Friday Night Double Feature

On a strange weather evening – bands of weak-hurricane-like wind and rain, and alternating periods of calm – we were also treated to a double rainbow. This picture captures some of the brilliance of the inner arc, and the contrast in the sky's color between the inside of the inner arc and the area between the arcs. Click the photo to enlarge it.


Kurt's Bike Trip in France - Pictures taken by Others

It took a while, but I went through the 900+ photos that were taken by others in my group and put them up on Picasa. They're roughly in chronological order, and are captioned.

To view them, visit this link. (There is the ability to view them in "slideshow" style... just look for the "slideshow" button in the upper-left.)

Also, the Alpe d'Huez and Mont Ventoux climbs had prospecting photographers along the route... they'd take your picture and then run up along side you and give you a business card (of sorts) that would direct you to their website and tell you how to find your pictures. Anywho, here are links to those sites:

Alpe d'Huez
- http://griffe7.phot-online.fr/album/362/2011-08-aout-august#photo_237199 (Put "M46680" in the Search box, hit Search, and my pictures begin with M46661)
- http://www.photobreton.com/consulter/Images.asp?LangueID=2&AllVars=DossierID%A7185325%A4AlbumID%A7186058&NumPage=32&fichierHighlight=3768689&NbreParPage=40&test=0,75# (my pictures begin with LT1A5434)

Mont Ventoux
- http://www.ventouxphoto.fr/gallery.php?gid=1524&page_num=13&sort_by=title&sort_order=ascending (my pictures begin with the image labeled "10h54-09.08.2011-398.jpg" at the bottom.)
- http://griffe7.phot-online.fr/album/9/4-le-mont-ventoux-2011#photo_246282 (Put "J38900" in the Search box, hit Search, and my pictures begin with J38895)


1st Day... Again.

Chloe stepped into the world of 3rd Grade this morning, wearing some new duds that she and Peggy picked out over the weekend.


Kurt's Bike Trip in France - The Pictures

Below you will find a link to pictures from my trip. They're on Picasa, but you shouldn't need an account to view them... if you have the link (which is below) you should be OK.

The link will open automatically open up a slideshow... if the pictures are going by too fast/slow, you can adjust the speed with the controls at the bottom of the screen. (You may need to move your mouse pointer over the bottom of the screen to see the controls.)

So without further delay... follow this link to see my* pictures.

*The pictures at this link are just the pictures I took... me and my tour mates and guides all swapped photos, but I have yet to comb through all of theirs. Once I do, I will likely put them up as well. But for now, enjoy.

Kurt's Bike Trip in France - Part IX: In closing, Merci and Au Revoir

Well, I’m sitting here on the TGV making my way from Avignon to Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport, typing up this postscript and getting glimpses of the French countryside as it whizzes by.

Less there be any doubt, this was a week I will always remember. Though I fashion myself a cyclist, I never, ever thought I’d be pedaling my way up climbs with names like Alpe d’Huez, Lautaret, Galibier, Glandon, Croix de Fer and Ventoux. Never. And for that I must say Merci/Thank You to my lovely wife, Peggy… you are the best. It’s because of you (and your being tired of hearing me pine for a road bike and forcing me to go and get the damn thing!) that I became the cycling enthusiast that I am. And it is also because of you (and your GREAT knack for gift giving) that I did this tour. I know this wasn’t an easy time for you for me to be away, with a new job and all and keeping Chloe busy. So, Peggy, from the bottom of my heart, “Merci” for such a wonderful gift and experience.

And to my tour mates Dave, Fernando and Luis, guides Julien and Patrick, and the “epic climbs” with whom I spent a most enjoyable week, I say Au Revoir. If you are ever in Colorado…


Kurt's Bike Trip in France - Part VIII: Mont Ventoux

Today was the last day of riding for the trip. With Alpe d’Huez as the first big climb of the trip, the trip organizers did a great job of bookending the week by making Mont Ventoux the last climb on the itinerary.

Whereas in the Alps, the high mountain peaks were both plentiful and beautiful. In Provence, though, there is but one high peak, and it is Mont Ventoux. For sure there are small mountain ranges and hills in this region, but this mountain is aptly referred to as Le Géant de Provence (The Giant of Provence)… it towers over everything in the area. It is striking not only for how it stands alone among other geological features in the area, but it also has a bald summit that, from a far, almost looks snow covered due to the sun hitting the light colored rocks. Basically, there is no mistaking it.

Prior to the start of the ride, the guides passed along some information about the day and the climb. The weather, while projected to be mostly sunny with a few clouds, was also going to be windy. We were told we’d be largely protected while going up through the forest on the side of the mountain, but to expect strong winds once above tree line. The other information was to not be fooled by the first couple of kilometers… they are gradual, but once we reach “The Turn” the gradient goes up considerably, and stays at a higher pitch the rest of the way, with maybe just 200-300 meters of “false flat” about 3.5 miles from the end.

My hotel was not too far away from the “official” beginning of the climb (i.e. the line the TdF organizers use as the start point for the climb), so rather than bike right over to it and begin the 13.5 mile ascent, we rode around the outskirts of town for about 20 minutes to warm-up the legs some. We stopped at the start line when we got there to take a group picture, and then began our climb.

As advertised, the incline for the first 3.5 miles averaged a relatively gentle 3.9%, and my heart rate average was 142 bpm. It was a completely different story beginning at “The Turn” and lasting for the next 5.5 miles… the average gradient increased to 9.2%, and my average HR adjusted accordingly to 162 bpm. As steep as it was though, I enjoyed it *immensely*… there were cyclists from all over on the road climbing this thing (one tour guide said that, on average, 1,200 cyclists climb it every day), I was able to get in a steady cadence, I was joined by tour guide Julien for a good portion of it, and it was through a pine forest that smelled wonderful.
The last 4.5 miles were, for the most part, less steep… the average was “only” 7.6%. But what was lost in gradient was more than made up for in wind speed. We popped out about tree line at Chalet Reynard and the aforementioned “false flat” section (an area of gradual incline that, often times due to the steepness of the preceding section, seems flat) and immediately noticed the strong, cool wind blowing. Now, to be honest, sometimes it *was* at my back and pushing me up the hills. But, other times – and this was the prevailing situation from this point onward – it was a brutal cross- or headwind. It was just a little over 6K (3.5 miles) from Chalet Reynard, and even with the wind, I felt like I was ticking off the “x kilometers to go” signs at a decent pace. That all changed in the vicinity of the “1Km to go” sign… oy, did it get steep! And windy! That last kilometer averaged over 10.5%, and the last quarter-mile was 12%. The steepness I could deal with OK (though my legs were definitely getting tired from not just today’s climb, but the culmination of the last several days of riding); the wind, though, nearly knocked me over as I came around the last switchback. Julien, who was in front of me, looked back and saw me riding towards a lower summit road and said “No, no, no!” I nodded my head to say “I know” but the wind was blowing me that way. I was able to make my way to the correct side of the barrier that divided the summit roads and pushed my way the last 50 meters to the finish line. It took me 1 hour, 42 minutes to do it, but I climbed The Giant.

After the requisite pictures and handshakes, and after the adrenaline and elation subsided some (it would take most of the rest of the day for both to subside considerably) my mind began to notice how cold it was. When we left the start line in Bedoin, it was a comfortable 75 degrees; at the summit, it was 53 degrees, but that strong, cool wind which was blowing made it feel much, much colder. We were thankful to see Patrick arrive in the van so that we could jump inside and put on some “cold weather” gear. Once my tour mates reached the top, it was time to celebrate a little with another group picture before descending. The wind made it a touchy descent for sure, but once in the trees, it was easier to let go of the brakes some.

Eleven miles below the summit we stopped along the side of the road and we’re treated to a lunch that had not just another great view, but also some celebratory food (mussels, fine chocolates) and drink (wine and champagne). We lingered there for a while, enjoying the sun and sustenance, before continuing our descent down. It was during this portion of the ride where the olfactory senses trumped anything my eyes were taking in. First, there was another pine forest, with fragrant white pines all around. And then immediately upon exiting this forest, I was greeted by lavender fields… hillside upon hillside of lavender fields. The aroma was *amazing* and fortunately we were able to ride in this lavender-rich area for several miles.

It wasn’t too long until my eyes regained control as we began riding alongside the Gorges de la Nesque, a canyon in the shadow of Mont Ventoux. I stopped at a viewing platform near the entrance to the canyon from which I could see not just the depth and breadth of the canyon, but another glimpse of Mont Ventoux as well as some of the 12 curving-and-gently-descending miles of road along this canyon that will take me back towards Bedoin. I arrived back at the hotel around 5:30p, having done nearly 62 miles of riding with over 6,400 feet of elevation gain for the day.

Here’s the link for the map and elevation profile.

Misc. Tidbits –
- On the climb up to Mont Ventoux, I noticed a man on the side of the road with a video camera who was apparently looking to film a family member or friend in the course of the ascent. A couple of minutes later I saw him again on the roadside with the video camera out and pointed downhill, so I blurted “Greetings from Colorado!” into the camera, which made him smile. Several minutes later, further up the hill, he saw me (he was back in the woods a bit and not as noticeable as before) and, with video camera pointed at me, got my attention by saying “Hey, Colorado!”
- The descent off the upper portions of Mont Ventoux weren’t fun, and I and the others wanted to get down into the trees as quickly and safely as possible. Even with that in mind, I did make one stop… at the memorial for Tom Simpson. He died while climbing Mont Ventoux in the 1967 edition of the TdF… the autopsy showed that he apparently thought using amphetamines and alcohol were good things for pre-race nutrition.
- End of week totals: 209 miles; 27,900 feet of elevation gain.


Kurt's Bike Trip in France - Part VII: Now in Provence

Today’s the transfer day… we leave the Alps and head southwest to Provence, to the town of Bedoin. It’s about a 4 hour drive, so I’m actually typing the beginning portion of this post whilst in the van en route to our next hotel. A lot of the drive was on the motorway (interstate) along the Rhone valley. It was a nice ride to take in the fruit orchards and sunflower fields in this region.

[Now reflecting back on the day from the comforts of my hotel room]… I arrived in the Provence-region town of Bedoin at around 12:45p. We had a leisurely lunch, and then changed into our cycling clothes for what would be a 28-mile/2-hour ride around the area. There were no big climbs today (there’s a BIG one tomorrow… the final one of the trip) but a bunch of nice gentle rollers through the countryside and small villages (Malaucène, Suzette, Caromb.) The weather was perfect and allowed for great views across hillsides and shallow valleys filled with all sorts of flora: vineyards, olive trees, fruit orchards, plant nurseries, etc. It’s a COMPLETELY different area than where we were for the last several days… In Provence (as compared to the Alps) the landscape is less rugged and mountainous (but still very beautiful), the architecture is more “Mediterranean” looking (more terra-cotta style roofs, fewer exposed external wood beams), there's the occasional chateau and monastery.

Sorry for the short write-up, but I’m tired and need to get some rest for tomorrow. Today was a nice ride for sure, and I think the pictures I’ll eventually make available will do a better job capturing and describing the area in which I rode today. In the meantime, here's the map and elevation profile (follow prior day's instructions to see the latter.)


Kurt's Bike Trip in France - Part VI: The Bi-Col Ride

Yesterday’s tomorrow came, and with it a lot of morning rain. Lots of it. I got up at 6:00, chatted with Peg a little bit online, and headed down to breakfast. The atrium where I ate has glass panels for walls and its ceiling, and the evidence was everywhere: any hope of riding at the usual time of 9:00 and doing the full ride of today’s planed route was falling as fast as the rain coming down. We went with “Plan B – 11:00 rendezvous”: If the weather looked decent come down to the lobby in biking gear, ready to ride; if not, come down to the lobby and work on Plan C.

I could see from my hotel room that the weather appeared to be improving as the morning progressed. At 10:30 it appeared good enough to sprout some optimism and I began to change into my cycling clothes. I then proceeded to the lobby and got the revised plan from the tour guides: we will “van it” down to the valley (it had begun to drizzle again) and then do the planned climbs of the day – the Col du Glandon and its sister peak the Col de la Croix de Fer. Factoring loading and travel time, we started riding from the revised start point shortly after 12 noon.

There was about a 5 mile warm-up before the climb to Glandon began, and it took us through the town of Allemond. There was still considerable cloudiness, and the occasional rain drop, but partially clearing skies in the direction we were headed gave me hope. The climb up to Glandon is about the same, distance wise, as Lautaret (13.5 miles) with a similar average gradient (5% for Glandon, 4.5% for Lautaret). But for the Glandon, the average gradient is impacted by two short descents (each about 2 miles long) so the actual average climbing gradient when climbing is higher… one stretch averaged 15%. The Glandon, while an enjoyable climb isn’t as scenic in its lower stretches as some of the other climbs I’ve done… except for passing through one village (Le Rivier d’Allemont) I was pretty much surrounded by trees for 1st half of the climb. Fortunately, I was joined by tour guide Patrick at this village and we rode together the rest of the day.

Some nice views, and switchbacks with steeper gradients, presented themselves as I approached the Grand Maison Dam. By the time I reached the dam, though, the weather had once again began to change and it appeared as if we were about to get wet. I was able to get some nice views (and pictures) of the valley up which I just climbed, and a quick glimpse of the climbing that I was about to do. But the quick moving clouds dispatched with those views in short order. It was also about 6 hours since I had last eaten anything so I was a bit hungry as well. Julien (the other guide) met Patrick and me at a parking area near the dam, and we got some nourishment and loaded our pockets with cold/wet weather gear. About ten minutes after stopping for lunch, we got on our bikes and commenced with the final 6 miles of riding. A couple of pedal strokes later, a steady rain began and I slipped on my rain jacket. Thankfully, the air temperature wasn’t so bad and riding in the rain was manageable (of course, if I had my druthers…). Another thing I was thankful for was that the wind accompanying the rain was largely a tail wind. These changing conditions, of course, meant a second day in a row where the descents down the climbs we went up were to be scrubbed.

The gradient beyond the dam was noticeably less – prior to the dam, the climbing sections were averaging around 7.5%; now, we were in the 5% range. The landscape was more open now, and I was able to see some nice waterfalls and meadows, but the peaks on either side of me were obscured by the clouds. It took just 23 minutes to reach the Col du Glandon from the dam, and there was just another 1.5 miles to go to reach the Croix de Fer, but with rain coming down and a restaurant with warm drink and food awaiting us at the Croix de Fer, there was little interest in staying longer than the time needed to take a couple of quick photos.

There was only a 200+ yard descent off the Glandon before the beginning of the final push to Croix de Fer. Once the ascent began, though, I began to push the pace a bit, realizing both this was last riding to be done for the day, and tomorrow is the transfer day to the Provence region and we’ll get in maybe a 30-mile ride on rolling terrain. Patrick and I reached the summit in just over 9 minutes, and were closely followed by Julien and the van. We ditched our bikes and some gear, took some requisite photos and headed inside the little café for some warmth and food. The rest of the group trickled in over the next 50 minutes, during which I enjoyed some hot chocolate and a waffle. Once everyone was there and similarly re-nourished, we “vanned it” down the road we just climbed. There was a brief stop in Bourg d’Oisans for some of the guys to do some souvenir shopping, and then it was back up to our hotel in Alpe d’Huez.

The entire ride for today came in at about 20 miles long, with around 5,000 feet of climbing. If you so desire, you can view the map (and elevation profile) by following this link.

Misc. Tidbits
- As some of you may know, I like the group U2. The fact is, I like many groups, and different kinds of music. Apparently, someone in the management of the hotel is fond of U2 as well… and the Cranberries, and Coldplay, and maybe another artist or two. But that’s about it. How do I know this? For the 3rd day in a row, I’ve heard the exact same *limited* playlist while in the restaurant. It hasn’t gone unnoticed by others in the group either… Julien actually asked if the music could be changed, and was told “No… the one manager likes this music.” Nice. It has gotten to the point where we know what the next song was going to be. It starts out with U2’s “Pride…” followed by The Cranberries’ “Linger”, and a couple of songs later is a song by Coldplay.
- I did enjoy a brief respite from the “broken record phenomenon” this morning during breakfast. It was actually a pretty nice moment… I was in the atrium with maybe one or two other hotel guests, eating my breakfast, watching the clouds and fog and rain move through the valley, all while listening to a block of songs by Ray Charles. Sadly, after the fourth or so Ray Charles song, I heard U2’s “Pride…” come on. Time to wrap-up breakfast.


Kurt's Bike Trip in France - Part V: The "Tri-Col" Ride

Still grinning after yesterday’s ride, I woke up this morning to mostly cloudy skies and concerns that rain may alter our plans. On tap for today were 2 more “classic” climbs: Col du Lautaret and Col du Galibier. (The latter is just 5 miles beyond, and 1,800 feet above, the former.) To get to the base of Lautaret, though, required us to go over a smaller climb, Col de la Serenne.

We shoved off from the hotel shortly after 9, and worked our way up and over to Col de la Serenne. Had it not been for a rough road surface, it would have been a spectacular ride (it still comes in as pretty darn good) for the road was not busy at all, and it took us through some beautiful scenery and villages. It was cloudy most of the way, but no rain, so all was good. After reaching Col de la Serenne (a “short” 2 mile climb with an average grade of just over 7%), I descended through two “picture postcard” villages, Clavans and Mozien. When you imagine what traditional mountain villages look like, you essentially envision these two places… really quaint, quiet and charming, with hardly a hint of modern architecture, and the omnipresent church and its steeple in the center of town. I descended a little bit more after Mozien, and met up with the van at Lac du Chambon to ditch some “keep me warm” clothes, and begin the ascent to Col du Lautaret, about 15 miles away at the end of a climb averaging just over 4%. The skies cleared at this point and it was comfortably warm for the ascent.

The first half of the climb paralleled the Romanche River and took us to the village of La Grave, where we had lunch. For the second day in a row, our guides picked a very scenic place in which to get off our bikes for a bit and take in some food. Had it not been for the “business at hand” I could have easily have sat there the rest of the afternoon. But there *was* work to be done, so before my legs got too stiff, I got bike on the bike and began working my way to Col du Lautaret sitting 6.5 miles away.

I went through Villar d’Arene en route, and eventually away from the Romance River into a pair of switchbacks. The Col do Lautaret (6,752 feet above sea level) was just another 2.2 miles beyond them, and I got there, unfortunately, with the weather changing (for the worse) and views down the valley in from which I just came limited. I didn’t stay here long; just long enough to through my rain jacket and arm warmers in my back pockets, snap some photos, and take a nibble of some food – I wanted to reach Galibier before any rain came, and by that point, that looked like a near certainty.

The climb up to the Col du Galibier began at the Lautaret. It was 5 miles long, averaging 6-8% most of the way; the kicker is the last half mile or so, which averages 10%, and reaches 12% just before the summit. The climb, like Alpe d’Huez, was also part of this year’s Tour de France, and the road indicated as much… there were riders names painted *everywhere.* I could feel the weather continue changing for the worse as the climb progressed… the sun was nowhere to be seen by this point; the air was getting cooler, and not solely because I was going higher, either; and there was more of a breeze as well. I was comfortable riding in just the regular get-up of shorts and jersey, but I suspected I would need quite a bit more for the eventual descent. The weather definitely did a number on some amazing views, but I still kept on thinking… “You know what? You’re climbing the Col du Galibier… THAT’S amazing.” One “view” I did get was a little bit below the summit, with it being of a memorial to Henri Desgrange, the man credited with starting The Tour. After the memorial came the final half-mile push up the steepest part of the climb. I topped out at 8,678 feet.

By now it was noticeably cooler, well beyond “borderline cool,” so much like my stop at Lautaret, I stayed long enough to stretch the legs some, eat just a little, take some photos, and put on my arm warmers and windbreaker vest. I would have liked to stay to welcome my tour-mates, but I was getting too cold, and there was still a lot of riding and descending to do. I told the one tour guide where I’d be in the Lautaret rest area, and would wait for him and the others there.

Down I went, passing by my tour-mates on their way up, and stopping a couple of times to snap some quick photos… ones for which I didn’t want to stop on the way up. In short measure, I was back at the Col du Lautaret area, and got myself into a restaurant, sat next to a window to keep an eye on the weather (rain appeared to be moving up the valley) and ordered some hot chocolate. Some time passed and I was joined by two of my tour-mates, who were also keen on getting something warm in the stomach. And it wasn’t long after their arrival when we were joined by the remaining members in our group, and, unfortunately, the first drops of rain. We were all content being inside and getting some warm food and drink, but we all knew a decision had to be made soon about whether or not we descend by bike, or by van. The rain stopped for a little, so we paid our bill and got ready to get on our bikes. The rain began falling again in that short time, and our collective enthusiasm for descending in the cold and wet – on wet roads with cars, through switchbacks and tunnels – likewise descended. We flocked to the van, and loaded our bikes up top and ourselves inside.

Before beginning our four-wheeled descent, though, a cyclist, who obviously noticed we were about to leave and get off the Col, ran over and asked the guides if there was space for two more people and bikes. Luckily for them, there was, so he and his female companion loaded their bikes and climbed aboard for some warmth (the woman’s teeth were chattering) and the ride back down the valley. There happened to be a bar and restaurant at the drop off point and they treated us to a drink as of way of saying “Thanks.” As coincidence would have it, though, by this point the weather had cleared, but it was too late in the day to get back on the bikes and descend the rest of the way to the planned end to today’s ride. So for the day, I ended up doing about 40 miles, with 6,000 feet of elevation gain (had the day gone to plan, it would have been 62 miles and somewhere around 7,000 feet of elevation gain.)

We discussed tomorrow’s weather situation at dinner tonight… rain is practically certain in the morning, so the question is when it will taper off. Some forecasts say around noon; others not until 5:00p or so. We’ll rendezvous at 11:00a tomorrow morning and make a determination then… if it’s good, I think the plan is to do the Col du Glandon and Col de la Croix de Fer; it it’s not, we’ll hope for a 1:00p departure for some other lesser-known climbs; if it’s looking *real* bad, we may hoist the white flag for the day. But, as my friend Jamie says, “That’s tomorrow guy’s problem…” so, I’ll have to see what tomorrow brings and go from there.

The map for today’s route can be found here. Like before, if you want to see the elevation profile, go part way down the page (below the map) and click on the link called "Show" under Elevation Graph.

Misc. Tidbits
- The Col du Galibier is the most frequently climbed mountain in the Tour de France.
- Now that I’ve been on it, I’m amazed how fast the TdF riders take the descent off the Galibier. The road isn’t perfectly smooth; there were little undulations in it which made my bike move around just a little. And I was doing 35 mph or so; the Tour riders blast down it in the 50-60 mph range.
- I meant to mention this in yesterday’s Alpe d’Huez write-up, but fortunately, I was reminded to write about it by another sighting today. And what I mean by that is… Near the top of AdH yesterday, I was approaching a man riding his bike and something looked strange about it; there was something on the rack over the back wheel. As I got closer, I realized it was a dog! This man had a small, metal, open-topped crate on his back rack, and it that crate sat his dog, what appeared to a young border collier. He was chugging his way up the mountain, and the dog was just sitting there, looking around as if it were a normal day. And, perhaps for this duo, it was, for shortly after I began the ascent from Lautaret to Galibier today, I SAW THE SAME MAN COMING DOWN THE GALIBIER WITH HIS DOG ON THE BACK! Incroyable!
- The tour group I’m in is great, and quite a mixture. There’s Luis from Switzerland, who was born in Mexico, and has also lived in Canada and The Nederlands; Fernando, who was born in Puerto Rico and now lives in Florida; and Dave, from Minnesota, who was born in Mexico and is quite fluent in French and Spanish, so can converse with *anyone* in the group. Fernando let us in on amazing factoid the other day – Alpe d’Huez was his first climb… ever… anywhere! He said for his training he spent about 90% of the time on an indoor trainer (which can’t exactly simulate the needs of climbing.)


Kurt's Bike Trip in France - Part IV (Alpe d'Huez)

End of August 4, 2011
I met up with the tour group and guides in the early afternoon, and made the approximate hour-long drive to Alpe d’Huez, where our hotel is for the next couple of nights. Of course, to get to it meant making our way up the famous climb with the similar name, which acted as a nice scouting mission for what lies ahead tomorrow when I get to climb it on two wheels, and not an internal-combustion-aided four. A little write-up on the mountain, it’s climb and other miscellany can be found here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alpe_d'Huez

An hour or so after arriving at the hotel and getting checked and settled in, we rendezvoused in the lobby in order to do a short ride to get the legs moving some and see how our REI-provided bikes were working for us. The route was to go down the mountain about 2K, across the hillside on a road to another village (Villard Reculas) and then back. All in all it took a little over an hour, after which I showered, met the group in the hotel lobby for a little orientation, and had dinner.

Thru mid-afternoon of August 5
I woke up at 6:45a after a so-so night’s sleep. I was tired last night at bedtime (10:30p), so fell asleep quickly. But for one reason or another, woke up at 12:30a and had difficulty falling back asleep. Whatever the case…

As mentioned above, the noted climb for today’s ride is Alpe d’Huez, a very storied one in the annals of Le Tour de France. But before we did that, there was some other riding to do, beginning with a descent down our later-in-the-day climb, and then following a river valley (uphill) for what I and others thought would be a gentle climb (say 3% average.) Well, it ended up being more than that… in 9.5 miles, we climbed 2530 feet, which comes in at 4.5%. But that figure masks a couple things… there were 2 short descents which keep the average grade number low, and there were some sections that were 12-15%. And this was just the warm-up climb. We stopped in the village of Saint Christoph en Oisan and had lunch. And once that was done, we all got to the business at hand, and headed back to the base of Alpe d’Huez for an hour-plus of climbing a hill that is 8.5 miles along with an average gradient about 8%.

I had two goals for the climb. The first was to *really* enjoy the moment, which I did… I mean really, this is a once-in-a-lifetime ride, and I’d be a fool to not appreciate my surroundings, the splendor of this climb, and the cycling legends who went up it. The second was to finish it in less than twice the time of the record time (which is 37 minutes, 35 seconds.) And I accomplished that, too, finishing it in 1h 9m 51s. But, as the adage goes, time flies when you’re having fun… hitting the start of the climb and then immediately dealing with 1.5 miles at 10-12%; rounding “Dutch corner” where tons of Dutch spectators gather during Le Tour and have orange painted all over the road; seeing the names of past Alpe d’Huez stage winners on signs at the 21 switchbacks; reading the hundreds (thousands?) of messages painted on the roads by spectators; reaching the village of Alpe d’Huez and hitting that “1K to go” sign and just going all out until the uphill finish. It may not have been a record, but that 1h 9m 51s flew by.

And now, it’s time to relax and enjoy the afternoon… I’m sitting on my hotel’s room balcony, typing this up, listening to a nearby waterfall, and watching rain showers pass through. And getting recovered for tomorrow… I’m going to climb Col du Lautaret and Col du Galibier. Pinch me…

- Follow this link to see a map of today's ride: http://www.openrunner.com/index.php?id=1146420. Things are in metric so convert at will. Also, if you want to see the elevation profile, go part way down the page, under the map, and click on the link called "Show" under Elevation Graph.
- I know I said I'd post my trip pictures later (and I will), but I just couldn't resist...


Kurt's Bike Trip in France - Part III

Latter Parts of August 3
I am pleased to report that my favorable view of French cuisine has been resuscitated (with this being only my 4th trip to the country, I know enough to say it is usually quite good, and know my dinner on the first night here to be an aberration.) The restaurant I chose served a wonderful dish of chicken in a creamy morel mushroom sauce, with a side of au gratin potatoes. It was de-lish. And filling, so I decided to pass on their tempting handmade desserts in order to walk some, and find a creperie to satisfy my sweet tooth. I eventually came to regret this decision, as the only creperie I found was closed, and had to settle for what apparently a lot of other French people were doing that time of night… getting their dessert from McDonalds. I had a McFlurry with bits of Kit Kat… not nearly as satisfying as the crepe with Nutella and banana that I had hoped for.

After that it was a short stroll back to the hotel, and lights out.

Early Parts of August 4
Awaking at 7:00, I was still a little full from last night’s chicken-morel-McFlurry smorgasbord, so delayed going down to breakfast for a bit. I instead turned on the TV to catch up what’s going on in the world… from what I hear, don’t plan any vacations to Syria right now, Congress has screwed over some FAA employees, Tiger Woods is playing golf again, Al Shabaab is essentially torturing Somalis by disrupting aid, there’s a storm heading towards the Caribbean, and the US has its first African American president. All very compelling stories in their own right.

After some primping, I made it down to the hotel’s breakfast. Say or think what you want about the French people, but any people that make Nutella available as part of their breakfast offerings can’t be completely bad, I feel.

I know I usually do these write-ups later in the day, but the “organized tour” part of my trip begins today… in a little over 2 hours actually. I’m not sure precisely what my free time will be like later today once it begins, so I figured I would get you good folks caught up with things while I had some free time. And just in case you’re interested in what lays in store for me, cycling-wise, over the next several days, here’s a link to my itinerary: http://www.rei.com/adventures/trips/europe/ecf.html


Kurt's Bike Trip in France - Part Deux

The Latter Parts of August 2
I did indeed stroll around old town and city centre Grenoble last night, to see what there is to see and grab a bite to eat. Quick impressions on the city: the city is nestled by two rivers, the Drac and Isere, and seemingly surrounded on all sides by mountains. My early and limited impressions are that it’s a decent city with some nice architecture here and there, but for the most part, uninspiring. As far as I can tell, the city doesn’t have that one cathedral or building in the heart of it that “anchors” the city. It does have a fort nestled high on a hillside across the one river that is imposing (and I plan to visit it tomorrow) but I haven’t seen one thing that makes me go “Wow!” One factor that is also keeping me from raving about the city is the graffiti… there’s a lot of it, and sadly on many nice looking sites and buildings. It is a very walkable city, though, with a couple of pedestrian only areas, and I found those tonight and enjoyed exploring them a bit.

As for dinner, while I’m sure there are many fine examples of both French and regional cuisine here in Grenoble, the place I chose isn’t one of them. Thankfully, I was seated outside on a beautiful evening, and they had Hoegaarden on tap. (I’ll do some research and ask at the hotel front desk for suggestions for tomorrow night.) After choking down dinner, I decided – and needed – to stroll around some more, and took a good 40 minute walk to get back to my hotel. Once there, the fatigue from the last couple of days hit me. I got ready for bed, nodded off some, and finally did lights-out at 11:30.

Up Through Late Afternoon of August 3
How fatigued was I? I got up just before 10:00 this morning! I didn’t even make it down for the hotel’s breakfast. (Not to harp on it, but I think I was still digesting that dinner from last night, so wasn’t very hungry anyway.) Once I got my itinerary for today put together, I headed out shortly after 11 and headed for the Bastille (the aforementioned fort.) It probably took me a little over an hour to walk to it… it’s not that far as the crow flies, but it is about 800 feet above the city. There is a cable car that connects it to town, but I thought the walk/climb would be more interesting and enjoyable. (If you’re interested in reading about the Bastille, follow this link and/or this link.)

After strolling around the Bastille for a while and taking in those displays that were in English, I made my way back down to town to grab some lunch at an outdoor café and decide on my next stop. And that next stop was The Museum of the Resistance and of the Deportation. (My other choice was one of the art museums, but this one seemed pretty unique in it that focused on both the region’s role in the French Resistance of World War II and commemorate those locals who took part in it, and memorialize those inhabitants deported to Nazi camps. Most informational panels had English translations, so it was very easy – at least physically – to read about this region in the 1930s-1940s era; emotionally, it wasn’t as easy a read.

After the museum, I headed back to the hotel to rest my legs a bit, type up this update, and shower before heading out for dinner. Tomorrow at 1:30p, I meet up with my group, head on down to Bourg d'Oisans at some point, and maybe go out for a short "get the legs moving again" ride.

In case you are wondering, yes, I am taking pictures over here, but will upload them when my trip is over.


Kurt's Bike Trip in France - Part I

Days 1 and 2 (August 1 and 2)

With hopes of minimizing the impact of jet lag by getting a jump on the time change, I woke up at 4:30a Monday morning in Boulder (the equivalent time in France is 12:30p). My last 24 hours or so have gone swimmingly…
· The airport shuttle picked me up on time.
· I got to the airport, checked in and got through security quickly.
· The plane to Charlotte took off on time and it was a smooth flight
· The transfer in Charlotte was fine. The only “almost hiccup” was my own fault as I misread the boarding time and had to speed walk to the gate. Everything was fine, as the jetway door was just about to open when I got there.
· The overnight flight from Charlotte to Paris was smooth, and I was able to get a couple of hours of sleep (I think), with Ambien playing no small part in that.

It’s been a pretty uneventful morning, afternoon, evening and another morning thus far, which, when traveling, is perfect. [NOTE: I’m typing this part of the write-up at 9:30a in the train station at CDG, waiting to go to Grenoble. So the day isn’t over, but so far so good.] I have about a 2-hour train ride to Lyon ahead of me, where I’ll transfer to another train and spend another hour and a half getting to Grenoble. My hope is to remain active and alert until at least 8:00p.

Update: 11:40a local time. Well, my traveling luck may have come to an end. The train I’m on has come to a complete stop north of Lyon, and considering my train to Grenoble leaves in 5 minutes, my being on that train looks pretty unlikely. There was an announcement on the PA system about what is going on, but unfortunately, it was the only one this trip that they didn’t repeat en English. I thought I heard the word “animal” in the announcement, but don’t hold me to that. I do know there are trains running north – two have gone by since we’ve stopped – so perhaps they’re down to sharing one line. I’m hoping that either 1) the people who run the train system here account for such delays and hold the train or 2) my connecting train is also caught up in this delay somehow and will leave later than scheduled. If neither of these two “potentialities” transpire, I believe (and hope!) there are other trains to Grenoble and that they leave every 2 hours or so.

Update: 1:15p local time. While I did indeed get into Lyon later than scheduled – by about 50 minutes – there’s little disruption in my southerly trek. From what I can tell, trains to Grenoble leave about every 30 minutes or so. I just missed the 12:45p train, but wasn’t too upset for it allowed me a little time to grab a quick bite to eat (and get pestered by one of the local kids good at squeezing 50 euro cents out of travelers.) Next stop: Grenoble (hopefully)… my home for the next 2 nights.

Update: 3:40p local time. I arrived safe and sound at my hotel about 50 minutes ago. DEFINITELY a little weary… for nearly the last 24 hours, I’ve been in the seat of an airport shuttle van, an airplane or a train. I was able to catch a couple of winks on the train ride into Grenoble – I could feel myself fading a bit – so I do feel OK, all things considered. This’ll probably be my last update for the today… I’m going to take a shower to freshen (and wake) up some, and then perhaps stroll around Grenoble some and get some dinner.