The day after the last classic race at Supertour Finals, my parents drove me to the Montreal Airport and I boarded a plane headed for Toulouse France. The city in the southwest of France is my home for spring. I’m studying in a Dartmouth foreign language problem, taking classes in French and living with a Toulousian family. The first few weeks were very difficult because my French was horrible as it had been almost two years since my last French class. I never knew what was going on and thus always felt like I was lost and living in a daze. But I’m slowly improving and now am able to understand most things and even communicate a little too thus becoming less of a mute. My host mother is great and very sweet and has been a huge help for all the problems and weird situations that I continually encounter or create.
A week ago was my school vacation week in Toulouse. My mom was planning to come for the week and we had plans to hike in the Pyrenees and do other sightseeing things in Southern France. But then Iceland blew up and all the airports in France closed. I waited through the first weekend of my break but after she had three flights cancelled and rescheduled it appeared the fastest way across the Atlantic was by boat. So I set out to find a plan B for vacation week. The trains in France were also on strike which made getting a train ticket anywhere very difficult and required waiting in lots of lines. Instead I decided to rent a bike. I thought it would be easy but after much searching I only found a white cruiser bike that weighs 25kilos. So I rented it for a month for only 10Euro and named her Babybel. She has 7 speeds, a basket in the front, a rack in the back, generator powered front and back lights, a kick stand, huge comfy seat, a big lock, and a bell. Then I bought a map of the Midi-Pyrenees region of France, packed a backpack of stuff, bought a baguette and a block of cheese and with my dad’s advice of “eat well, sleep well, and drink lots of wine,” I set off towards the mountains. I’m pretty sure my host mom thought I was crazy and was very very worried when I explained my plan to her.
But it turned out to be really fun and a great adventure. I would bike all day stopping to visit towns, villages, mountains, churches, castles and anything else interesting along the way. When I was too tired to keep going I would find a hostel, bed and breakfast, hotel, or some other cheap bed to sleep in. I had a general idea of some of the places I wanted to go but no specific plans. I passed through lots of medieval towns on the tops of hills. I biked a bit through Pyrenees but am saving the bigger mountains for a hiking trip later in the spring after more snow has melted. I visited lots of 10-13th century castles and churches following the historic Cathar trail. I went over a bunch of passes and got many funny looks from incredulous people wondering why anyone would try to climb these hills with that kind of bike. My biggest pass was up to the town and castle of Montsegur and was a 9km long and had an average grade of 5.5% and a last kilometer with a grade of 9%. It took a lot of huffing, puffing, and a little pushing to get over the top of that. For food, I would buy bread, cheese, nutella, ham, and apples and eat little bits along the way and then find somewhere to eat a bigger dinner along the way. I only had one really epic bonk when I just couldn’t keep going and I ate the only food I had left which was my “Emergencies only Chocolate” Clif bar which I dipped in the last of my Nutella and tasted amazing. But even after that I had to walk for a couple kilometers because getting back on the bike still seemed too challenging. It was times like this when I really wished I had a travelling partner but the trip was also a great solo voyage.
So 5 days, 4 nights, 400 kilometers, 9 castles, countless churches, 300 pictures, one dinner of Cassolet, 10 prescription strength Ibuprofens, one rabbit’s head that I accidentally ate, one unhappy knee, and many many baguettes and glasses of red wine later, and I’m arrived back in Toulouse safe and sound much to the relief of my French host mother.
- Babybel with the chateau de Montsegur in the background on top of the mountain!
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