Saturday, May 12, 2007

from France: conversations

At the Avignon station – the big meet up, between bike people and two renters from Madison. One renter is very very tall and very very fussy about his bikes.

Nina and Ed? Here are you bikes.

I say goodbye to my pack for the week. Everything I will need (including laptop!) is rolled into a yellow sack clipped onto the rack. Do I look nervous?


We take ourselves and our bikes by train to Arles. From here we are to proceed north and east. It’s 10:30. We’re off.

starting point:Arles

It’s 10:35.
We need to stop. My saddle is not right.
We stop. Ed takes out many shiny tools and adjusts his saddle.

It’s t0:40.
We need to stop. My clip pedals are not working well.
We stop. Ed adjusts his clip shoes.

It’s 10:45.
I’m sorry, we need to stop. My saddle is still not right. Is yours okay?
It’s okay. Though I’m beginning to understand why the French aren’t reproducing at the rates they once did…

It’s 10:50.
Don’t you want to stop for a coffee?
No… but I’ll take a look at the market in this town.
Good. I’ll work on my saddle.

The market is small but nice. A southern France type market. They are so ahead in terms of the growing season! Ah well.


We continue.



I have a problem with the next leg of the trip.
The medieval town – Les Baux? You wont like it – it’s very authentic but also very very touristy.
So, should we skip it?

No, no – there’s a magnificent view from it.
So what’s the problem?

The reason the view is magnificent, is because the village was built on top of a mountain.
These are not mountains, Nina.
They’re not hills either. I don’t do mountains. I prefer not to even do hills.

The most remarkable thing abut the following photo is that it was taken from Les Baux, after the ride up. Meaning, my entire being had stopped shaking long enough for me to snap it.


I take time for lunch..


..but Ed is in some kind of biking trance where he insists that food isn’t necessary. Though I coax him to take one of these off my hands:


Okay, the ride down has a few hairpins, so be careful. It’s a nice 4.5 kilometer spin.
(halfway down:) I think I should rest!
You need to rest going downhill??
My wrists are sore from clutching so tightly on the brakes!

Would you believe it, the ride down is harder than up?

At Saint Remy de Provence, I insist on a café break.
Great! I’ll use the time to exchange our saddles!
You are taking away my saddle?
You hate yours, I hate mine, let’s switch.

The problem with riding with a person who knows bicycles better than I know my own children is that he is prone to doing things like this.

That’s okay, I take the time to study the colors of Provence.

2 noisettes? oops...

The next bit is long and on a busy road. We are pedaling fast, just to get through it. We come to a small town with a traffic signal.

Hey, you just ran into me! You want to run me over!
Sorry, I missed the brake.

Two minutes later, at the next intersection, my loaded down bike topples.
I think we are getting tired.

Let’s pause for a minute and look at the map. Why are you sitting on my ankle?
I don’t want to get grass stains on my spiffy new cropped pants!

Are you sure you know where the farmhouse restaurant-hotel is?
It should be right here!

Two hours later (two hours later!), we find it. It is an oasis of tranquility. It has been a sunny, hot day. It’s 7 in the evening, there is a pool, we just want to slide in and release every tense muscle. But in the minute that it takes me to go upstairs and unload the sack, Ed falls asleep.

While he naps, I shower, then settle in the little bar overlooking the terrace, with a campari soda and my laptop, waiting for him to come down for dinner. We unwind in different ways.

And now it’s morning again. The view from the window is all about plane trees and the terrace below.

Mas de Cure Bourse: view from room

Time to set out again. We logged in 45 miles yesterday. Today’s route has more hills…

Can we take a day off?

from France: the matter of air

Late start (determined to put post up). Who sets out biking in the Provence at noon? Hot sun. We get lost quickly. But it’s pretty here. Monet land. A few hills, yes, but manageable.


Refreshing cherries – in season. We pause, eat a whole bunch.


Then starts the climb to Gordes. A punchy climb. I think I may turn around and catch the first train to Paris. But I don’t. I make it to this beautiful hill town, though just barely.


zooming in to valley below

Sustenance. A nice salad (tomatoes on a painted tomato plate), an outside terrace. Okay, I can continue.


More climbing? How can there be more climbing when I am already at a summit? People shout out of cars and at the side: courage! Allez, allez! (Have courage! Go, go, go!). Finally, a descent. Road goes down to a beautiful valley with an abbey amidst lavender fields.


And then starts a brutal climb. I pause once. 200 meters later, I pause again. 100 meters I pause again. I’m panting non-stop. But the pauses give me a chance to catch some air and finally, I reach the top (where Ed is sprawled out in the shade, on a bed of rosemary and sage, having paused far fewer times than me). I collapse and say I am going no further.

Staying on top of a mountain for the rest of my living days sounds appealing for only five minutes. We continue, downhill now, through gorges, down, down,

DSC01943 a countryside of vineyards and cherry orchards.


We are considering stopping. We are twenty kilometers short of our destination, but it is 6 pm, we’re tired, I am hungry for a good meal. We tell ourselves that the first nice b&b will be it for the day.

Ed is behind me. He calls out my name – I think he wants to show me something. Indeed.
I have a flat, he says.

The man knows bikes and so a repair is only a matter of time. He tells me to check my tires for pebbles. I do. He fixes his, we’re off.

Except that five minutes later, he has another flat. It’s Saturday evening. We have one more spare tube left. We should be eating dinner.

Ed examines the second flat, finds the hole and decides the spare was someone’s bad tube, mistakenly given to us with the bike. He changes it, pumps it up as best he can and we continue.

By now, it is so late that we may as well struggle til our destination – a b&b (Mas de la Lause) in the village of Le Barroux. Yes, perched on a hill. Why not.

We bike up at 8:30. Christophe, the owner is waiting. He has cooked dinner for us – salad, country pate, lasagna, apple tart. A bottle of rose. Outside on the terrace, with frogs making a racket.


We are surrounded by vines. So you make wines? It’s my wife’s family, he tells us. Ah. He cooks, she raises three daughters and has a finger in the wine making business.

Christophe understands a biker’s day. They all do here. Can’t tell you how many bikers one sees on these mountainous roads of Provence.

I ask who stops here in this remote place? He tells us it’s mainly the French, and Belgians and Swiss, some English and occasionally the Americans. Americans? Yes, a hikers tour group has affiliated with him. They go from village to village and a taxi service takes their bags from one place to the next. Sounds good to me… Oh, but you should see the size of their suitcases!

I think of last night's evening dinner at the spiffy little farm hotel we had stayed in. There were just a few other guests, all French. One woman wore beautiful linen shorts, another had a casual skirt, pressed, well-fitted. Clearly they didn’t squeeze their clothes into a yellow sack to strap onto a bicycle. For a minute, I had wondered why I was stuffing my yellow sack with a only a couple of items that I rinsed out nightly.

And now it is Sunday morning. I look out the window…


Take a deep breath, so that we can strap on our sacks and start all over again.