From the France Diary… January 5, 2008

For a boy from California who has grown accustomed to riding a bike in more moderate temperatures, the chill of France in January was almost too much. It would have been easy to stay indoors, at the coffee shops, the restaurants, the bars or any of the places where the French congregate to keep themselves out of the cold damp that is the Rhône-Alpes in winter.

For the last few years, my cycling friend Robert had asked me if I’d like to stay at his place in France to go for some bike rides. He had been going back and forth between Sonoma County and France for the last several years. He’d asked several times and I’d always said something like, “yeah, that sounds nice.” I really did want to go, as I always tried to seize the opportunities to pedal in Europe. But, I knew I’d have to save up for a trip overseas.

At some point in November 2007, Robert asked again if I’d like to go ride my bike in France. “Hey, Steve,” he started. “Want to come ride your bike in France in January?” The real catalyst of this particular trip was that he had been considering living there year-round, so he wanted to see what it would be like to ride there in the winter.

And truth be told, it wasn’t THAT bad. While I was there, the mornings were in the Fahrenheit teens and would rise up to freezing by 10 or 11am. By noon, we’d even see the number 2 or 3 on the Celsius calibrated French thermometers. Things wouldn’t stay “balmy” for long and by mid-afternoon, the timid mercury would hunker back down at the lower end of the stick.

Now, it isn’t fashionable to travel to France and complain about the cold (though, I must admit that I did complain, more than once) and I didn’t come here just to be a tourist and drink Pastis (though I did, more than once. That’s what people do in those places where you go to stay warm.) France is for cycling, I came here to ride and yesterday I got my money’s worth. I left Robert’s place around noon, departing into a cold damp fog. In preparation for the cold, I donned 2 pair of leg warmers, 2 long sleeve jerseys, 1 short sleeve jersey, arm warmers, a thermal vest, 2 pair of thin shoe covers, thermal booties, as well as a thermal head cover, my trusted double layer thermal gloves and 3 socks. And to tell the truth, I am glad I wore all of it. Hmmm, where did that third sock go?

The first 10 miles through the fog were on rolling wet roads which gently twisted and meandered down to the historic stone bridge, Le Pont de Groslee, which crosses the Rhone. The ride continued in a south-easterly direction on a well maintained system of bike paths. After just a few miles, the route took me east off of the path and then north, toward the base of a frozen waterfall at Glandieu.

This was about as far as Robert and I had gotten to on our first outing on the bike, just two days before. Neither of us had worn adequate clothing. So, on that day, we made a short loop back toward the bridge at Groslee and made for home. That proved to be the correct decision for the day, as the temperature dropped early that afternoon and it was below freezing when we got back to Robert’s place.

But, today I was prepared and my mind was set to explore. I was dressed for the cold, I had food and I was ready to pedal.

To read more, please click From the France Diary… January 5, 2008 continued

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