Sunday, July 25, 2010

Paris

PARIS, FRANCE

Paris. The city of lights.

Another early morning wake up call. I slept in until 5:15 a.m. One thing about this Trek Travel tour is that we were kept moving with little down time. Although we had one lunch and a couple of dinners "on our own" it was nice to have some private time or grab something quick and not have a group dinner that lasted at least two to three hours.

We boarded the bus at 6:00 a.m. for transport to the train station. It was a private train and it was very long. Breakfast was served by Trek Travel staff - quiche and a chocolate croissant plus orange juice and coffee. Ed Karrels had his Garmin out and at one point we were doing 300 kph - about 200 mph. The major differences I saw compared to Amtrak in the Northeast Corridor was that there was no rocking back and forth, no clickity clack of the train on the tracks and the bathrooms did not smell of urine. It was one place you could pee for free in France.


Train Station in Bordeaux

We arrived the train station and it was immediately noticeable that Paris was more "English-friendly" than Toulouse, St. Lary, Lourdes, or Bordeaux. Most signage had English here as well. That was not the case last night when I went out in Bordeaux and found a place to eat. The menu was only in French and the waitress spoke less English than I spoke French - which is only a few phrases or words. But we managed.

We boarded a bus from the train station that took us to within three blocks of our hotel then we walked the rest of the way. The street was too narrow for the bus to maneuver the turns. After storing our luggage at the hotel, we walked 5-6 blocks over to the Automobile Club of France. I need to find out more about this "club" but we were told this is the one day a year women are permitted in the club. No jeans. No shorts. I always envisioned this is the AAA of France. Guess not.

We had to go through security as we got to the block in which the club is located. Then we passed through a second point and finally, once inside the building, a third check. It is a stately building with wonderful balconies over looking the Champs-Eslysses.


Automobile Club of France


Today is the day Ashley joined me. Her plane was delayed four hours so she did not arrive Paris until 1:30 and then had to make her way downtown. At the worst possible time. But she had met a couple from Tucson, Arizona on the flight and they had hired a private car to take them from the airport to their hotel. As it turned out, their hotel was right across the street from our hotel. I had left the club and gone back to the hotel to wait for her.

After Ashley arrived we went to the viewing at the Automobile Club. We jockeyed around trying to see if being at ground level, the outside balconies, or the higher floor windows offered the best view. We ultimately settled on the highest view and then watched the big screen TV coverage of the final lap.




Ashley, Barry

While we were on the balcony, one of the riders in our group, Paul Sommer, asked me to take his picture, framed with the Eiffel Tower in the background. As I was, a woman and her child just cut through the picture. We politely asked them to hold up for a second and they did. As it turned out, it was Johan Bruyneel's wife and daughter.


Megan Elliott (middle), Chris Horner, Johan Bruyneel

After the race we went down to the Radio Shack team bus. We waited, along with many other people, to get one last glimpse of Lance Armstrong participating in his final Tour de France. I passed my copy of Johan's book up to Hollie and Dave Eenigenberg who got him to sign it. But, unlike some in our group, we didn't go through the rope line and get a picture with Lance, Chris Horner, or Levi Leipheimer.




After returning to the hotel we went to the final event - a dinner cruise on the River Seine. A long day, especially for Ashley, who didn't get to bed until midnight after flying in from the U.S.




Front (beginning with woman in brown dress): Stephanie Chapman (guide), Susan Alexander, Scott Spector (kneeling), Anne Mader, Donna Thackrey, Dave Edwards (Guide, kneeling)

Middle (beginning with woman in white dress): Marquette Kelly (guide), Hollie Eenigenburg, Aimee Cutright, Deirdre Mullaly, Debbie Jaudon, Todd Mader, Nancy Karrels, Ed Karrels (with arm around Nancy), Barry Sherry, David Thackrey, Paul Sommer, Nicole Kimborowicz (guide)

Back: Dean Cobble, Burt Piper, Peter Pellicano, David Eenigenburg, Tom Michaud, Deron Cutright, Richard (Rich) McCrea, Mike Bandemer, Matthew McDonald, Dennis McDonald
Missing: James Hartzberg






Barry and Ashley atop the Eiffel Tower

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Puillac

PUILLAC, FRANCE

At 6:00 p.m. this evening I rode with 100 other cyclists from Pauillac to a spot in the countryside. This time I wore shorts and carried two backpacks. The distance was only 3 miles (5 km) but traffic was completely backed up. We learned to ride like the French. Simply ride into the left lane and when oncoming traffic approached maneuver very carefully back close to the yellow line.

I went to my bike, removed my pedals, seat, and Garmin mount. I am sorry to see our riding end. For the six days of riding I rode 300 miles and climbed more than 29,000 feet. I am sure I rode more on Wednesday than anyone in our group and today our group of eight went "exploring" (i.e., had a hard time following the Trek Travel directions) and we ended up with even more miles. Plus when I arrived at the viewing location I turned around and went riding on my own. I am sure I rode more miles than any of the 25 people in our group this week. One the bike is the one time I feel good.

We left this morning with one of the Trek Travel guides, Stephanie Chapman, to bike to Pauillac. When we came to the Tour route at Avenson we were required to dismount and walk across the route. At the other side we waited as the Tour caravan was coming by. This time I was in an excellent position to grab the swag they were throwing. I scooped up three polka dot caps and saw some young kids. I ended up giving all three caps to the kids. To a child in France, they LOVE getting something from the Tour.


Au revoir my French kids

Candy. Gave it to the kids. Key chains. Gave them to the kids. The green foam fingers. Gave to the kids. In turn their mother taught them to say "thank you very much" to their new Santa Claus. I only kept laundry detergent (true) and the L'Equipe newspaper.

We arrived at the Trek location which was the amazing Chateau Pichon.


Chateau Pichon

Lunch was downstairs through the wine cellars. Both lunch and the location were awesome.




We were right on the course and could cheer and photograph each rider as they came by. Since I kept the newspaper, I was the only one in our group that had the list of riders in order as they were coming, unless they had been passed by the rider behind them.



Lance Armstrong

The most memorable moment was sitting and trying to talk with the locals. Just like soccer parents, they brought their chairs and sat next to the course. They remained seated until Lance Armstrong was coming. Then everybody stood. They truly wanted to see this great champion of their tour. Don't tell me the French (people) don't love Lance. They do.


L-R Standing: Rich McCrea, Donna Thackrey, French Guy
Tom Michaud, Debbie Michaub
On Wall: Dave Thackrey, Mike Bandemer, David Eenigenberg.

Tomorrow I will board an early private train ride to Paris to see the final stage and to meet Ashley in Paris.





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Friday, July 23, 2010

Bordeaux


Our bus was an hour late this morning so we had time to check out Lourdes. I don't think I will be coming back here soon. (And am not posting any pictures either...)

We had an uneventful ride to the village of Budos were we ate a picnic lunch before our ride past the vineyards to Bordeaux. We had 15 guys trying their best to organize a pace line -- that's what I get for starting it. While all are "avid" cyclists for wanting to come to the Tour, we had different abilities and it took 15 miles to sort it out.



We had riders of differing abilities and experience. One inexperienced but strong rider would move to the front and then pick up the pace which would blow the line.



King of the Mountains



Another rider would alternately pedal furiously then coast, near the back, which would send the end of the line yo-yo-ing.




James Hartzberg (L) Rich McCrea (R)

I moved to the front as we reached the town of La Brede and saw the last King of the Mountain opportunity for our group. I picked up the pace then attacked while announcing "KOM Points!" It so happened that our guide, Dave Edwards, was at the top of the hill and I was caught way off the front and blew the peloton to pieces. It was great!

Carnage of the KOM Hill
Dave Thackrey and Paul Sommer

It wasn't until we left La Brede that we had four of us in a nice relaxing line each taking 20 second pulls. Dennis McDonald, Tom Michaud, Peter Pellicano and I formed a nice team.

We had a fifth rider join us, Paul Sommer, who immediately went to the front and tried to do all the work himself. He apparently was oblivious that while he was working up front, we continued our 20 second pulls, sometimes letting him get 20-30 meters out in front while other times we passed him effortlessly. And we laughed the entire way to Bordeaux. (Sorry Paul)


We rode into Bordeaux, checked into the hotel, then went out on the course to watch the finish. The actual finish line was impossible to get near to be able to see (4-5 people deep) but we could stand there and watch the big screen. Instead, Peter and I chose to go to the end of the finishing chute to see riders come by after the race and go to their team buses. I got some good pictures including what will be probably my last photo of Lance Armstrong.


Lance Armstrong handing his bottle to a child

Dinner was at the L'Orleans restaurant. I had duck. It was very good and will probably be the last time I ever eat duck. Our evening was a group meal but one of our riders, Susan Alexander, missed it. Instead she ended up meeting up with Robbie Ventura and Frankie Andreau and eating with them. I think she won the night.




Tomorrow will be the Individual Time Trial and our last day of riding. I am sad to see that end but also just finished chatting with Ashley, who will be flying out tomorrow to Paris where she will join me in the City of Lights on Sunday. One exciting week is drawing to a close while another is still ahead.









Note: Actually, it would not be the last photograph I took of Lance nor the last time I would have duck on this trip.

Nor would it be the last time I would visit Lourdes. I returned one year later and rode from Lourdes to Soulor.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Col du Tourmalet


We were up at 5:00 a.m. for a bus ride to Argeles-Gazost. We had to move out early for the opportunity to bike to the summit finish at the Col du Tourmalet as we heard the crowds were large and the Gendarmerie were going to close the summit by 11:00 a.m. (for a 5:00 p.m. finish). People must have been camping at the summit for a week before the Tour for the opportunity to see the Tour pass on Tuesday and finish there today. There simply was not room for more people at the top.

Donna Thackery

We got our bikes and waited patiently in line at the Carrefour supermarket to use their one toilet. There were two Trek Travel groups on our bus so we had almost 60 riders to go up the mountain. And 50 wanted to go to the bathroom. I was in the last group of 10 or so to roll out and we were already 15-20 minutes behind the other riders.




We headed out in a heavy thunderstorm with lightning all around. Rain was coming down hard and we rode though streets with 6" or more of standing water. I've never been more soaked on a bike -- which is simply to say completely soaked.

Note: Because it was raining so hard during the day, it was not a day to risk camera damage by taking lots of pictures.


Trek Travel tent. Notice the cycling clothes
"drying" on the fences behind the tent.

Our guide, Greg, took us to a bike path which looked remarkably similar to the Washington & Old Dominion rail trail in Virginia. It clearly was a former rail line with long straight flat sections along the Gavedepau River. We left the town and got on a road with a slight incline that ran along the river. The river was flowing high and very powerful due to the storms of the past couple of days -- and the one we were riding in.



Dry inside the Trek Travel tent

Along the trail I had dropped to the back simply to sweep the group. But as the road tilted up slightly I started passing our riders and bunches of riders whom I did not recognize. The road was two lane but still with wide shoulders as it followed the river.





We turned onto a road and the climb began. It was 18.5 km to the summit of the Tourmalet. We went through the little town of Luz-Saint-Sauveur and it was, at times, difficult to maneuver through the people walking in front of you. But once out of the village it was good riding. The route was lines with campers, cars, and tents. Even though it was 9:00 a.m., cold and raining, some people would stand and clap as we rode by, other shout "Allez! Allez!" All were voices of encouragement. I think.





My preconceived notion was that I would come to France and ride the Tourmalet while thousand of drunken Frenchmen would hurl insults at us. Nothing could be further from the truth. Well, they may have been drinking, a lot, but all were very respectful of anyone on a bike.



Another view of the Trek Travel tent

It is a culture of cycling. One sees couples in their 70s and 80s biking -- without helmets, of course. But I have ridden more than 200 miles here, much of it climbing mountains, and been passed by hundreds of cars. Not one person has yelled at me. Zero. I have ridden by plenty of HUGE dogs and not one had barked, growled, or chased. Even the dogs like cyclists here.


Yes, that's my blurry picture of Lance Armstrong


On Tuesday we had a restaurant in LaMongie which was 4 km from the summit on the east side of the Tourmalet. I thought we were going to a restaurant today as well. For a while I rode with a young man from Norway until we separated. 

Then I fell into a Trek group with Scott from Rochester, NY and Bobbie Jo from Oakland. The three of us chatted while we climbed and it seemed in no time we were at our Trek Travel Tent/viewing area. 

We were at kilometer 8.5 and I wanted to continue to the summit. Even though it was cold, raining and generally miserable, I viewed this as a once in a lifetime opportunity. Besides, going up was easy. I was generating enough body heat to keep me warm.

I climbed through a number of switchbacks all still lined with campers. There was an exceptional presence of Basque people who came from just over the border in Spain although there are French Basque as well.



A very proud Young Basque Man

I reached the 4km to the summit sign and the road was barricaded. No one was being permitted through. Some cyclists tried to scale a hill nearby with their bikes and it was comical to see the hill win as they would fall and slide backwards. One reached the road only to be turned away by the Gendarmerie.

Passing the cars and campers was not much different than walking through the parking lot at any NFL or soccer game. It was TdF tailgating and the smells were great.

I then descended back to the tent area. It was dry as I began my descent but I could also see in the distance this beautiful cloud in the valley. It was rain. Cold rain. And I had to ride through it.


 Paul Sommer and Lori Rackl (Chicago Sun-Times)

At the "Trek village" there were three smaller square tents. One contained our travel tote bags; one was a women's changing area; and one was for men. I walked into the changing area and there were wet cycling kits hanging anywhere one could fashion a hanger but mostly on the support poles of the tent. I changed into my dry clothes for the day and went inside the large reception tent and sat down with a bunch of people I didn't know before.




There were 10 travel groups with Trek Travel doing the last week of the tour and this was the first of three locations we would converge. The other two are the time trial in Bordeaux and the finish in Paris. Here I sat with Chris and Lori Rackl from Chicago. Lori is on the "trip of a lifetime" but is also writing a story about it for the Chicago Sun-Times





Lori wanted to interview some people from the Chicago area and I stood up and rang my cowbell. People became silent and I simple called for Hollie Eenigenburg. Hollie and her husband, Dave, own the Trek bike store in Schererville, Ind. So Lori did an interview with Hollie with me interrupting occasionally. And then she interviewed Paul Sommer.

Throughout the day the rain came down hard. There was no heat in the tent other than what 250 people will create. Some riders still had wet clothes on or sent only a short sleeve shirt in their bag. They were in trouble.

A few times, the sun came out, and large cheers erupted. But rarely did the sun shine for more than five minutes. But people moved their wet clothes from inside the changing tent to hang them on whatever fences they could fins only to be poured on again.

We were served dinner inside the tent and they had four large flat screen monitors where we could watch the riders until they were ready to go by us. Then we had to simply scale a 20 meter steep hillside.

I know there are cheaper tours. But today I was glad I was with Trek Travel. After passing the Trek tents and wanting to ride as far as I could until being turned away, I rode with a man from New Hampshire.

Me: "Where are you from?"


He: "New Hampshire"


Me: "Mount Washington is much tougher than this"


He: "You have ridden up Mount Washington?"


Me: "Yes"


He: "I've done the running race 11 times but would never try to bike up it."


He told me he was with Thompson Tours. They would be biking to their hotel on the other side of the mountain after the race. He had a rain jacket but we were soaked. And with the summit already closed, the poor guy had no where to get in out of the cold and rain for the next 5-6 hours.





The caravan came by and I scaled the steep hill. I felt silly wearing my referee/Ultimate Frisbee turf shoes on Tuesday. Today, I was the envy of everyone who slipped and fell on the hill trying to get up to the main road.

We had front row viewing to Andy Schelck and Alberto Contador going past, trailed not by much by Lance Armstrong. A number of the group then ran back to the tent to watch the finish on TV. I elected to stay in my position and cheer on every last rider making the climb. I can always watch the tour on TV. How often can I see these guys in person?



Alberto Contador (L); Andy Schleck (R)

The descent afterwards was wild. There were literally miles of cars stopped and only bikes could fly by down the mountain. It was downhill all the way until we reached the bike path then we rode 18 km to Lourdes where we would check in for the night.




Lourdes is an interesting city. Think Gatlinburg, Tennessee or Niagara Falls, Ontario. Or maybe Ocean City, Maryland. It's been referred to as the Vatican meets Vegas. People come here to be healed or buy healing stuff, I guess. There are more hotels per capita than any place in France. People are pushed down the streets in their wheelchairs, except in the middle of town where they have their own wheelchair lanes. Lots of people limping. And of course, they're all smoking.




Most moving moment of the day: On the run up to the climb seeing mile after mile of LIVESTRONG messages painted on the road. Every one remembers or honors someone with cancer and I'm sure thousands more messages got submitted but not painted. I was choked up and pulled over to gather myself. I hate cancer.


Hundreds if not Thousands of Messages
painted by the LIVESTRONG bot

This would be a day that I was reminded that while I am a survivor, cancer will always be in my life. I have good days and bad, mostly good, but on the Tourmalet was a reminder that one does not beat cancer without losing part of yourself to cancer. I will never be normal again and was part of the reason I elected to stay outside in the cold rain to watch the Tour go by.

UPDATE: It was only after returning home, on August 9, 2010, that I received a message from LIVESTRONG that my message of hope had been one selected to be painted on the road. I don't know if it was one of the ones I rode across on this day or not.






Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Col d' Azet and Col d' Peyresourde

ST. LARY, FRANCE

We woke up to a chilly overcast day. A pretty loud thunderstorm visited in the middle of the night and the low cloud cover was here to stay. Our Trek Travel group met and discussed riding options for the day. At breakfast a number of people were already discussing taking a day off from riding. And why not? Because the Tour de France is having a rest day there was no viewing location to bike to.





Why not? Because you paid a million freekin' dollars to come to France to ride a bicycle. I'm in!

We could climb the Col d' Azet and Col d' Peyresourde, eat lunch in Luchon, then return over the Peyresourde. Or there was a valley road leading right to the Peyresourde so only one climb would be needed. And Trek Travel would shuttle people back.






People discussed their options. Some were staying back at the hotel and visiting St. Lary to go shopping. Some were staying back but riding locally. Some were going out to the Peyresourde to Luchon. And only a handful, perhaps five, were going to the entire route. Yea, that would be me.





Because groups formed in the parking lot and I was unsure who was in which group, I just sort of jumped in and started asking where they were going. I joined Rich McCrea and James Hartzberg and we went flying down the road - in the wrong direction. But the time we realized we weren't supposed to be following the other groups, we had to turn around and go back to St. Lary to start our climb from there. These are called bonus miles. I love them! We added 14 bonus miles returning to St. Lary before beginning the climb up the Azet.

The mountains had a low cloud cover. The climb up the Col d' Azet was almost seven miles. We went through a couple old and small villages past farms. We passed some big dogs and no dog yet has shown us any attention. No barking. No growling. No chasing.


Rich McCrea (L) and James Hartzberg (R)
At the summit of Col d' Azet

At the summit the cover moved rapidly. When I arrived it was covered and I could barely see the sign at the summit 25 meters away. In seconds then entire mountain had cleared. And then it disappeared again.




The descent, while obviously steep, was pretty cold. For each climb it was strip down to as little as possible and sweat your ass off, even though the temperature was around 15C (59 F), and then stop at the summit to put on as much gear as possible before the descent. Then freeze.




The top of the Azet is a pastoral grazing area and being France, I'm not sure if that means a number of monks are walking around or -- yes, judging from the number of cow patties -- it is a free roaming area for cattle. We had to stop and pass carefully by two huge cows on our descent off Azet.




No sooner than one comes off the Azet that the climb to Peyresourde begins. This climb was used yesterday in the Tour de France. It was hot, while cold, ascending. At the top was a Trek Travel van where I pulled over to refill my two bottles -- both empty. Ate some pretzels, energy bars, and found the super secret stash of Snickers. Mmm, Snickers.

Actually, the van had been to the top of Azet earlier but because of our bonus miles, we had missed it. But not now.




One rider from another group had already abandoned and lent his rain slicker to James for the descent. James had only a jersey and arm warmers. I had a jacket with removable sleeves which made it a vest. It rocked.



Dave and Donna Thackrey, Peter Pellicano

The descent off the Peyresourde to Luchon could have been great in good weather conditions. But the cloud cover was so thick we were getting soaked descending and were on the verge of hypothermia. This side of the mountain had straight roads but visibility was so bad, plus the roads were wet, one could not let go of the brakes. It was a shame. When you could see the line in the road change slightly you weren't sure if it was merely a subtle change in the road or a nasty 180 hairpin curve. And I have yet to see a single sign in the Pyrenees warning of a curve ahead and a recommended safe speed to use.

We reached Luchon about the time most of our group was getting ready to roll out. They had just finished a big lunch and some had already called it quits for the day. The van was taking them back. I met our tour guide, Nicole Kimborowicz, plus Matt McDonald and Peter Pellicano who were going back over the Peyresourde. I didn't want to abandon Rich and James but Rich had basically declared that, after lunch, he was taking a shuttle and James was unsure.


Luchon, Fr.

I didn't want to eat lunch then have no one to bike back with and I was biking back. So I skipped lunch and jumped in with the Nicole group. That was an excellent idea. The worse thing I could have done was to sit down, get something heavy in my stomach, get cold in my wet clothes, stiffen up, then attack the Peyresourde -- the same HC climb the Tour used yesterday.

The same recipe followed -- climb the Peyresourde, put on as many warm clothes for the descent, then let 'er rip. Although not let it go too fast. It was just yesterday off the descent of the Peyresourde that Jens Voigt had his front tire blow out and he crashed hard. Although the broom wagon offered to pick him up, and thereby would end his race, he requested a new bike. A car was in the caravan that had been supporting a children's race and they delivered him a bike -- a child's bike which he rode 15-20 kilometers until his team car could get him a full size bike again.



Jens Voigt - Gotta love the toe clips

After our safe descent of the Peyresourde, my group didn't want to return the route we came -- up and over the Azet again. So we took some valley roads back to St. Lary. On our way into town I went ahead solo through town and climbed partially back up the Azet to take pictures.


St. Lary from the base of Azet

I returned home with probably the most miles (74) and vertical feet of climbing (9600) of anyone in the group today. It was a great day on the bike.



Pretty crazy profile. The peaks are Azet, Peyresourde, and
Peyresourde a second time with a partial climb up the Azet again.





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