October 19, 2010

9| Causse du Larzac

I rode north on the D9 through Arboras, after which the road steepened as it climbed toward the Col du Vent, which at 703 meters was not the highest, nor the longest col  (pass) I would climb, but was certainly a long climb, and somewhat steep, worth two chevrons on the map. Several downhill cyclists (the other cyclists I see are of course almost always going downhill) acknowledging my loaded bike, offered shouts of encouragement, telling me that I was almost there. I thought: I will master the art of the frequent short stop for legs and lungs to catch up. There were gorgeous views back to the countryside behind me, with small dirt roads, (were they once known as muletiers, as in my Pagnol novels?), winding up the surrounding hills.
After the col  I crossed the Causse du Larzac, a  garrigue, dry, spare, covered with blooming flowers and low bushes. These causses (slightly rolling, high, dry plateaus) are made of limestone, easily eroded and full of caves, along with the canyons which will be the centerpiece of my bike trip. They also contain prehistoric dolmens and menhirs, though I don’t see any. I wondered  if these ancient stone structures were built by the Celtic tribes who had lived in the area and later migrated to England and built Stonehenge, but I learned nothing about them. They are reputedly hard to find, and I hated missing them, but my schedule was too tight, and I suppose my confidence level too low, to search them out. It will be another trip. 
This part of France has long, cold winters and dry summers, and this year, a late spring. Rosemary, yarrow, broom, pinks, thyme and sedges are blooming everywhere. Many of these plants, like bouncing bet, I know as “weeds” at home … plants that came to the US with European  settlers, and often drive out native species, but here they are the native species. Though having said that, perhaps these same plants migrated here from elsewhere, and it is simply a matter of time and perspective. Later I also saw wild snapdragons blooming, and a variety of lisianthus, a prized flower in the farmers markets near my home. I breezed by one campsite, on the D25, not ready to stop, believing I would  find something in Saint Maurice-Navacelles.  I didn’t, but I did  meet a couple from la Couvertoirade, a town I was hoping to visit, who are members of “Warm Showers,” an internet organization of individuals offering free lodging for cyclists. They urged me to knock on their friend’s door in Navacelles (at the bottom of the cirque) and assured me that he would let me camp in his backyard. On the road towards Cirque de Navacelles the lizards are large, and green and fast, or, alternatively,  large, stone-brown, and fast. I passed a diverse group of 30 or more hikers, without packs, strung out along the road, and wondered what their story was, but didn’t stop to talk . With better language skills, I might have been more apt to do so.

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