Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Last Day (France Trip Series)

Thursday. Last full day on the bikes. The group is getting stronger every day, and each day a completely unique adventure. I am soooo not ready for this to end.

Today we bike 25 miles from Chinon to Saumur. We cross the Vienne river and now the Velo is a mostly a dedicated bike trail (paved) meandering through the vineyards west of Chinon. There are chambres d’hotes all along the Velo here. They are similar to B&B’s in the US but some are actually small chateaus and they all cater specifically to cyclists.

It is lunchtime when we've reached the Loire at the small town of Candes-Saint-Martin. We find a picnic table next to the river, and I shoot into town to procure some local wine. This town is spectacular. Medieval of course with the narrow crooked cobblestone streets, oh so cool shops and cafes, and a pretty respectable byzantine-style cathedral in the middle of town. I find a cave stocked with local wine, there are three locals enjoying a bottle of wine in the corner. One is the very friendly proprietor who turns me on to a bottle local red wine (after giving me a taste of course), and I head back for lunch.

We enjoy a leisurely lunch of baguette sandwiches, cheese, fresh fruit, wine, and chocolate. Eventually – moving more slowly now – we mount up and ride into town to explore.

Later that afternoon as we approach Saumur we begin to see more troglodytes – homes, artisan studios, small shops – along the road. Under protest (mine) I ditch the group so I can explore on foot. They seem overly interested in getting to Saumur. I tell them I would catch up. I will do better than that...

After exploring for 10 minutes or so, I mount up and start hammering to catch the group and pretty soon realize that I have somehow lost them. How is this possible? Well in my haste I had diverted off the Velo…but it seems that every road in France leads to some sort of adventure and this is no exception. I have stumbled upon nothing less than the zero meridian marker! After snapping some pictures, I resume hammering west not quite sure how this leg is going to end.

Eventually everyone in our group stumbles upon the same swimming hole on the banks of the Loire. We are like Labrador Retrievers. Unable to resist the siren call of the water, we each slip into the lazy river to cool off and eventually the entire group is back together. I am pretty excited about my zero-meridian encounter, but the girls quickly explain that in my haste I have detoured around one of the most amazing sections of Velo so far… a kilometer or so of trail that winds in and out of the caves of a troglodyte village. Ruth says I must backtrack and see it for myself, so I head back east while the gang lounges in the river.

Oh my God this is off the charts amazing. It is a terribly narrow and hilly cobblestone street that winds along a hillside, into and out of these troglodyte tunnels and homes. One minute you are riding in brilliant sunshine and the next minute you are in a pitch black tunnel where the temperature has dropped 40 degrees…and then you are riding through a large open space, still about 20’ below the surface, where the roof has collapsed allowing the sunshine to spill in. Then you’re back outside before you dive into another tunnel.

The road (a path really) undulates, some of the pitches are steep, one is labeled 18 degree grade! Interspersed throughout are spectacular homes, many of them carved into the hillside when these tunnels were built in the middle ages.

I think it is another 5 miles to Saumur (yes another spectacular castle and unbelievable food). Tomorrow we will leave the bikes and return to Paris. But we are not done with the bikes.
Friday morning Jeff and I leave the girls in Saumur (big time shopping) and ride back to the troglodytes and the vineyards to the east. We leave Oma and Opa there, and explore the troglodyte village one more time (even giving directions to a french cycling couple who appear to be lost).

I will have one more cycling experience that day, but it will not involve a bike. Later that day we catch a TGV back to Paris. The TGV of course is a bullet train that rips hurtles down the rails at about 185 mph. I distinctly remember being scared as the train accelerated out of Tours (transfer station). I had spent the last week travelling at 12 mph across France and had not been in a motor vehicle since the start of our bike leg. This silly-stupid speed was simply not computing in my head, and I felt like a chimpanzee being needlessly shot into orbit on top of a high-power rocket.

I will conclude the France Trip Series with a final post where, among other things, I will congratulate my wife and daughter on an incredible accomplishment and thank them for rolling the dice with me on this most excellent adventure.

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