Provence 2008
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This was supposed to be my second biking holiday this year and I was looking forward to some sun and fresh air after months of stressful work. I take the position that a holiday should be educating, let you forget your everyday worries and let you look forward to being home again, in the end. I achieved all this in an astonishingly short space of time. Here’s a quick link to the pictures, because I know the texts below won’t be read by most people, anyway.

DAY 1 (sunny, warm) - 8 hrs of riding, ascent: 2100 m
    
DAY 2 (warm, some sun) - 6.5 hrs, ascent: 850 m

DAY3 (first warm, then rain, torrential in the end) - 7.5 hrs, ascent: 1500 m

DAY4 (more rain, colder, holiday ended) - 4.5 hrs, ascent: 500 m

DAY5 - return from Mulhouse - 3.5 hrs, ascent: 100 m - no pictures, lots of cars.

Summary: 30 hrs of of riding, ascending more than 5000 m - with a 45 Kg bike. :-)

DAY 1-  AVIGNON & MONT VENTOUX

I took a night train from Mulhouse to Avignon, which is a beautiful way to travel because you get both transportation and accomodation at the same time. You effectively lose no time at all to get to your destination, if you plan it carefully.

AVIGNON - I arrived in Avignon at 4:40 am and found an enchanted, sleeping city bathed in warm yellow light. The city center feels quite medieval in places and the ancient bridge and the gigantic palace of the Pope (there were up to three Popes at that time) was fascinating, at night. For this very special experience alone, the trip would have been worth it.

MONT VENTOUX - After having enjoyed the beauty of the city for a while, I started off towards my first big callenge: the infamous  Mont Ventoux (the windy mountain, 1920 m high, ranked as “hors categorie”  in road racing.) My trustworthy steel travelling bike weighed nearly 45 Kg because I had taken a lot of food and a tent with me, but I was confident I would make it. I bought a baguette in Carpentras and stole some (very tasty) grapes from a vineyard, half an hour later. Strengthened by this not very substantial meal, I approached the mountain from Bédouin, taking the classical route of the Tour de France. I made good pogress in the beginning and felt my legs getting into the rythm again, but the mountain became steeper and steeper and the ascent just would not end. When I had reached a resting area at approx. 1100 m. I realized I had to have break and eat a proper breakfast. After that, the climb went much better.

THE SIMPSON TRAGEDY - All the time, I had looked out for the memorial of Tom Simpson, a road racer who died there of heart failure in 1967 in a Tour de France Race, doped with amphetamines and alcohol. Some people say he was so doped that he didn’t know he was overdoing it, but any racer who rides up the same way will understand why he intentionally pushed on and on (enabled by his doping), fell off his bike, rode another 300m an fell off his bike, never to wake up again, just 1 km from the summit. I can’t explain it, it has to be experienced.

PETRARCA - The summit of Mont Ventoux offers a great view over the Rhone valley, the Plateau de Vacluse and the more rugged mountains to the north. The mountain is not only one of the “holy places” of bicycle sport, but was also climbed by Francesco Petrarca in 1336. His description of this adventure he and his brother undertook out of pure curiosity (!) in 1336 hints at the end of the middle ages and the coming of the Renaissance. I have great sympathies for Petrarca, because he brought a book [Augustine’s “Confessions”, considered to be the first western autobiography and an inspiration for future philosophers]. Opening the “Confessions” at random, his eye fell on the following words, written nearly a thousand years earlier, in AD 397: “And men go about to wonder at the heights of the mountains, and the mighty waves of the sea, and the wide sweep of rivers, and the circuit of the ocean, and the revolution of the stars, but themselves they consider not.” I “only” had Huxley’s Point Counter Point with me, but I decided not to leave this magnificent mountain yet and rather enjoy the rest of the day, reading in the sun.

A NIGHT ON THE MOUNTAIN - I experimented a bit with the rubble-strewn trails descending from the peak and eventually found a very nice spot at approx. 1400m height, read my book, listened to the French searching for mushrooms (which grow there in abundance) and watched a beautiul sunset. The night was quiet and peaceful, up there.

 

DAY 2 - SAULT, FORCALQUIER, VAL D’ASSE, FORBIDDEN FOREST
The weather was still mostly sunny, but not as nice as the day before. The descent from my sleeping place down the eastern road was nice and easy. I then passed the rater boring Plateau de Vaucluse, which can only be called flat if one has a generous margin of error of at least 100 m. The highlight there was the greatest cycle road I have ever seen (but then, I haven’t even cycle in the Netherlands, yet). Just before Forcalquier I saw an ancient, quaint stone hut for shepherds of a type that is still being used up in the mountains. Forcalquier centre was very picturesque and since I had to wait for the Boulangerie to open at 3 pm, I dragged my bike up to the Chapel above the city (probably the first bike up there in ages). Strengthened by a fresh piece of baguette I rode on, crossed the rather wide valley of the Durance river and then followed the idyllic Asse river towards the main attraction of the next day, the Lac de St. Croix. There, I had my very first puncture, caused by thorns that looked like a little devil’s head (see photo). While pumping up the mended tire, I broke the head of my pump so that now I could only fill the tire with ca. 40 PSI ( 3 bar) pressure, which works on the front wheel, but doesn’t roll as well as it could. I had a look at the river Asse during the sunset, but a dog barking on the other side and heavy tire tracks on the river bank drove me away from that idyllic place. I turned to the hills in the hope of another nice sunset or sunrise, but only found a fenced off private forest, that looked rather quiet to me, so I chose to sleep there. I did not set up my tent because it was a very mild evening and because I wanted to be mobile quickly, in the morning in case the owner came by very early. It was a bit eerie, because I didn’t know my surroundings and not far away, they were hunting with shotuns, even after sunset. At night, I woke up by a strange sound of a wild pig pretty close by. It was kind of “mumbling” and squeaking, while looking for food, but quickly jogged away when it heard (or smelled) me.

 

DAY 3

Here, you will soon read of my arduous journey towards the blue Lac St. Croix, my attempt to ride along the superiour rim of the Verdon Canyon, a turn in the weather, a desperate escape towards te sea and my refuge in a small Village Hotel, the Pont D’Or.

 

DAY 4

The day I decided to cut my holiday short. The man on TV had said something about “neige” the coming days, and I knew I could have that at home as well, so I turned towards St. Maximin la Ste. Baume in the morning in the hope of getting a train back to Avignon, but they only have the grave of Mary Magdalene, there, no trains. So I rode another 40 km along a route nationale to Aix en Provence, a very nice city that alson doesn’t have a proper train connection and finally took a bus to Marseilles for a train to Avignon.

On that train, I accidentally met a young Moroccan who had no ticket and got into trouble with the conductor. He travelled with some sort of (invalid) permit issued by the French Foreign Legion, which he was about to join, because there was no work for him at home. I talked to the actually very reasonable conductor and he offered to sell the guy a ticket for a single station and then ignore him the rest of the way, which was very nice. Mohamed had no money, so I paid the 1.80 EUR for him an he was very grateful about that, of course. I told im that I had been in Morocco and asked him about his view of the country. He commended the great social networks that assures that nobody has to starve. Apparently, there’s always food to be had at a mosque and (state subsidised) bread is ridiculously cheap in Morocco, too. Also, people share more and take care of their neighbours better than over here, he thought and I must agree, of course. The downside about Morocco seems to be that the wealthy upper class do everything they can to keep the others “in their place”, so there seems to be virtually no social upward mobility. After we had talked a while, Mohamed mentioned that at the age of 18 he’d tried to cross over to Spain with 21 others in a 6 m long open boat with a much to small outboard motor, so they were adrift on the sea for 36 hours before they reached Europe and were immediately apprehended by the Spanish police. Talking to this guy really got me thinking. How can it be that a decent, normal young person has to risk his life, first in trying to reach a country of equal opportunities by desperate means and then by becoming “cannon fodder” for France?

Well, when we arrived at Avignon, I invited Mohamed for a coffee and he gave me some tips for my next visit to Morocco, then we parted. I had to spend 8 long hours waiting for the night train back home which I mostly used reading. When the heavy rain stopped for a while, I rode through Avignon once more, to say good bye.

The next morning, I rode back home in dreary weather from Mulhouse without a map, which was not a good idea because it was cloudy and I couln’t really see where I was going, but I managed to get home safely in the end.