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Tres Bon, Tres Bon

It's been a while since I've updated but apparently internet cafes don't really exist anymore! A big entry, but enjoy! (force yourself if you have to)

sunny 36 °C

Having arrived with time to spare for my ferry, I felt indulging in a large haddock and chips was an apt way to say 'farewell England'! Especially with the many miles which lay ahead. The ferry arrives in Dieppe at 4 in the morning, and with little sleep I wobble off the front ramp, through border control - where an unforgettably attractive border guard checked my passport - and collapsed in a bush on the side of the road. Having refreshed my optimism I grabbed my things and cycled south along some busy roads, headed for Paris. It took two days to get there. I managed to stray onto to the the l'Aveue Verte - the London to Paris bike route. With no traffic to worry about I meandered along its quite path, enjoying the passing of the beautiful French countryside. The rolling hills where punctuated with great church spires, scenic villages and a few grand chateaus.

Perhaps unsurprisingly since my arrival I've developed an addiction to Baguettes, and am averaging a glutinous 3 day. 'You'll ride it off' I here you say! But alas, that doesn't appear to be the case.............

I reached the Seine West of Paris, and followed it upstream, arriving in the capital after two days. It was incredibly hot and dusty, but of course, charming in it's detail and awsome in it's grandeur. I took a breezy ride alongside the river, enjoying a postcard experience of Paris amongst a setting sun; young couples indulging in a bottle on the bank, artists selling their tourist novelties on the side of the road, and the frequent opening of a square, offering a bench to sit on where I can have a bite and a much needed snooooze.......................................

THE TOWER!! After an exhausting but spirited cycle through the chaos that is Parisian traffic, I collapsed in front of the Eiffel tower, awaiting the light display which occurs on the hour. There was a great crowd gathered on the lawns, and every time the sparkling lights of the tower illuminated everyone would erupt in an impressive cheer. I was too tired and not drunk enough. Realising at this point I would not get out to a farmers field to set up camp, I had no choice but to slither off into one of the bushes, and after avoiding a few enclosed area's which had obviously provided an alternative to the overcrowded public loos, I settled down to sleep, with a spectacular view of the Eiffel tower beneath the stars.

Time to make miles. Head out of Paris in the rain, and after an eventual escape of the sprawl I was relieved to climb up onto an immense plateau of farmland - vast, flat and stretching way beyond my sight. I was heading directly south, towards Orleans, where I'd meet the greatest of French rivers - the Loire. I went to an internet cafe with the intention of writing this blog entry, but was defeated by a French keyboard and a short temper. Note to self - get laptop sent over. Across the bridge then onto the Loire bike path - one which would take me South East, towards the Alps.

I enjoyed the company of a few cyclists over the coming days, including an old French man who spoke not one word of English - this would be the test! Conversation was a struggle, but we managed a few brief episodes. I came to realise, comically I thought, that due to my hopelessly limited French I would always revert to the same ending detail, namely the the size of whatever was being discussed. 'Grande?' or 'petite?' I would say, referring to trees, fish, bridges, locks (we were following a canal); anything I could point at and say in French. He was a wonderfully humble man, and after exchanging a few items of fruit, he turned around and cycled his way back home. His house was 'petite', I seem to remember.

After an easy 4 days of enjoying the flat bike path from Orleans I reached Roanne, and after fruitlessly considering taking on another French computer, I headed for the first of many testing passes - the Col du Pilon, at 727 meters. Speeding down the other side and leaning into more hairpin bends then I can remember, I free-wheeled into the Rhone valley - considerably hotter, drier and more arid than then one I'd left behind.

'The Birmingham of France' is how my friend Tom just referred to my next destination - I trifle unfairly I should add. Lyon was as charming as it was necessary. The whole of my drive chain was completely worn down - something I failed to notice before I left, and something which needed to be sorted pronto. Unfortunately, as my bike uses an internal geared hub the tools which I required to the job where A. Not in my pannier B. Expensive, and C. Hard to find. Luckily I was able to locate a Rohloff specialist, who also happened to be a bicycle frame builder, and after taking me to the back of the shop to show me the impressive mechanisms and creations of his expertise, he sorted me out with everything I needed. I then proceeded to a relatively wide stretch of pavement, and spent the next 2 hours blockading the progress of pedestrians with tools, bike bits, and panniers.

Job done. Off to a park bench to make dinner. Whilst slurping down my usual concoction of pasta, raisins, curry powder and onions I was approached by a lady, and after taking a interest in my story she called up a German friend of hers who had a spare bed. The next thing I know I'm walking to his apartment, situated in center of Lyon, and am treated to a much needed (an understatement to say the least) shower and bed for the night. I wake to the glorious combination of a croissant and freshly brewed coffee, and after exchanging a few travel stories with my friend I head off again, south.

In a week and half I meet my friend Tom (Chilled to some), in Avignon - he's joining me for a few weeks on the road. But progress was quicker than expected, so I could afford a lengthy detour. Pondering exactly this as I cycled out of Lyon, I caught a glimpse of what I believed to be Mt. Blanc, off to my right. The great mountain passes of the Tour De France went through my head, and after stopping for a brief glimpse of my map, I have a route planned. Like a moth to the flame, I veered east, towards a great mountainous wall that is the Alps. My bikes dam heavy - makes perfect sense! The initial stages were long and flat, cycling up though a number of valleys; the looming threat and excitement of the winding roads growing ever closer. On my way out of the lovely walled town of Chamberly, a man asks me to the verge. The second of my showering experiences, they treat me to an evening of great company, champagne, and an introduction on map to the infamous climb that is Mt Ventoux.

Having enjoyed the luxury of a bed for the night, the next day I said farewell, and headed towards the pass of Cormet De Roseland - 1968 meters. On the map it's a small squiggly white line. Easy! Not. 5 hours after the start of the climb, the road was still weaving up ahead of me. Averaging 9 percent gradient, I'm climbing in the dark, amongst the silhouettes of pine trees and mountains, with a few doted lights scattered across the distant hills. My efforts were not helped by a bout of mild dioreah, but 6 hours later I reached the top. Too tired to put up my tent, I fall asleep just in my sleeping bag. There's a quiet, cooling breeze amongst a cloudless sky, and the faint clanging of cow bells...........bloody marv!

Second climb, and the beast - Val d'Isère. Charged up with 2 baguettes and half a liter of jam I take it on with fresh spinning legs. A lovely steady valley climb quickly turns into a ghastly series of switch backs, topping out into a steep valley which is funneling a head wind - every cyclists nightmare! After much swearing, cursing, and the occasional slamming of my fists on the handlebars I reach............ half way! Chewing on my third baguette a lovely bird shits on my head - I resolve to consider it a good Omen for the final push. It's on my head and hand. I finish my baguette. Off I go. A cyclist approaches me from behind and is clearly locked on to me. Determined not be overtaken I up my pace. He ups his. Then I can feel it - the jam kicks in! Adding a few mph to my pace I manage to out run him and reach the top, pride intact after only being overtaken by a few lycra clads (that's OK - they have carbon fiber bikes). 2770 meters and a tremendous victory for myself. The reward is a breathtaking view - snow capped mountains, with deep valleys falling away either side. A quick check of the brakes and I push over the threshold, whizzing down to a lovely pitch by the side of a river. Italy lies over the next mountain.

Next day begins with a relatively small 700 meter climb, followed by the most amazingly long decent across the boarder into Italy. Just in case there is any doubt of where I am, a group of about 10 Ferrari's is flexing to an eager crowd at the boarder - one of which is an Enzo, though rather sadly driven by an old man. Down into Italy the temperature rises dramatically, and I can't help but notice a red mist sitting on top of the valley. This only adds to the heat, and exhausted, I summon the energy to get on my bike and make a break for France. A climb later, I pass through the French towns of Briancon and Gap, descending back down into the Rhone valley. A nasty dry head wind hinders my progress, and I spend much of the next day collapsed under a row of trees, waiting for the heat, and hopefully, the wind of the day to pass. As it subsides I cycle to the next town for dinner. Following the usual display of food preparation - involving the use of an inappropriately large knife, a local lady comes up to me and hands me a bag full of fruit and vegetables - Thank you very much, just what I need! I head down the road and set up camp by the side of a big lake, and enjoy a fresh water swim.

The next day I spend meandering thorough hills. The sky's a clear blue, and I'm enjoying another day of sun. As evening falls the air cools, and the shadows from the hills grow across the road. The villages are quiet and the roads are empty. I spend the next few twilight hours cycling on, hoping to catch a glimpse of Mt. Ventoux. It's impossible to mistake. It rises up to just short of 2000 meters, with a huge lighthouse structure on top. After looking at my map I realise I'm further than I thought, so I go down a small path and set up camp in a field.

Right. stand up, stretch off, go through the usual morning ritual and head down the road. After a small climb, BAM! There it is. It looks like I've almost broken even with it's summit. But that would be too easy. Dam! It is with a sad heart that I enjoy another hair raising decent, only to ascend 1300 metres-ish, instantly afterwards. It's a steady, long climb, averaging 6 -7 percent for 20 kilometers through pine forest. Then again, BAM! the trees suddenly disappear, the midday sun appears, the road kicks up another 4 -5 percent and the summit is visible - and the distance is agonising! I put my face down, unable to look at the climb ahead. Sweat drips off my chin and onto my bike. A look up - the road gets steeper and the summit doesn't look any closer. Head back down, peddle on. Slowly but surely the switchbacks pass, and the tower at the top gets closer. I pass the memorial of Tom Simpson on my left - the English cyclist who died from a heart attack at this very point, 40 years ago. Last push, no gears or water left. aaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhHHHHHHHHHHH ........................ ARRIVE!! A very nice couple offer me fruit and nougat for my efforts, and the lady pours a bottle of water over me. The view is worth it all. The next mountain top looks to be half the altitude of where I'm standing, and visibility across the Rhone valley and the flanking hills is spectacular. A quick photo in front of the summit sign and I'm off! Down the steeper side, the switchbacks come quickly and sharp. I manage to overtake a few cars. 30 minutes later I wheel into the bottom town with a big grin and wet eyes, having ingested many flies on the way down.

All the passes done for now. I've spent the last few days relaxing with Tom's wonderful mad Auntie, Kim, her charismatic husband Pascal and her lovely family. Chilled arrived yesterday and discussions of our route have begun - Med bound then east towards Italy. But for now, great food, wonderful company and a pool! Time for a swim.....

As this is the my first lengthy entry I'm trying to refine my writing style -I know tenses are little all over the place, but I think that adds to the readability. Please send my any feedback, suggestions etc.......don't be shy, it all helps. I intend to update weekly, and thanks for reading!

Posted by Banana Spokes 03:13 Archived in France

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