You want pics?
I’d inbed them, but I’m paying for internet by the megabyte over here and pictures use a good bit of it, so just click the link : )
It was finally time to ride the Alps. I’ve explored a bit of this corner of the world on my little weekend excursions since I’ve been here, but I still hadn’t “done” the first thing that came to mind when the opportunity to come here arose.
It was time to score some hills. And those suckas didn’t disappoint. I was ready to be jaded, having lived in Colorado for 9 years, and California even longer, I have seen a lot of mountains. The Alps are damn amazing, though. Really beautiful and very impressive.
My hotel was much nicer than Milan, but it took a while to find. The address came from a French website. Turns out the address was for an “area” and not a “specific place”… such as my hotel. Google maps was happy to pinpoint my “address” for me and I blissfully went on my way, walking towards the little bubble on my map. Dragging a 25kg bike box through southern France when it’s 30 degrees, sunny, and humid is not that much fun. My hands were starting to get blisters (get your mind out of the gutter) with the sharp strap of the bike box digging in to my wrists as I tugged it along the rocky trail that was a road on my GPS.
Already feeling dirty from the 5 hours of flight/bus/tram and out of water, I stopped in the shade to scour my three different maps and one GPS for some clue I may have overlooked. Nothing.
“Maybe that old lady walking by knows…”
We each fumbled around with our own languages on one another for a while until she directed me down a narrow street.
“Sweet, she knows where it’s at and she’s gonna take me there.”
We walk for a while until we get to a big house with a family having a picnic, she calls to them in French and they start chatting.
“Hmmm, maybe she knows the people who own the hotel and she’s called for them to let me in…”
The whole family is outside now, looking at their own map.
“Ooh, this is about to get complicated”
After carefully examing the curves of the river from my website map like a set of tea leaves and comparing them to the river on their own street map for 15 minutes and significant discussion within the clan, it was decided.
I had just dragged my bike and all my gear three miles in the opposite direction of where my hotel “probably was”…
“hmmm, don’t think I’ll be spinning the legs out today…”
The French lady I’d originally talked to had left by now and I’m standing with the family, trying to listen for any key words I might recognize, flipping through my phrase book, trying to find the concoction of words I could assemble which would magically get me to my hotel. No luck. But just then the women I’d first met drives back up in her little car and motions for me to put my stuff in.
“Oh yeah!” Nothing I like better than movement. It has the guise of progress even when it’s futile.
In the car we talk about the one thing that both of us seemed to understand, how beautiful the mountains were. We each took turns pointing to them, saying “mountain”, and then talking about how beautiful they were in our respective language. I don’t know exactly what she said and I’m sure my description was just as foreign to her, but it was kind of a cool moment, nonetheless.
She drove me back to the exact tram station where this little scenario started, gave me her tram pass that still had 5 rides on it, kissed my cheeks, and pointed that I should go in the opposite direction from before. I never saw her again, but feel all warm and fuzzy just knowing she’s out there somewhere.
The hotel? Well, funny thing, that. Turns out they were right. It was three blocks from the train station, in the exact opposite direction.
France is an interesting place. The nice people I met were some of the nicest I have ever met. But then the rude French people I met were some of the least friendly people I’d ever met. It was almost like hanging out with someone who has a personality disorder (no I don’t!), ahem. Like being laughed at by the restaurant owners who came over to talk in French about the “American” in their restaurant compared to the incredibly friendly woman I chatted with using my broken French in the bakery that morning. Or the grumpy little Frenchman that kicked me out of the shade of the patio because my pastry was from the “other” deli compared to the helpful people I’d met the day before. It was the dichotomy of jaded and angry at the foreigners (Im sure being American with poor language skills was part of the polarizing factor) compared to the sincerity and openness of the other people I met that started to leave me guessing what response I might get each time I wanted to initiate any communication. But hey, it’s France. I think you pay extra for that in France. come to think of it, I think everything costs more in France.
That all seems vastly more interesting then telling you what you might have already heard – the roads through the alps are absolutely amazing to ride. Alpe d’Huez was harder than I expected (and I expected it to be fucking hard) and really crowded with huge organized groups of riders all attempting to make the 21 switchbacks to the top. It was a bit hectic near the base and I road pretty hard to get in front of as many of the other riders as I could. Once climbing though, we were all spread out. The only thing getting in the way now were the voices in my head telling me it hurt. And hurt it did. Got to the top and found a little grocery store above the finish where I could get some snacks, thus avoiding the crowded restaurants and overpriced souvenir shops. 85 miles round trip and the realization I’d just ridden what is probably the most iconic mountain stage of any of the three tours. I was cooked.
Looks like I can check that off my “life list”. Sweet
Best of all, there are miles of amazing roads in the area without the reputation of Alpe d’Huez but all the bite and excite. Just less traffic. hmmm, that’s not half bad. Ooh, and the descents…