Wednesday, May 22, 2019

May 22, 2019 Toulouse to Cahors

The weather forecast for today was perfect so we wore our tour jerseys this morning.  The bright tri-colours looked great.  After the required photo ops we rolled off.  I had set the start time at 8:30 Am but we managed to get rolling at 8:20 am.  Such a punctual crew.  

A few lefts, a few rights, a couple of bridges and we on the canal path out of Toulouse. The streets were busy with commuters and the canal path had a lot of bikes going both ways.  The place was alive with people hurrying off to work.  Within a few kilometers we were in the country and the only people we saw were those out for a morning walk or bike ride.  The canal path was very smooth and we made great time.  We were headed north along the left bank of the canal for most of the way. This put the sun on our right and was shining across the fields and through the trees making the canal just shimmer. It was so pretty.

 At the 44 kms mark there was loud bang behind me. Sure enough Ken had a blowout.  The blow out in his tire was right in the center of the tire and at least 4 cm long.  Looking at the condition of the tire I am surprised that it lasted as long as it did.  The cords were showing in several places around the tire.  The section which blew out was right in the middle of a place where there was no rubber left.  I had some duck-tape which I put on the inside of the tire and Ken had a good heavy boot cut from an old tire. We carefully centered the boot and off we went.  The route followed the canal to the 55 km mark and then we turned on to some secondary roads which took us into a town at the 60 km mark.  By now Ken’s tire is bulging quite badly.  Being half way and about 11:30 we had lunch and weighted our options.  We rode over to the train station to see if Ken could get a train in but as it was an un-manned station there was no-one to help us so we decided to have Ken call Agnes and catch a sag.  Bob and I rode on.

The road had a center line but almost zero traffic. The odd car maybe once every 20 minutes or so.  This made for a very nice ride as the sun was warming us and there wasn’t a breath of wind anywhere.   The kilometers dropped off quite quickly and before we knew it we were at the first climb of the day.  It was 1.5 kms of 7% at the 67 kms mark.  Not a killer climb but it did get our attention.

From the top of the hill there was a great downhill followed by some very nice rolling hills. The country side was mostly grain farms with the odd vine yard and orchard.  It looks like cherries might be ready soon.  We came around a corner and there was a huge cathedral on top of a very large hill and we knew that we had come to the second climb of the day.  There were a total of 6 switchbacks to get to the top.  It was 1.8 kms of 6 %.   As we chugged to the top there was a little village there an Bob said “If I don’t get some Ice Cream I am going to bonk”.  I laughed and we rode off course towards the huge Cathedral and into a beautiful town square. Low and behold there was an ice cream shop.  Hi fives were handed out. 

From the top of the second climb it was 20 kms into Cahors. There was about 12 kms of rolling ups and downs but mostly downs and the last 5 kms was a huge downhill before entering Cahors.

Just as were we crossing the bridge into Cahors there was Agnes with Ken and the bike rolling into town.  Yes it is true behind every great tour director is the people who do the work.  Big Thanks to Agnes for rescuing Ken.  

Tonight we are in the Terminus Hotel in Cahors. It is an 18 century hotel which is absolutely stunning.  Set your watch back 300 years and you are in the lobby.  Beautiful antique furniture, stained glass windows, huge wall paintings.  WOW!  Tonight we are dinning in the hotel dining room which has a huge list of glowing reviews.  Peaking in the windows of the dining room and it does look special.

What a great day!  Total of 122 kms and 532 meters of climb.  It could be any better.


Tuesday, May 21, 2019

May 21 2019 Rest day Toulouse

Today was a rest day and I was determined to have a day where I did nothing.   Sleep in have a late breakfast and generally wind down.  However I was alone in this agenda and there were people up and down the stairs at 6:30 am.  The stairs in this place are a wooden open design and every step is squeaky. Once awake I was up.  

The morning was spent doing chores and getting caught up on tour accounting.  I had a near panic as one of the hotel reservation sheets was missing from the pile and after the episode in Vancouver where the booking agency had gone bankrupt and cancelled my reservation it was a mad scramble.  In my spread sheet I had the confirmation number which was only one digit off from the cancelled reservation. I couldn’t find it in my e-mails.  A couple of searches and it turned up as an Expedia reservation so everything was fine.  But there was that “OH NO” few minutes.

I walked over to the local market and picked up a Baggett, cheese and ham for lunch for Agnes and myself.  

After lunch Bob and I walked downtown and wandered the streets.  We dropped into a couple of bike shops and marvelled at the array of e-bikes which were for sale.  A few years ago these shops would have been full of the latest in ultra-light road bikes but now are full of different models of e-bikes.  A lot of the models are using the motor down on the bottom bracket however the lightest ones are using a powered rear hub.  These bikes range from the bike path cruiser to city delivery bikes which have large baskets or parcel holders. There are very few road bikes in the stores.  

After wandering about we decided on a convenient corner and settled down for a beer.  It was nice and sunny and warm. It was so pleasant watching the people out doing their shopping and wandering in the walking area of the downtown.  

On our way back to the condo we ran into Ken and Judy who had also decided to do a stroll. 
This evening Bob has done some research on local curry places and is going to guide us to one he has picked out and give us a lesson in Indian food.   It should be fun

Tomorrow is a 121 kms ride up to Cahors.  The first 55 kms is along a canal path so it will be quite nice. The weather forecast is for a beautiful day and it looks like the weather is going to be much better the rest of the week.  Thursday is the biggest day of the tour at 140 kms. 


Monday, May 20, 2019

May 20 2019 Carcassonne to Toulouse

Last night we stayed right in the Carcassonne Castle which was very cool.  The entire place dates back to the early 1200’s so needless to say the rooms were not real large, although they were quite modern and well appointed.

There was no breakfast service in the castle until quite late in the morning so Bob, Ken and I rolled without breakfast and were on the lookout for a place to eat as we rode through the downtown section of Carcassonne.  The route out of the castle was extremely steep and was real test of the brakes.  

Once  out of the castle and into Carcassonne the route was real easy and had us on the outskirts of town but no breakfast.  Luckily we spotted a grocery store just as we were about to leave the city. I grabbed a few apricots, a baguette, some cheese and a two liter jug of orange juice.  Baguette and cheese made a fine breakfast and the orange juice filled my water bottles.

Out on the road the 40-50 km wind from yesterday had subsided considerably but was still in the 25 to 35 kms range.  Whenever I was in the open the wind was right in my face and the best I  could do was about 11 kms/hr.  Progress was painful and the first 10 kms after leaving town were down a main road which had no cover from the wind.  It took us an hour to get to the first turn which took us off the main road and down some little winding country roads which had some tree cover.  

The first 55 kms were all up hill and straight into the wind. While there was some tree cover on the smaller roads and through the villages it took from 8:15 am until 2:00 pm to cover this distance to the summit. The second 50 kms was all down a paved canal bike path and this distance took us only 2 hr to cover.  

At 11:30 we pulled into the little town of Castlelaudry where there was a huge market happening. It looked like mostly used clothing to me but Ken went down a different lane from me and there were several different food vendors.  So we stopped for lunch.  I had a hot panni which really filled the bill. We still had a long way to go to the summit and were getting pretty tired.  As we had just crossed a huge set of train tracks I knew there was train service to this town, so I joking said to Ken that we should take the train.  Googling train stations near me on my phone showed one 650 meters.  We both laughed as Ken said taking the train isn’t sagging you know.  After we got into town, Ken confided that it would not have taken but a tiny push from me and we would have been on the train.

The second half of the ride was down the canal path.  It was so beautiful with huge trees shading us from the sun and wind.   It was most unusual in that the path was made of concrete. The concrete worked very well that tree roots did not break through like they do with asphalt.  It was very unusual concrete in that it looked like asphalt as there was the same kind of voids.  It worked so well.  

About 25 kms out on the canal path we stopped for a little break. I had a couple of apricots left from breakfast in my trunk and Ken and I were eating them when two other riders passed us and yelled out “Bon Appetite”. This was the third time today we were eating and someone yelled this out to us.  It must be a custom here.  

We were glad to make Toulouse and be in for the day.  Bob had dropped us early on and he had arrived about 20 minutes before Ken and I so we felt pretty good that he was in and not lost somewhere.  

The Airbnb condo we have is really nice and everyone is looking forward to a day off.


Sunday, May 19, 2019

May 19, 2019 Beziers to Carcassonne

After a very nice breakfast at the B&B where we were staying Bob, Ken and I rolled.  Being a Sunday morning there was no traffic on the road what so ever.  The first couple of kilometers were down a busy road but at 8:30 Am there wasn’t a single car.  

We didn’t really notice how heavy the wind was either as we were headed due south and down a very heavily wooded area.  However this was soon to change. We turned due was and were confronted by a 40 km/hr head wind which almost brought us to a halt.  This wind was to plague us the entire day.  It should have been a pretty easy day as it was only 85 kms and 355 meters of climb.  However this was to prove to be one of the hardest ride days I have ever had.  The wind was so strong that even riding in close to each other proved to be of very little value.   The only real relief was where there was some sort of wind shadow such as in some of the villages but then it was only a few blocks long or where there were some trees. However we are in open farming country so there were vast sections where there was nothing but vine yards where the grape vines were only a couple of feet tall or open fields. Right now the grapes are no bigger than a grain of wheat.

The route was very picturesque as we were down little tiny roads which had no center line for about 85% of the route. There were only two sections down roads which had center lines and one being about 3 kms and one being about 8 kms.  The 8 kms section was right at the end where there was most of the climb and was all in open country and we were all exhausted.  The Weather Network was reporting a steady 40 kms wind with gusts to 50 kms.

Carcassonne was a Roman fortress which was built and expanded through the ages.  It was a strategic post on the trade routes to Rome and through the ages.  By the 1200’s it was held by one family and the king decided to mount a siege against the castle.  The siege was successful and the castle was surrendered.  The king then rebuilt and greatly expanded the castle adding a second wall around the castle and numerous defense towers. This work was more or less done by 1650.  However trade routes changed and the castle lost its strategic importance and fell into disrepair.  In the 1800’s there was a revival of interest in the castle and it was rebuild to its condition in 1650.   The castle is still being studied using modern computer models and work in on going.  It is the most complete medieval castle I have ever seen.  Ken, Bob and I walked through the castle and walked the rampart walls surrounding the old town.  There were way too many stairs for my legs which had just done one of the hardest rides I can remember.  Big steps and really tight spiral stairs as well.

I loved the Carcassonne tile game as a kid and still play it today on the computer.  So this was a big bucket list item for me to see.  It was a great experience. I know that when I return home and am playing Carcassonne on the computer I will treasure this experience and think back to today.

terry hot biker  

Saturday, May 18, 2019

May 18 2019 Montpellier to Bezier

Today was a 98.3 kms day but I guess I picked up an extra couple as I wound up at 100.3. Too much weaving from side to side I guess.  The climb was almost nothing though at only 141 meters.
The three of us rolled out of the hotel and down the walking area where we came in yesterday.  It looked a lot different without all the people crowding the street.  It was easy to find the path this morning whereas yesterday crossing through all of the construction was terrible.
At about the 1.5 km mark I got a flat tire. One of those micro shards of glass, about 1.5 mm long but sharper than the sharpest knife and devilishly hard to get out of the tire.  However persistence and lots of wiggling got it out.  Second ride and a flat but at least it wasn’t raining.  Bob was out in front and although we called to him he kept going.  I am sure he just didn’t want to get involved in that messy tire repair business.
The route took us alongside the canal which runs inland from the ocean. It was a very nice path with a big broad top but lots of people were out jogging walking and riding so a person had to keep an eye out.  Ken and I didn’t get very far, maybe another 1-2 kms when Ken gets a flat.  However he does not have a spare tube as he had given his spare tube to Bob when he got the double snake bite from the pot hole.  So we are patching Ken’s tube.  Ken has those stick on patches which while easy to apply I question how good or reliable they are.  Ken says he knows how to make them work every time and the trick is to have just the right amount of air in the tube. Luck and or Ken’s skill is with us and it works.

We got down to the ocean where the route turned North West along a barrier bar.  It was really pretty with the Mediterranean on one side and the lagoon on the other.  The path we were on had a large sand dune on one side and the lagoon on the other. This bar went from the 10 km mark to the 70 kms mark with only a couple of little breaks from the bike path where we went through a couple of little villages.  The unfortunate thing was there was a stiff 20-30 kms/hr wind blowing out to the NWN. Not quite a head wind but real close.  This wind kept our arm and leg warmers on and had us working hard.

After we got to the end of the barrier bar Ken and I headed inland towards Beziers. At times we were on little roads with no center line and at times along a canal path.   At the 75 kms mark we caught Bob falling out of an ice cream shop.  Oh sorry the shop just closed.  The three of us headed up the route which was now a canal path.  It was very pretty with huge trees lining the canal. The sun was out and shining through the vast green canopy.  

As we headed north along the canal we came to the Cameron valve factory.  I wheeled off the path to take a photo of the huge 36” ball valve which is mounted outside of the factory.  This was the butt of numerous jokes that only an oil man would take a photo of a huge ball valve.

At the 91 kms mark we came to a little village and I suggested that as we had only 7-8 kms to go and the place we are in was in the country we should stop for a beer. This suggestion was immediately adopted so we rolled in and sat down for a beer.  I phoned Agnes and she had arranged for the B&B operator to prepare supper for us.  

The B&B is just outside of the city of Beziers and is in a lovely old French farm house.  The view out the window is of a field of poppies and the Beziers cathedral and castle. What a beautiful place.  I am really keen on tonight’s supper as a couple of reviews had said that the B&B operator prepares a real spread.
The one thing which I feel I must comment on is how Bob and Ken have taken to the use of the Garmin. They both arrived in France with the Garmin’s still in the original boxes.   Bob who was in the Australian Navy and during his career became famous in the Australian Navy for his complete reliance on the sextant and astrolabe as his sole navigation aids.  He now swears by the use of the Garmin and is on record as saying he cannot believe there is any other way to navigate. Ken has zero navigational skills and once got lost in the hallway to the bathroom in his own house, is now out front leading the way though the tightest French villages.

I guess it was the wind as my legs feel like they got a good work out.  Of the 100 kms at least 90 kms  was down a bike path.  What a great day on the bike.

terry hot biker    

Friday, May 17, 2019

May 17, 2019 Arles to Montpeiller

Today was only 73 kms with only 145 meters of climb however it was not an easy day.   Bob, Ken and I left the hotel after breakfast at about 9:30Am thinking it would be an easy day.  It was heavily clouded with rain forecast to start at about 2-3:00 Pm.  However we got about 10 kms into the ride and the rain started.  It was just a little sprinkle at first however within a few minutes it had turned into a full-fledged rain.  The rain never did stop.  At times it was heavy and at times not quite as heavy.   By 11:00 all the depressions in the pavement were filled with water.  By 12:30 it was running down the road and where there were drainage dips in the road there was large rivers of water. 
Bob wanted to stop for coffee at about 10:30 and as I did not want revolution on day 2, we stopped for coffee. Yes it was already raining but we did not know how much heavy it was going to get and it could have even stopped. 

At about the 45 km mark Bob hit a pot hole filled with water really hard and took two flats.  Luckily Ken was there with a second tube as my Surly does not have 700 mm wheels.  There is nothing like changing tubes in the pouring rain.  The tires came off very easily which was surprising as Bob claims that he has not had a flat on this bike which is brand new.  Never the less it was 40 minutes in the rain.  This experience slowed us down a lot more than just the time lost because we are now trying to avoid every puddle in the road.

At about the 50 kms mark we got to a huge round about and it was not clear which exit to take so we rode around it a couple times just to make sure.  This added at least a couple of kilometers to the ride.
At the 57 kms mark I got a phone call from Agnes saying that she could not get to the hotel.  All of the roads to the hotel were walk up and the closest she could get to the hotel was 1.2 kms.  After some discussion she was going phone the hotel and get directions.  I knew this was going to be a problem as the address for the hotel put it on a tram line.  The address I had which I thought she could drive to was in a construction site.  As it turned out you had to ask at the construction site to lift the barrier.  This caused a huge amount of anguish for Agnes and Judy.   Sorry I did the best I could and did not know about the construction. 

Meanwhile we are riding in from the other side of the construction and on the other side of the tracks so we could not follow the Garmin track in.  Down through a parking garage and carry the bike up some stairs to the large walking plaza.  I knew we were in the right spot as I recognized the buildings from looking at it on Street View, but which way?  There was a tourist info building right there so I ducked in and a quick consult showed we were less than a kilometer from the hotel. 
The huge walking plaza is at least 200 meters wide and paved with marble blocks which in the rain were so slippery that Bob and Ken both went down.  I was not a popular person for taking them down this plaza. I guess I should have known this.  Oops sorry.

On the bright side the hotel is very nice although signing into the internet seems to be a problem. 
Also on the positive side of the ledger we went out on the walking plaza and found a pizza place which was absolutely fabulous.   Ken jumps in and orders two 500 ml and one 250 ml carafes of house wine which turned out to be excellent.

Ok my shoes are soaked on my first day of riding but it was a good adventure and if asked if I would do it again the answer would be absolutely.

Terry hot biker

Thursday, May 16, 2019

May 16 Marseille to Arles

Today was the first ride day of the Pathfinders tour.  It was a 91.5 kms (57 miles) ride with 480 meters (1561 Ft) of climb. Bright sunny day without a whisper of wind and the temperature was 15 C.  In short the perfect ride day.  All of the elevation gain was within the first 15 kms as the route came out of Marseille. Unfortunately I was not on the ride but stuck in the back seat of the car.  My bike is to be delivered to the hotel this afternoon.  

The parking spot at the Airbnb was an incredibly tight spot in an inner court yard of a two hundred year old apartment complex where we staying.  It had taken a lot of maneuvering to get the car into the spot and there was considerable worry about getting it out but Agnes backed it out in very short order.  Judy and I were both amazed how easily Agnes wheeled it out.

 Out on the road and as it was only 95 km down the freeway we were down to Arles by 10:30.  We stopped by the hotel to make sure that the hotel owner knew about my luggage being delivered and then we were off to see old town Arles.  And Arles is very old.

There are a couple of major structures which dominate the sky line the first being the Roman Hippodrome built in 56 ad.    While much smaller than the one in Rome it is still a huge structure and sat 20,000 people.  The second major structure is the Roman Amphitheatre. The Hippodrome has had a lot of work put into it with a lot of the original stones replaced with concrete block.  This work has enabled it to still be in use today as a bull fighting arena. The Amphitheatre is still used as well to produce local music shows.  Around these two structures a city has sprung up which is also several hundred years old. So most of the streets are very narrow and the ones where cars are allowed are one way.  Naturally there is no parking anywhere so it is a complete mess, but a very quaint mess with lots of walking streets filled with sidewalk cafes, art galleries and local flavour. 

Agnes, Judy and I decided on  a Cambodia meal for lunch in a picture perfect little square just down from the Hippodrome.  It was great.  After lunch we walked around it and then headed down to the Vincent Van Gogh Museum.  Everything in the town is a reference to Van Gogh and even though he was Dutch but did spend a portion of his life painting in the little town of Arles.  So there are statues, street names, restaurants, galleries, book stores and just about anything you can name.  I was looking forward to a a large collection of his works and a fair amount of history of the life of Vincent Van Gogh.  Instead there were only four of his actual works and certainly none of the more famous paintings a couple of pages from his diaries. The rest of the gallery was devoted to some Russian painter who was influenced by Van Gogh but whom I have never heard of before.  Personally I thought the Russians work was not all that good.  They were all wild life pictures “deer drinking from a stream” ,  “coyote howling at the moon”,  etc. Bottom line I was quite disappointed in the Van Gogh Museum. 
By now it is just after 3:00 so we headed back to the hotel.  Bob and Ken had arrived two minutes ahead of us and were still standing by their bikes when we pulled up. So we checked in and unloaded the car. 
As my luggage had still not arrived I went down to the front desk to get them to phone the airline about my luggage. Just as the lady who owns the hotel was phoning the airline a deliver van pulled up with my luggage. I was so happy to see my bike and the rest of my stuff show up. 
I put my bike together and went for a quick spin around the block to make sure all was in order.  Looks good so I am back on the tour. 
Tomorrow is a short day but it looks like a rainy one. 

terry hot biker