March 8, 2014

Traveling: Planning Begins

In Something to Declare, English author Julian Barnes wrote: "Knowing a second country means choosing what you want from it, finding antithesis to your normal (English) life; discarding the sense of responsibility you feel about your own country...."



With that, I admit to succumbing happily to all three of Barnes' meanings: choosing what I want from France; finding a different and appealing way to live; and not worrying about the goings-on here in at home. I do all three things without remorse, delighting in getting to know, a bit, this beautiful second country. I know that I am cycle touring there, I am not responsible to my family, or my community, or my work. It is an exploration, an adventure, a part of life, but only (regrettably or not) a part. I am free to find, or at least to look for, what I choose. I am free to enjoy, immerse myself into what is my personal, no doubt somewhat romantic, view of the country. More specifically so far, the south of France. Le Sud. For the record, I have French friends who make those choices in my country, whether as visitors or as expats.



Riding in France, there is the freedom, for mile after mile, day after day, to push pedals, absorb the sights and smells of the world about me, eat, look, think, sleep. To experience, not to judge; my responsibilities those of the traveler. To learn, to meet new people: I treasure each day. Of course, some days are more difficult cycling, the skies actually are not always blue, the little hotel not always comfortable. But the experience is always marvelous, and I am always engaged, paying attention. It is a different kind of life, no more or less real than my daily life.



Oddly, I believe that travelers often find what they want. In the science fiction manner, I don't believe in time travel. But in a daily way, by bike in France, there is time travel. It isn't going back in time so much as traveling through, or better said with, a past which is present now, embedded and informing daily life. Different than home, with our unrelenting emphasis on the next new thing, our quick ability to discard the old. Bicycle travel places me into a past that I can otherwise only read or watch films about. Not only in terms of archaeological or architectural sites, or museums, though they are important to me. Equally, the past resides in the stones of the sidewalks, the history of the hills and fields, the flavors of the foods, the conversations with people met along the way. The past shapes and informs each day, in a matter of fact, not a precious, way.



I dream, I mean actually dream, at night, asleep, about those beautiful little roads of France, winding their way through hamlets and villages, in and out of larger towns, simultaneously traveling through many centuries.



During waking hours, this year I dream of riding Paris-Nice. Not riding this year's race route, that race which starts tomorrow, Sunday, March 9th. Also called the Race to the Sun, it is in large part my inspiration. Those racers will ride fast, on closed roads. I won't have the luxury of closed roads, and my pace is unarguably slow. They will sometimes be transported from one day's finish to the next day's start by motorized vehicle. I will, barring misfortune, ride from start to finish.That race route, from Paris to Nice, has been ridden 72 times since 1933, changing its particulars with every new edition. I will look to incorporate some sections of those stages. Another piece of history, recent history.



This is the time of year when dreams begin turning into plans. I pore happily over yellow Michelin departmentale maps. Order the missing ones, maps which cover departements not before investigated. Wait impatiently for them to arrive in the mail. Study them, considering various possible routes. Special attention will go to Numbers 334 and 341, the Hautes-Alpes and Alpes-Maritime, those high mountains with their particular beauty, and particular difficulty. I check distances, look for little white roads. Little white roads? Michelin 300 maps indicate by color, letter, and thickness of line whether a road is International, National, Departementale or local; indicate how wide it is. Red, yellow, white. White usually indicates the least travelled roads, usually with excellent surfaces, though I have learned not to take that for granted For me, excellent cycling roads. I look for chevrons, avoiding the mark that looks like this: >>>. That mark indicates climbs of more than 13 percent. Only for a fabulous summit will I ride up a >>> climb, and only once in a while.



Regular readers have heard me say that I like to ride the route that is the hardest I can do and still have some fun. I begin estimating total length, and its ratio to the number of days I can be away from home, away from my job. Soon a rough route will be mapped and the question will become: Is this actually possible? Will it be too long, too steep...or the opposite? Actually I know already it will not be too easy, short or flat!



Even as it is just beginning, this process of planning a cycle tour involves choosing what I want from another country. I don't have a bucket list of place to visit. My other country, as Barnes put it, remains France. I suppose I do have a large bucket list of things I want to choose there. Soon, the first weeks of spring will bring with the start of weekend outdoor rides. For now these last weeks of of winter bring the planning season, and that season will continue, with varying intensity, until the pedalling in France begins again.

16 comments:

  1. Hi Suze

    This doesn't offer the same tactile pleasure as a physical map, but you can look at any area of France you want on the Michelin website: http://www.viamichelin.com/.

    Happy planning!
    sarah

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    1. Hi Sarah,

      Thanks for that idea ... it will be a helpful resource, especially around cities, where the scale of paper maps loses usefulness.

      Suze

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  2. Oh, those wonderful Michelin maps! Do they still have an orange cover? They were a valuable asset for when we traveled all over Europe.

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    1. Aren't they just wonderful indeed! I am pretty sure they still make the orange series, but I use the yellow. The scale is different. With the yellow I carry more weight, but get more detail. I've been lent maps from yet another Michelin series even more detailed, but they're generally too much for me. Happy spring. Finally. I hope.

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  3. You probably have more yellow Michelins than me, and that's saying something! I'm excited for you, as always, and hope your 'course au soleil' comes near home.

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    1. Thanks! It would be fun to get to Nimes, but if not maybe we could meet up further east a bit ...say the Alps, or Nice:-) Just a thought.

      Someone could write an amusing bit about all our go-alongs and toys for our bikes, and then categorize us. Large collection of detailed maps...must be a tourer. Power meter ... has to be a racer! Stylish efficient baskets ... well, you know.

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  4. What an excellent post, Suze. I'm excited for you and look forward to enjoying your trip vicariously. One of these days I'm going to have to try a cycling tour. One of these days...

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    1. Thank you, this particular post is a bit different for me, was fun to write, and I appreciate your feedback.

      You have years and years to get to that tour ... and I bet someday you do. As fo me, one of these days I'm going to try a 200K. One of these days....

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  5. Suze - have you ever come across a travel company that will transport your bags for you from town to town? I know you are a self-supported hauler, but someone was asking me if such a thing exists. Not a guided tour, or a follow along sag support, just a paid transportation of bags??

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    1. Hi Karen,

      Yes, I know those companies exist. I saw several of them moving people's baggage for walkers on the Route de Compostella, and have a colleague who cycled in England using one to move gear. Most self-guided tour companies move baggage as a part of the package, and some might agree to limit their services to that. If you are thinking France, I could send you several resources to contact (one of course is Gerry.)

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    2. Yes I would be interested in some names/info. Can you send it to my email (on my blog) thanks Suze!

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    3. Just emailed you a list of starting places to check. Let me know if you don't get it. Good luck.

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    4. I'd be interested, too. We do most of our baggage transfers ourselves for the sefl-guided tours we have, but use taxi companies for the legs too far afield. It's not cheap to rent a taxi to take your stuff from town to town, even for modest distances, but I, for one, would be happy to pay for it to lighten the load on a long trip. Then again, I'm a wuss now that I've hung up my panniers...

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    5. I'll forward you the same list I sent Karen, without the email reference to you! Most of these will be companies like yours. It may prove fruitless, I doubt there are any resources you don't know.

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  6. Wonderful post. Really conveys the excitement of the beginning of the process of dreaming planning and then doing.

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    1. Thank you so much ... that is particularly high praise coming from you.

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