Solo by bicycle, across southern France

My map let me make this choice. I travel with Michelin maps, specifically the yellow departmentale 300 series maps. That day I was using number 342, “Hautes Pyrénées, Pyrénées Atlantiques.” They show me most (not all) roads. Nowadays, after 5 trips, I always search out the little white roads. Little white roads? Retire Live  in Southern FranceNow there is a phrase that only means something in the context of the map. Little, because the thickness of the line on the map is related to the busy-ness of the road. White, because these are the least traveled roads, though they may be departmentale roads. It sounds confusing, but once on a bike it is not so much. “A” roads: auto routes, like our interstates, bicycles forbidden. N roads: National roads, legal to ride on, but often very fast, and busy. Red roads: national and international. Sometimes fine to ride on, sometimes busy with fast traffic. Narrow red roads are likely to be better for bicycles. Yellow roads: interregional and less congested. White roads: local. Red, yellow and white roads can all be D roads: departmentale roads. I turned south on the D626, which became the D126, both with green lines running next to the yellow. The green indicates a scenic road. It was indeed scenic.

The maps also have a series of chevrons, indicating ascent or descent. >=5-9% grade; >>=10-13% grade; >>>=over 13% grade. That is why I believed this route less steep. There is a wealth of information to be discovered, by taking a close look at Michelin 300 maps.

But first, before attempting any road I needed to get some food. On my previous trip, in 2010, I had learned just what a mess I become on a bike without food. It isn’t something I can fake my way through, or ignore. I become a slug: a slow moving, tired, whiney mess, though I trust I keep the whiney part to myself. I have learned the technical term is bonking. It’s a good lesson to remember, and the lesson is ok with me, because when food is good I do like to eat. And in France, the food is usually good. I was in the outskirts of a small town, didn’t want to take the time needed for lunch in a bistro. Retire Live  in Southern FranceIt was still morning, stores should not yet have closed for the lunch hour, so I went looking for a grocery store, or a group of them: charcuterie, boulangerie, fromagerie, épicerie. I found a group of tiny little wooden, freestanding buildings, unlike anything I had seen before, or have seen since, and purchased some ham from one, cheese from another, then fruit, bread, and chocolate. Packed my lunch provisions up in a pannier, turned back south, and headed gradually uphill, back towards the high country. I rode on one of the most beautiful roads I had ever ridden upon.

After perhaps 10 miles, this road led me to Ferrières, and the lunch stop that I described above. I stopped to eat just before the serious climbing began. That lunch, which I remember so clearly, was delicious. My unbidden memory of lunch brought with it the rest of the day, and the memory of the climb, which I remember equally clearly. The climb that followed lunch, was hard, steep, long and hot. Very steep, and very hot. I learned a lot.

The road climbed and climbed, and climbed and climbed. Then it climbed some more. That day I devised my strategy of climbing to a waltz rhythm, singing (in my out of tune way) whatever waltz comes to mind, with its 123, 123. Matching the pedal downstroke to the 1 beat alternates the emphasis from right to left foot offering mini rests while keeping up power, though a bit uneven power.

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1 Comment

  1. Wow: a great way to see France and another part of the world. The lunches sound incredible because I’m sure they bring all the senses into play…food that excites the taste buds, great views, lots of beautiful sounds, and a great focus on the feeling of being alive with a difficult but pleasurable afternoon still to come.
    I am sure you will have many more great lunches in the near future.

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