Sunday, 3 November 2013

Camping Coursavy

The River Lot

There’s a lot of hills in the Lot
Bikes were loaded onto the roof of the car, caravan hitched on the back and we were off to visit friends who have a wonderful campsite ( on the banks of the river Lot near Conques. As is usually the case with rivers, they are located at the bottom of a valley. This river is no exception! It is, of course, possible to follow the course of the river but to venture elsewhere requires a climb. The local climb or “the hill” as we call it is a 10 km, not very steep, uphill. I might mention at this point that it has been ridden in 24 minutes from bottom to top. (He was only 23 and a club cyclist!) Reverse those figures and it will give you an idea of my time! And now, without the comfort and assurance of granny gear, this was to be the introduction to a few weeks of cycling. All that hard won confidence trickled away. It felt like beginning all over again. But……….panting in 30 degrees of heat, the summit arrived in… ta rah…. 38 minutes.  A careful descent on roads which had just had a layer of gravel chucked over wet tar, saw us return to river level feeling a tad more positive. We then spent the next hour or so scraping tar and gravel from the tyres and diligently cleaning the gears. Whoever thought that this method of resurfacing roads was a good idea needs a good smack. In some instances the gravel lurking on the edges of the road was several centimetres thick which meant the only safe place to ride was well into the centre. Great ‘til one meets “white van man” who drives with equal lack of care and courtesy in every country we have visited.
An added bonus of living on the banks of the river is the availability of cold moving water in which to bathe and cool down. The volume of water is regulated upstream and can provide a current of “not a lot” to a “lot.” “A lot “requires some concentration on the exit point or a very long swim followed by a very long walk back, is the inevitable result. But, as temperatures remained in the 30 for most of the month, the river was a blessed addition at the end of a day of dripping sweat.

I omitted to mention that our host and friend at the campsite is also a keen cyclist and ten years younger and fitter than we are. Thus his recommended circuits (Oh, the climbing is not too bad!) did, on occasions, result in some unrefined and unrepeatable expletives. This is, however, a fabulous area for cycling. Most of the long climbs end on the plateau surrounding the rider with glorious views which stretch for miles. Do not, however, be fooled by the word “plateau the definition  of which is “elevated tract of comparatively flat or level land”. This plateau is intersected by ancient water courses and in places does not, in any way, fit this description. Nonetheless with almost traffic free roads, and nature in all her finery, it would be hard to find fault. We did a lot of climbing which “is not too bad” and never had to push the bikes, although I cannot pretend that we took no rests on the steepest of them there hills.  Alan’s super dooper bike computer informed us of the extent of our efforts and it was encouraging to note that the steepest stretch of a climb was 16% (not for long) and height gained was between 2000 to 3000 feet on each sortie except on the occasions that we tootled along the river. Recovery day, you understand!


It is now September. Summer is almost gone and without our completing a long ride. We have not though, dear reader, been totally idle. Our initial exuberance remains . The local terrain my not be as challenging as the mountains, but it does offer beautiful countryside and wide panoramas from many of the ridges. The Limousin  has much to recommend it. (Including the Tour de Limousin every summer). In addition to the magnificent limousine cattle, the hedgerows are full of flowers and the forests bursting with wildlife including the “chasse”! This latter helpfully informs you that a hunt is in progress, but we are still not sure how we are to dodge the bullets! (Big yellow jacket?!)

On our training run
As a result of these various excursions, our confidence on these different bikes has increased and, while Alan’s timed rides have shown an improvement, I am still smelling the roses and greeting other riders with a cheery “bonjour” when I have enough breath.  However, after a couple of months of local riding on what can best be described as undulating but rarely flat, we felt it was time to test our ability on more demanding terrain. I’m not sure why exactly…..
The Long Wait:
High Altitude Training
I note, with dismay, that the latest dated entry of this blog was December 2012! This crushing silence might indicate a lack of activity but that would be far from the truth. It does, however, accurately reflect my procrastination or maybe even writers block! To suffer from the latter, I would first need to qualify as a “writer” and this title is not one I would attribute to these literary offerings. No matter, writer or no, dear reader I am back!

New Bikes!
Following our interesting winter wanderings and long discussions with James of “Correze Cycling”, whose enthusiasm for cycling was acutely infectious, Alan’s mind meandered along the path of alternative bikes! For those loyal readers who have doggedly persevered with the reading of this blog will know, the question of taking up the riding of the bicycle was a blurred decision even at the outset. The prospect of purchasing more, if different bikes, was not one that I, for one, had contemplated. After all, with my granny gear and my qualification as a granny, I had formed an affectionate attachment to my touring bike. Riding it is /was a majestic experience. (Except when I fell off!) Why would I want another bike?
Never underestimate the power of testosterone!
Throughout January and February, Alan could be seen tapping keys and pushing around the mouse and viewing, I like to think, some hundreds of “sportive cycles”. He was a happy man, acquainting himself with manufacturers and their efforts to convince him of the superiority of their product. Meanwhile, happily unaware, that he was reviewing women’s bikes as well, our rides continued around our locale in between the unprecedented rainfall that our part of France experienced during the winter of 2113. These rides rarely exceeded 60 kilometres but performance and stamina continued to improve despite the multilayers of clothing required to maintain reasonable warmth.
By the end of February, Al’s dogged determination could no longer be ignored. Bombarded with technical data, manufacturers’ claims and a deluge of enthusiasm, it was agreed that we would seriously explore the possibility of two old age pensioners purchasing “sportive” bikes. A number of questions required answers:
Would our backs bend to accommodate drop handlebars? And stay in that position long enough to complete a ride!
Would we be able to lift our necks far enough to see where we were going!
Without the advantage of a granny gear, would we be able to climb the hills we enjoyed!
And last but not least, would we look ridiculous!
Mary's Trek Domane 4.5 
The only sure way of answering these queries, was to live dangerously and go for broke. With renewed vigour, Al took on the challenge of finalising our choice and then, more importantly, locating a supplier.  After two months of research, the former turned out to be a good deal simpler than the latter. Trek Domane 4.5, it was agreed, would provide us with comfort and appropriate sizing. (I used to be 5’ 2” but old age has squashed my vertebra by a whole inch, so finding a well-proportioned cycle was not easy).  Many days, emails and telephone calls later, by far the best offer was made by ‘The Bike Shed’ in Cardiff. (It is one of the pleasures of writing this blog, that we are able to compliment people and organisations who go that extra mile to provide an exceptional service.) Not only did the Bike Shed accept the order to supply the bikes, they would allow us to try them out before we agreed to a final purchase. The fact that we lived in France, and would be restricted on our dates for collection, caused no problem at all. With some excitement and even more trepidation, we entered the shop on the 18th March. The bikes looked splendid!  But would we look splendid when we tried them out? The last time we had ridden with drop handlebars was more than forty years ago! And we didn’t want to look really foolish! Anxiety was rapidly banished as our bodies, if not our brains, remembered how to ride this different style of bike. Suddenly I didn’t care if I looked silly; this was a whole new type of ride and the challenges would be very different.The First Ride with Drops
The remainder of our holiday was taken in the beautiful countryside of Wales where the lanes are bounded by hedges. Ploughing into a hedge was not the introduction we were looking for. Nothing against hedges – just that they are rather dense and prickly. So we contained our excitement until we returned to our quiet part of rural France where the roads and the car drivers are a little more forgiving – sometimes! and where we could follow a route we knew. This latter is a hilly “round the block” of about 24 k + 360 metres of ascent and we felt confident that we could successfully negotiate the roads without mishap. (The great thing about a touring bike is that nobody expects you to ride fast. On a road bike you are a target for every other rider on the road! This can be a little daunting so I ensure that, as they pass, they see my wrinkles and Alan’s grey hair!) I digress. Finally, astride the bike for the first time, anxiety increased. What if I couldn’t climb the hill and, heaven forbid, had to get off and walk – the shame! And what about descents? Could I reach and control the brakes? Would I wobble off when confronted by the mutts which always bark as we go past? By this time Alan, with apparently none of these misgivings, was well on his way neither wobbling nor struggling with new gears. If I was to stay in touch I must put my angst well to the back of what brain I have left. An hour later, we had completed the block without mishap and without any embarrassment but, for me, with about the same level of puffing and panting.  We almost felt like real bike riders except that the speed I was doing downhill was the same as Bradley does uphill! Some way to go then!