Another Year On

So, France.

Geographically, southern France. We stayed in the town of Limoux at a nice three story hotel that first served as a monastery maybe six or seven hundred years ago. It bears an interesting chain of custody since then, once serving as a stop-over for Napoleon’s soldiers during the French revolution. Now owned by Chris and his wife, our hosts for the bike tour, it’s been lightly remodeled over time into a modern hotel with six (?) guest rooms and a quiet community room on the third floor with comfortable chairs, a couch, a built-in bar area and two breezy doors that give way to an outdoor balcony

The place isn’t devoid of old world charms, though. The tall doors at the entrance were huge, thick wood monstrosities that swung open and closed like castle doors. You always knew when someone was coming or going with the way the thud echoed down the cavernous front hallway.

For breakfast in the morning we (the 12 of us) all assembled in the room off the kitchen around a long, well-used wooden table that felt like it had its own stories to tell. The kitchen appeared small but I can’t say for sure as the one rule ground into our heads more than once during the week was: Never, ever go into the kitchen! This became known among the group as the Isabelle’s Rule, one of Chris’ able assistants on the tour. Isabelle it seemed did everything, preparing breakfast, cleaning up, driving the sag van, answering all manner of questions we newbies to France had, and now and then delighting in mocking my feeble attempts to speak the french language. Prior to departure each day we would gather in an open air courtyard, the same place dinner was served if the weather was nice. A metal staircase led up to a roof terrace over the garage where you could enjoy a cup of coffee and a bird’s-eye view of the goings on outside the hotel. One morning I invited HW up to have a gander at the colorful peppers

Around 8 am each day, after breakfast and having gathered what you need for a day of cycling, all of us were swiftly out the door piling into one of two vans, bikes ‘n all, to shuttle to the start of the day’s ride, which was anywhere from forty-five to sixty miles with variable climbing involved, usually more than less. The routes Chris chose were truly world class. If you enjoy road cycling and going on tours is your thing, I can highly recommend southern France. Most of the roads we cycled had very light traffic, so much so they reminded me of wide bike trails rather than the kind of county roads designed for cars and trucks like we have in the states. Most days we rode in or near the Pyrenees mountains, which made it even more spectacular. Here we are cycling on a ribbon of a road pinched between a sheer rock wall and a steep gorge which had to be a thousand feet deep or more, with nothing between it and us save a short brick wall. Chris said there are just a few times a year he takes cyclists here because usually the wind is so fierce it poses a danger to them. Supposedly, one year someone on his tour nearly had her bike blown out from underneath her. Caveat cyclist

Here’s Chris reminding me to stop and enjoy, yes, at the same time not to get too close to the wall, more the height of a sidewalk curb here

In some places the road was so narrow there was only room for one car, or the rock wall overhung the road so much a driver had to be careful not to scrape the roof of the car (or a cyclist his helmet!). We did see some cars on this section. One driver, clearly impatient with the driver ahead of him, tried to pass. Crazy. After the gorge we stopped and walked down a steep path along the side of the mountain to visit a cave used by Hermitage monks over two hundred years ago. Difficulty of access was intentional, they prayed and chanted all day and generally wanted to be left alone, except when in need of supplies which certain people brought to them by slogging up a trail from the canyon below

I’ll post more france pics later, so many to choose from, it’ll take me a while to sort through them all. And time, who has the time?! Though HW did make sure we made time to celebrate the completion of my 59th orbit about our star. She insisted on taking me out to dinner. How I love this woman