October 19, 2010

21| Gorge du Jontes

The ride down from the col was extraordinary, long and again with distant panoramas, big views and easy riding, and I savored every minute, heading towards Meyruis, where I planned to camp.  I stopped  there at an excellent 2 star campground called Le Champs d’ Ayres. The manager told me that I was the first American in 11 years, though they have had cyclists from equally far away, Canada and Australia. When I asked, and commented on how few women cyclists I saw, either solo or with a group, she told me that she very occasionally meets other solo women cyclists. 
Later a two-person  hubba-hubba tent set up next to my solo hubba, but I didn’t have a chance to talk to its residents. At this campsite, campers who want breakfast could order it the night before, and either eat in the small restaurant, or take it back to their site. So I ordered the biggest possible breakfast for the morning, and headed into town for dinner.
I arrived just as the shops were closing up for the day, and didn’t have time to explore them, but Meyruis was busier than other towns have been, clearly gearing up for the summer vacation season that will arrive in a few weeks, with many open restaurants for dinner.  I picked one with tables on the sides of a footbridge over the river; and ordered trout and local chèvre on toast, grilled with bacon around it. Absolutely delicious. Meyruis  would be a good place to stay and use as a base to explore the surrounding hills, but I decided to stick with my plan  to continue on to St. Beauzély and Roquefort-sur-Soulzon. Later I realized this was not a good decision, but hindsight is everything. There was still no cell service.
In the morning, the ride down the Gorge du Jontes was  breathtaking, the gorge often very deep, with the river disappearing far below; if I hadn’t read that the river was there I would rarely have known it. If anything, the rock forms were more magnificent and possibly bizarre than anything I’d yet seen. Every turn in the road provided views more beautiful than the last… and downhill is definitely the preferred direction to ride this canyon, in order to watch it open out in front of you. I learned that sometimes the residents of the tiny, riverside villages at the bottom of cliffs across the river from the road, get to their homes by using basket-like cable cars that cross high in the air above the water.

There are constant, magnificent dramatic views, sometimes with vultures silhouetted in the sky. These birds were reintroduced here at Le Belvedere in 1980, after disappearing from the area and being threatened with extinction as early as the 1940s. Before I saw them, I often heard the small brown cows, their bells announcing their presence somewhere on the terraced hillsides nearby. 

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