Archive for month: January, 2012

The Stone Village and Pelussin Tramway Bridge

Categories: Adventure, Biking, France, Travel - Tags: , , ,

While we were sleeping, Amadeus Mozart has docked at Chavanay, the starting point for day six’s ride up through a twisting Gorge to a hidden village with old stonework houses.  Together with a posse of delightful new tandem friends, we continue further up the gorge to find the Pelussin Tramway Bridge. About as tall as the Pont du Gard, the rails that crossed this graceful stone arch were pulled up after a dozen years of use. Recently reborn as a bike path, we’ll use the soaring Pelussin Bridge as part of our route.  It’s a dramatic climb requiring a few banana-refueling stops, even pulling on the probably 5,000 extra calories I’ve brought along for the ride from last night chez Bocuse.

This morning’s climb, which Bill McCready has typically described as mild, is in fact pretty strenuous—at least a two banana climb. We’ve all learned to add about 30% to his estimates.   Today’s 35-mile “flat” route back along the Soane and its juncture with the Rhone isn’t flat at all and where, we keep wondering, is that promised chocolate factory and Rhone Villages tasting room?   In fact, considering last nights excess, it’s just as well.  After 48 essentially non-stop non-flat miles, we are very happy to find the boat docked and waiting for us.  We partake of a light lunch and a nap and a quiet afternoon as the boat navigates several locks down the Rhone.

Trois Etoilles: Peking to Paris

Categories: Biking, France, Travel - Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Day Five dawns beautifully again finding us further down the Soane River Valley in Macon, halfway between Dijon and Lyon, where the richer Burgundy vineyards give way to the fresher taste of Beaujolais.  It’s pretty magical to sink, exhausted from the days ride, into our bunks aboard the ship and awaken down river docked in a new village. Today we climb above the valley to reach Julienas, a village as pretty as its name and wines.

Pedaling along a ridge, sweaty and out of breath from the climb, Jim and I come upon a cemetery, I tug on his shirt to signal for a welcome rest stop.  Clearly this is a wealthy region of long-established vintner families. The tombstones are polished marble and granite and bear family names going back from the early 1800s to the present.  What is amazing is to see the plethora of fresh flowers on so many of the plots.  They speak volumes about the deep sense of family pride, rootedness and connection these folks in these villages have. After snapping photos of some of the more remarkable tombstones (i.e.: one with a marble motorcycle inscribed next to a marble photograph of the handsome youth lying therein; the one with bunches and bunches of fresh flowers next to the only one gone to weeds), we climb back on the tandem.

Eventually we descend into another tiny village to see the centuries old wind-powered mill that gave its name to the famous Moulin a Vent wines that often show the windmill on their label. With wise restraint, we pass on the chance for “degustation” after seeing the hairpin turns ahead of us on the route back down to the Soane.  Not a good idea to have been wine-tasting!  In the early afternoon we safely arrive at our ship docked in the small village of Collonges.

It’s a classically windy hot summer afternoon so after lunch on the boat we each decide to take a nap.  I stake out a place on the upper deck amongst the myriad tandems lying on their side to take a sunbath nap before tonight’s special gourmet dining event.

I’ve signed up to dine at Restaurant Bocuse at Auberge du Pont de Collonges,the trois etoilles (three Michelin star) birthplace of Nouvelle Cuisine. Jim, having lost his sense of smell and taste in one of his worst bike accidents (Would “face plant into a mountain” during the Senior Olympics then airlifted to a trauma center tell you something?), passes on the exorbitant extra expense.  I, on the other hand, decide to splurge since we saved a lot of Euros opting for the practically below water line rooms on this boat.  And five courses later, hands down it was a great trade off.  On special occasions like this, especially having pedaled up a few steep hills today, “when in France….” in the name of cultural exchange, I must allow myself certain leeway from my vegetarian and no-alcohol vows.

[ ]First after a little mouth tickling “amuse bouche,” Bocuse and his army of white-coated culinary minions served the most heavenly something I can imagine having ever tasted. Disquieted when I learn it was fois gras, I quietly send my deep gratitude and regret to the goose who offered her liver to this gourmet indulgence, for fois gras is beyond indulgent and not particularly morally defensible. (I do this sotto vocce because gourmands do not like their gustatory pleasure rained on the least bit by Buddhist mindfulness vows.)

This gourmet excess is followed by a soupcon of transcendent lobster bisque served in a delicate ramekin, and then a pink juicy rack of lamb (more gratitude and regret to the animals who, having no choice in this menu, have given their last full measure of devotion) with exquisitely carved carrots, parsnips and fingerling potatoes (more gratitude but thankfully no regret).  The finale is an airy cream puff with crème anglais atop a slippery dollop of delicate warm chocolate.

Did I mention the delightful company I enjoyed at this intimae dinner for about thirty-six devoted foodies on the trip?  On my right sat a gracious English techie transplant to Silicon Valley and his wife, full of good stories about their shared cycling adventures.  On my left sat a Canadian orthodontist and his psychologist wife who not only love tandeming but also race antique cars all over the world.  Imagine, while on this trip, they are shopping for the car they will buy and outfit to race from Peking to Paris!  Careening down switchbacks on a tandem begins to sound like petite pommes de terre (small potatoes) compared to the wild and woolly racing they do—roll bars, padding, safety harnesses, padded gloves, body armor, ejection seats, etc., all having saved their necks in one race or another.  Life lesson?  Just being a psychologist in no way guarantees sanity.

By the time we all stroll back in the midnight moonlight along the Soane to our boat, sated, I collapse onto our bed. Jim has been fast asleep for probably two hours.

Bon Bon de Beau Beaune

Categories: Adventure, Animals, Family, France, Pets, Travel - Tags: , , , ,

After our first night aboard the Amadeus Symphony, we awoke rested to a gorgeous Burgundian morning in Chalone Sur Soane—Day Four of our Tandem Adventure.  This boat that had carried us and our bicycles last year on the cycling tour down the Danube River from Prague to Budapest, will be our boat again carrying 150 cyclists (73 tandems plus one single bike and a few relief riders) as we cycle down the Soane River in Burgundy to the Rhone River in Provence then down the Rhone through haute and bas Provence, the Languedoc, the Camargue, to Marseilles.

From Chalon Sur Saone (the highest port on the Saone River) we are promised a great FLAT ride along a narrow canal to Santenay. The route from there to Beaune is through famous Burgundian wine villages including Meursault, Pommard and Puligny- Montrachet.  The vineyards are pristinely kept like the fine wines they produce and the scenery is utterly exquisite.  Jim and I easily concur that riding here in France trumps our disappointment riding along the overdeveloped Costa Brava of Spain last year.

Each remembering trips to Spain we had made over fifty years earlier (me in 1958 just after high school graduation ) and Jim in 1965 with his first wife when the Costa Brava was pristine, tranquil and undeveloped, we had signed up to return last fall for a tandem trip from Barcelona to Lisbon.  We both had fond memories of picturesque villages, whitewashed bouganvilla-draped walls dotted along the coast.  No, by 2010 the south coast of Spain had been ruined by gross over-development, wall-to-wall condominiums now standing vacant in the recession.  Instead of meandering along scenic vistas of the Mediterranean, the roads on which we cycled were inland from the ocean and laden with fume spewing wind-sucking trucks.

Here, by contrast, today’s route in France, is quiet, beautiful and unspoiled.  The ancient wine caves and vineyards have been protected from encroachment. We pedal into Beaune, flooded with memories of our first trip here together with our children Brooke then 13, now 43, Gabriel then 10, now 40 and Ariel now 38, then 6, Brooke’s daughter Chloe’s age!  Then as now, we wandered through the dimly lit underground 14th century wine caves, tasted some of the famous white wines made from Chardonnay grapes, and the grand cru reds made from Pinot Noir.  We toured the ancient Hospice de Beaune and stopped for fresh pastries.  The timelessness of these beautiful surroundings, and the incredible sense of time flying by are both upon us.

After a short sandwich stop in Beaune, I find a WiFi signal and pick up email to discover good news.  Jim and I have carried a quiet sadness since Jullay’s death in June.  Her little buddy Tashi, our six year old miniature poodle has been especially hard hit.  Since he has such an ebullient personality, great athleticism  and energy, Sallie, our vet has convinced us that these qualities not only added immeasureably to Jullay’s happiness, but also added at least a few years of good health to her life.  Sallie encouraged me to go straight back to the same breeder where we got Tashi and order a new puppy.  The email announces that in fact, the only pup they have or will have for at least another year with Tashi’s temperament is available after all.  He is such a prime pup, they had planned to keep him for showing and breeding, but have decided instead to let us take him.  My heart skips a beat and lightens—and suddenly on the ride back to the boat, puppy names start bubbling up.  Since we are here today in Beaune, I chortle with the idea of a puppy celebratively named “Bon Bon de Beau Beaune”—“Sweet chocolate bon bon from beautiful Beaune.”

More Borders, Boundaries, And Thresholds

Categories: Adventure, Conscious Living, Ethnography, Travel - Tags: , , , , , , ,

We did the warm up 25 mile “bon bon ride” out along Lake Geneva on Saturday, then yesterday, we experienced another interesting border crossing—(Recycling~Santa Cruz Style:  I borrow the title of today’s blog from a chapter title from my own in Pulling Up Stakes: Stepping Into Freedom which I had already borrowed from a short article I wrote interpreting John Sayles classic film, Lone Star).[1]

It turns out that to ensure that Sabbaths are indeed a day of rest throughout Switzerland, not only are most stores and businesses closed, but also Swiss law forbids trucks on the highways on Sundays. As our bike bags and luggage need to be trucked into France today to the boat dock at Chalone Sur Soane, we had to get up early at our Geneva hotels and load them all into four busses—We then cycled our tandems five miles to the border where we met and unloaded the Swiss luggage busses, then re-loaded everything including our tandems onto French trucks.  So much for the Swiss idea of Sabbath. Then we rode the busses for about four hours and arrived some time after noon, hungry, at the start of our French cycling course with another thirty something fairly hilly alpine miles to ride to Chalone Sur Soane and our boat.

Although, unlike their more rigorous neighbors the Swiss, the French do allow truck drivers to work on Sundays, but French close nearly all businesses on the Sabbath as well as consistently observe their quotidian mid day closures from noon until two PM.  So mile after alpine mile we cycled hungrily through small villages shuttered tight with no food in sight.

Finally we rolled into one tiny hamlet and saw a café open.  It turned out no one in the cafe spoke English; so I was happy that I have been reviewing my college French the past couple of weeks on my iPod.  I was able to ask for food, but the proprietor literally blanched when I estimated possibly more than a hundred hungry riders would be riding through this afternoon.   He took me into the kitchen to show me he had only one large baguette of French bread!  I didn’t say, “Jesus!” out loud, but I did think it and devoutly wished Jesus were here to turn his one loaf into multitudes to feed our hungry cyclists.

The proprietor informed me that the other local clients already in the café had phoned in their order for two sandwiches, so he could only make two more sandwiches with what he had.  I gratefully bought the only two sandwiches to be had, and offered to share them bite by bite with the hungriest folks.  The rest of the cyclists bought out every box of crackers and cookies he had on the shelves of his tiny grocery store.

Finally, late in the day after several hours of riding, we rolled into Chalone Sur Saone and up the gangplank of Amadeus Symphony, tired and happy to find our cabins awaiting us and dinner nearly ready in the ship dining room.

Wrye, H. K., (1998) Lone Star: Signs, Borders and Thresholds, International Journal of Psycho-analysis,


Venteaux? Or Not Teaux?

Categories: Adventure, Biking, Conscious Living, France, Psychology, Relationships, Travel - Tags: , , , , , ,

Venteaux?  Or Not Teaux?

The big question swirling around our group as we reassemble our bikes,at tandem stop cafes and dining tables these pasts two days in Geneva is: ”Will you do it?” or “Aren’t you going to climb Mt Venteaux?”  Why would we?

Well, we’ve done Mt Ranier, climbed Mt Shasta, Mt Cotopoxi, 21,000 ft  Ladhaki RobLa in the Himalayas, and Mt Kilimanjaro.  Why not?   It’s there on our route this week.  We’re here in France.  Such a challenge is catnip to Jim.  He could certainly do it on his single bike. We’ve just watched the peleton of riders on TV conquer this major Alpine Col in the Tour de France. When we cycled in Majorca three years ago, remember we did that 63 mile, 4,000 foot 67 switchback Tour de France training ride across the mountain?  On our last big tandem adventure last fall, cycling around the perimeter of the Iberian Peninsula from Barcelona down to Gibraltar, a bit in Morocco and back up the coast of Portugal to Lisbon, there were practically no mountains.  We were following the coastline.

But to take on a mountain for bragging rights is a fool’s errand. I should know.  When I commandeered the family to join on my own scheme to climb Ayuntepui and Angel Falls in Venezuela just so I could impress my audience from the podium in London, I certainly got my comeuppance.  Only months after accomplishing that hairbrained feat, I learned that Angel Falls was the wrong waterfall, not the one I thought was depicted in The Mission, and the film I was going to talk about.  If I have learned anything over my course of Pulling Up Stakes and Stepping Into Freedom[1], it is surely about letting go—letting go of pride, excess ambition, attachment to outcomes, narcissistic ventures.

Moreover, instead of thinking about what I can prove by climbing Mt Ventaux at my age, I should be breathing and smiling in deep reflection and gratitude that I am approaching the south of France, not that far from Plum Village, my center and my ground.

There are other why nots, as well.  Our gearshift has been giving us trouble and my drag brake seems to be hardly slowing us down.  Mt Venteaux involves fifteen miles of unremitting Alpine climbing—-and then a wicked descent.  Gears and brakes are uber important.  Well, this musing woke me up in the middle of pre-departure night.  Probably time to try to get back to sleep, perchance to dream…

[1] In production now, publishing date in April, 2012

More Hot Sweets: Bon Bon Suisse

Categories: Adventure, Biking, France, Health and Fitness, Travel - Tags: , , , , ,

We managed somehow to dismantle our tandem into about 457 pieces distributed between two soft  suitcase- sized “backpacks” that we thought Lufthansa would accept as our ordinary luggage, or at the very least only “bicycle parts”.  Humbug!  Only $200 each way for one bike. With fuel prices rising daily, they are getting smarter than we thought and told us we were lucky they didn’t charge us $200 apiece extra for two bikes.  Gone are the days of simply flying around the globe with our tandem as regular bags.

Perhaps as karma for even imagining that we could get by from San Francisco to Geneva without extra charges, Lufthansa left half our bike (one bag) in San Francisco.  Now, jet lagged in Geneva, how much do they charge for a unicycle, we wonder. We join our Santana Tandem group and discover we are lucky.  Others are looking dismayed at their smashed cases, their untracked missing bikes and their lost luggage. We are assured that the other half of our bike will be delivered to our hotel tomorrow.

We rally with the other seventy some tandem teams in a pair of very nice downtown Geneva hotels and later, promenade to the Edelweiss for an “authentic” Swiss evening.  Basically, we have packaged raclette, huge amounts of noise, sardine-can like crowding and I think, if we could see or hear over the other sardines, a 15-foot long flugel horn concert followed by an 18-bell cowbell recital.

But our first days shake down ride, after reuniting the 457 pieces miraculously back into one tandem bike and struggling to figure out the routing on a bike GPS, will follow Lake Geneva down to Nyon and a complete immersion course in Swiss Enlightenment Age history. Joyfully, the weather is lovely, the bike works smoothly, I am able to navigate following the pink tracks line on our GPS.  We find our way there and back to Geneva for a wonderful immersion in the school of chocolate opened especially for us at Stettler, “Chocolatier Depuis 1875”.

Brownies last week and premier Swiss Chocolates this.  Arriving at the chocolate factory, opened on Saturday just for our group, we are greeted with the requirement that we must suit up in specially provided hygienic cover-ups.  It’s comical to see a bunch of fit cyclists wearing brightly colored cycling shirts and Lycra shorts devolve into lumpen plastique proletariat.  We are required to put on white plastic overcoats which soon become like saunas as we sweat our way through the chocolate factory, wearing blue surgical booties, white masks and white fabric hair coverings that look like shower caps and the overcoats.  There are probably enough cycling surgeons in this group of 173 riders who feel relatively at home in this garb.  There are probably enough of the rest of us who feel squeamish because we only see these costumes when we’ve been rolled into an OR on a gurney after a biking accident.

In either case, once dressed, we then enter the inner sanctum of chocolate to meet the beans planted then imported from Africa and South America, the curing and refining process, and the steps between the bean and the delicacies produced here in the factory.  We are introduced to the history, technique and preparation and tasting of about a dozen different types of chocolate truffles, bon bons, paves du Geneve, marzipan and myriad exquisite shapes including a 65 kilo trophy and small chocolate “go ahead” or “flip flop” covered in crabs. All drenched in melted dark chocolate, dripping as we are inside our plastic gowns. Hmmm. Yum.  Hot feet.