stronger than his cancer. That he has to overcompensate. Where I would have the tendency to give up (or at least throttle back), he charges on. He always tries to take his daily cancer-fighting medication at the top of a climb. For him, I think, it's a silent sign of victory, of defiance, of hope.

I love him.

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