Today began with 2 croissants, a baguette, and some cheese from our favorite mini market just outside of our campsite. When I checked in at reception, I failed to note that we couldn’t check until after 9:00 am, which completely thwarted our plans to get on the road early which seems to be working out for us. Leaving early allows us to avoid the heat of high sun and any afternoon winds that might crop up. On an ideal day, we can know put 50 – 80 km in before 2:00, and have the rest of the day to explore nearby towns, do some grocery shopping, and finally make dinner, process our photos for the day, and do some journaling.
Rolling out right after 9:00, we were grateful for the intermittent cloud cover that kept the sun off of us for most of the day. As our route now will attempt to follow a river basin up toward Grenoble, we of course first had to climb a mountain. It was disheartening to retrace our steps from yesterday’s ride up the gorge with a full load – the going is much more slow with even more effort.
Just before we reached the mountain that we had to cross in order to reach the rolling hills and finally the river basin, Bree noticed a “campings” sign that we have been keeping our eyes out for in order to take a picture. We think it funny that while in any other country we have been to there have been terms for campgrounds. The French don’t seem to have such a word, and instead use the term “campings” to denote their campgrounds.
While stopped to take a picture, a tour bus full of Italians stopped right past us, just down the hill from Moustier Saint Marie. Apparently the spectacle that we are proved more interesting than the city for many of the tourists, because as they spilled out of the massive bus, many of the old Italian men began to hover and swarm around me. Bree, off in the distance a little ways, laughed as the men kept asking questions about my bike and talking amongst themselves about “cyclocross”. They were particularly fascinated by the GPS, as most people seem to be. One kept trying to convince me that I should keep my water bottles filled with whiskey – I had to reassure him that we wanted to ride in a straight line, since man-handling these bikes is hard enough as it is! The questioning, photos, and applause from the curious Italians went on for quite some time. The language barrier was pretty thick, so translation was done through a few that did speak some english, but finally Bree and I decided that we should get back on the road before it got any later. We bade our new Italian friends goodbye as we rode off in the other direction, giving them friendly waves in response to their cheers and clapping.
Spirit lightened and legs spun out a bit, the lead that plagued my muscles coming out of Lac de Croix left and I was feeling pretty good. Bree was still feeling our climb into the gorge yesterday, though. As always, she kept pedaling and kept pushing her heavy load persistently up the switchbacks over the mountain and another set of steep hills. I couldn’t help but admire how hard she working out here – I am so lucky to have a wife who would even attempt to not only leave home, cars, private bathrooms, mattresses, and reliable food sources, but to get on a 60 pound bike and attempt to climb mountains with it.
With the worst of the hills out of the way for the day, the mountainous terrain turned to lavender fields interspersed with expanses of grain. The lavender fields, since they are not yet in bloom, look an awful lot like sagebrush. From a distance, the fields look almost uncultivated. As you get a little bit closer and catch the right angles, though, the clean rows can be seen, making the fields actually quite pretty. We even caught an occasional field of red poppies in full bloom!
As the hills became very smooth and undulating, the only thing that I could think was that this road is a cycling paradise. In fact, the entire region we are in is one of those places that could be considered magical. The road is smooth with gentle ups and downs, there is little to no traffic, and as the green and red fields of lavender, poppies, and various grains are broken up by light forest and small, quiet villages, there is enough variety in scenery to keep things interesting. The temperature was nearly perfect (about 5 degrees too warm for me, though slightly too cold for Bree). If any of you are ever inspired to cycle through France, this is the place to do it. The only thing that could have made it better would have been to do it unloaded with Wilbur and Bella.
We rolled into Oraison before I knew it, though Bree wasn’t feeling so hot. Since there was an Intermarche (one of the few grocery store chains) in town, we decided to stop by and do some serious stocking up on food before we lost our chance again. We really do seem to be in the middle of nowhere, and even grocery stores can be hard to find. After more than two panniers of provisions were in hand, Bree still wasn’t feeling much better so we decided to adjust our goal to make it clear to Hippocampe and just stay in Oraison for the night so that we don’t burn ourselves out. one carton of berries and nougat ice cream, a liter of milk, a baguette, some cheese, an apple, and 2 eclaires later, we were happy to be in our camp which overlooks the river basin which we will brave tomorrow. Hopefully this new and relatively flat terrain sticks around – life is sure happier with it!