Tuesday, May 15, 2007

from France: what the wind blew in

I am sitting at a brasserie (Chez Max), out of breath and shaking. What unbelievable luck.

We had left in the morning, right after the rains had stopped and the thunder claps had rolled back toward the mountains. We were on the retreat. Biking along the upper ridge was out. Time to find a more modest route, along the river valley.

turn my back to the mountains

so many shades of green here

Halfway down and around the mountain (there’s still disagreement raging as to whether these are large hills or small mountains; it’s my blog: I say mountain), I hear thunder.

Ed, are we going to be struck by lightning?
We have rubber tires, we’re safe.
Do you know that for a fact, or are you making it up?

I’m making it up.

Please, please, any shelter will do.

My burst of speed gets us to a decent village café-bar. We wait until the rains and thunder pass.

Neither of us are sure if this is the last of it, but the next village is a modest ten kilometers away and the skies are looking kinder, gentler. Rolling countryside. Pretty stuff. I pause, take photos…


But then, a mere 3 kilometers from the town, the wind picks up force.

It’s the mistral.

I am on a downhill, with all gears set at their lowest and I am making almost no progress. Big, ugly clouds are suddenly pushing their way in.

I can’t do this! I shout back to Ed. He doesn’t hear. We are about to get pounded.

But around the corner, there is Chez Max and it is lunchtime and there are happy, DRY customers inside.

We make it before the torrential downpour swallows the world in its wall of water.

And we eat and drink a lovely rose to our good fortune…


Outside, the downpour continues...


…and I wonder, what if we had been halfway up the mountain still? Or on the ridge?

Ed says – we would have gotten very very wet. But it’s more than that. When you hike, being wet means only that – there is moisture. You’ll dry off. On bikes, wetness has a trickier dimension. You are wet. The roads are wet. Your brakes are wet. Your glasses are wet. There is something very threatening about the whole combination.

Another hour and this storm passes as well. But we are done with our race with the clouds. I call a b&b in a village just a dozen kilometers down the road and we make our way to it, this time without the madness of running from a storm.


This b&b (Le Mas de la Pierre du Coq) is different from many of the others. It’s a private residence, sure, an ancient farm, set among vines and olives trees, that’s not unusual. But here, we are the guests and, along with four others, we share the evening with the owners. They cook for us and eat with us and between French, English and Spanish, the talk of politics and life in general takes on the force of the mistral.

By 11, I am spent. Upstairs, I hear the plane tree outside resisting the wind and think about the next day – the last one of our velo run.