Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Ventoux and Provence

Provence -Bedoin Drove to Bedoin by a very circuitous route because of road and tunnel closures. Drove over the Col de Herbouilly, Col de Rousset and down into Die, the "capital" of Drome region. The descent from the Col de Rousset was very dramatic and long, and we promised that we'd come back up here another time to do it. Die seems to have a bit going on as well with lots more cycling climbs and routes. So a good base to explore. Eventually landed in a busy Provence, and Bedoin, our home for six nights leading up to the next sportive over Mont Ventoux. Given up on trying to get in at Camping la Garenne, with its sour-faced proprietor! Instead got a great pitch at the nearby municipal site, with a lovely breeze wafting through the 32' heat, and good shade at the heat of the day. The following day we decided to bite the bullet and do the most knackering ascent up Ventoux from Bedoin, firstly to give us enough gap to recover for the next ascent on the sportive, but also to give us the marvellous descent through the Gorge de la Nesque, which we've done before. Forgot how tough the ascent was, barely achieving 4 mph over 19 km in 2hrs 23', but then dropping down to Sault, and then averaging 20 mph over approx 10 miles through the gorge. Worth all the pain of climbing "le geant"! A good cycle but tough with sore knees and back! Out 5 hrs 30' and a very hot 57 miles. Not going anywhere near Ventoux until Saturday and the sportive! Flies driving us nuts! After a short day around Beaumes de Venise area, we had a longer 60 mile run reccying part of the route of the race, around the back side of Ventoux, through the beautiful Toulourenc valley, over the Col de Veaux, through Entrechaux and back towards the Dentelles area. Unfortunately, it turns out that the race does take you over the Col de La Chaine, and Suzette and La Roque Alric, which is only short but a stinker, especially before the climb up Ventoux from Malaucene, and later on the return after nearly 70 miles! We cycled over to sign on for the race and saw a couple, who we'd seen at the Vercors race, doing the rounds! We also met up with Simon Haig and some mates and went out for a meal together and some beers. He used to work with Ian, and has recently started going on some cycles with him. It was pure coincidence that he'd picked up on Strava that we were in the area and suggested we catch up! Really hot about 35'c. Very oppressive. Looking forward to going somewhere cooler after the race weekend. Can't believe that it was only 5' and we were putting the heating on in the van in the mornings! The day of the race- The Gran Fondo Mont Ventoux. We debated at length about driving from Bedoin to the start of the race at Beaumes de Venise, about 10 miles, but that would mean the van sitting in the sun in 36' heat all day, if we were lucky enough to find parking. Checked out the municipal parking in Beaumes, but we're happier to stay put on our shady pitch at Bedoin. So nothing for it but to cycle in earlier in the morning. 6am start, 7am in Beaumes and finally set off at 8.30am. Yesterday had had a high temperature alert and 36'. Today looked like it might follow suit, as we cycled through Lafare, up to La Roque Alric, up to Suzette, over the Col de la Chaine, down to Malaucene and the slightly less difficult route up Ventoux. Some gradients of a mere 4/5%, but then three consecutive kilometres of 10 and 11%, before the first feed station at Mont Serein and the final 5 kms to summit. Super fast descent to Sault and on to the Toulourenc valley, some 25 miles of undulating descent with stunning views around the back of Ventoux. Over the Col de Veaux and the ascent over Col de Chaine, up to Suzette and then the fast descent all the way back to Beaumes. Luckily, it clouded over a little in the afternoon, but was still incredibly hot. Great race. Ian did fantastically well with gold standard time of 5hrs 51mins but was exhausted with the heat. He hung on to see me finish, and then cycled back to van in case it got a soaking with the thunderstorms which threatened. The cycle back was a bit of a stinker, after the 84 miles of the race, especially the climb up to Crillon le Brave. Total of 104 miles today and nearly 11000 ft ascent! Must have drunk gallons today! My finishing time was 7hrs 37', just 7' outside gold time for 50+ , female category! so reasonably chuffed. Couldn't have worked any harder. Had to support myself with the table, during the interminable wait for result. Internet had crashed! Thunder and lightning but the rain stayed further south. Can't wait to go somewhere cooler, Bourg d'Oisans and the Alps tomorrow.

France

France 2015 After overnighting at the car park aire in Calais, and the following night at the Camping des Cents Vignes (beautiful) in Beaune, we arrived at our destination for four nights in the Vercors region, near Grenoble. A small village called Meaudre, near Autrans. One of four sportives we've booked in, part of the Grand Trophee series. A good way of seeing a new part of France. Well signed and organised. This one even had a sportive specifically for women, Vercors pour Elles, on the Saturday and the longer men's the following day. Arriving a few days earlier gave us chance to reccy some of the route and practise a couple of the climbs, the Col de Herbouilly and the Col de Croix Perrin. Not too steep but long. Although chilly in the morning, the temperature rises steadily, and it's such a joy to ride and not be cold. Vercors pour Elles was a stunning course, with fast cycling in the valley floors to neighbouring villages, climbs up to Croix Perrin and then Herbouilly, long, fast descent to St Agnan, looking up at the impressive rocky escarpment, that the Vercors is famous for. On through farms and meadows, eventually climbing to St Julien and a beautiful, high altitude road with stunning views. Rapid descent to climb again through the narrow Gorges de la Bourne, with high rocky overhangs. They're currently resurfacing this popular tourist road, so it was a very unwelcome experience to be cycling over having covered 50miles! Back at Meaudres after 57miles. Really enjoyed it, managed 13.7mph, over 5000' ascent, and just less than 3mins off gold standard at 4hrs 24'! If only I hadn't stopped for some fruit pastilles at feed station 2! They provided a hot meal at finish, with the celebrated Bleu de Vercors cheese, soft, creamy and not at all salty. Ian set off earlier the following day, as his course was longer. It was only 5deg but sunny, as he set off in the morning. Began on same route as me but took in much more climbing over Col de Rousset and Col de la Machine, to name but two. Covered over 100 miles. Whilst he did this, I cycled over to St Julien and on to Pont en Royans and then back up the Gorges de la Bourne, a beautiful route of high level alpine fields, little villages, picturesque Pnt en Royans and then back through the stunning gorges, following and being overtaken by the front markers of the long challenge route. Ian came in in excellent time inside the gold standard, but complaining of back ache. Evenings spent watching the French regulars on the campsite playing p├ętanque. Great to watch and so skilful. There's a few of them who drive over regularly from Grenoble and has static cabins on the site. Very attractive. Off to Provence tomorrow and a day off, driving! Really liked this area. Very quiet. Would definitely come back here again.

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Photos

Thanksgiving and Beyond

Thanksgiving and beyond! The first time we've spent Thanksgiving with the family in San Fran. It was lovely to spend time with them all, going walks before dinner on the big day, meeting up with their friends, Sean and Jess, on a walk the day after. Beef Wellington, actually two of them, and all the trimmings for lunch- they really looked after us. The weather deteriorated after that, meaning we were confined to indoors and spent the time watching and helping Andrew make a side table out of a cross-section of tree trunk that he'd seen recently felled, whilst driving home! Lily is such good fun now and you can have a proper conversation with her. Charlotte is two months old and growing rapidly, not having too much difficulty filling a six month babygro! She smiles and occasionally chuckles, revealing a sweet little dimple on her right cheek. She lies on her back, kicking and waving her arm up and down. Sleeps well all night through, but 6 pm until 10pm are a difficult time. I remember that all too well! So after five nights sleeping underneath Lily in her new bunk bed that Andrew and Lizzy have just finished, once Andrew went off to work and Lily went back to Playschool, we took ourselves off to a Best Western, just down the road. The first day, we explored another part of the Bay Area called Sausalito, with its historic centre and marina after marina lining the shore, easily accessible on foot. Then parked up and walked over the Golden Gate Bridge almost all the way across. Had to be done and it is a wonderful bridge, but overall not as pleasant as walking over Brooklyn Bridge, where the traffic is further away from you, and there is less of it. With 6-8 lanes off traffic constantly flowing right next to you, it was a very noisy experience! The views were superb. From there, we drove to a higher point and overlooked the bridge from above. We returned to collect Lily for the day and take her to the California Academy of Science, in the Golden Gate Park. A bit pricey, but on another rain-soaked day, a great day out. Lily zipped around at first, as different exhibits caught her eye. There were lots of aquariums, and a tunnel with massive fish swimming around, which she named mummy, daddy, grandma and grandad, Lily and Charlotte fish! A three-tiered rainforest, beginning at the leaf-cutter ants on the forest floor, all the way up to the butterflies in the canopy, excited her particularly. She didn't like the rattlesnakes and anaconda at first, but after a massive picnic, made up for us by Lizzy, we went around the whole thing again, and this time, she took a little longer over the various displays, especially the extensive collection of tiny frogs! There was a starfish and sea urchin low level tank, that children could touch and experience sea creatures up close, and Lily eagerly got stuck in. A full day out with a break in the middle for us to sit down and watch her play in "the Cove", a lovely, safe children's play area. Home to mum and Charlotte and then back to the hotel for us and a rest! That night nearby San Anselmo clocked up 4" of rain, as it teemed down and the thunder and rain woke us up! More heavy rain forecast for tomorrow, when we planned to go to the cinema, to vacate the room for cleaning! It will have rained for seven days solid by the time it dries up! We had thought to hire bikes this week for a couple of days but we're still waiting for the weather to pick up!

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Photos

Sedona and Red Rock Country

The Red Rock Country and Sedona, on to Phoenix The landscape around Sedona is stunning, with its bright red rock formations, formed from iron infused sandstone, topped off with pale yellow sandstone. There are several clusters of massive outcrops, or vortex, in the valley. The New Age spiritualists and artists that flocked to live here believe that there are spiritual centres or vortex in the rocks. Now I would respect all this if it weren't for the commercially insensitive development of the town, with its hundred of art galleries, gift shops, cafes and high-priced restaurants. We counted jeeps from four different Jeep Tours spewing out into traffic! We thought we'd opted for the more sedate, environmentally friendly trip in a trolley bus, but, to our surprise, were treated to a frenetic, whistle-stop tour of a few of the rocky marvels and trails, and couldn't hear our guide for the sound and speed of the traffic! We visited at a very quiet time but had to queue in traffic to try to enter one of the canyon roads. Well, we didn't, we turned the car round and went to visit the Oak Tree Brewery instead! That was good, with local ale, Nut Brown Ale, and a tray of seven samples, a Mahi Mahi spinach salad and a shrimp salad. Good value. Nice surroundings, but set in a court that had a distinct Disneyland feel to it. A load of shops dressed up to look like a Mexican village. It's marketed as a spiritual stay, but is a world away from our experiences in Chinle, where we'd enjoyed walks and insight into Navajo culture and hadn't been required to spend a farthing! It's like Bakewell in Sedona, you have to buy a pass to park near most of the trails! That moan out of the way, the views of the surrounding Red Rock Country are superb, if only a lot more restraint had been taken with Sedona. The Cottonwood trees were glorious, bronze and yellow. Marlene had told us about them in Chinle, and said it was a shame we'd missed them because they'd looked like they were on fire, but the leaves had all dropped being at about 2000' difference in height. The following day we descended from the Colorado Plateau, where we had spent the previous five days at a much higher altitude and therefore much cooler. Immediately warmed up and soon hot again. We made for the Heard Gallery in Phoenix, which housed a private collection of Native American artwork, ranging from intricate basketry to painted ceramic pots, red on clay painted in cochineal, to beautiful rugs, blankets and clothing. Dozens of katsinas, doll-like depictions of various spirits, adorn two walls. We went on a guided tour and learnt, no holes barred,about the shocking treatment of the native children, taken from their families in the 1860s and forced into boarding schools, with a dreadful disregard for their culture and intelligence. Hair forcibly cut short, which they did as a sign of mourning in their own culture, meaning that they literally went into a grieving state. A form of social engineering reminiscent of Victorian England and Australia. Well worth a visit. I picked up a book on Navajo weaving, and promised myself to resurrect my loom at home, inspired by the spirit of the Spider Woman! Set off tomorrow , flying to San Fran. Can't wait to see all the family, especially Lily and little Glo-worm aka Charlotte, who we've nicknamed after the Glow-worm on the Gas advert!