Tell me why… I
don’t DO like Mondays! (Adapted from Boomtown Rats)
I don’t like to rate my days, but yesterday was just perfect, great weather, the road dominated by cyclists and when not, drivers were tamed to be alert just in case a two-wheel machine hinted entering the alps surrounded path.
Today it was a different story. Weather forecast apps and every single person I talked to assured me rain will continue during the next days over the area I will be traveling to. The morning was almost clear of clouds and I decided to hit the road as quick as I could before the promised showers made themselves present.
Previous countries I crossed had dedicated stoplights for cyclists, France was different, and in my short experience cyclists just kept going through the red lights. So I did that this morning and the police pulled me over. The conversation went on and I realized this would be a relatively easy but fun battle to win:
– Bon jour. She says.
– Bon jour. I replied with an unavoidable foreigner accent.
– Parlez-vous français?
– Pas français, parle espagnol?
– Do you speak English?
– A little bit, but I can make an effort. I replied.
She explained with a tremendous effort I went through two or three stoplights. Great I thought, her English wouldn’t take us too far. I apologized myself and explained why I did that and thought about not pushing too hard the fact that France wasn’t as developed as central and Northern Europe as far as cycling went with dedicated stoplights for cyclists.
She asked for my passport and if I lived in France followed by how long I was planning to stay here. I could tell by the look in her eyes how this was slowly becoming more difficult for her to take any action against me. So, I decided to ask her a few rules about the road and showed her my plan for the day and if cyclists were allowed all over my route. Her companion advised this was more or less ok but it was kind of rough on the elevation. We talked for a while on what I’ve done over the last days but they did not pay much attention and continued saying this would be hard to do it by bike. I thanked them for the advise, apologize again and kept going to Grenoble.
This was a beautiful city but I wanted to keep going before the rain came and hopefully make it all the way to Gap. After two hours and 30km on the log I was going to take a break for food but I thought to reach 40km first. My lunch rule was either three hours of riding or 40km, whatever happened first. The road deviated a little towards the mountain and became a bit hilly. I thought I would stop after the hill was finished but encountered this:
This was the toughest hill I’ve found so far, not only the high elevation on short distance but also the lack of space for cyclists and the exhaust gas of the cars. I stopped once close to a SOS station for some food, chocolate and water and kept going. I finally found the top of the road which culminated at a town called Laffrey, not far from the tip of the snow mountain, where I stopped for a hot chocolate while my phone was charged. The path I started to follow this morning is the inverse of the Route Napoleón. Apparently not very far from that point on 1815 happened this:
Only the King’s army would stand between Napoleon and Paris. Six days after landing in France, he confronted a regiment of infantry ordered to bar his way. Napoleon advanced alone to meet them: “Soldiers,” he cried, “if there is one among you who wants to kill his general, his Emperor, here I am.” Suddenly, the soldiers began cheering wildly, “Long live the Emperor. Long live the Emperor.”
The rain finally came in to stay for the whole day, I looked for shelter under a bus stop and had lunch there. Changed my shorts to waterproof pants, wore jacket and covered my phone with a plastic bag. I did not mind the rain too much but not been able to read the map while riding was quite a pain.
During the trip I’ve met all kind of people with different reasons for traveling. Some are similar to mine, an anticipation of a midlife crisis, others range from finishing high school and taking a break before knowing what to study, to people on their 70s who do not want to be the richest guys in the cemetery (phrase borrowed from Steve Jobs) and with not much life experiences and wanted to do some traveling. Walking, cycling, motorcycling, and cars were the preferred methods. But what I found on the road today was new to me.
I felt a heavy car was about to pass me on the heavy rain while climbing a long hill. Time passed and ‘it’ was still there. We rode the hill side by side for some time until they finally passed me. This was a tractor pulling a small caravan that had a drawing on the back of the path they would follow. From the town nearby in France to Olympia, Greece at a maximum speed of 25km/hr.
When they passed me I believe he offered me a cup of coffee but with the rain, my head cover and my poor French I thought he meant something else. I kept wondering what the hell was that until I saw them parking at a rest area. The beauty of this way of traveling is that you could be silent for 8hrs of hard work and only talk IF you wanted to the person that YOU wanted, or on some cases needed to.
I parked next to the caravan and someone came out making a nice conversation. To my surprise they two did not speak any other language than French. They were both retired and were donating all that farming gear to some countries on the way to Greece as part of a donation program from an association they belonged to. They invited me again for coffee and accepted tea instead inside their tiny kitchen and eating area. Oh yes, and all this was filmed by two other people. One was carrying a professional video camera and the other a still camera. They did speak English and explained they were doing a documentary about Friendship and if I minded been filmed. I said that’s ok. We had biscuits, tea and nice conversation with whatever language I was speaking. My mind had clear that it wasn’t Spanish or English so it tried to pull French words assisted with some German and Italian, which none of them spoke anyway.
Between the hill, the rain and the last stop it was impossible for me to make it to Gap. It was 6:30 and thought looking for a hotel it was my priority. I passed a small town and could not find one, I saw a sign called Corps, and thought this had to be it. I found a few options and decided to stay at one which had very reasonable prices for accommodation and dinner menu too. Had a shower and thought to eat the food I had on my panniers. I saw a lot of meat on the menu and didn’t mind the bread and cheese but this was’t going to be enough, so decided to check the menu again.
The waiter said he could modify a little bit the menu to make it fish only. This started with a paste of trout and salmon with bread. The second course was a lobster and vegetable salad. The third was a combination of a bigger salad with couscous, prawns, rice, and vegetables. The fourth was fish with mushrooms, potatoes and vegetables. All this was accompanied with wine from the region. The dessert was a combination of icecream and a selection of cakes. I would have to sell all my belongings to pay this meal in Switzerland, but this town in France was great!
I was very happy to leave the cheese, chocolate and bread on my bags.
And my blisters from yesterday are doing better.