Thursday, August 9, 2012

Gerths do France

(Below, Jen describes her first ever bike tour.  Wow.  Hard to top that.  Doing it right. - Editor)

From July 7th-30th, I had the good fortune of touring around France and a bit of Germany by bicycle. Thanks to the good people at Mighty Riders and On the Rivet, my very old touring bike was outfitted with new tires, panniers, pedals and easy gears, which helped ease my nerves somewhat. Though I do ride my road bike a lot, I’ve never taken a bike tour, carrying clothing and camping gear while trying to keep up with my faster husband.
On July 7th, we arrived in Frankfurt and the fun began. We put our bikes together in the airport and after ditching the cardboard boxes, we rode for 30km toward Mainz, where we spent the night. Our destination for the first week of the trip was my cousin’s wedding in Beaune, France. For 5 days, we rode about 120-130km per day from Germany, through Metz, Nancy, Neufchâteau and Dijon to Beaune. I found myself really enjoying riding my touring bike and having everything that I needed with me.
These are our bikes all loaded up. As you can see, I made David carry more gear.
This road sign is the only marker of the border between Germany and France.
We rode by this field of sunflowers for at least fifteen minutes. I believe that I am smiling so wide because it’s my birthday.

Riding through France was exactly like I imagined it. We spent most of the days riding by fields, wineries, streams and castles with smooth roads and very little traffic.  Beaune is in the Burgundy region of France, so one of tourist attractions is a 20km bike ride through the wineries. Since all David and I wanted to do was rest at this point, we rode about 2km out of town and then sat down in the wineries and read books while all the other tourists rode their bikes.
We left our bikes next to a tree and enjoyed the opportunity to drink wine and not ride our bikes.

After the wedding, we wanted to catch a stage of the Tour de France and figured that the most exciting of the stages remaining would be the one that included the Col de Tourmalet. Because we didn’t have enough time to ride to the stage, we drove from Beaune to Pau, overnighting in Toulouse. Even though we didn’t get to spend much time in Toulouse, it was one of my favourite French cities.
The day before stage 16, we rode from Pau to a campground outside of Luz-Saint-Sauveur. As we got closer to of Luz-Saint-Sauveur, the motorhomes camping on the side of the road in anticipation of the next day’s race got denser. Camping at the base of the Tourmalet turned out to be a good decision as it allowed us to leave our bags at the campground for the next day’s ride up the Col de Tourmalet.
We stopped at this stream near Pierrefitte-Nestalas on the way to Luz-Saint-Sauveur. It was a nice stop as it was uphill for the rest of the day.

Riding up the Col de Tourmalet was unlike any ride I had ever done before. Not only was it a longer sustained climb than I have ever ridden up , about 19km at 8% average, there were thousands of people riding up the mountain with me and thousands more people on the side of the mountain. Even though this was the hottest day yet on our trip, the climb wasn’t too bad because there was so much to see and my touring bike without bags on it felt like a race bike.
This is me passing one of the switchbacks on the Col de Tourmalet. It was a rare photo opportunity without a lot of other people in the photo.

There’s so much more to the Tour de France than what you see on television. There’s a caravan that takes one hour to pass which is a parade of sponsor’s vehicles and floats. It begins about an hour and a half before the race actually comes through. And on television, you may see spectators lining the streets, but until I was there, I didn’t actually realize how many they actually were.
This was the first vehicle in the caravan.
These are the spectators near the summit of the Col de Tourmalet. There is no empty stretch of road.
Stage 16 was won by Voeckler, who was in a two man breakaway near the Col de Tourmalet summit.

After watching the Tour go by, we rode down the mountain with hundreds of other cyclists and began the second half of our vacation. Because we had another week before we had to be in Paris, we didn’t have to worry about covering much distance every day and we used the opportunity to spend a bit more time in each place we visited from then on. We rode to the Atlantic coast, mostly via bike paths, and spent a long afternoon at the beach between Mimizan-Plage and Arcachon. We spent two days in Bordeaux, drinking wine and touring the city.
The bike paths on the way to the Atlantic Ocean were wooded and quiet. It was peaceful riding on the bike paths after spending some time on roads through the Pyrenees. 

We left Bordeaux for Paris, two days before we needed to arrive in Paris. Because the distance was too far to ride, we took at train to Orléans, 160 kilometers from Paris. After arriving by train, later in the evening than expected, we had a beautiful scenic ride with lovely weather looking for a campground. After going further than we expected, some friendly strangers offered to show us the way to a campground and we had the opportunity to motorpace on our touring bikes. We were really enjoying camping, but it turned out that this was the last time we got to camp on our trip.
We knew that the next day would really be our last full day of touring as it was the day before we were scheduled to arrive in Paris, so we planned to ride about 30km outside of Paris and camp or stay in a hotel. The day of riding was a fond memory. We mostly followed the Seine river, which meant that the riding was very scenic. Paris is a very large city though and the suburbs sprawl for miles. About 30km away from Paris, it was evident that there wouldn’t be any campgrounds and all of the hotels that we found didn’t appear to be habitable, so we continued on. We finally found a hotel only about 10km outside of Paris, which meant that our bike tour was over. This did give us four whole days to spend in Paris though.

Paris was a beautiful city with so many famous icons. We saw most of the city by spending our days walking. And walking is harder than cycling. Sometimes we found ourselves wanting to be back on our bikes, so we grabbed a Vélib’ city bike. Of all the places we had been though, Paris was by far the most difficult to get around via bike. Unfortunately, July 30th came and we had to return home, so we packed up our bikes in boxes and got to the airport crammed into a taxi. If we had known then, what we know now we would have ridden our bikes to the airport and packed them in bags provided via the airline. C’est la vie.
Vélib’ city bikes are available to everyone in France. The Bixi system that it is based on is coming to Vancouver soon.

David and I enjoying a particularly hot day in Paris by bathing in a fountain near the Eiffel Tour. I have some amazing tan lines from spending the last three weeks in bicycle clothing.

After my first attempt at bike touring, I fell in love and am looking forward to my next trip.

No comments: