Alive

Sorry, no time for a *real* post, since I can’t find an outlet in this place, but I’m in Aix Les-Bains, en route to Basel, Switzerland.

Cheers,


Bourg d’Oisans

I’m currently outside the office d’tourisme in Bourg d’Oisans, at the foot of the legendary, alp d’huez, nicking their wi-fi and checking up on things – like ya do.

It’s too sunny and my battery too low and a full load of excuses to tell, but yesterday’s ride was one ofo the most exhilarating of the trip – the beginning of the day was rainy, and I had taken a hotel room – first of the bicycling tour, since it was so rainy the night before and there wasn’t a campsite in sight, in the idea of ditching in the dark, in the rain wasn’t very appealing – and I needed a recharge of spirits, so I took the night and rolled around in my underwear watching movies dubbed in French – Batman and Robin, Memories of a Geisha and, surprising, Sympathy for Lady Vengeance – one of my all time favorite movies.

I left the dry, warm hotel room in the rain and started a slow ascent into the highlands again. The rain kept starting and stopping and starting and stopping and I kept changing clothes to match the weather. It got a little absurd and I shook my fist at the sky, oh, once or twice. As dinner time rolled around, I had done about 3 or 4 mountain passes and was a little tired.

Too tired to really order correctly at the small restaurant in Mens and I made a giant ass of myself doing just that. I had to order at least 15 Euro of food to use my credit card, so I had dessert and coffee – a BIG coffee and just barely made it over the limit.

I got out of the restaurant at around 21:30. It wasn’t raining anymore and I wasn’t tired anymore, so I just decided to ride a bit longer. It kept not being rainy, so I just kept riding. One more mountain pass, and then another. I had lights, and when a car came, I just waited on the side of the road.

Then, the moon came out – a full moon! and I still felt great, so I just kept going. There’s a 1700 km pass in my way, until Bourg d’Oisans. I thought I could do it. I turned off my headlight, since the moonlight was so great.

The temperature was around 10 degrees – it was easier and warmer to cycle in the night than to freeze in my tent – my bag is a summer bag and isn’t rated anywhere near these conditions.

At around 2:00am, I had made it up the pass and the weather creeped in as well.

A frigid descent down, but I made it into, Bourg d’Oisans! I found a parking lot and ditched near it, wearing everything I had to sleep – using my arm warmers as socks to… to boot.

I woke up to a more temperate climate and a beautiful few of the Alps all around me.

And, here I am. Today, I just did town, the open air market and had lunch and coffee. Tomorrow, I’m doing a 170km loop around the area, with I think three mountain passes? One’s around 2300 meters I think and another one is l’alp d’huez, with 21 hairpin turns up to 1800km.

One day, I’ll have to extrapolate yesterday night’s adventure into an entire story, but sometimes being in the moment is all you get I guess. Taking on a mountain pass during a full moon in the middle of August in France is sort of a once in a lifetime experience that I can’t really fully express. It also has to do with The Cult of the Bike – *wanting* to that in the first place. Touring is something you can truly set your limits to your tastes. In France, you can cycle 60km a day, following the Loire river and it’s very comfortable, but I just can’t do comfortable for too long, I guess.

I’ll talk to everyone soon, I’m sure,

Bon Route!


Reserved

Yesterday, at around 21:00, I decided to just stay where I was. I scoped the town and found a McDUH and a Decathlon. One can get my on the intarweb, the other… a new wheel? The old one was on its last legs – imaging pedaling, but not having the wheel engage for about one full pedal. No good. One day, it’s just never going to engage. So it needs to be addressed. This town is also right next to one of the New-clear power stations of France:

Power station

Which everyone seems to have a bad opinion about.

They also had a campsite and erm, poney club. And the name seemed right:

I stayed at a poney club

I did not ask if the poney rides were cheap (or a quarter – har har), but it did get that song stuck in my head

Today, I Got Some Things Done.

The guy running the campsite spoke…English! And told me of a bike shop in town, not 3 blocks away from the Decathlon I had scoped out the night before. Which, strangely, makes the town I’m staying in right now, similar to the town about 80km that I Googled yesterday.

So, I checked out the shop.

A good bike shop. Two thumbs up!

I knew enough French and he knew a little English that we decided the wheel was, se fin. So, I got another one, at an OK price. Don’t know anything about the wheel except it has 36 spokes and that the hub says, “Shimano” – which should get me out of the woods.

I then, like the little idiot I am, took the old wheel to the Post.

The wheel is finished.

I showed the wheel and went. Je une probleme. Le Roue alle a Etas Unids.

The woman running was patient enough to quickly explain to me I need a box. Une Carton. I knew this of course, but I was hoping they’d have one. No such luck.

So, I dumpstered the bike shop for a box, found one and then, to my luck, there was a… HyperMarche! a block from the Post, so I bought some tape and made a makeshift box in less than 15 minutes in the middle of everything and made it back to the Post with 5 minutes to spare before lunch (where I would have to wait a few hours until *after* lunch.

Again, I knew enough French to fill out the necessary paperwork and had the wheel sent to myself. I pondered on sending it to the bike shop, but you know? They’re probably really busy and I can deal with this when get back, as cheeky as it would have been to have it delivered to them with a, “ne marche pas!” note.

After that, it was back to the Hypermarche for actual food, as I hadn’t eaten and then to the McDUH, where, being lunchtime it was packed.

On the grass outside of the McDUH, I got the wireless connection and made reservations for hotels in Paris and a flight to Dublin and that’s all set now.

A very funny sight though – the McDUHs here get completely packed. If I took a picture, I’m sure everyone here would be embarrassed to be seen in it. I spent half the time as the weird guy, underneath a table making my hotel reservations, as that was the only place I could be and still see the computer screen.

So, away again in a little bit. Wish me luck.

Beard update:

Oh, and finally proof of Frances obsession with Nutella

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There are 5 jars of peanut butter and 25,000 jars of Nutella. I counted them all.


Photog.

Hmm. I lied, here’s some photos from the little camera – the big camera has Arles stuff but it takes forever and a day to upload (And sort and all).

Yesterday night, the encampment was covered in…

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snails! Which are everywhere, after dark. I kill about a thousand a day on the road – you’re going along just fine and you hit these… rocks or something – bah, dum, bah dum, bah dum… and you realize it’s snails on the road. Sometimes I find them in my tent. EVERYWHERE. Slugs, more often than snails, especially if it rained at night.

Today, I went to the Museum of Contemporary Art in Avignon – I know! I know, I go to a town full of history to see art made in the last… year, so kill me. The artist was Douglas Gordon – here’s some info:

http://www.collectionlambert.com/

and his stuff was… pretty good! Lots of video pieces. He had one room that was just a bizarre array of all his video pieces, ever. Some stuff:

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A video of a fly, stuck to its back, trying to get up. It sounds disgusting, but the movement of it’s arms was… I dunno. Know I have issues with it!

For reasons I didn’t quite understand, he was showing some old footage of The Cramps (a favorite) at about 1/8 speed:

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Good ol’ Lux. If you ever get a chance to see the Cramps, they’re still amazing and Lux has lost it completely. And he’s kinda old, now, so when his leather pants fall off, it’s, well, it’s like that fly stuck on its back, I guess.

There was a giant room, filled with, well, giant projections of a elephant in a space. The camera would sort of pan around the elephant as it did its thing. There were other monitors that were small, showing the same elephant in the same space

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Hard to describe, but I like it.

The entire, well, building was completely surrounded by text, like this:

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His use of light and neon, was interesting:

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The room here was playing, “Baby baby baby you’re out of time” by the Rolling Stones at about half speed (again… don’t know why)

he had another room, filled with skulls with stars carved out, called something like, “Birthday wishes”, which had red lights, filling the space.

And lastly and strangely, there were movie posters in the halway:

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This one is for Genet’s Querelle – but a movie adaptation by Andy Walhol. One can only imagine.

So that’s some photog. I know everyone likes photog.


Direction

Yesterday, I scanned around Arles – I read they have a little tour of the places Van Gogh painted – there’s a reprint of the painting, right next to where he might have stood.

This was sort of fun, but there really were only two places that actually still exist that you can see – the rest of the spots are seriously, in front of a tree, which hides an intersection, on the other side of a big store full of dumb stuff no one wants – or, there’s one of the river and the painting is a bridge, but the bridge is long gone (same with his house)

Arles has sort of an identity crisis – it tries to be the van Gogh thing, it tries to be medieval, it tries to be Roman, AND it tries to be contemporary. I had a headache, but found a quiet enough campsite and got a much deserved and needed rest. Felt a lot better in the morning.

For whatever reason, I’m not uploading pictures today. Tomorrow, though, I will.

I made a decision to curtail the Rivera for some pretty good reasons:

It’s getting hot and humid and that cute sounding, “Minstral” wind is quite hard to cycle in. To give you an idea on how hot it is, yesterday was overcast and I still managed to get sunburnt.

It’s also high tourist season and EVERYONE wants to go to the Riviera. It’s going to be packed. A headache. If Arles is any indication, it’s not going to be fun to cycle in. These towns weren’t really designed for the amount of people that are in them – imagine Disneyland in the middle of your downtown, AS WELL AS the parking lot to Disneyland in the same area, and you get a good idea on what’s going on. It’s sort of hilarious, unless you’re tired and then you just want to lay down and wait till morning. Cycling out of Arles, north I saw about 20km of straight traffic trying to get into Arles.

And, I’m sort of running out of time. So! Another trip, one outside of the high season, where it’s not as warm and not as crowded. I think doing Italy on the same trip (all of Italy) would be fun as well. The only thing I regret is not seeing the Marc Chagall museum in Nice and getting into Italy – Lucca, the town my Grandfather is from is WAY off the charts for me. Like I said, it’s a whole ‘nother trip.

So, what instead?

North! Into the mountains, to a little town called, “Le Bourg d’Oisans”, which sits on the foot of the famous, Alp d’Huez.

So, a few days of traveling to get there and a few days to hang out and ride some pretty rides, for the love of riding a bicycle.

After that?

Well, I got a tap on the shoulder from a friend of a friend who lives in, of all places, Basel, Switzerland (or is it, Germany? – France, Germany and Switzerland sort of collide, right there) and he’s offered a warm bed and a roof. Basel is close to Strasbourg, which is on my radar (that crazy alterpiece that lives in a museum – must see), so I may just take him on that offer. After Strasbourg, it’s onto again, Paris! but let’s not get ahead of oneself.

Sadly again, I may have to nick out Ireland as a place to play, as I’d like to take a little bit of time in Paris. Again, my eyes are bigger than my mouth. If you see me in person, you’ll see, I do have big old eyes 😉

Anyways, my back wheel is on it’s last… legs. I just been to the third bike shop about it. The first said, “Ah, you need this part, but I don’t have it”, the second, in Avignon I don’t think… repairs? bicycles – or he didn’t want to repair mine and pointed me to Orange, where I am now. The guy at Orange said, “It’s internally destroyed” and was happy to sell me a new pair at some incredible price. The bike wheel of the pair he wanted to sell me had 20 spokes. I need something with 36, so that’s a no go.

So… there’s about 1 or 2 big towns before I’m lost in the Alps. I’ve done teh Googles and there’s a Decathlon and a bikeshop about the same address away and if one of them can’t get me a new back wheel, the other will. I am sending the old wheel to the bike shop back home with a, “ne marche pas” note – I do believe the manufacturer has a guarantee, so at the very least, I get a new wheel I can Craigslist (’cause, I don’t want it)

Anyways, wish me luck! My legs are a lot better after that short, 80k day of no hills yesterday and I feel fine. One of the problems here IS eating enough. Restaurants are expensive and not open all the time, supermarches are crowded and hectic AND close at 19:00, nothing’s open on Sunday and I’ve found my usual, “in emergency” foods aren’t available here. For example, Peanut Butter. Peanut Butter – the cheap fuel of choice for millions of cyclists the world over is a rarity in France and about 3 euro for a very small jar of. I haven’t actually bought any.

I HAVE bought about a jar of Nuetella about every day. It’s nutritional content pales to Peanut Butter, but goodness gracious if it ain’t frickin’ lip smacking good.

Anyways (again), wish me luck!


Bon Anniversaire!

Well, yesterday it was a full month of touring.

I’ve gone from Paris, to Brest, Amboise, Sarlat, Bordeaux, Spain, the Pyrenees and now I’m a day or two to Nice and then, well Italy.

Current mileage is: 3742.4 km (2,325 miles)

Current mood is, stressed out at French tourists (and a really bad place to be that)

Current physical condition: Good! Although my legs need a rest. Don’t know current weight, so can’t tell you if I’ve lost any.

Bike condition: Good! Although the back wheel continues to give me problems. The bearings in the freehub are about toast. After a month. A month. That’s ridiculous. So, as soon as I find a, “corps de cassette 9 vitesses”, I’ll get that fixed up. Expensive little wheel of trouble.

If I had one wish, it would be to just leave France for a day or two, so not to have to deal with crowds, supermarches and having people get in my way inexplicably. One can dream. I’d also like to see a good movie and not badly dubbed American action film.

Yesterday (as the day before), I managed to find MOUNTAINS again – not huge, but mountains mean mountain passes and those are slow and kill the legs.

A few days ago, I noticed cracks in my helmet and the zipper on my jersey broke, so I replaced a few things like those and was on my way. They didn’t have the part for the bike, though.

Mountain passes are fun! on the down part and the roads here are crazy – it almost feels as if one is snowboarding. The hairpin turns, like this one:

Hairpin Turn

Can be a bit problematic,

If one does not stop in time to make the turn.

Yesterday, I also happened upon a…. waterfall! Which makes for a good spot to eat lunch,

Lunch by the waterfall

There was even an aqueduct of uncertain lineage a few meters away which was wild.

Speaking of aqueducts, here’s a roman one, 6 feet shorter than the Roman Colosseum I saw this morning:

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This is the largest arch the Romans ever made:

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Some graf from back in the *day*

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So, the rest of the day is slowly exploring Arles and then, heading to Nice. If I find a campsite, I’m stopping to rest the dogs and take a well-needed shower.

Last night, I stopped after around 140km for… pizza! And then follow signs to a campsite. It turned out to be 19 Euros!n Which wasn’t happening. I just kept going on the road towards Pont du Gard in the rain and found a somewhat dry spot and made camp. Pretty loud as it was near a docking station for one of the larger hypermarches. Kind of, one of those places the French don’t want to think about having.

The night before was a similar story: I stopped after a good 100+ km (a lot of mountain climbing) and had dinner. This time it was cos cos with an undetermined meat (I just read the menu and picked something I didn’t know). Followed signs for a camp, but lost the scent, so hunkered down at a rest stop near a turn about. Loud, as there was traffic fro 3 sides, but it’s also pitch black, so I got what I got.

There was a scooter dude that kept coming in, about every hour to shine his light in my direction. I was ready for him to kick my tent, so I could kick him, but French people I guess don’t have any real gaul – they just kind of act as if they’re tough of something. Didn’t make for good sleeping, I don’t think I’ll camp in a place like that again!


Arles

Hello Everyone,

It’s an overcast day today – and the last few days have been a bit rainy, but I’m a good boyscout that has cut their teeth while pleasure cruising off the coast of New England, so it’s no worries.

This morning, I camped a few km from the Pont du Gard and that was pretty fun to check out. Left before HOARDS OF TOURISTS took away the magic. I have to digress a bit and talk about French people.

French people? I’ve found to be just fine.

French people on vacation? While at a supermarche? I’m through with them. They are horrible.

The idea of private space seems so much different in France than here and I haven’t yet figured it out. The following scenario keeps playing out:

I’m walking in a very straight path. No one is in *my* way – in fact, I’ve positioned myself so that I will not be in anyone’s way. Sometimes I have a big bike, with loads of Stuff on it, so I take care not to, well, hit someone.

Someone, will, without looking, or thinking, or even caring, GET in my way. Either, they just walk right in front of me, without looking. Or, they’ll look, and STILL GET IN MY WAY.

And then, they act surprised.

I have tried all my tricks I learned in high school to repel: I act weird, I act dirty (as in, covered in dirt – like I’ve spent 3 days straight in the woods), I puff up my chest, I act like I’m going to take someone’s skull and destroy it –

none. None of this works.

My only thought is that, it is my obligation to get out of anyone’s way. For this, I get to… get in everyone elses way? See? I can’t figure it out.

It’s horrid at the supermarches and god help me, the hyper marches. Again: Straight, logical path. A man will look at me. A man, standing still, *perhaps* in the middle of an isle. He’ll see me, and, as I approach, He’ll put out his arm and place his hand on his hip, just as I’m about to pass – so I must SWERVE to avoid him.

I’m a mannered man. I did kick. I don’t punch. I say please and thank you and help little old ladies through doors and across streets. But there’s some much of this type of passive-aggressive action I ca take before I flip.

Unless, I figure out why it’s like this and reveal, the French way of doing things.

And as I sit here, legs very much mush, I ponder why this all is. Is this just France on vacation? They act like they don’t have to act correct because it’s well, they’re time not to be imposed to the rules that they themselves have put forth?

I don’t know.

I’m uploading pictures. It will be a happier post next time 🙂 Any help with the above, please, please help.


Albi

Last night, I slept in a wooded area, after riding around 200km from around Lannemezan. That night, I spent in a cemetery, right next to a crypt and a giant church, with even giant..er bells gonging every 25 minutes. That day was around 100km, but included 2 mountain passes.

I am pretty much spent, so it’s a day off in Albi.

Albi had one thing I was interested in – the Toulouse Lautrec Museum. And, although small, it was nice, but now that’s over with and to be honest, I don’t know where to go to, next. I guess I’ll kiss the South Eastern part of France and make my way North, on the last leg. I guess. We’ll see. Suggestions?

I feel so bad, as my mind isn’t very clear – When I say, “Tired”, I mean my legs are refusing to work anymore. All I want to do is to lie down – so typing on a computer is pretty close. The rest of tonight is finding some cheap-ish food and a campsite (got a map with one on – so no problem there). What I feel bad is, I want to relate to you, *right now* my experiences, but I think this is impossible, it will have to wait. I simple cannot emote them in the way I want. But, I can give you snapshots and write. Write snapshots.

So, here’s some of that:

The Col du Tormalet:

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The highest pass in the Pyrenees I happened upon. Not so hard. It’s very funny to think the mountains at home are so much larger. To give you an idea, this mountain is only 1,000 feet higher than where I *live*. It’s 15 miles to a higher point from my doorstep.

This day was overcast, so I didn’t know what I was climbing up, until, well, the clouds parted ways:

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Which, you have to say, is pretty cool.

It took forever for the weather to pass. What to do? Well, this is France, so what you do is grab a cup of coffee and watch the weather (literally)

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One thing is for certain in France, if you want an expresso – anywhere you are, it can probably be had.

The cafe I was i also had vintage bikes on the wall. There was one that caught my eye, that had a, “retro-direct” drive. You pedal regularly for one speed and *backwards* for another. Here’s the back:

I’ll have to make one when I get back (now that I’ve had a good look).

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The trick is that pulley in the middle. Hmm.

The last mountain pass for me in the Pyrenees:

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No problem. But, as you ca see, the weather was still not so good, so my plan was to take the rest of the day and cycle as far out of the Pyrenees as possible, hoping to beat out the storm.

I met the storm and got wet, but did manage to go *through* it entirely and made camp in a very small town’s cemetery. Why there? The small rocks that made up the ground were dry – dryer than any grass in the area. It was also below the ground level (you go down steps) so no one could see me. I gained access by a small, unlocked door next to the church – usually cemeteries are closed after around 19:00 – I went through the side door, I guess. And that door was another little veil from me and the outside world.

On the steps, I had a most wonderful picnic of a cheese and chorizo sandwhich, potato chips and.. .cookies! Food is a funny thing – it tastes so good for different reasons. At that specific time, that food was the best food I had ever eaten in my life and I’m not the biggest fan of pork. The cheese, which I’ll never know the name of, was the best cheese I had ever tasted.

Food is also a very expensive thing in France and I’ve been eating out of Supermarches as much as possible. On my day off, the day before this, I did go to a restaurant, in hopes of getting a pizza. French pizza is on a flat bread and they do crazy things with it, like put Foe Grais on it. But, they’re usually cheap and fattening – which is what I’m looking for (and it’s hot food, for a change).

I went to order the pizza and the waitress told me, “Only for dinner!” and I went, aw, crud, since I didn’t want to order from the 15 Euro menu. But, I did. And the food? Well, it was *alright*. The salad was just lettuce with tuna, the duck leg was a little overdone. It came with, well, fancy french fries and onions (which was the best thing on it) and a small dessert. Would I pay 15 euros for it again? No. It was forgetable.

That sandwich in the cemetery – not as forgettable.

One more thing about food – on top of that mountain pass, there was a guy, selling cheese out of the back of his van. Of all places. Cheese is like drugs to the French. He was even given out little free samples. The visual on it… sigh.

When I bushwhack, I don’t really think it’s prudent to take too many pics of the campsite, but the light at 7:00am at the cemetery was beautiful:

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I slept, as they say, “Like the Dead”, although at 7:00 there was a plethora of gonging going on and I was out of there post haste!

The next day was nothing but pushing pedals I guess – very tired legs going very very far. The day started at 7:30 am and ending at 10:30. I couldn’t find a good place to camp for a while. I wouldn’t ridden all the way to Albi, but they closed the road I needed for construction, so I just ditched on the side.

OK, time to find some food before the shops all close.

Cheers,


Cyber

Cyber Cafes are so cool, since they almost live up to what I’m supposed to think they are, after reading Snow Crash.

For example, I can be traveling in a foreign country by bicycle, sleep in the woods, visit a 400 year old cathedral –

and then, go down an alleyway and hook up my tiny, 1lb laptop to a connection in a somewhat questionable establishment (but not one without really friendly owners) and bang! I’m in 2008 again.

I’m in Albi and I will be here until I get my net fix, uploading pictures and catching up on work.

In case you’re wondering what I know about Albi, well, this:


Trois

Three mountain passes yesterday:

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Don’t have much internet time, but they were extremely steep and it was extremely warm. In a nutshell. Taking a break today and have two more HUGE passes tomorrow and then I’m out of the Pyrenees. Sad.

Yesterday, there was a freak rain storm that collapsed my tent, and some of my stuff was in it, but nothing got ruined. I was eating in a dining room and stayed there for a while, until the campsite guy told me I could sleep in the game room. Dry. That was nice of him. I’ll extrapolate when I can get a power outlet.