Saturday, July 23, 2011

Some Final Thoughts about France


I began the day having to find the beach and swim in the Mediterranean. Monday on Alpe d'Huez and today would be the only two really nice weather days I had in France.

I found the beach and went for a brief swim. The water was much colder than I expected. It was the Mediterranean Sea, after all.

I parked along a beach access road and decided I would follow a bike path to the town I could see about 4-5 miles away. I followed the path until it came to a small town and then to a harbor.

I turned and went back and flew right past the car without realizing it. The path ended and I entered a town and spent 30-40 minutes wandering about the small beach town, enjoying seeing the carnival atmosphere and wondering where in the heck I was.

I was lost. I stayed in the town looking for a way out and couldn't find any. Three or four times I thought I found an exit only to be fooled. The entire time I had believed that that I was on the right beach road but had yet to come back to the car. Along the beach with hundreds of cars parked along the road, they tend to all look alike. I finally decided that I had passed the car so I would have to turn around and find it.

I remember a private tent or building on the beach and could spot it in the distance. I went by it and figured I was close to the car.

I passed the car.

I just went by the car again. Two kids on bikes were on the bike path, which was next to the road, blocking my path and laughing. They were about 11-12 years old and were challenging me to a race. I didn't know French but I knew they wanted to race. I guess all Frenchmen race. I gestured back and pointed to my grey hair. They continued.

Then I came to an opening in the barrier which separated the bike path from the road. I went through the opening and just took off. The kids never had a chance. I was gone.

Inside I laughed but I still had to find the car. I soon realized I had been here before, turned around, and found the car. Thoughts of spending extra time in France because I lost the rental car now left me. I drove on to Toulouse.

At the airport Novotel I watched the TdF on French TV. Then I went to return the rental car to the airport. I removed everything from the car except my bike as I would bike back. I followed the signs to the airport and a big "oh shit" moment hit me. I didn't have the car's Garmin with its French maps. And I was on a limited access highway that did not permit bikes. I hoped it wasn't far but soon went 7 km and made many turns then three or four roundabouts. And there was no way I could find my hotel using surface streets. And it was getting dark.

When the women working at Hertz couldn't help me I went inside the airport to the information counter and called the hotel and had them come pick me up. I took the wheels off and sheepishly put the bike in the hotel van. What a way to end cycling in France.

Back at the hotel I carefully packed the bike and then my two suitcases. My 4:30 wake up call would come soon. And although I was first on the shuttle at 5:30 a.m., I needed all that time to catch my 7:30 a.m. flight to Madrid. Only once I boarded the plane could I really relax.

In the airport at Madrid I was in my comfort zone. After all, Ashley and I ran through this airport one year ago only to miss our international flight by five minutes. Or less.

I found the Iberia Business Class lounge with their wonderful spread of free food. What a nice way to end this trip.

This is the best ice cream in the world.

I came to France thinking that I would ride perhaps 500 miles. I rode 276. But I did climb up the famous Col du Tourmalet, Mont Ventoux, and Alpe d'Huez. Now I don't know if I will ever return. I hope I do but if I don't I have great memories, both with Trek Travel last year and with my solo venture this year.

Vive le France!

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