October 19, 2010

10| Cirque de Navacelles




I paused at the top of Cirque de Navacelles  at la Baume-Auriol where there is a visitors center and a large sign forbidding any camping here or in the bottom of the cirque.  This has been designated a “Grand Site de France” by the minister of the environment, and beyond that, has special status for its protection of the environment, its unique plants and geology. While I wanted to camp, I’m certainly not going to retrace my route back to the campground  I passed. When I tell the woman at the desk  that I’m riding  down, and looking for a place to stay, am I oversensitive, do I look that tired,  or is it my gray hair she is looking at when she asks how my brakes are? Or is this a rare and unusual thing for cyclists to do? She is very helpful and calls a chambre d’hôte at the bottom for me; I spoke with someone named Mike, who gave me directions. 
I promised her to be very cautious with the car traffic.  Indeed the road was very steep, marked at 12-½% grade with even steeper (say, close to 100% grade) drop-offs right at the side of the hairpin turns that I am headed down.  As I started down it occurred to me that perhaps I am after all, crazy, because it is going to be quite the climb out in the morning …  but I didn’t think about not going.  The cars frequently came to a complete stop when passing each other: one headed down, one up, they inched past each other. The ride down was extraordinary, just drop-dead beautiful and indescribably unusual. I rode it concentrating on keeping my speed down below 30 mph, riding down and forward in the drops, hands on brakes for quick access,  and staying away from the edge, which I definitely did not want to look straight over. This put a new perspective on “white knuckle driving.” I am not afraid of heights, particularly not afraid when standing still, looking out over them, not riding down next to them on a cycle at 25 or  30 mph, with cars wanting to go around me. Why were they going so fast, anyway? Did they just think I was slow since I  was on a cycle?  Perhaps they were in a hurry.  I stopped frequently to let traffic pass around me, let my brakes cool, look at my surroundings and take a few photos.  This was gorgeous, and I was exhilarated!

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