Monday, August 19, 2013

France: le petite mort (the finale)

Hey.... remember France?
Yeah. So....I went there, apparently.

Seems like a year ago.... and yet... If I imbibe enough red wine tonight, I just know that I can pull some magic out of my pants.

(come on magic... come on....)

A lot of stuff is going to come out too.... cuz... you know.... it's been a while.

After waking up amazingly hangover free (see part one), we picked ourselves up off of the floor, made strong coffee, sought out the local boulangerie, made some breakfast (french toast.. duh), drank more strong coffee, lamented the drizzly weather and slowly got our asses in gear for our first shakedown ride in France.
As I was pulling on my stuff, I looked out window and saw this:

In a tiny (and I mean tiny), bucolic village in France, some dude getting rad on his BMX. It was a pretty cool disconnect.

When we first arrived in Thuy, the sun was shining and while not balmy.... it was pretty damn close to ideal.
Upon entering my room, I'd flung my floor length windows open to the french air.... and had forgotten (been unable) to close them before going to sleep. I woke up shivering, with every sheet and blanket in the vicinity piled on top of me.)

Damn.... where'd that sun go?

I embro'd up with Cullen's Mad Alchemy, careful to get as much of it as possible in my eyes and sinuses... and chamois... got on my Twin Six gear... and grabbed the Raleigh International.

Bare Knuckle Brigade... with... uh... full finger gloves. (As if the French know what I'm about...)

And then we were off. 
Eric had a rough idea of where he wanted to go, but we were pretty much winging it, Cullen and I along for the ride. After rolling along some picturesque, flat roads, we hit the first climb of the day. Compared to what we were in for the rest of the week, this was naught but a bump. But it was a Caraway Mountain, at least.... steep and narrow.
The road was wet and slick. We had to stay seated while climbing lest our wheels slip out from under us. Luckily, I equipped the International with a compact for the trip. I'd never ridden one before, save for cyclocross, but I gotta say: The compact ruled. It allowed me to ride up and down mountains all week on pretty unprepared legs, without a doubt.

Hi Cullen.

Oh... Hi Eric.

I almost died coming down this wet road.
I blame the guy below.

These slugs were everywhere. Easily as big as my ample middle finger.
They also seemed to be cannibals, as they were often clustered around their flattened brethren.

We just explored, doing one loop twice, simply because Cullen and I decided that we had to ride a road based simply on how good it looked. The roads twisted up into tiny towns full of Andulisian chiens, narrowing to greenways at times.

We did roughly forty miles, knowing that the mountains were close... but not suspecting they were right there....just barely veiled by the clouds.
Returning to the gite, cleaned up and began the long hard work of eating and drinking in abundance.

The next morning we decided what the hell... we've got this shit.... let's go ride Tourmalet.

It was a beautiful ride from the house. Rolling hills with a gentle grade up all the way. We turned into Saint Marie De Campan, confirmed that at least one side of the Tourmalet climb was open, and began going up.

As Cullen and I started up Tourmalet, we looked at each other and said, "Man... you'd think there'd be tons of people out riding today. It'd kind of be nice to have a rabbit or two up this climb." No sooner had we uttered these magic words than we passed under the avalanche shelter and saw them. A long line of riders winding their way to the top. At which point I accelerated. Sucka.

I made it to the top just ahead of Cullen, then rode back down a ways to both test the descent and collect Joanna and Eric.

Eric was feeling Grrrrreeeeeeat.

 I forgot the Revolting Cogs stickers every damn ride.

Once at the top, we pulled on our wind vests and warmers and started back down. I'd gotten decently warm climbing... enough to unzip my jersey, something I never do. But the descent was f***ing freezing. I was shivering so badly that it was hard to control the bike. We stopped halfway down to try and warm up at a cafe with some espresso and crepes. 

It was kind of hard to get moving again.

It was downhill all the way back to the house. Our legs burned pleasantly and our hands and toes were finally beginning to get some feeling back. Roughly 120k for the day. Worked for me.

I won'ded!

That night we overdid it a wee bit. Lots of Kroneneburg 1664 and more than a few bottles of wine. I vaguely remember falling facedown on top of my bed as I wistfully wished I had someone there to share it with. 

I woke up in much the same position and blearily made my way downstairs to make coffee.

None of us were moving too quickly that morning, but the weather was improving. And nothing helps blast out a hangover out of me better than a ride.
(Unless it's the hangover I had yesterday morning. It was a daykiller, and the majority of it was spent throwing up vital organs. Oddly enough, I blame the AuFrances.)

We decided to drive to Lourdes and set out from there. 

We rode a bike path along the river until it became impassable. There had been such massive flooding in the area that a lot of places were just destroyed. Roads were in bad condition and sometimes closed. We backtracked off the greenway and rode through some unbelievably scenic villages, until we came to the base of Soulour and started going up.

After Soulour, Eric peeled off to meet Ashly in Pau, and Cullen, Joanna and I climbed up the Col de Spandelles, making our way back to Lourdes. 

The climb up Col de Spandelles was a beautiful, narrow greenway of a road that twisted up at the steepest pitch we'd seen yet. The descent down the other side was wonderfully harrowing.... narrow and riddled with potholes. 
It had been my intention to climb Hautacam that day as well, but as we rolled past the turn off, and everyone else declined, I shrugged and said "fine by me." Turns out that was a good call, as we were all pretty much toast. 

We decided to eat in town, literally rolling up to the first cafe we saw and sitting down outside. Armed with giant Leffe beers, Cullen and I looked at the menu and said "that!" in unison, not knowing what it was we were ordering, but knowing it would be exactly what we wanted. I later learned that it is called a schnitzel... and I admit that it was perfect.

Coming downstairs after cleaning up, I discovered that someone had left a little friend on my laptop. 

Shouldn't you be in the garden, bru?
Nuuuuuuuuu weeeeeeeeeeeeyyy.

The next day turned out to be gorgeous. Flawless sky. Warm temps. We decided to do an easy ride, and rest up for Aubisque the next day. 
For the first time, we rolled out sans rain jackets, windvests and embro, and met up with Ashly and Eric in the town of Marciac. 

I kind of wanted to keep riding, but sitting in the warm sun in a beautiful French town square, I said, "f*** it. This is one of those moments that will never come again. I'm milking it." So I sat down to a wonderful, beery meal with Eric and Ashly, while Cullen and Joanna made their way back.

"Damn..... I feel... awesome!" I thought. "I'm a....I'm a keep... riding." So, from Marciac, armed with a map, a handwritten road ID, no knowledge of French and a healthy dose of drunken optimisim... I rode north.
Ever have those rides where you feel your heart breaking with joy de vivre? Everything comes together. The weather.. your legs... your head. I couldn't stop smiling. 
I felt incredible. 
It was easily one of the best days of riding I've ever had. 

Watts... does the story really benefit from your crappy self-shots?
"What story? Also... shut your face. Also...Did I mention I was in France?"

Beech trees lined a lot of sections of road.  

Some... church... or something.

A... you know... tower. 

Road ID

Alright... the wine seems to be kicking in. 

The map was super easy to follow and in more cases than not, if I saw a road that looked good.... I took it. Finally I made a wrong turn. 
I made a right in Marcebleu when I was supposed to make a right in Marcebeau... or something very similar. 
"Man... is this right?" I thought, as the road turned to pea-gravel.
I pulled off and had a ridiculously hopeless conversation with an old farmer. 
Pointing down a road, I did my best to ask if the town I was looking for was that way.
Oui, he said. But then he looked at my bike and pursed his lips, indicating that bike might not be the best way to get there. 
I shrugged, trying to tell him that I had no choice. I thanked him and took off the direction I suspected might get me back.
I wasn't wrong. But neither was he. The road became little more than a path, and pitched up about 18% grade, then snaked back down the other side... eventually spilling me out on the main road that I'd been looking for. Right when I intersected it, a loaded rider went by.

He spoke no English and I spoke no French.... but we bantered back and forth for a bit, nonetheless... smiling and shaking our heads in mutual non-understanding. 
Finally.... I rolled back into the house... only about an hour after the mark at which I told Ashly to start worrying about me. 
I was hot, tired and extremely happy, my easy 30 mile jaunt having become an awesome 89 mile excursion. Everyone else had been lounging by the pool for the afternoon. I lowered myself into the wonderfully cold pool, drank some beer, and looked at the Pyrenees in the distance. 
That night, Chris, the owner of the gite we were renting joined us for some food and drinks. 

An owl pellet from the garden. I'd woken up one night to find an owl perched on the railing right outside my window. 



Admittedly... we might have overdone it a bit this night as well. Bottles of wine just kept appearing at the table.
I remember waking up to pee in the early morning and thinking "Damn... I'm not hungover. I'm still drunk. This might be bad."

After everyone had finally stumbled back down stairs we decided on the route for the day. Soulour had been so awesome that we were going to head that way again, but this time hit Aubisque along with it. Eric and Joanna were going to do a truncated ride, while Cullen and I plotted out a long loop that took us back up Spandelles, around the other side of Aubisque, and back down Soulour. With Hautacam at the end. 

I definitely entered my own depot de pain climbing up Spandelles and Aubisque.
The loop we chose was epic. And because it was just the two of us, this was definitely the hardest day of riding, since there was never a chance to rest and regroup.

We finished up and decided to try our luck once again with a local restaurant. After two strikes, we found a very small kabob place. Our fatigue-addled inquiries into whether we could get food were met with smiling and nodding, though the proprietor spoke no english. 
"I think we just ordered" Cullen said. 
Sure enough, food soon appeared on the table. The menu advertised a number of options, but I guess he read us and took an educated guess. We didn't argue. It was delicious.
Back to the house for showers, sausage, cheese and wine.

The next day would be our final day of riding before heading back to Paris for the last night. 
Chris decided to join and take us up Col du Aspin and potentially others, depending on how folks were feeling. 
I'll be honest. I was feeling pretty fucking tired. But damnit... I wanted to milk the last day of riding for everything I could. 

We ride on two wheels not on four.... to ride on four wheels breaks the law.
What happens when we break the law?
What happens when the rules aren't fair.
 We all know where we go from there.
To the depot de pain.
(no one caught that one did they?)

After a heated battle wherein I just could not shake him, Cullen surged ahead and took KOM.

As the others holed up in a cafe, I jaunted off on my own to climb the Horquette. It was a pretty gentle climb with a nice little umph at the end, but it still wore my ass out. 

After that.... it was time to head home and start packing up.

I was going to miss this meal.

Chris... owner of Allonz Y Pyrenees.

We woke up the next morning, loaded up the car and took off to Paris.

A word on how I travel: lax. 
That's pretty much it. From time to time, I'll get antsy. For instance....I'm not a big fan of finding parking in big cities. But outside of that? I don't really sweat much. That ranges from eating, to distances, to timelines to accomodations.
For example... I thought I knew where I'd booked my room for the night in Paris. And I asked my cab driver to get me there. 
Upon entering the hotel, I found that no... this was not the place. Eric had given me a few suggestions, and I know I'd gone with one of them. And they were all on the same road. The beautiful girl at the reception desk was kind enough to look up my reservation on her computer. 
"Ah," she said. "You are just right up the street. But perhaps tomorrow evening you will stay with us?" she smiled, giving me a card and writing a phone number on it. 
"This is me." 
"Ah... yes...." I said, hesitantly, knowing that I was completely misreading the situation. "Merci," I smiled and headed in the direction she'd indicated. 
Lugging my bike box uphill along this tiny, but bustling alley was ridiculous, and by the time I reached my hotel, I was drenched in sweat. 
I walked in and inquired whether the not-so-beautiful receptionist spoke English. 
"Of course," she said sharply. "This is Paris." 
I suddenly wanted to turn around and check in with my smiling friend at the other hotel.
Le sigh.
I got my key and found my tiny room.

After cleaning up, I walked down to a corner and joined Eric and Ashly at a sidewalk cafe for beer and people watching. It was wonderfully epic.
Once Cullen and Joanna joined us, we made our way to our dinner reservation. 

We finally got our escargot. Sorry, bru.


Full and happy, we made our way back toward the hotel, taking in the city.

This was going to be a long ride home for someone.

You know who the French love? 

Cullen, Jo and I woke up the next morning and boarded our planes back to reality.
On the flight over, I'd been letting go of everything.
On the flight back, I was clinging desperately to it all....wishing that I wasn't returning to... everything.

If I sell the shop, how many times will that get me to France and for how long? I wondered, calculating and scheming.

It might be cliche... but I admit to being in love with France. And looking at what Chris had done..... bought a crumbling barn and turned it into a kick ass gite, my DIY wheels have been turning.

I'm going back. That's all I know.

Thanks to the Morrisons for putting the trip together and letting me join them. Thanks to Cullen for doing the lion's share of driving and getting the rental car. Thanks to Chris for kick-ass accomodations. Shout out to Raleigh, Rolf Prima TwinSix, Handlebar Mustache, Showers Pass, and Stevil for their gear. (and of course Revolution Cycles NC.... someone tell them to update their website. Honestly....Who's at the wheel of that ship?) 

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