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Getting to Paris

Rethel to Charlesville

Charlesville to Stavelot

Stavelot to Bastogne

Bastogne to Sommpry-Tahare

Sommpry-Tahare to Troyes

Troyes to Paris

Paris Tour Loop

Paris to Virville

Virville to Pontonson

 

 

 

...sharing the road in France...

 Ride Across France

car free adventure __________

 

A bad knee had terminated my running career and I was feeling quite sorry for myself.  I’d lost my long-time identity as a runner.  I had participated in numerous 10K races and two marathons (Which I completed!) and ran many miles everyday to maintain physical fitness.  My injury did not allow me return to running.

 

My son, Jack, was competing in triathlons and sought to get me out of my doldrums by suggesting that I take up cycling.  I told him that cycling was for recreation.  Running was to stay in shape.  A bit more "mocho." My kind of sport.  

 

He countered with the suggestion we bicycle in France.  He knew that I was a world War II buff so he suggested we design a route to visit the World War II sites in France.  If we went when the Tour de France was in progress we could also set a goal of riding our own mini Tour de France.  It seemed like a good idea, as I was beginning to get fat and unfit, and had no other fitness regimen in mind.  I owned a vintage, steel bike and began to train. 

 

Jack designed a tour that took us to many WW II battle sites:  Verdun, Normandy, Bastogne and others.  My part in the trip preparation and planning was to get in shape to ride reasonable distances each day in France, get airfare to France for my wife and myself and pack for the trip.  We planned to take our bikes so I bought a "bag" to carry my bike in.

 

We talked about riding the Tour de France routes along the coast.  we would visit the World War II Normandy beaches which Jack said was a must.   Jack said he wanted to visit the Battle of the Bulge area as well.  We were talking about doing a lot of the Tour de France as well.  A little quick math said we would be doing 250 miles a day if we wanted to do it all.  We backed off to bike rides of about 100 miles a day, but with my training not indicating that I could not hack 100 miles a day.  I needed to back off even more!  

 

We settled on a plan to ride to Stavelot to visit the Battle of the Bulge sites, then turn south and ride to Troyes and ride the Tour de France route into Paris.  After watching the Tour end in Paris it was on to Normandy to see the D-Day beaches.  That was 2000.  I have been cycling all over the world and the US since! 

 

  ..waiting for the Tour to arrive...

 

...waiting for Lance in Paris ...

 

   ...on the road in France...

 



 GETTING TO PARIS  

 

       

 ..bike bag packed ready for France...

..waiting at the Oakland Airport to fly to France..

 ..we rented our support van from Eurocar..

 ..our hotel in Rethel..

 

The web sight that Jack found advertising the Paris loop ride explained that only 10,000 riders would be allowed to make the ride.  To qualify, an application must be asked for and returned.  A lottery drawing would be made and the lucky folks would be given an invitation that would contain a band which you were to wear around your wrist indicating that you were a qualifier.  In addition, the color of the band would indicate the color of shirt you would be given at the Eiffel Tower the day before the ride.  The shirt was free which indicates that the French have not been completely corrupted by the U.S.  We sent extra entry forms in, living up to our reparation as the ugly Americans, to help our chances.  We received entries for all of the forms we sent in.  The shirts were all yellow, however, thus the polka-dot jersey story!

 

I had thought that riding the Tour de France loop in Paris was done every year.  Similar to the walk and 5K run before the Los Angeles Marathon.  But, I learned from jack after the ride that this was the first time the French had done this.  That added a special feeling to the event.  We pledged to e-mail the sponsers when we returned to the states to tell them to continue the event!  It was a great time!    

 

During training for France, someone stole my bike at a restaurant we frequent while we were eating breakfast.  It was no more than 15 feet from us but we were with friends and deep in conversation.  I had not locked the bike to the wall with a cable.  I had left my helmet and gear on the bike.  It was leaning against the wall out side as we ate 15 feet away.  How could I have missed someone taking my Bike?  It remains a mystery to this day.  I check out other riders to see if they are riding my old bike even today, years later. 

 

Now without a bike and airfare purchased I had to buy a new bike.  My son called me and told me that Specialized had a sale on the “Sports” model of their bike.  He had one and said he loved it.  I went to the bike story and bought one.  It only came in “orange” which I thought was a little over the top but I loved the bike after I began to ride.

 

In my mind I thought I was training hard.  I never rode farther than 35 miles during training but at that distance I thought I must have ridden into another state.  Even only getting up to 35 miles I began to feel I was over training and cut back to whatever felt reasonable.   We planned to have car support so I thought I could always get into the car if I over did it.     

 

Jack had told us when we started planning our trip to France that Corsair Airlines had the most competitive prices.  But, who is Corsair airlines?  Jack bought his tickets with Corsair.  All of the American carriers flew into Charles De Gaul Airport. Corsair flies only into Orly.  Corsair flies from LA one day later than it does from Oakland.  The same is true coming back. I assumed the schedule was due to the fact that the airline had only one plane.  The tickets were 500 dollars cheaper than the American carriers!   Sure that I would find myself traveling with most of the third world, we decided to purchase tickets with Corsair and fly from Oakland to Paris.  This solved many of the logistics problems. 

 

We reserved a room at the Marriott in Oakland to allow us to leave on an 8 A.M. Corsair flight the following morning for Paris.  We purchase tickets on Southwest to fly to Oakland the day before our scheduled departure.  On our return we planned to stay in Oakland and return via Southwest the following day.   My wife looked at the tickets the day before we were to leave for Oakland and discovered the flight leaves at 8 P.M!  (This is a common mistake I still make today!)

 

What to do for 12 hours?  My wife had read about an exhibit at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor (a War Memorial which was fitting since we planed to visit war memorials throughout France!) in San Francisco and my grandson called to request a Toys-R-US run.  We had reserved a car so the extra time was scheduled!

 

After the 12 hour San Francisco shop and tour it was time to head for Paris.  We arrived at the Oakland airport, we located the Corsair counter and we checked in.  My wife played mongoose and snake with the French woman at the counter and was able to secure two window seats for us.  We were separated by a couple of seats, but we had a window.  To our surprise, the seat between both of us was empty.  A person had been assigned to the seat on the isle, but the empty seat made the trip much easier.

 

We boarded the plane which was a Boeing 747.  The woman setting on the isle at my seat began to cough.  I had been concerned about my training.  Had I ridden enough hills?  Would I bonk on the way to Stavelot?  Now, setting next to the tubercular woman, I would have to ride to Stavelot having contracted some disease. Germs were being transmitted to me by a French woman setting two feet away.  I glanced over during the flight to discover she had put a cloth over her nose for Christ sake!  Too late now, my trip was doomed!

 

Jack’s seat was against the bulkhead.  The seat could not be pushed back.  The guy setting on the isle next to my wife, got up and left.  Jack moved on the isle while my wife put her feet in the seat next to her.  Both fell asleep.  The guy returns after thirty minutes and wakes Jack saying he wanted his seat.  After waking both Jack and my wife, having Jack move, he leaves his seat again within ten minutes.  I don’t want my seat, but I don’t want you to have it either. 

 

The plane took a Northern route over Canada, Greenland, England and then into France.  It was overcast all the way.  Over Nova Scotia we encountered rough weather which lasted for about 15 minutes.  I hoped this 747 had not been assembled in Seattle on a Monday.  Since I suspected that Corsair only owned the one plane I could have checked this out on the Boeing website before we left!  I worked for Boeing.

 

We were flying into the rising sun so by the time we reached Greenland the sun was up but we continued to fly over thick overcast.  Jack had told me at the airport that our bike tour would be at same meridian as Montreal.  I had made the same mistake that everyone who lives in Los Angeles makes.  Its 85 degrees in LA, thus it must be 85 in Paris!  I realized I was going to freeze!  I would be suffering from some horrible disease communicated to me by the woman on the isle which could not be controlled by my immune system because of the freezing cold!

 

The plane crossed the English Channel and begins the final leg to Orly.  The clouds are broken and I can see the ground.  I begin to check out the terrain from 30,000 feet.  Looks flat!  I want it to be flat so it continues to look flat!   I have not slept at all, or at least I do not think so.  I do not feel tired, however!  I must have dosed a little! 

 

In Paris we had to get through customs.  My son and I were together in line but they let me through with my bike in its bag and they stopped my son.  We waited outside of customs briefly and the French were satisfied and my son appeared.

 

We had to rent the car or van.  We planned to use Eurocar and looked up their location.  The van had two seats in the back which we wanted to take out and leave but they would not let us do it.  We took the seats out, pushed them in as cargo and loaded all of our stuff including the bikes.

 

We were to start our adventure in Rethel a small town northeast of Paris.  We exited Paris with little difficulty and drove to Rethel.  We located the hotel and checked in.  We built our bikes, had dinner at the hotel and went to bed.  Tomorrow we would ride to Charlesville which was about 35 miles distant.  It would be at the maximum distance I had ridden on my training ride.   

 

Lafayette we are here!!   Vive la France!

 

return



 RETHEL TO CHARLESVILLE

       

 ..assembling the bikes at the hotel in Rethel..

 ..getting my gear on to start the ride...

 ...checking the bike before we leave Rethel..

 ..ready to begin the Tour de France..

 

The trip to Charlesville was not difficult now as I look back on the other legs of Le Tour that covered a total of 548 miles. The distance to Charlesville was a little more than 30 miles.  We rode through rolling, lush green hills.  Farmhouses and barns built of gray stone with tile roofs dotted the landscape. We passed a large barn located very close to the road.  It was built of gray stone with a very large, round silo located at one end.  The structure surrounded a corral with a wooden fence running along the exposure to the road.  Wood was piled against the side of the barn.  The surroundings were very picturesque.  I thought briefly about stopping for a picture but rode on.  I thought of that missed opportunity many times in the following days and wish I had taken the time.

 

The weather was overcast and cool.  Perfect riding weather.  We ran into rain for about 300 yards as we rode through a canopied wooded area.  The traffic was light.  The roads we traveled throughout France were narrow so the traffic made a difference.  The French drivers however, were very courteous to us.  We were never buzzed.   Not one car blew its horn at us in France.  I had been exposed to buzzing and horn blowing several times in the states during the training rides for the trip.

 

Along the route we topped one of the few hills along the way and began our decent.  The surface of the road was perfect.  My wild side said I bet we can do forty miles an hour on this hill.  The hill made a long turn to the right about two thirds of the way to the bottom.  As I looked down the road it disappeared into the foliage.  My republican side pointed out that this was the first day of the ride.  If I were to hit a rough spot in the road or came upon a car which had stalled, I could be involved in an accident which unfortunately would not kill me but only make it impossible for me to ride for a week.  I applied the break.  Breaking the forty-mile an hour barrier would have to wait until another day

 

As we approached the town located at the bottom of the hill I closed to within ten feet of Jack (who had slowed to allow me to catch up).  Wearing our Tour de France polka dot jerseys and looking like we were tied together we whiffed through the small town.  I could not help thinking about the Dan Ackroyd and Steve Martin’saturday Night Live comedy routine, “we are just a couple wild and crazy guys!”    

 

We entered Charlesville and located a square, which we assumed was the middle of town.  A church stood on a hill above the square.  We moved to the church assuming that we could be seen from anywhere in town.  During the move from the square to the church parking lot one of Jack’s tires went flat.  Our riding day was complete so the tire could wait.  We called the support crew and gave instructions to look for the church spire.  We had entered from the South and the support crew was located at the hotel in the North.  There was a square and a church in the Northern part of Charlesville which could be called the center of the town.  Charlesville was not a town but a city!  We encountered our first I am here where are you problem!  Another telephone conversation solved the problem.

 

As we waited a group of youngsters crossed the parking lot and began to talk to us in French.  Jack told them we were Americans.  They responded with thumbs up.  We assumed they had noticed our polka dot bicycle jerseys and meant well by the jester.  (I later confirmed with the hotel clerk that thumbs up in France was a good thing.)  As they exited the parking lot they began to count to ten in English for our benefit.  Shortly after they had disappeared down the street our support crew arrived in the van, we hung our bikes on the car and drove into Charlsville to the hotel. 

 

The hotel in Charlesville was the most modern we stayed in during Le Tour.  It was much more like the hotels found in the states.  The surroundings were very nice, but I must admit that I enjoyed the restored hotels more than the more modern ones.  After we put our bicycles into the hotel storage area and transferred what we needed for one night, we set out to solve the pump problem so we could fix Jack’s tire.  The desk clerk told us that a bicycle shop was located in a shopping center near by. 

 

We found a store in the shopping center that could best be described as the K-Mart of France.  The store had a bike isle that contained lots of bike goodies but did not have parts for my French pump.  I brought my bike pump with me to try any replacement parts we may find.  Not finding replacement parts, Jack began to look for alternative ways of inflating a tire.  I began to disassemble my pump attempting to find out what had failed.  As I studied the pump I realized why the pump would not work.  The pump can be used on tires with the standard valve, the type on automobile tires, or on a prestie bicycle valve which is the type on our bicycles.  To change the pump from one valve stem type to the other, two parts must be reversed to allow the pump’s hose to be adapted to the valve stem.  Only one of the parts had been reversed in the pump producing an unworkable combination.  When I corrected the problem the pump worked fine.  This being my first bicycle trip I had quite a learning curve.  We returned to the hotel and Jack repaired his tire.    

 

In France the dinner hour begins at 7.  Since we had covered the 30 miles between Rethel and Charlesville rapidly, we arrived long before dinner.  Even after the “K-Mart”trip we had to wait.  The folks in the support crew were hungry now.  Bren and I decided not to wait for the hotel dining room to open and drove downtown.  We found parking near a small park.  A third of the park was filled with a large monument to World War I casualties.  We realized we were required to pay to park, but as most things in a foreign country, how to pay was an adventure.  Not wanting to risk finding the car impounded on our return we set out to find the rules.  We asked a couple setting on a park bench about the rules and with the typical English interspersed with French learned that a ticket was to be purchased from a machine located at the edge of the park and placed in the front window of the car.  How did I understand all of this speaking very little French, I will never tell! 

 

We left the park and entered and area in which several streets had been closed to traffic.  The streets were filled with pedestrians shopping.  We stopped a man and asked where the restaurants were located.  He suggested the Blue Fish located a block away.  We went to the Blue Fish and were told it would not open until 7.  We wondered along the various streets until we found a restaurant.  It was an Italian restaurant. What is wrong with this picture.  A restaurant that is open before seven.  A restaurant that is not French.  The food was poor.

 

After the meal we returned to the car for the trip back to the hotel only to discover we did not know how to get back to the hotel.  This began a half an hour of roaming around Charlesville’s streets attempting to find something that looked familiar.  I was hopelessly lost and had to rely on my wife to get her bearings.  On one attempt we made a complete circle which brought us back exactly to the point where we had started our quest.  Finally my wife located a street she recognized and we successfully made our return.  We treated ourselves to Crème Brulee at the hotel restaurant (which became our habit throughout France) and settled in for the night.

 

return



CHARLESVILLE TO STAVELOT 

 

       

 ..getting ready to bicycle from Charlesville to Stavelot...

 ...at the Belgium border....

 ...celebrating completion of the ride to Stavelot..

 ..attempting to look ok in front of the hotel in Stavelot after riding 120 miles...

 

towns along the way:  Gedinne, Rochethaut, Wellen, Rochurt, Horxx sur lessee, Hotton, Trois Point

 

...the woods are dark and deep, and I have promises to keep, and miles to ride before I sleep, and miles to ride before I sleep.....

 

We assumed that the exit from Charlesville would be as simple as from Rethel.  An exit road had been selected from a bicycle route map.  It was within easy riding distance from the hotel.  When we got to the exit point, we could not find the road.  The road that we had selected was N767.  We decided to continue along a road which we believed headed North.  The Meuse River seemed to always be with us.  We crossed over it.  We rode along it.  After several miles a sign at an intersection indicated we were actually going South East. We crossed the Meuse River again and turned down a road at an intersection in the direction we assumed to be North.  Again we found ourselves going South East. We were not a Meuse’d!

 

We backtracked to where we started and an attempted a second time to find the road north. Again we rode for about ten miles without finding the name of a town we recognized from our map which insured we were traveling North.  We later surmised that we had been lost in the outskirts of Charlesville traveling along the edge of the city in a South East circular path which did not lead to the countryside.   On one turn we found ourselves looking at a street with a 60 degree slope which I was unprepared for.  I got off my bike and walked to the top of a hill where Jack was looking at a map.

 

We punted and called the support crew for help.  We returned a third time to the spot where we originally had assumed the road would be found.  The support crew radioed us that they believed they had found the road.  When we got there they told us to take a route that retraced the path we had just taken.  We rode off on a third attempt.  After a few miles Jack found a sign pointing to a town indicated as North of Charlesville on our map.  It was not on the route we had originally planned to take, but it was North.  North was North.  We would have to correct to our route of choice after we exited the city.  After a few more miles we broke into the countryside.  We had escaped Charlesville.

 

The road changed into a four-lane, divided highway with a bike path marked on the shoulder.  The road began to climb as we encountered the first of an endless number of climbs to Stavelot.   This climb was the first of three rather difficult hills along the Meuse river which we encountered leaving Charlesville.  The river runs almost due North from the city and turns South East as it enters the city.  We would climb to the top of a hill and then ride down the opposite side to a town below only to climb again and then down again.  At the third town, we crossed the river.  I assumed we would find ourselves again climbing the hills that I saw on the opposite bank.  To my pleasant surprise the road ran along a valley which ran between the hills.  The scenery in the valley was rather pleasant and the hills we did encounter were manageable.

 

Jack was hungry.  We stopped at a bar in a small, nameless town and Jack ordered a ham and cheese sandwich.  The sandwich was approximately two feet long.  I sat at a table in front of the bar watching the bicycles through a window.  The bar tender came to the table handed Jack a sandwich and laid mine on the table.  The table was incredibly dirty. The bar tender returned with napkins, which he lay on top of my sandwich, I assume to protect it from the table.  Welcome to food on the trail. Knowing that I could not eat the entire sandwich, I asked that the sandwich be cut in half.  I emptied one of the large sandwich bags that I had in my pack filled with some necessary stuff.  Jack handed me the remains of his sandwich to save.

 

A small dog came from somewhere and watches me eat.  Jack was anxious to continue.  I went outside trying to finish the half of the sandwich I had in my hand.  Failing to do so I asked the bar tender if the dog could have the small piece of sandwich that remained.  Receiving his approval, I gave the remains to the dog who promptly disappeared with his prize back into the bar.

 

The support crew waited in Charlesville after we disappeared on our third attempt.  After we had punted and headed toward our northern town, we telephoned to notify the crew of our decision.  It was decided that we would meet for lunch in Wellen. Wellen was a small town on the route to Stavelot.  If we successfully got to Wellen we would be on the path of choice to Stavelot.

 

At one point the road emptied into a “round about.”  A “round about” is a circle of road into which four roads end, and typically, the road on which you entered will exit from the circle180 degrees from where you entered.  In this case the road we wanted exited the “round” 270 degrees to the left of our entry point. (Traffic always goes in a counter clockwise direction in the “round about).”  I rode into the circle assuming that the difficulty of the road would continue at the level we entered.  At the 180 degree exit, however, Jack continued to turn and exited on the road at the 270 degree point of the circle.  I reached the exit and found myself at the foot of a hill that went straight up!  I and my bike were unprepared!  I got off my bike and walked to the top of the hill.  Both Jack and I were wearing our polka dot bike shirts that are awarded to the best hill climbers in the Tour de France.  If you wore this shirt you were “king of the mountain.” The traffic on the hill was heavy.  Jack waited for me at the top of the hill.  When I arrived he told me he was surprised that a French driver had not stopped and taken my shirt away for walking up the hill. 

 

Our map and the towns we rode through were in sync with the map.  We were back on the route of choice.  It took us about three hours to reach Wellen which was about half way to Stavelot.  We had approximately 50 miles yet to ride, but for some reason that was not a concern.  I finished the sandwich that Jack had purchased at the bar, drank water and sat on the grass beside the road taking in the surroundings.  We had ridden approximately 70 miles, climbed some impressive hills but I did not feel terrible.  Riders high I guess!

 

We began to climb again.  In some places along the road we were riding above the towns we passed.  The roofs of the houses, a church steeple, and other shapes poked through the tree line below us.  In some places we were even with the rooftops.  We rode in a lust green forest which ran along the road.  In Moton, a small town along the way we stopped to take a call from the support crew.  We stopped on a bridge that crossed a river which divided the town.  Sidewalk cafes lined both sides of the street.  The cafes were filled.  People strolled along the sidewalks.  A crowd of picnickers, sun bathers and children were all along the river below the bridge.  I had trouble staying out of the way as I stood on the bridge watching the activity.

 

The remainder of the trip to Stavelot was one long string of hills.  We found ourselves on a road which shrunk to a paved surface of no more than thirty feet in width.  Of course it run up hill.  It was along this road that we entered Belgium.  We stopped at the sign long enough to record the event on film.  As we approached the bottom of one hill the support crew called.  Jack stopped to take the call as I continued along the road and began one of the tougher long grades we climbed along the way.  On the longer climbs the road would disappear into the tree line to left or right ahead of you.  You would not know if you had reached the summit until you reached the turn.  Many times that day at the turn you would see the road continue up again disappearing into the trees.  On this particular hill, I rode alone for more than a mile before Jack rode past me.  I followed him for another quarter mile or so and then called to him that I would have to stop.  He pulled over ahead of me and I puffed up and stopped.  After I caught my breath, I told Jack that if he wanted to ride on that would be fine.  I planned to finish even if I had to carry my bike the last five miles.  Jack said the rules were that everyone had to finish together!  I think his words were “Pilgrim, Americans do not leave anyone behind.  Lets move’em out.”  I was grateful he did not say “leave our dead behind!” 

 

The hills we encountered on the way to Stavelot had been difficult, but I had been warned about the final assent into Stavelot.  Jack had told me that he had read on the web that bicyclists hated the ride into Stavelot!  The ride ended with a long 20% grade!   As we approached the last ten miles to Stavelot I began to feel I was going to make it!  I actually got a riders high.  I knew I had made it!  Jack and I sucked it up and started to go for it.  When we finally got to the hills at the outskirts of Stavelot, they did not appear to be as difficult as predicted.  The hills we encountered about 20 miles before Stavelot were much worse.  We ate up the last two big hills we encountered on the way into Stavelot!

 

We rolled into Stavelot which was again a beautiful small town with sidewalk cafes along a street with a backdrop of old beautiful buildings.  We found a bar and tied our bikes up.  Jack ordered beer, I ordered a Perrier and we called the support crew.  One of the locals at the bar wanted to practice his English. A group located further down the bar recognized the polka dot shirts as “climbers par excellence” and began to call and jester to us.  After the climb to Stavelot we thought we had earned that shirt!  

 

The support crew met us at the bar.  The hotel was close by so we followed the car on our bicycles to the hotel.  At the hotel, Bren told me she had arranged for a massage.   How wonderful!  While climbing one of the hills on the way to Stavelot I had thought to myself , if I could only find a jacuzzi when I get to town, the ride tomorrow would be much easier!  At least that had been my experience skiing.   Jacuzzi’s, however, do not appear to be popular in Europe.  But I had remembered a sign at the hotel in Charlesville advertising a massage.  Maybe the hotel in Stavelot would offer a massage. 

 

Bren had reserved time for both Jack and I, but Jack was not interested.  I was!  The masseuse was located near by.  We began to drive using directions provided by the hostess at the hotel, but with the Charlesville exit still fresh in our monds, we returned to the hotel for conformation before we drove to Germany.  The hotel hostess defined “close by” in more detail and we set off again.  Our guy was waiting for us in front of his establishment.  I have had one other massage following a 10K.  This guy was great.  He worked on me for almost an hour finishing with a set of stretching exercises.  What a treat! 

 

The hotel in Stavelot was the most beautiful place we stayed on Le Tour.  I believe the hotel had been a single family dwelling and was converted into a hotel.  The structure was built back off the street and was connected to the street by a circular driveway.  The room was very comfortable and pleasant. The dining room was beautiful. Our host and hostess were Dutch.  He was the chief and she the hostess.  They spoke perfect English and talked at length about the States, the hotel, and other local gossip.  I think we annoyed some of the other guests with the chatter.  The last time I was in Europe we visited Holland and I thought the Dutch people were very friendly.  The couple in Stavelot reinforced my experience.      

 

We had arrived too late for dinner at the hotel, and following my massage we returned to Stavelot and literally grabbed the last sandwich from a small shop in town.  I believe it was the last sandwich in Stavelot!   We returned to the hotel and went to bed.  We had given up on TV in Charlesville.  We were shocked in Rethel and bored in Charlesville.  The choice was American TV in French or American look-a-like TV in French.   Rethel TV was Charlesville TV with hard core porn if you wanted to watch!  I fell asleep and dreamed of peddling toward the top of a long hill never quite getting there as Sisyphus had been condemned in Greek mythology. 

Breakfast the next morning was quite a spread.  There was a light rain falling at the hotel.  I felt great!  I had not bonked on the way to Stavelot

return



 STAVELOT TO BASTOGNE

 

       

 ...Malmady Memorial..

 ..confirming the route with the support crew...

 ...on the road to Bastogne...

 ...monument to the war effort at Bastogne..

 

After breakfast, we went by car to Malmady to see a memorial dedicated to a group of captured American GI’s  massacred by the Germans during the Battle of the Bulge.  The names of those killed are on a wall of the memorial.  There were no Wagoner’s or Lucero’s killed in the massacre. 

 

After leaving the memorial, the support crew dropped us off  beside the road and we began the ride to Bastogne.  It was only about sixty miles.  After Satvelot, sixty miles seemed like a practice run.  The hills were still with us.  The surroundings again were rolling hills covered with forests.  It was beautiful.  The light rain that fell at the hotel had disappeared.  The weather continued to look threatening, but it was cool and did not rain. 

 

On the trip from Rethel to Charlesville I had been conservative on the hills braking my bike on the down hill.  On the ride to Stavelot I took advantage of the down hill where possible.  On the trip to Bastogne, I knew we had conquered the worst, and did not have to hold anything back.  I went for it on the hills.  The fastest I clocked on the downhill was 36.4 miles an hour.  Try as I may I could not reach 40 miles an hour.  Tracey had told me she had reached 50 miles an hour in Colorado and I wanted to do 40!

 

Most of the towns along the way were located in the valleys between the hills.  Jack and I would close up on the way in, I drafting behind him, and we would zip through these little towns faster than we should sporting our polka dot riding shirts.  If Jack had made any mistake we would have ended in a heap of bicycles and bodies.  I recalled the story Bailey Hutchens told me as we lay on the ground after one of our Gray-Y inner-tube rides, about his Air Force training.  The wing commander had told him that if your wingman flies into a mountain I want to see a second black spot in the snow where you followed right behind him.  If Jack went down there would have been a grease spot right beside him!      

 

On the ride to Bastogne we began to pass through the towns which were fought over during the battle of the Bulge.  We passed through a small town with World War II German tank on display which appeared to be unharmed.  A river passed through the town. The road we were riding on entered the town from the North and then  crossed the river where the tank was located.  Pictures located on a display behind the tank showed the tank upside down in the river.  The building shown in the picture located around the bridge were destroyed. Obviously the tank was a casualty of the battle of the bulge and the town had seen heavy fighting.  Later we saw an American Sherman tank setting in the square in Bastogne which has a shell hole through the side.  I was not very pleased to see that since it meant that the three guys inside must have died.

 

During our ride, we encountered a long, tough hill which eventually terminated in a bridge over the freeway  transitioning us to the other side.  During the assent we were passed by two other bicyclists.  As I continued to crank along at my 10 mile an hour pace, (wide open for me!) Jack took off and caught them.  They were about 200 yards ahead of me on the climb and disappearing.  When I reached the top, Jack was waiting for me.  He said he was going to pass them and drag them along to exhaustion but his gears had failed to change properly and he had lost it.  He vowed never again to let the frogs dis him!  We had earned the polka dot shirts and we were ready to defend them!  Note that I am the “domestic” member of this team.  I carried the tools, medical supplies, power bars and goo!

 

As we entered Bastogne we passed a bicycle shop.  Jack called the support crew and told them we were located at a bike shop at the edge of town having Jack’s gears repaired.  This was a full up bike shop with a store in the front crowded with all kinds of bicycle gear and new bikes.  Behind the store was a garage that had 20 bicycles waiting patiently for service.  Tools and bike parts were everywhere.  Serious bike stuff went on here!  The bicycle mechanic looked at the gears and told Jack (he spoke perfect English) that the changer located on the handle bar which controlled the rear sprocket was designed to support 7 gears.  Jack’s rear sprocket had 8 gears.  Jack would have to give up the lowest or highest gear on the ring.  Jack chose the lowest.  The guy did not charge Jack for the adjustment! 

 

As I waited in front of the bicycle shop for the support crew, I noticed that a bike path crossed the street next to the bicycle shop and disappeared.  The path disappeared into the country side on one side of the road and into the town on the other.  Bastogne appeared to have an extensive network of bike paths which ran all over the city.  They were not part of the highway system.  When Jack joined the crew and I in front of the bicycle shop we toyed with the idea of riding the bike path to the hotel.  Bren said she thought she had seen the bike path near the hotel, but, with the Charlesville escape still fresh in our minds, Jack and I decided simply to follow the support crew to the hotel.  The bike path did pass behind the hotel.  

 

Bren and I decided to return to the hotel in Stavelot for dinner.  The dining room was so grand.  The dining room had a high ceiling of tinted glass panels.  Jack and I had arrived after they had stopped serving dinner the night before on the ride from Charlesville.  The Dutch hostess was very surprised that we would drive 50 miles to eat.  Those Americans.  When we arrived we were seated in a small sitting room adjacent to the dinning room and served drinks and hors d’oeuvres.  After a time we were given a menu from which we selected our dinner with the help of the hostess and the recommendations from the chief, her husband.  After we finished our drinks we were seated in the dinning room.  We had salad, soup, vanilla ice, fish, veal, and desert.  All of the items listed were served at a minimum of thirty minutes apart.  Dinner took three hours!  Add in the pre-meal activity and you have the European approach to dining.  Mc Donalds is a threat to this life style!  When the fish was served we informed the waitress that there must be some mistake because we had ordered the veal for the main course!  The poor woman could not speak English and she hurried away to get the Dutch hostess.  The hostess informed us that the fish was one of the courses before the veal.  Poor people have poor ways!  I must comment on the salad.  Everything was terrific, but the salad contained several huge scallops wrapped in spinach.  They were to die for!  When we left, the Dutch host who was also the chief came to the car to say farewell and wish us a great trip.

 

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 BASTOGNE TO SOMMPRY-TAHARE

       

 ..bunker from World War II in the middle of a field...

 ...field of sunflowers...

 ...riding near the trees along the road...

 ...catching lunch at the support van...

The distance from Bastogne to Sommpry-Tahare is approximately 100 miles.  The bicycle time for the last 100-mile trip had been fourteen hours which meant that we had to ride from dawn to dusk leaving only time to go to bed and to start riding your bike when you awoke the next morning.  Since we did not want to or have the discipline to maintain this schedule, we decided to reduce the riding time.  The support crew drove us 20 miles toward Sommpry-Tahare and we rode the remaining 80 miles.

 

We rode through farmland.  As we rode along one country road Jack pointed out a bunker located on a small rise in one of the fields.  As we rode on we spotted another closer to the road.  A little further on we saw another about 100 yards off the road.   We assumed they must have been part of the Maginot Line built along the German border after World War I to protect the French from a German assault.  

 

We had ridden past two bunkers in a pasture on the ride to Stavelot.  They were overgrown and located about 50 yards apart in a pasture.  One was adjacent to the road and the second was located in the pasture almost in line with the first.  Cows grazed near by.  It was difficult to understand why these defensive positions had been selected after sixty years of changes in the landscape. 

 

There are always the hills, but after the march to Stavelot everything looked benign.  On one of the more severe climbs along the way a bicyclist passed us.  Jack with his repaired gears took off after the guy and disappeared behind him around the curve ahead.  Just before I reached the top I noted that a connecting road dropped off over the side of the hill which appeared to be the same size as the one I was on.  I labored up the incline and found Jack setting on a bench at the top waiting for me. 

 

He told me on the way down the other side that he had caught the guy, drafted for a while, swung around him to let him draft and then dropped behind again.  This went on until they reached the road to the left.  The guy turned off on this road while drafting behind Jack and was gone.  Jack’s had said that he would have dusted the riders the day before if his gears had not failed and now he had proven it.  This hill was much more difficult than the hill over the freeway the day before.

 

As we traveled further South the forest disappeared.  We rode past wheat fields, fields of corn and fields of sunflowers.  Everything looked perfectly groomed, nothing out of place.  The area along the highway was populated with several varieties of flowers.  Red, yellow, and purple were the most prevalent.  Lost in paradise.  At one point Jack asked, “did you ever guess we would come all this way and be riding through Fresno?”

 

Sommpry-Tahare was a very small town out in the country.  There were maybe 15 houses.  The hotel was a rustic, old, restored building.   We were asked at the desk as we checked in if we wanted to eat at the hotel because they had to set it up or something like that.  Bren and I decided not to experiment and drove back to the last town we had gone through on the way to Sommpry-Tahare for dinner.  We had a difficult time locating a place.  In the country, folks eat at home.  We went to a hotel to have dinner. 

 

No one was in the dinning room when we arrived so we thought, “the only thing we are going to get here is, hot dogs and beans.”   The meal turned out to be a 5 course French meal and it was great!  The next morning at breakfast in the hotel, Jack who had eaten at the hotel said the meal was fabulous.  We found French food to be good everywhere!

 

We left the bedroom window open all night.  The next morning the sun streamed into the window (I had my sleep mask on).  The air was crisp, but the temperature was comfortable.  A rooster began to crow in the distance.  Then the church bell began to ring.  I got up went to the window and looked out over meadows and crops of the farms that disappeared onto the horizon.

 

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 SOMMPRY-TAHARE TO TROYES

       

 ..many beautiful flowers along the route..

..the hills are long & steep and I have many to climb before I sleep...

..view of the river along the route...

 ..remains of a World War I trench in Verdun..

We decided to visit the World War I battle site outside Verdun on the way to Troyes.  The plan was to bicycle to the outskirts of Verdun, meet the support crew and then tour the battle area by car.

 

Along the route we encountered farmers driving tractors on the roads pulling large trailers behind them.  I assume the trailers were used to carry grain or some other produce.  The trailers are about 10 feet high and about 15 feet long.  Two wheels in the middle of the bed support them.  Jack told me that if we could get close enough behind one of these things we could be pulled along at the speed of the tractor with very little effort on our own.  He said he had hitched rides behind various vehicles in San Francisco with great results. 

 

The next tractor we saw enter the road we decided to give it a try.  The tractor was traveling about 18 miles an hour.  Jack caught up with the tractor and was drafting along behind it.  I closed on the tractor but could not maintain the pace needed to catch up and fell back.  Jack disappeared behind the tractor that he followed up the next hill. 

 

He waited at the top of the next hill.  When I got there he said that the next tractor and trailer we ran across I could draft on him until I caught the tractor, after we got within 20 feet, I could pull around him placing me behind the trailer.  After about ten miles we spotted a second farmer entering the road from a crossroad.  I dropped into position behind Jack and we accelerated.  When we were with 20 feet of the trailer I swung along side and away we went.  The tractor was cruising at about 15 plus miles an hour.  We followed him for about five miles.  Jack dropped back to take a picture of me tucked in about 20 feet from the trailer.  The farmer could not see us and we assumed did not know we were there.  Cars that passed must have got a good laugh.  At a large hill I could not maintain the pace to stay behind the trailer so we lost our friend.  

 

We made an error, took a wrong turn and went in the wrong direction along a small connecting road just before we were to meet the support crew at the outskirts of Verdun.  The ride along the incorrect route was beautiful.  I am sure this was the Argon Forest.  The trees located on each side of the road touched above the road.  The sun broke through in spots producing bright rays to the ground.  It was cool and perfect for riding.  We climbed for about three miles and then decended for about three miles to where the road ended in a “T” with another road.  We let the bikes run on the downhill but just bearly got above 30 miles an hour. 

 

At the junction we stopped but none of the road numbers matched what we expected.  We thought about taking the fork to the left, but Jack said "this can’t be right."  A German bicyclist rode up to the junction and stopped.  He spoke perfect English and had a detailed map.  We had turned the wrong way!  We retraced the 6 miles we had just ridden, but wow this had to be one of the most beautiful areas we had ridden in and it was worth the effort to see it again.

 

We met up with the support crew in a small town, the name of which I do not recall, hung our bicycles on the car and went off to tour.  We stopped at the tourist office in Verdun to get directions.  While backing up to enter a parking space, we backed into a pole.  Jack’s bike took a hit on the handlebars which basically made the bicycle unusable.  That made for an unhappy start to the tour.

 

The tour office had given us the necessary directions and we were off to the World War I battlefield sites.  The United States has built a tower overlooking the valley where one of the major battles was fought and the troops took the hill on which the monument stands.  Next we toured a "no-mans land" outside Verdun where 7 villages were totally destroyed as the allies and German armies fought over the area.  The villagers were either killed or driven away by the fighting.  They were not allowed to return to their homes after the war because there were so much unexploded ordinance in the area it was uninhabitable.  The survivors were given land elsewhere by the French government.  The trenches, though nature has taken its toll over the last 80 years, are still there.  Some were built with cement posts which still line the trenches.  The shell holes are still there.  Vegetation has gone up over everything but the shell holes caused by the shelling are still obvious.   

 

We went to the location of the various fortifications, made a quick survey and then moved on.  One monument covers a trench where a group of French soldiers were buried alive when a shell hit near or on top of the trench.  Their bayonets still stick through the top of the dirt which covered the trench.  I assume the bodies have been removed, but future study is needed to determine the whole truth.  The Americans paid for this memorial so it is quite nice.    

 

We left Verdun for Troyes.  We decided to look up a bicycle shop in Troyes and have the bike repaired.  Jack located a bicycle shop.  The estimated repair would take until 11 the following day.  The next to last leg of the Tour de France was to end in Troyes right in front of our hotel.  But, we decided not to stay for the arrival of Le Tour but head directly for Paris after the bike repair.  We had to pick up our shits for the Tour de France ride through Paris. 

 

During the planning for our French Adventure, Jack had discovered on the web that it was possible for civilians to ride the last leg of the Tour de France route to Paris.  The last leg of the Tour would begin in Troyes.  The selection of those who would be allowed to ride had been conducted in a lottery and we had been selected.  We choose to stay in Troyes so we could ride the last leg of the tour.  

 

We later learned that the "last leg" in the lottery referred to the loop that the Tour de France riders make in Paris after riding to Paris from Troyes.  We decided to stay in Troyes anyway to watch the finish of the next to last leg of the Tour.  Our hotel was on the street where the Tour finished the Troyes leg.  The finish line was within viewing distance of our fourth floor room.  However, after a little quick math, we decided that we could not get to Paris and find the Eiffel Tower in time to get our shirts for the Paris loop ride.  We decided to bail on the finish of the Tour in Troyes.

 

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TROYES TO PARIS

       

 ..catching a bite on the road to Paris...

 ..the streets are narrow entering Paris...

 ...in Paris...

 ...enjoying French food near the hotel..

The bike repair forced us to leave for Paris later than we had planned.  To reduce the miles so we could cover the distance before dark, the support crew took us to a small town outside of Toryes, Provins, and we began the trip to Paris on Nxxx.  The countryside was relatively flat all the way to Paris.  At one of our yellow snow stops, Jack turned to me and said “is this dull or what?  I never thought after the trip to Stavelot that I would want to run into a hill!”

 

As indicated earlier, by this stage of Le Tour I had begun to let it all hang out on the hills.  The other activity I had begun to engage in was the “challenge of the round abouts.”  The rule of the round about is that all traffic to your left that is physically in the round about has the right of way.   When I found myself in the lead entering  a round about, unless there was traffic immediately to my left, I entered.  Since a car could overtake me in the circle it meant that exiting could become interesting since the roads in France did not waste material or acerage producing shoulders for their roads.  Also note that as you zip around this race track you encounter signs at the intersection of each road indicating the number of the road that is exiting the circle and the number of the road you will find at the next exit point. 

 

I entered a round about on the way to Paris assuming that my exit would be found 180 degrees from my entry point.  My reptile brain was generating signals to my legs to maintain a brisk speed through the “round about” at the direction of the right hemisphere that wanted to traverse the circle smartly. (Show off a little!)  As I rode to the first exit the sign indicted that my exit was at 90 degrees to my entry point.  I hesitated to read the sign again and in doing so began to move into the exit path while not really committing to the turn.  During all of this cognitive processing delay a motorcycle had entered the round about behind me with the intent to exit on my route as well. We were quickly in formation with the motor cycle within inches of my bicycle.  My reptile brain interrupted with the message “You have killed us all! We are going to be run over!  (“Note that my Republican brain and my reptile brain are the same.)  I immediately made a hard right turn which meant I entered about two thirds of the way through the right hand lane of the exit road.  The motor cyclist would have to make the choice of hitting me or taking on the traffic parked at the intersection waiting to enter the round about.  Without hesitation, the motorcyclist broke left and disappeared around the round about!   Jack and I had closed up and were now heading down the exit road.  I could hear the motor cycle coming around the round about and enter the road behind us.  I braced for the “you idiot” in French with the popular gesture of the day as the guy blew by within inches of my bike!  To my surprise the guy rode safely by us, without saying or doing anything!  No harm no foul!  I forgot, I’am not in LA!        

 

When we reached the outskirts of Paris the road pattern became confusing. We had to a void the major freeways into Paris which prohibited bike traffic.  We picked our way along trying to avoid a Charlesville problem.  At one point Jack yelled at two bicyclists “Paris” as they rode by.  They gave us the thumbs up and we attempted to follow, but by the time we got on the road behind them they had disappeared.  We wandered toward Paris finally coming to an intersection the roads of which were not on our map.  This was typical of the whole trip.  The maps we had were for car travel not bike travel. 

 

As we pondered which road to take, a lady rode by on her bike.  Jack again asked “Paris.” The woman stopped and Jack asked, “do you speak English?”  The woman said, “oh yes in perfect English.”  We told her that we wanted to get to the bike path along the Seine so we could get to the Eiffel Tower.  She told us that we could ride on the bike path along the canal most of the way and began to explain how to get to the bike path.  Then she stopped trying to explain how to reach the bike path and said she would show us the way.  She rode off on her  bike and we followed.  She took us the wrong way on a one way street which with the wave of hand indicated she did all the time to shorten the trip.  After maybe a mile we reached the bank of the canal.  We were at street level and the bike path was beneath us.  I took two pictures of the lady with Jack as they studied the map.  Then she decided she would ride with us part way  to show us the way.  She said that when we met she had been going to the forest near by to read, it being such a beautiful spot, but she would change her plans and ride with us instead.  As we rode along she provided the history of the building along the canal and the general history of the area.  She told us what had happened to the area during World War II.  We rode for several miles and after a time she disclosed that she had exceeded her typical bike trek along the canal.  She also told us she was 77 years old!     

 

We approached the end of the bike path along the canal.  Our guide tried in vain to explain how to get from the canal to the Seine.  She saw a group of men setting on a bench preparing to roller blade along the bike path.  She joined them and their conversation, in French, became very light hearted.  We had ridden about sixty miles and I was tired.  We wanted to get to the Eiffel Tower.  After a bit, two of the men got up from the bench and looked at the map Jack held in his hand.  In fairly reasonable English, they  told him how to get to the Eiffel Tower. 

 

Before we left, the direction lady asked if I would write to her when I returned to the states.  I said sure and she asked if I had a pencil and paper.   Both were not things that I carried as required equipment in my pack.  Not to worry, she stepped into the street and flagged down a car.  She asked for a pencil and paper but the first car had  none.  Without hesitation, she stopped a second car.  The street was narrow and when a car stopped it blocked the street.  The second car produced pencil and paper and while stopped  blocked two other cars which had been proceeding along the road.  She wrote down her address, returned the pencil and thanked the occupants of the car.  All the while the two cars being blocked patiently waited, staying off their horns.  I could observe the occupants of the two cars and the occupants both looked as though this happened all the time.  Never in America!

 

I handed the address to Jack, he had directions on how to get to the Seine and we were off.  At our next opportunity to speak I told Jack, “you know those guys were drunk and when they were having the conversation in French on the bench I thought the Americans had fallen for the old lady who leads them to be robbed scam.”  Jack said, “ I did not get that feeling, but you did know they were gay?”  I look so smart in my bike outfit I am sure they were more attracted to me!  We proceeded onto the streets of Paris to find the Eiffel Tower.

          

There is a bike path from the canal to the Eiffel Tower.  People on roller blades, motor cycles, and cars also use the bike path.  We encountered people walking as well.  The bike path would start on one side of the street and then change to the opposite side.  Who had the right of way was not always obvious.  Later in a conversation with Bren she told me that she had adopted the strategy that when you cross a street in Paris keep two Parisians between you and the on coming traffic  The assumption being that by the time a car drove through the buffer people you could jump clear. 

 

We rode up behind two wonkers at a traffic light, a man and a woman.  When the light changed we were forced to follow them along the bike path.  At first we looked for an opportunity to pass.  But as we followed them I became impressed with the probado of this pair. .  They looked like librarians for lack of a better analogy,  but  they challenged all cars for their right of way and held their ground.  If a car came too close I looked for one to pull an umbrella from the wire basket on the from of the bike and strike the car across the hood.  We dressed as though we were part of the Tour de France, fell meekly behind our blocking team as I thought to myself  “you go girl!”  They lead us through the worst part of the street traffic on our route to the Eiffel Tower.

 

To digress a bit, as we rode by ourselves from the canal to the Eiffel Tower and prior to meeting the book people, the drunks at the sidewalk cafes shouted comments about the polka-dot jersey (king of the mountain)  that Jack was wearing.  Not sure what was being said, Jack decided to stop and change into a jersey he was carrying in his pack.  The sidewalk calls stopped.  When we reached the Eiffel Tower, however, another drunk walked over to Jack, threw his arm around him and signaled to a companion to take a picture.  It turned out Jack had put on the Italian Tour de France shirt and this guy being from Italy wanted a picture.  I rode that day in the Kentucky Derby T-shirt my sister Rogna had sent me to wear in France.  Maybe the Parisians knew of the derby and their comments were directed at me!

 

When we reached the Eiffel Tower we joined about 2000 people who were waiting to take the ride to observation platform at the top or just taking in the sights.  We called the support crew who were about 200 feet from where we stood, but could not see us for the crowd.  After we met the support crew, Jack went off to get his shirt for the ride along the Paris Tour de France leg the following day.  Bren had two extra forms and asked that I go to collect the shirts.  We had been given yellow shirts, but wanted polka-dot jerseys.  Bren asked that I try to get two polka-dot jerseys since she had been unsuccessful persuading the people handing out the shirts earlier to give her polka dot.  I rode my bike to the tent some distance away, looked for someone by themselves, approached the tent and said I am here to get my shirt.  The woman spoke perfect English.  I asked if I could have two polka-dot jerseys and without hesitation she said yes.  Could it have been the Kentucky Darby T-shirt that I wore which caused this positive response?

 

We walked to the hotel which was within viewing distance of the Eiffel Tower.  Another great location selected by Jack.   The sidewalk adjacent to the hotel had numerous sidewalk cafes.  We selected one, asked for no smoking which they offer but is non-existent and settled in for our bottle Badiot and salmon.  We had not discovered the mussels yet.  Too bad!  Very pleasant surroundings! 

 

We left the window open to the street.  This had become our habit throughout France.  Lots of excitement on the streets of Paris during the wee hours of the morning!  Runs a close second to Five Points in Denver!

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PARIS TOUR LOOP

       

 ..the church...

 ..the Pompidou...

....waiting for the start of the ride around the Paris loop ...

 ..riding on the cobble stones...

The next morning was our scheduled ride on the Paris loop of the Tour de France. 

 

Anyway, back to the present, the shirt giveaway ended at 9 o’clock and with our “find your way around France” experiences fresh in our minds, we decided to leave Troyes for Paris as soon as we could!

 

While Jack and I rode with the Lady of the Canal the day before, Bren had rented a bicycle for the loop ride the following day.  We skipped breakfast the next morning so we would not miss the start of the event.  Together with 10,000 other contestants we waited for the start.  All of the riders had worn their shirts, yellow, green, polka dot and white.  Each represents an individual winner in the Tour.  Yellow is the over-all winner, green is the winner of the most sprint legs, polka dot is the “king of the mountain” (guy who has won most of the mountain legs of the Tour), and white the best rookie!  I am not sure my explanation is correct but each shirt represents something close to what I indicated.  We wore our yellow jerseys. 

 

Looking at the crowd and guessing at the skill level of my fellow riders I was sure I would perish in a huge bike accident ten minutes after the loop ride began.  To my amazement, after the ride began the crowd dispersed and we rode the entire way in the clear.  Several Tour de France want-a-be’s passed me, but with sufficient distance to cause little concern. 

 

Jack brought small American flags that we wore in our helmets.  One group of French riders began singing the national anthem as they rode pass.  I could not return the favor and sing the French anthem!  Several Americans rode up next to me and asked where I lived in the states and had I followed the Tour. 

 

The loop itself was approximately 20 miles in length.  It ran along the Seine turning at the Arc De Triumph to complete the second half of the loop.  We started near the Eiffel Tower.  The Coka Cola Company gave away large bottles of coke at the finish.  There was also the usual bag of goodies.  Jack got hats and other stuff that we missed out on.  Jack later gave us the yellow hats.

 

A number of tourists were taking pictures.  An American lady from San Diego asked that we take her picture.  She was wearing a green jersey (she became known as the lady in green) and we told her we had all yellow.  She said she had wanted a yellow jersey, so we told her we would swap her a yellow for a green.  Problem was we were on the Eiffel Tower side of the street and our hotel (which contained the yellow jersey) was on the opposite side of the street.  The street was closed because the Tour was approaching the city.  We had to walk a long way to a location where we were allowed to cross.

 

During our wanderings we asked the lady in green if she had been riding while in France.  She had her riding garb on but I thought she might have only ridden in the loop ride in Paris.  She proceeded to tell us that she had ridden the Alps portion of the Tour de France with a group of guys.  She had only been able to maintain a 15-mile and hour pace because of the climb!  She asked us what we had been doing and we quickly changed the subject to equipment.   Seems she has a special built bicycle that we estimated must have cost 4000 dollars! 

 

The experience made me think of my early running days when I felt so great about running a mile only to find out the person I was talking to had run 10!  Why would a bike person come to ride around Paris in the final leg of the Tour de France?  Because they are heavy into bicycling!

 

After the shirt exchange, Bren wanted to take her bike back to the rental shop.  This allowed me to experience the Paris subway system.  I got on the subway next to the hotel to meet Brennis who was riding her bike to the bike rental shop.  Of course I selected the wrong exit to the street after reaching my station but met up with Brennis and we retraced my route via subway to the hotel.

 

The night before someone had ordered a salad at dinner, which looked good, and we wanted to give it a try.  Nothing like a subway ride to make you hungry, so we stopped for lunch.  I finished off the meal with three scoops of French vanilla ice cream.  Cholesterol?  I had earned it!  After lunch we walked toward the Eiffel Tower to see the start of the Paris leg of the Tour de France.  We met Jack coming back who informed us that we had missed it.  We walked down the street to watch the Tour de France riders when they returned on the loop we had traveled earlier in the morning.  After they had passed, we walked to the Arc de Triumph to watch the tour pass from there. 

 

We decided to blow off watching the finish and site see in Paris.  Bren made a list of four things to visit.  The first was the Notra Dame and the second was the Pompado museum.  Three and four I do not remember since the first two consumed the time we had remaining in the day.  We took the subway to the Notra Dame.  Mass was going on when we entered the church.  Bren lit a candle for her mother, we cruised the gift shop and headed outside to look at the “flying buttress” which are said to be one of the architectural wonders of the world.  After a quick look we headed back to the subway for the ride to the Popado.

 

The Pompado was interesting.  It is built like a hamster habitrail only it is for humans.  The exhibits are very modern and strange.  A Pacaso sculpture exhibit was on display.  Many of the pieces were models he had made as models before making larger pieces.   I assumed my favorite picture was that of a man walking taken from a position beneath the walker.  It was very unusual and I would like to have a poster of it.  The whole place was strangely interesting.  The type of art, which I believe three people, could look at and have three views of what it meant.  I also think you could spend time just looking at one piece.  Very interesting exhibits.  As I said before we blew our time budget and did not make the other two on the list.  We took the subway back to the hotel.  Jack saw the finish and the awards ceremony at the end of the Tour de France.

 

We met a couple and their daughter from England while we were pushing our way to the front along the fence.  While we waited we talked about living in France.  They had moved to France from England a few years before.  We told them that we had had a very good experience while in France.  They were not as happy with the French and told us so.  Jack had not been with us when we arrived at the fence and joined us about 30 minutes later.  During the rambling conversation that followed, Jack told them how great it was to be an American and disclosed that I was 60 years old!  Later Jack asked,  “you don’t think I sounded like an ugly American do you?”  Oh, no!

 

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PARIS TO VIRVILLE

       

 ..our hotel at Omaha Beach..

 ...Omaha Beach...

 ...bunker above the exit ravine from Omaha Beach.. 

 ...cemetery at Normandy...

Our last night in Paris, it rained all night with thunder and lighting.  I slept through it all.  I did not hear a thing.   It was still raining when we got up the next morning.  We loaded our gear, tied the bikes to the car and drove from Paris with the goal of beginning the next bike leg West of Paris which would take us to the Normandy beaches. 

 

With the exit from Paris to Rethel in our minds the exit from Paris could be tense!  I drove and Jack gave directions from the passenger seat.  With crisp Germanic give and take by father and son we exited the city.  The assault on the beaches had begun.     

 

The support crew had planned to go to the town of Giverny to visit the home of Monet.  Monet’s home was surrounded by gardens and ponds which the artist had made many famous painting of.   The plan was to drive to a cross roads outside of town where the Tour boys would begin their ride to Normandy and the crew would turn north to Giverny.   As we drove Bren checked the time the museum opened only to find that it was closed on Monday!  It was Monday morning. 

 

As we continued toward Normandy, it continued to rain.  With the loss of the Giverny outing and the rain, it was decided that we would not bicycle to Normandy.  Why spoil a good time by riding in the rain.  We decided that we should not ride in the rain and drove directly to Virville.

 

We skipped breakfast to get an early start.  We stopped for breakfast at a cafeteria along the route.  The person behind the counter did not speak any English.  It was a chore trying to get what you wanted.

 

When we reached the hotel the weather was really howling.  The hotel looked directly out onto Omaha Beach.  A small access road ran between the beach and the hotel.  A small parking lot, about seventy-five yards in length, had been built on the beach side of the road.  Two German bunkers were located at each end of the parking lot.  One of the bunkers had an American memorial built on top of it. 

 

The ravine that the Americans were trying to capture in “Saving Private Ryan” now contains a paved road which was the access to the hotel.  Fifty feet up the road is another memorial which reads “to the men who gained the first 1000 yards at Omaha.  Note that on each side of the ravine are cliffs with German bunkers built into each side which faced the ravine.  Thus after you had passed all of the carnage on the beach and thought you had it made, boom.     

 

The hotel dining room had a large window which ran the full length of the room.  It looked out over the water.  Even with the rough weather it was enjoyable.  The next morning as luck would have it, the weather cleared and it was beautiful.  We ate at the hotel the two days we were at Omaha.  We were there every morning and evening.  The food was to die for and the view was incredible!

 

When the tide is out, the beach must approach a mile in width.  The locals go to the edge of the surf and pick up shell fish which is just laying on the beach.  We walked to the edge of the surf.  We picked up shell fish and gave it to the people who were gathering their dinner. 

 

Jack and I walked back to the bunkers and then to the top of ridge above the ravine.  I looked down on the beach trying to imagine what a horror it must have been for the men on D-Day.  I got the impression from watching “Saving Private Ryan” that the Germans were very close to the landing craft.  But setting in a bunker that evening with the tide out, it looked like a difficult shot to the edge of the surf.  I turned until I could see one of the shell fish gathers at the surf’s edge to get an idea of the size of the target a German soldier would have of someone moving up the beach.  I was surprised that the figure appeared larger than I thought it would. 

 

My general impression from reading and now looking at the fortifications that the Omaha beach landing was a management failure that cost a lot of lives.  For those who do not know Utah beach was a walk over (i.e. not very difficult).  The landing on the other beaches went as planned.  Jack asked as though thinking out loud, why did the Germans put up such a fight at Omaha and not at the other beaches? 

 

From my reading it is clear that for the Americans everything went wrong at Omaha from the initial bombing, shelling and location of the landing craft approaching the beach.  If they had delayed two hours they could have corrected the initial air force and navy failures, the troops from Utah could have turned and attacked from the rear.  But I am sure that some manager had his timetable.  General rule of thumb, the guy who makes the plan gets to direct the schedule from the beach after landing with the first wave!   

 

The American cemetery at Omaha beach was beautifully landscaped and well kept.  We were there just before they closed so we heard taps as they lowered the flag.  It was very moving.  10,000 white crosses as far as you can see.  A circular wall in a courtyard behind one of the main structures of the memorial had the names of those that were never seen or head from after they left the landing barges.  There were approximately 2500 names.  I looked for family names.  I found none.  I located about fifty names from Kentucky, about 10 from Colorado.  Spanish surnames.  Assume most of the Colorado folks went to the Pacific. 

 

Gun emplacements were placed along Omaha beach so that they could not be fired directly into from the ocean, but could lob shells onto the beach.  Guns were placed at each end of the beach so they faced each other and could lob shells anywhere along the beach.  There were bunkers which must have been used by machine gunners, small round holes where one person could stand and direct fire or fire a rife.  Tunnels connected many of these holes. Some of the bunkers were black from burning.  Many of the large guns were still in place.  Most had been damaged from shellfire.

 

My wife and Jack's friend rented bikes for the ride between, Omaha, Utah, Sword, Juno and Sword.  During our ride we stopped at a café in one of the small beach towns for lunch.  It was located above the British beach and there were British tourist everywhere.

 

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VIRVILLE TO PONTORSON

       

 ..fields of corn along the route...

...the sprint for the green jersey...

 ..relaxing at the hotel..

...the Castle...

 

After breakfast I put my bike gear on and prepared for the last bicycle ride of our Tour.  When I went to get my bike I found that I had a flat tire.  I repaired the tire and Jack and I began our trek.  The trip began on the road which now lies in the draw which the Americans had paid so dearly for on June 6, 1945.

 

We were veterans of a sort now too.  We eat up the first 20 miles moving along at a brisk pace. The weather was overcast with the threat of rain when we left the hotel.  The sky threatened for most of the trip, but it rained for only a few yards in a couple of places. It was pleasingly cool during the hardest part of the trip.   I had put my windbreaker on at the hotel before we began but after 20 miles I had to take it off.   The sun broke through for a while after 40 miles.  The clouds were always close, however, and were with us for most of the day.  

 

We were traveling along country roads with farm building scattered along the road.  The houses and barns were very close to the road indicating that they had been here long before the automobile.  All of the buildings were constructed of gray stone.

 

As we road along one back road with my thoughts everywhere but on the road I suddenly looked up to see a herd of cows in the road.  At first I thought they must have gotten out and were roaming along the road.  Then I noticed that a rope had been strung across the road on which we were riding.  I yelled at Jack, who as usual was in front of me, to warn him of the rope.  He had already seen the hazard and stopped.  I came to a stop beside him and we watched.

 

A farmer and his wife were driving the cows, using the rope as a temporary fence along one side, across the road and into a corral.  I assumed they were then let into a barn which stood near by for milking.  After the last cow passed, the woman came over to us, lifted the rope and motioned us to continue.      

 

The coast area of France must have more rain.  The roadsides were overgrown and there were no close cut, well groomed fields like the ones we saw throughout central France.  The countryside reminded me of Kentucky where the farmer is constantly fighting the weeds allowing any area not under cultivation to the overgrown. 

 

Flowers were growing all along the road.  Flowers along the road had been true all through France.  Saint Ann’s lace was everywhere and also is native to Kentucky.  Red poppies, clover with purple blooms, yellow flowers whose name I do not know.  Fields of corn and fields with large round bails of wheat straw were also present.

 

On one of the back roads we approached a crossroad where three small boys were standing at the intersection.  One was standing astride a bicycle.  When we were within 25 feet of the junction, the boy on the bike took off in front of us.  Jack and I were not exactly standing still and this little guy was kicking our ass!  Jack pulls his camera out of his jacket and snaps a picture. 

 

He turns to tell me to overtake the boy and he will snap the two of us racing along.  I accelerate past Jack, but before I can catch up to the boy he makes a hard right turn into a gravel road, slams on his breaks and spins all the way around.  As we pass he eyes us wearily as though he suspects we may be angry and we might come after him.  The little guy could not have been much taller than by bicycle!  We had lost the green jersey on the last day of the tour!

 

We had expected the ride to be flat, but there would be many hills!  As is true in the United States, you cannot ride a bicycle on a freeway in France.  The country roads simply feed to the freeways.  The main roads run along valleys and the country roads connect the main roads by going over the hills between them!  To ride a bicycle from point A to point B it is necessary to crisscross along country roads which follow the hilly terrain.  We encountered many ups and downs along these roads some of which were ugly.

 

On one particularly long grind, as I was puffing along, Jack dropped back and rode along beside me.  He told me that the two if us should enter something called “The Death Ride” when we get home which is held each year in Marin County where he lives.  I said, “Jack, maybe I should just fly up, stand along the route and cheer you on!”  He said, “You know dad I think after what we have ridden in France you could do it too.” 

 

Remember in the movie “Top Gun,” when Tom Cruse lands on the carrier having just returned from shooting down three MIG 21’s and Val Kilmer grabs him and tells him, “You can be my wingman anytime.” Well, on this hill I had just heard a Wagoner male tell another Wagoner male, “You are good enough to hang with me!” After we reached the crest of the hill, it did cloud over, it rained a few drops as I have said, but lighting did not strike!

 

We rode 89.9 miles exactly.  It was a tough ride, but a good way to finish the bicycle portion of the trip.  We came directly down the main street of Prontonson.  The support crew had told us the hotel was on the main street.  We found the hotel and the bicycle portion of Le Tour was done!  

 

In Prontonson we stayed at the Best Western, which was an old building with courtyards.

 

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"car free adventure"