Sunday, July 17, 2011

Mont Ventoux


I met two guys from West Chester, Pa. (near Philadelphia) in Bédoin, which is the little village before the base of the climb. We agreed to ride together until James and Brian decided that I (1) had already ridden too many climbs this trip, (2) was suffering from sleeping in the car last night and having no breakfast*, and (3) was much older than them. They had just arrived and were looking to follow the Tour. Too bad they didn't wait for me because I had lots of useful tips. Philly fans.

Traffic circle outside Bédoin

So I started the climb on my own. It started raining part way up. Still, I was in short sleeves until I pulled on my vest with about 10km to go.

The lower wooded section is beautiful. Climbing higher I saw few riders but did pass one from Denmark. Apparently his wife was with him for support. She would pass, go ahead 200-300 meters and wait until he passed her.

Visibility near the top dropped to 10 meters. On the last turn to the summit I was hit by 50 mph (80 kmh) winds which ripped my glasses right off me. Goodbye glasses. The wind blew me across the road but I stayed upright, worried only about a descending car.

Couldn't lift the bike the wind was so strong

It was only about 50 meters more to the summit. I stayed at the summit no more than 2-3 minutes. I think severe hypothermia would probably set in by spending no more than an hour there. It was nasty on top. The temperature was probably 40 F (5 C) and the winds seemed to be sustained at about 50 mph.

I was content to take a picture of the summit sign but three women from Germany drove up and offered to take my picture. Thus I have photographic evidence of being here.

I had passed the memorial to Tom Simpson just a couple hundred meters from the top. I did not want to stop and lose momentum so I kept going. This memorial is to drugs, no? Tom was high on amphetamines and alcohol and pushed himself beyond the limit of his body and died on this mountain during the Tour de France. But yet, he's a hero.

At the Tom Simpson Memorial

On the way down I stopped to take a photo. Seems like the thing to do is to donate a water bottle. I didn't.

A guy going up saw me taking a photo and offered to take mine. He did then I took his. I also gave him a push to help him clip in and get going again.

My photographer. Does he look like a turtle?

Despite being dropped by my Philly friends, I was passed by four cyclists going up and I passed 17. On the descent I was passed by no one and passed four more cyclists and two cars. I was freezing on the descent (I did put on arm warmers), went through sleet then just pouring rain. I went as fast as I could safely go just to get down quickly.

Oh yea, Frenchmen must have a complex because they sure like to paint penises on the road quite a bit.


*I had made a reservation at a bed and breakfast near Mormion. There was no house number for a street address. Garmin got me close then had me go up a back alley that soon narrowed and wasn't big enough for the car. I asked three different families who were walking and none seemed to no for sure where it was. Eventually, I found it, and took just my backpack to the door.

I used the door knocker. Heard a dog bark but that was it. They had a bell with a long rope. I pulled it repeatedly. No answer. I was scared. I was literally in a back alley.

I found my way to the main street and there was a pizza shop about to close with a couple sitting out front. I started talking to them and found out they're from England. He was kind enough to use his iPhone and call the place for me. Answering machine. He then sent an email. After 15 minutes the pizza shop closed and the owner went with me and he too, and no luck getting an answer.

I drove to the major city, Carpentras. I found a Best Western that was about to close for the night (11:00p) and a sign on the door advertised they were full. I asked anyhow if they knew of other vacancies. The desk clerk told me that every hotel he knew was full since there was a festival in town.

I asked if he would be so kind to let me log onto his WiFi and send my wife a message that I was OK since I hadn't messaged her at all today. Of course I was scared to death but wouldn't tell her that. He walked outside with me and secretly handed me a slip of paper with codes to the WiFi signal. He showed me the imaginary line where I would be outside of camera range because he would get in trouble if his boss saw him helping me. (True)

I thanked him, got my laptop as the rain started to fall lightly, and ducked in a protected area close enough but not able to be seen. I found the signal but could not connect. Damn shame.

I got in the car and started driving. I looked for "all lodging" on the GPS and it brought up campgrounds as well. I thought that might be an option. One was close and a bit secluded. I arrived and went through a security gate. I parked then explained my situation to a young man who quickly ran and got his sister because "her English is perfect." It wasn't, far from it compared to many people I met in France, but it was adequate. And it was 10 times better than my French. Her mother, the campground owner came over as well.

They were full. I offered to rent a site but they had none available. Then she asked if I had a tent. Well, no. All I was looking for was to park for the night and sleep in the car. Someplace safe from criminals and the police (in case it was somehow illegal).

They willingly agreed and offered me a blanket and pillow. And a shower. I declined all but the owner brought me a blanket anyhow. I'm glad she did.

It wasn't a relaxing sleep in the Fiat and morning came soon enough. I went to meet and thank the owners and this time there was a man there. I returned their blanket and couldn't thank them enough.

He had fresh croissants delivered and I bought one for my breakfast then decided to drive to Bédoin rather than bike there because I was very unsure of the direction. Thus I had suffered from sleeping in the car last night and having no breakfast, save for a croissant, which is hardly the energy food for climbing such a mountain.

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