Sunday, June 2, 2019

June 2, 2019 Manosque to Martigues

The hotel we were in last night was the Terreau Hotel in old town Manosque.   It was absolutely charming.  It was a little family run hotel which was right on the main downtown square. The building was at least 250 years old.  When you put your hands on the window sill and looked out on the square there was a sense of history there. How many different hands have been on that window sill and how many things have passed through that square?  We dined in an outdoor restaurant which was right next door.  The meal was arguably the best of the entire tour and we ate very well and in some very nice places.   

Today was the last ride day of the Pathfinders 2019 – Southern France tour and we all worn our tour jerseys. So after a great breakfast in the hotel we were on the road.  Of course we started the day with a long climb.  It was about 8 kms of about 2-3% but by the time I got to the top sweat was running down my face and I had to stow my glasses in my bento box.   The up and downs of the course continued for 25 kms when we came to a little village which had the entire town streets torn up.  As the course continued down the construction we wheeled around the do not enter sign and continued down the street. Low and behold there was the nicest little square and a café.  What a perfect spot for a coffee.  Bob finally gets a morning coffee.  

Back on the road the course was a great downhill all the way to the 44.5 km mark where we crossed the river Durance.  Naturally we had to climb out the other side of the river valley so we were faced with a 7.5 kms climb which topped out at just under 5%.  The course had been on and off some busier roads but the climb was on a tree lined back road which had no cars. This was great as it was 11:00 am and the sun was beating down and the temperature was in the upper 20’s.   

The downhill from the summit was through a lot of back roads and we were looking for lunch but nothing appeared.  We finally came to a town which was also under construction which had a bunch of shops but no sandwiches or lunch type stuff.  Pressing on we finally came to a super market at the 70 kms mark and got some bad premade sandwiches with cardboard bread in plastic wrap.  Better than nothing and while there was no cold soda they did have cold orange juice to wash it down.  

It was only 12:15 and we had only 32 kms to go and check in at the Airbnb was not until 4:00 PM.  As there was nothing to do but push on we started down the road.  There was an excellent section of about 8 kms alongside an irrigation ditch where the road was only 8 feet wide. It was a lot of fun just gliding along.  At this point we came to the north end of the Etang de Berre which is a large lake which is connected to Mediterranean.  Although we were on a back road there was a lot of weekend traffic on this narrow road and there were a lot of steep pitches.  Some of the pitches were over a kilometer long and very steep.  

At about 2:00 pm we came out to the D4 which is the only way down to Martigues.  It is a very busy road and while there was a pretty good shoulder on most of it the traffic circles were scary with cars whizzing in and out.  The last 12 kms down this road went on and on.  However we still had some time to kill before check in so when we were about a kilometer from the condo I pulled my phone out and Googled “bars near me”.   One popped up a 150 meters away so we headed right over.  The Stella was ice cold.  

As we were finishing our beer Agnes texted me that she had checked in and when would we be there. I texted back 5 minutes after my luggage is in the room.  As it turned out it took us about 10 minutes.

The Airbnb we are staying is an absolute gem.  It has a great deck which overlooks the Etang du Berre.  The view is absolutely spectacular.  Agnes and Judy had stopped and picked up some groceries for supper so we had an end of tour feast.  

What a great last day of riding.  Great weather, some fun climbs, some exciting downhills, some perfect winding country roads and of course great fellowship.  I have really enjoyed my time on this tour with Agnes, Judy and Ken, and my good friend Bob.  I am really looking forward to riding with them again. 


PS: stay tuned for the final day before the flight home to Kelowna and a wrap up story.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

June 1, 2019 Gap to Manosque

Today was an exceptional day.  We rolled out of our hotel in Gap and within a kilometer we were sailing down a beautifully paved road which was at least 15 meters wide with no center line and no vehicles.  The sun was out in a total cloudless sky which was the brightest of blues.  The road was generally downhill for the first 3.5 kms when we came to the first climb of the day.  However as it was only 3.5 kilometers of 3.5% we were over that in no time.   A fast downhill followed with lots of sweeping curves and the odd switchback just to keep a person on his brakes.  

We were headed down the valley and so every one of the curves presented a magnificent view of the fields and orchards below, capped by the distant mountains.  It was so pretty that I had to stop numerous times to make sure I captured a good picture.

Our road turned to a much busier road which had a shoulder some of the time.  So when we turned back to our side road I breathed a lot easier.  However the pavement on this road suddenly ended and we were faced with about 450 of unpaved road.  We rode about 300 of the 450 and walked about 150 but when we got back to the main road Bob was not pleased and told me that there was a mutiny brewing in the lower decks.  Bob being from the Australian navy couches things in navel terms and with an Australian accent the “e” in decks is pronounced as an “i”. Ken and I had a good laugh.

The road turned back to the no center line road for the next 35 kms and it was just beautiful. There was even a sign say that the road was a UNESCO World heritage site. I believe it as the views were truly amazing.  I would love to ride this road in the fall when all of the fresh fruit is in season.

This put us down to Sisteron which is the site of a 1200’s castle.  It is situated at an amazing place. The river cuts through this narrow gorge where the rock has been stood on edge.  The castle has had a long and amazing history from the 1200’s, to playing an important role in Napoleon’s march north and even up to ww2 when it became strategically important.  Agnes and Judy toured the castle but we contented ourselves to have lunch in the square below the castle. There was a farmers market being held there and the place was a beehive of activity.  Tables were piled high with produce, fresh fish, baked goods and homemade sausage.

After lunch we continued on down the valley sometimes on the busy main road and sometimes on quieter side roads.   There were lots of climbs which were about a kilometer in length but the road was generally downhill so we made good time.  

We stopped at the 73 km mark for some drinks as the sun was quite intense and the temperature was close to 27 C.   After we came out a wind from the south had come up and presented us with a head wind which meant that we now had to pedal even on the downhills.  

The last 25 kms into Manosque were down a very busy road and Ken and I were grinding our teeth over all the traffic.  However we made it into town. 

I had taken us through the very oldest part of town and through some walking areas which were probably only 8 feet wide. It was a lot of fun.  We emerged from the walking area to the square where our hotel is and I contacted Agnes.  She and Judy were back in the walking area having ice cream so we turned around and joined them.  We sat in a perfect little square and watched a wedding procession and had a beer.  Set your watch back 200 years and just enjoy the peace and tranquil scene. It was truly magical.

What a great day.  We covered 108 kms and climbed 975 meters but descended 1200 meters.


Friday, May 31, 2019

May 31, 2019 Grenoble to Gap

Today was shaped up to be another killer day with 123 km and 1936 meters of climb.  However Bob got on line yesterday and found that we could take the train from Grenoble to Lus-la Croix-Haute which was 73 km down the route we were taking. This cut off all of the major climbs and left us with only 49.5 kms and 321 meters of climb.  However it was in fact a net downhill as we had a decent of 573 meters.   So yesterday we had hurried down to the station and got our tickets.  At 11.50 Euros it was a small price for cutting off 50 kms of ride and 1600 meters of climb.

The train left Grenoble at 10:10 and we were down to the station good and early.  Ken and I being new to French trains we were not sure what to expect.  So we stood around nervously in the station for 20 minutes before our train was posted on the arrivals/departures screen.  Finally at 9:40 it was posted and we hurried over to our platform.  We were glad we did as when the train arrived it was only a single car and with only two spots for bikes we were a little nervous one of us may have to get off.   Bob and I jumped on and hung our bikes in the two slots for bikes and tucked Ken’s bike into the luggage area.  We then proceeded to grab premium seats for the journey.  Our fears of getting thrown off for too many bikes were without basis as one bike after another arrived and crowded onto the train.  Most of the bikes which followed us were self-supporter bikes which were laden with huge panniers.

The train left the station, there were 4 stations which were real close together and the train barely got rolling before it was stopped for the next one. However after that the train had to climb the mountain to get the next station and you could hear the diesel grinding away. We sat back and enjoyed the spectacular scenery.  The snow-capped mountains and lush green valleys were spread out beside us.  It was a magnificent day and I was feeling that I should be out riding but on the other hand I was glad not to be climbing the big hills.  I was surprised at the number of tunnels and huge trestles on the route.  Some of the tunnels were quite long and one in particular was probably several kilometers long.  

Just as were we getting off the train Agnes and Judy pulled up in the car.   So as it was lunch time we all rolled around the corner to a little café which was just opening. Sitting and enjoying our lunch on the patio with the mountains as a backdrop was spectacular.

After lunch Ken, Bob and I rolled down the hill.  There was about 18 km of about 3.5% downhill grade which was just perfect a person could fly along at a good rate without riding the brakes but without being flying along out of control.  The road had a pretty good shoulder and even thought there was a fair amount of traffic it was great.  With 31 kms to go we turned off the main road and started up the road to Gap.  There was a good grade here of about 3 kilometers of grades up to 5% (as posted).   This took us up to the Col des Eygaux.  A fast downhill followed by another 15 kms of rolling up and down hills but mostly ups took us to within about 3 km of Gap.  There we were presented with an amazing view of the city of Gap and the valley.  We had to pull in for a photo before making the last fast downhill into Gap and our hotel.  

The weather was absolutely gorgeous making all the views so beautiful.  It was also a really fun adventure taking the train with our bikes and having a fun downhill ride.   Maybe there is a bike/train tour in my future. 


Thursday, May 30, 2019

May 30, 2019 Rest Day Grenoble

Today was a rest day in Grenoble so we were slow getting rolling today. The main thing we all wanted to do was to take the gondola to the bastille at the top of hill on the opposite side of the river.  This is the second generation gondola and has become iconic with Grenoble. It is 635 m long and rises 235 meters.

The gondola originally opened in 1934 and the iconic bubbles were installed 1976.  The bastille at the top was constructed in 1825 and was one of a series of defense works which were constructed at that time.   Today there is a museum, café and a gift shop at the top.   The gondola runs year round and attracts 600,000 annual visitors.

The Airbnb condo we are staying at is only 2 blocks from the gondola so it was an easy walk over to the Gondola. We were there at opening bell at 10:30 am.  Each of the bubbles takes 6 people so we had a car to ourselves.  Once the bubbles clear the station they move at 6 meters per second which is surprisingly fast.  

The view from the top is amazing as you are totally surrounded by the mountains.  We were so luck as the day before it was so windy and cold.  Today was warm and sunny.  There was some haze but not very much. 

We took the museum tour which told the story of the French Mountain Grenadier Units. You were given a set of headphones which told the story of the mountain units through their history from the earliest units which were formed in the 1890’s through WWI, WW2 and their deployment in special UN forces.  It was very well done.  

By now it was lunch time and we headed down to the main town and found a great local place. The plat de jour was meat balls and chips which was surprisingly good.  

The crew is pretty tired and it was decided that we would take the train from Grenoble down to Lus-la-Croix-Haute rather than ride our bikes.  This cuts 74kms and 1600 meters climb off of tomorrows ride. This will leave only 49 kms and 330 meters of climb for tomorrows ride.  So we walked down to the train station to confirm that we could in fact take the train and buy our tickets.  The tickets turned out to cost us only 11.50 Euros each.  

Grenoble is such a pretty city we really enjoyed our visit here.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

May 29, 2019 Lyon to Grenoble

This morning we were up and on the move. Agnes got the car from the lot a couple of blocks away while the rest of us transported the luggage down stairs.  With the car packed we headed out.  I had hoped to be on the road by 8:30 Am and we were.

I had spent more time working on this route than any of the other routes on the tour.  The problem with getting out of Lyon was that there were several places where a person had to cross railroad tracks. The only place to cross the tracks was these overpasses which were not very bike friendly.   So no matter which route you took you had to go to one of the overpasses.  When we got there in the morning there was a lot of traffic and so we walked the bikes along this very narrow walkway with trucks flying past only a few feet away.  

The second problem with getting out of Lyon was that if you were heading in the south east direction you had to take the D518 which was a 4 lane road which had a bike lane well more of just a shoulder than a real bike lane until you came to a roundabout and then it was everyman for himself. You just had to time it so that when a big truck was coming through and blocking the entrance to your left you had lots of time. The D512  went out to the 25 kms mark of the ride.  I didn’t think they were so bad but Bob hated them.  

The next real problem with building the route was that the roads in this area all run SW to NE and we were headed NW to SE or perpendicular to the roads.  The reason the roads run this way is that is the way the valleys run.  So when you are going perpendicular to the roads it is down one side of the valley and up the other side. The roads which do go up the sides of the valley are really steep and winding.  In addition the Google street view does not cover a lot of these roads.  So I had to guess as to their condition.  I thought there was a chance that we may run into some unpaved sections and indeed we did the first section was about 200 meters and the second one was about 1.3 kms of which about 300 m was really rough.  I didn’t think it was a bad penalty for saving around 30-40 kms of extra distance, but Bob was not pleased.

At about the 30 km point in the strap on my new bento box broke and dumped my camera on the ground.  Luckily Bob spotted it.  I was not pleased that my new bento box with less than 1500 km on it had failed.

When we got to the 57 kms mark we were at the summit of the climb for the day, we were half way into the 114 km ride, it was 12:00 am, and we were standing in front of a very fancy restaurant (Michelle rated).  L’ Auberge D’Eclose was just opening and the owner stepped out to put out the open sign and he invited us in for lunch.  The menu for lunch was ravioli in broth plat, a steak with rice and vegetables for the main course and an apple tart for desert all for 18 euros.  It was a very fine meal, and certainly the fanciest lunch of the tour.

When we got out to the restaurant there was a really nasty cold wind blowing.  Bob and I pulled on our coats but Ken did not have a coat with him.  Fortunately the wind was out of the NW so it was a tail wind.  However every time the road made a twist the wind cut into you.  This wind was to plague us all the way into Grenoble.  

It was mostly downhill for the second half of the ride but there were still a few climbs to do and fortunately no more unpaved sections.   We were all feeling more than a little tired and every hill just seemed to go on.

When we got to the 94 km mark we turned on to a bike path which followed the river into Grenoble.  With 18 km still to go I thought it would fly by but instead an icy rain started and it was driven into our faces by the wind.  

When we finally pulled into the Airbnb we were immediately set upon by some irate neighbor that we couldn’t put our bikes in the court yard which has other bikes in it. 

Somehow what should have been an easy day turned hard and everyone is exhausted.  It was only 114 kms and 995 m of climb. 

terry hot biker

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

May 28, 2019 Rest Day 2 Lyon

This morning we woke up to a great treat, as Bob had gotten up early and went down stairs to the market and had brought back fresh Baggett.  The smell of fresh bread and coffee in the morning was absolutely fabulous.  

Ken and I had a few bike chores to complete so we headed down stairs to the garage to work on bikes.  I needed to adjust my brakes.  It seems that I have been doing a lot of braking and have worn down the brake pads quite badly.  Having soft brakes is never a really good thing.  So that little task out of the way I cleaned and oiled the chain.  I also had a tube which needed to be patched.  Surly takes a 28x554 tubes which is not a common size so I always patch the tubes as you never know when the next time you are going to find new tubes. 

With chores out of the way Ken, Judy and I headed off to see the Museum of the Confluence.  This is the big ultra-modern museum here in Lyon.  It is right at the confluence of the Rhone and the Saone rivers. This is a magnificent facility. It is extremely well done with both French and English descriptions on everything.  It has a huge range of exhibits which explore everything from the origin of the universe to Japanese religious masks.  There is an excellent natural history section with a huge range of mineral specimens, fossils and animal mounts. There is a section on the industrial history which covers everything from early telephones to particle accelerators. Yes they have an early particle accelerator.  

The three of us met for lunch and walked out on the upper floor balcony to enjoy the view.  It was very pretty.  What a perfevt setting for this monument. 

On the main floor of the building is a large buffet restaurant.  I did not know that it was a Chinese buffet until we got into the restaurant.  It was absolutely great food.  They had a huge selection of sushi, which was very tasty.  There was a good selection of steamed buns and other dim sum items to choose from.  There was a special section where you could choose your food and then have it cooked by the chefs in the woks.  Then there was all of the stuff I love, the lemon chicken, sweet and sour pork, beef and onions, chow main noodles and on and on.   It was one of the memorable meals of the tour.  

Tomorrow we are back on the road and riding down to Grenoble.  This is the last of the segments.   It is hard to believe that we have only one week left of this tour.