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Jun 26, 2006

Our European Vacation

One month…one page!

Click to see image enlargedWe went to Europe from June 28 to July 28. We flew using frequent flyer miles, so our itinerary took us from Seattle to Atlanta to Toronto to Milan to Geneva. Along with the assorted flight delays due to weather, missing crews, etc, it made for a long, interesting journey. The first photo is all the snacks we bought with the meal vouchers they gave us when we were bumped in Seattle.

Click to see image enlargedThe highlight of the trip was getting bumped to first class for the trans-Atlantic portion. Now that’s the way to fly! Free drinks, tablecloths, real food and dinnerware, 4 attendants for 20 passengers, plus huge seats that virtually became beds for the night.

Our gear took longer getting there than we did. The bike took four days just to go from Milan to Geneva! Fortunately, our clothes arrived before we left for Budapest and we didn’t need our tandem or cycling gear for another week.

Click to see image enlargedWe spent 5 days at the start in Hungary visiting Sheila’s friend from her army days in Germany. Budapest was an amazing place, a contrast of Iron Curtain dinginess, 18th century sumptuousness, and modern utility. The public transit system was great. Saw some excellent museums, particularly one which outlined the twin terrors of Nazi occupation and Communist domination. Spent lots of time just sunning and relaxing. Some time at Lake Balotan and some at Budapest’s public baths, all hot springs and mineral waters.

Petite French Alps: Tour de France ’06 (7/8-7/22)

Click to see image enlargedBack to France for the heavy-duty biking portion of our trip, a 14 day tour with Erickson Cycle Tours. Basically we rode a big loop from Geneva south past Grenoble and back. We covered 614 miles and countless passes in the Alps. Every day had 4-6000 feet of elevation gain. We rode the legendary Alpe d’Huez, a climb that is 8 miles long, 3,000 feet high and has 21 switch-backs, each named for a famous rider. The Tour de France goes up it every other year and it was packed with campers eagerly awaiting the Tour’s arrival, three days’ hence.

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While on our tour we sampled French customs from late evening meals to dental techniques. A 70 year-old cyclist invited us into his home for lunch and Pastis, the traditional French anise-flavored aperitif, while we were climbing one of the passes. We rode through huge fields of lavender and sunflowers. We had stunning views and wild descents. We rode all day while our gear was carted from hotel to hotel by the Erickson folks. Each day was an adventure with no rain, but plenty of heat! We found that, contrary to our usual riding position in the front half of a group, we were in the back the entire time with this crew. It was a new and unusual experience for us. But our little tour group of 20 was full of interesting people with fascinating stories.

We saw two stages of the Tour de France, Floyd Landis’ terrific comeback (shown left) and a flat stage in which we saw all 150 riders pass in about 30 seconds.

It was a fabulous trip.

UK Tandem Rally, Edinburgh, Scotland

Click to see image enlargedBut it wasn’t over yet. We then went to Scotland for the UK Tandem Rally. This was quite different from the NW Tandem Rally. First, it was a week-long event. There were 3 rides a day, but no support on route. The rides were set up to give you a good flavor of Scotland and that meant some road riding, some trail riding, and some trails that were just barely trails. And of course, we rode on the wrong (ie: OTHER) side of the street everywhere.

We were served Scotch single-malt whiskey the opening night. We met lots of tandemers from the UK and one pair from Germany. We stayed with our Seattle friends, Janet and Steve Sisson, who had told us about the rally way back last February. We clocked about 180 miles in our three days of riding. We also spent a day sight-seeing in Edinburgh while our bike was in the shop. We’d broken three chain links the day before and decided there must be something more seriously wrong. There was and it was fixed for less than $70.

Click to see image enlargedThen we had the long, long, long flight home. We didn’t get first class this time. We were traveling 28 straight hours from Geneva to Seattle. And this time none of our bags made the whole journey. They arrived a day later after we were happily ensconced once again in our new condo.

Jun 27, 2006

Budapest, Hungary

Click to see image enlargedFrom Geneva, it was a quick and easy journey (on Easy Jet) to Budapest. Arriving at the airport we were completely baffled. We couldn’t figure out the money (200 Hungarian forints = $1) or find our ride to the hotel. Ended up with a local cabby who took us in for 20 Euros, which was about the right price. He drove like a maniac though. Turns out that is pretty much the way everyone drives here. Lots of brake and gas, swerve and tuck in. I mostly looked at the floor.

Click to see image enlargedOur hotel was nice. It was on the fifth floor of a building. We quickly found a local vegan restaurant. It had a widely varied menu. We had a “sausage” pizza for dinner that was very nice. And it only cost 1,450 HUF ($7). It was conveniently located right on the metro line. The plaza in front of the train station was always filled with music and people playing chess.

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Click to see image enlargedThe next day we toured around a bit. We saw the largest Jewish synagogue in Eastern Europe. They had a tribute to the Budapest victims of the Holocaust which was striking. It was a stainless steel “tree” which kind of looked like a weeping willow. Each leaf had the name of a victim engraved on it. If you looked at it upside-down, it resembled a menorah.

Click to see image enlargedClick to see image enlargedWe also went for a walk down the Vaci Utra, a large pedestrian street with tourist shops lining it. That led to an indoor farmers’ market which was so huge it looked like it should have been a train station.

 

Click to see image enlargedClick to see image enlargedAll through town we kept seeing fiberglass cows, whimsically painted. Sheila really thought some of these were clever.
Click to see image enlargedThat evening we connected up with Jay, Sheila’s old friend from her army years in Germany. We sat for quite a while at a cafe visiting, then went to his place to check email and make plans. His roommate, Ferko, was there and we all visited some more. That’s Jay on the left, Ferko in the middle and Mikey’s the dog.

Click to see image enlargedJay had work to do the next day so we took ourselves on a tour through Budapest. We went to the hot mineral spa at Szechenyi Bath. Budapest is built on natural hot springs. Baths are one way the community gathers. We must have spent 2 hours floating in the pools. It was quite relaxing.

 

Click to see image enlargedWe also saw a museum dedicated to the terrors of dictatorship – the twin occupations of Hungary by the Nazis and the Communists. Thousands of Jews were sent to death camps as World War II was winding down by the Arrow Cross, Hungary’s Nazi collaborators. Later, thousands more Hungarians were sent to Stalinist gulags when the Communists took over. The museum was amazingly well done. It was actually housed in the building that the secret police of both groups had used.

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We crossed the Danube with its tourist barges via the Chain Bridge. This suspension bridge actually uses chain links for the suspension cables. We rode the funicular to the top of Castle Hill on the Buda side of the Danube. There we saw this statue of the turul bird who was supposed to show the Magyars where to set up camp by dropping a sword here. We also saw an elaborate changing of the guard ritual outside the Sandor Palace.

Click to see image enlargedWe saw another museum about Hungarian folklife, walked into the incredible state Opera House, and were ready to call it quits. Jay called and asked us to meet him for cake, so we did. Later we went to dinner downtown at a vegetarian place. Ate much too late for our comfort, but that’s Europe.

The next day Jay and Ferko drove us out to Lake Balaton, a large tourist spot an hour out of town. It was beautiful. We just laid around for hours soaking up the sun and dipping in the lake. Mikey, the little dog, slept in our laps almost all the way back.

The next morning we left Hungary to begin our bike journey through France.

Jul 7, 2006

Biking in France – The overview

Click to see image enlargedWe arrived in Geneva the second time on Friday 7th of July. Our bike bags had finally arrived at the airport, so we gathered all our stuff and went back to Ferney. I spent a couple of hours putting the bike together. There were things that didn’t sound right and the one tool we left behind was the special tool needed to check the problem. We decided to call our friends to send it. (Thanks, Jack.) On Saturday we did a 33-mile shakedown ride in the neighborhood, adjusted more things, and we were ready for our trip.

Click to see image enlargedI need to mention that we were on an Erickson Tour. They took care of carting our baggage, planning the routes, booking the hotels and all our meals except lunches. There were 20 people in our group, including 4 tandems. Over the course of the next two weeks we rode 618 miles, climbed 12 mountain passes, descended and climbed through narrow, switch-back laden roads, through spectacular scenery. We took two days as rest days, and boy did we need them. It was hard to resist the peer pressure to head out again, especially since it seemed the “best” views of the trip were all included on the rest days. But our bodies were better for it.

Some general thoughts and observations
Click to see image enlargedFrench drivers are amazingly courteous to cyclists. We didn’t have any difficult experiences. They all gave generous berth as they passed and actually would slow down until it was safe to pass us. The roads were tiny. Some of the roads were so small we could have blocked them completely by turning our bike sideways. There were roads with center stripes which were barely wider than a Suburban. Clearly, the cars are smaller here. Part of that could be the cost of fuel, $2 a liter or almost $8 a gallon!

Click to see image enlargedPlus the roads are very clean. We found practically no glass or debris of any kind on the road. We could get water in any village from the public fountain and use the public WC almost anywhere. (Bring your own paper!) There are large recycling bins scattered along the roadways, perhaps accounting for the clean roads. But there were no trash bins. You were on your own for Click to see image enlargedthat. Now that’s a different mindset. Grocery stores had aisles and aisles of cheeses and dairy products, but virtually no cold drinks. You also had to provide your own bags at every store. Sheila thought these 24/7 automated movie dispensers were quite innovative.

Click to see image enlargedThe people were extraordinarily friendly. We only had a little French. Sheila had studied it in high school 30+ years ago and I’d taken 10 lessons of a Pimsleur Language course prior to the trip. We were able to make ourselves understood most of the time. One French cyclist we met going up a pass actually invited us into his home for a snack and a visit. Great fun!

All in all the biking was incredible, the scenery gorgeous, and the people on our tour were lots of fun. This was a great trip.

Jul 9, 2006

France: Part 1

July 9 –  Ferney-Voltaire to Eloise 48.1 miles
Click to see image enlargedThis day started out with a climb over the Col de la Facille. It was a pretty hard 6 mile climb to a 4300’ pass. It was billed as an easy climb, so we knew we were in for some hurt in the days to come. We just hadn’t done the level of training we needed to in order to feel comfortable with riding in the Alps. We pretty much were riding by ourselves because we were slower than everyone else. We just kept on trudging up and eventually crested. We got supplies from Kyle, the sag support person, then headed down. We caught up with a group at the bottom of the climb, some who were lost and some who were just not sure which way they wanted to ride. We teamed up with another tandem, Ed and Janet, and two singles, Tom and John, and the six of us worked our way along to the end of the course in Eloise.

Click to see image enlargedEloise was a gorgeous village high on a hill. A little church dominated it. Our hotel was very nice. One interesting thing we found in every hotel was the light systems. When you enter a hallway, the lights are generally off. You push a switch (found near most every door) and the hall lights up for about a minute. This is obviously an efficient energy saving innovation.

July 10 –  Eloise to Champagneux – 61 miles
Click to see image enlargedWe took off early to beat the heat. The rest of the bunch caught us 12km down the road at a little town called Seyssel. Very scenic place with a street fair going on and a nice little bridge downtown. They split off to climb extra mountains. We took the flat course to Chanaz, a town along a canal leading to Lac du Bourget, the largest lake in France. We got a snack, then tried to find the public fountain. We got lost and asked a woman for help. She invited us to her home and filled our bottles. Once again our limited French was put to good use.

Click to see image enlargedThen we went out for a bit of a climb to the Col de Chat (2093’). Had beautiful views of the lake and an abbey right down on the water. Then we flew down the mountain toward our hotel. The last 10 km were very hot and very flat. We were very tired. Then we made a right turn to our hotel and had a STEEP .5 km climb. That almost did everybody in! But it had been a terrific Click to see image enlargedday. Hot, almost 90, but terrific.

At dinner that night, Sheila broke the cap on her front tooth while eating bread. She was worried because the rest was loose so we decided to look for a dentist the next day.

July 11,  Champagneux to Rencurel 48 miles
Click to see image enlargedAgain we took off early, hoping to get the tooth fixed and hoping to beat the heat. In the first town we came to we asked a baker if there was a dentist in town. She gave us directions. We asked directions twice more before we finally found it. The dentist was terrific. She didn’t speak English, but we made our needs known. She took us in within 10 minutes. In an hour we had the tooth fixed. It only cost 74 Euros, about $90.

Click to see image enlargedWe got lost fairly soon after that, ending up on a road under construction. We had to work our way around a steamroller and a grader before we could get back on the course. Pretty soon we saw another member of our group who was waiting for the sag wagon. The heat and climbing from the first two days had caught him. We chatted a bit, then continued on our way.

Click to see image enlargedThis was not to be our day. Next we had a flat that slowed us down awhile. Then we ate lunch inside an air-conditioned supermarket, and hit the road again. We arrived at the foot of the big climb of the day, Col de Romeyere (3524’) and saw two others of our team, Dan and Laura. They’re from Seattle also and had been doing a longer version of our ride. They took off about four minutes before we did. We finished at almost the same time, amazingly.

Click to see image enlargedOf course, that’s because we had to abandon the climb. Yup, we quit on a hill. There’s a first time for everything! The afternoon heat and the miles just took us out. We only made it about a quarter of the way up. Then I just couldn’t go anymore. Although it was boiling hot, I was shaking with cold. We found out later that is a sign of heat stroke. We called for the sag. Click to see image enlargedFortunately for us, the cell coverage in Europe is superb. We were never without service. Glenn came and picked us up and drove us over the most beautiful pass I’ve ever seen. The Romeyere has been cut into the side of the rock. There is one tremendous waterfall there. It was a place where the French resistance hid while fighting the Germans. You can see why they were successful. You couldn’t get near them by surprise.

We had a wonderful dinner that evening, swapping stories and looking forward to the next day, a rest day. And boy did we rest!

Click to see image enlargedJuly 12, Rest Day  – Lounged around by the pool most of the day. Perfect. After dinner that night we had an incredible lightning storm. The whole sky would light up instead of mere bolts of light. It hailed and then rained so much that water flowed across the patio several inches deep.

Jul 13, 2006

France: Part 2

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July 13 – Rencurel to Chichilianne 68.2 miles – Got an early start again to try to beat the heat. We missed out on seeing some grand canyons due to road construction, so we headed for our first big climb, the Col de Rousset (4,484’). From the direction we came it was a pretty gentle climb. When we looked over from the top of the other side, it was very steep and full of switch-backs, at least a dozen. We carefully descended through them and came out among great fields of lavender. The air was positively heady with their perfume.

Click to see image enlargedClick to see image enlargedWe had lunch in Die at a park and had a nice visit with a woman taking a bus tour of the French Resistance hideouts. Then we started up the Col de Menee (4,600’). Along the way we saw this hedge trimmed like a biker’s head. Clouds gave us some respite from the heat and we turned out to be the first in our group to top the pass. (Of course, we HAD taken off an hour earlier than everyone else and we had only stopped for 20 minutes for lunch.) We were starting to feel confident again.
Click to see image enlargedClick to see image enlargedWe blasted down the road to Chichilianne where we were staying in an old castle, complete with stone circular stairways. The dining was fairly formal, but the cook served us the veggie patty we’d provided and made it seem part of the meal.

 

 

Click to see image enlargedJuly 14 – Chichilianne to Venosc 62.6 miles – We had a long downhill at the start of the day, 14 km. That, naturally, led to some serious ups and some more serious downs. At the bottom of one of the roads we crossed a gorge where they were setting up for bungee jumping. The bridge had to be 300’ from the river below. We didn’t see anyone jump off, but it almost made me sick just to look over the edge.

 

Click to see image enlargedClick to see image enlargedThen we climbed to La Mure for a snack. Ahhhh, how I’ve come to love pain du chocolate! (Chocolate filled croissants) The rolling road led us to the Col d’Ornon (4,500’). Along the way is where we met Serge, the 70 year old French rider who tagged along with us a while, then went out on his own. When we saw him at a bridge in the next village, we thought he was just guiding us toward the Col. Turns out he lived just moments away and invited us in for about 5 minutes. His wife immediately started to lay out food: chips, bread, jam, fruit and he asked if we’d like some beer or wine. We said no but couldn’t turn him down when he offered us some pastis – a French aperitif made from anise. It was delightful. His wife spoke some English and between that and our limited French, we all had a pretty good time. We compared maps of trips we’d taken or that we were on. He’s done Paris-Brest-Paris at least 2 times, possibly 4. It’s an 800 mile, 90 hour endurance ride. Finish in time or it doesn’t count.

Click to see image enlargedClick to see image enlargedThey sent us on our way with full water bottles and full hearts. He assured us we’d top the pass in an hour. We did. Then we had another fast descent to le Bourg-d’Oisans. This is a cycling mecca. It is at the base of Alpe d’Huez and there were cyclists everywhere. We met people touring from New Zealand, Britain, and all over the US. We bought souvenirs, then headed to our hotel, about 10 miles away. It was easily the hardest 10 miles of the day. It all seemed to be uphill, some of it excruciatingly steep. It was a lesson in expectations. In our minds we had finished when we got to le Bourg-d’Oisans. We just weren’t prepared to go one more mile, much less 10. We were awfully thankful to get to our hotel that night, just before the evening thunderstorm broke.

 

July 15 – Alpe d’Huez 33.3 miles

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This was our day to climb Alpe d’Huez. We stripped the bike down to nothing. We didn’t carry our trunk. We just stuffed our back pockets with the essentials, repair kit, bars, wallet, and set off. We hit the bottom of the climb and BOOM the road went up. The 21 switch-backs are all numbered, in reverse order, from the bottom to the top. For the first three it’s about a 10% grade that eventually gives way to a more manageable 7%. There were crowds of people at every corner, usually in huge campers. We were surprised by the number of German flags we saw. It seemed the Germans had staked out all the best positions. Almost everyone would lustily cheer as we rode by. There aren’t a lot of tandems going up that hill!

Click to see image enlargedSheila did snap when one man called out in German, “She’s not pedaling back there!” This is the quintessential remark made by people trying to sound clever. Once you’ve heard it several thousand times, it loses its charm. On the slopes of Alpe d’Huez, it had no charm at all. Sheila shot back a quintessential American one-word response. That shocked him into silence.

Click to see image enlargedAll the way up we were being passed by a steady stream of cyclists from all over, come to pay homage to one of the great climbs of Le Grand Tour. We actually went faster than a few singles, but not many. It was very interesting when we could see hang gliders below us in the valley.

The sun was hot, but not morbidly so. The grade pitched up to 12% around turn 3 or 4. Yikes. I’ve never spent so long a time in such a low gear. As it was we were barely going 3 miles an hour at times.

Click to see image enlargedFinally we completed the last turn and could see our way into the resort at the top. We zipped in, then hung out with our group (most of whom had passed us on the way up) and did some shopping. An hour or so later, we zipped down the previously grueling route. It took a lot of brakes to make some of those corners! And all the while bikes were flowing up hill, up to the top of a spectacular climb.

Click to see image enlargedWe bought new bike helmets back in Bourg-d’Oisans, then began the return. Knowing what the 10 miles returning to our hotel were like somehow made the trip much easier. We were ready for the climbs, (they didn’t seem nearly so long or hard) and we pulled in early enough for a relaxing pastis on the front lawn of our hotel.

 

 

July 16 – Venosc to Pinsot 66.6 miles – What a great way to start the day. It was almost all downhill for 28 miles! Then we had choices. We could climb to a ridge and go along its backbone for 40 miles of up and down or drop down to the valley and travel 25 miles of flat. We split the difference. We rode part way up the ridge. Then we got to a “roClick to see image enlargedad closed” sign. So we worked our way back down to the valley and continued on the flats. We were happy to have a day of relative ease after the climb yesterday. When the day was winding down we crossed paths with Mark and Maria, a tandem couple from our group. We rode together the last 20 km. They were kind to us and kept their speed down. We all stopped in one village and wandered around looking for ice cream and sorbet. It was very pleasant. It had a big town square just aside the church. Shops were all round it. A gorgeous river ran just to the west. This city felt like it had a heart, unlike many towns in the US.

The chef for our hotel was very solicitous. He came out several times to make sure we all had what we wanted. I wished I had more French so I’d be able to do more than just smile and nod.

Click to see image enlargedJuly 17 – Pinsot to Albertville 45.4 miles – Today we started out climbing again. What a surprise! Our first climbs led us into a high alpine valley like many we’d seen. Dotted with pastures and villages these valleys are delightful. You can always hear the clinking of cowbells in the distance. The roads are lightly traveled so it is fun cycling. About 7 km from the top of the Col du Grand Cucheron (3,900’) we saw the now-familiar “Road Baree” sign. A farmer had advised one of our group that cycles could indeed get through the pass, so we pressed on. About 3 km later we came to another “Road Baree”, but since none of our group had turned back, we pressed on. We kept a nice spin up and reached the top just as everyone else was starting down. Rather than stop for a snack, we thought it would be fun to be with the gang, so we trundled down also. We never saw anything that even remotely was blocking the road, so we weren’t sure what the signage was all about.

Click to see image enlargedAt the bottom of the climb 17 km later, most of the group stopped for lunch. We merely balanced our fluids before setting out again. We had a short steep climb, then a long stretch of flat road leading to Albertville. We got a bit lost trying to find our hotel, but we still beat the luggage truck. Then we went into town for some sightseeing, some stamps, and some food supplies. We were pleasantly surprised to be able to find vegan food at many of the stores we shopped at. It would make the next trip much easier knowing where to get food.

July 18 – Rest Day– It had been 275 miles since our last rest day, so we took another one today. We napped. We swam. We read. We napped. We swam. We read. We watched the tour stage that ended at Alpe d’Huez. A great day. We were really tired of the get up, pack, ride, ride, ride, unpack, wash clothes, eat, go to bed, repeat. Staying still in one place was lovely. Although everyone who took the rest day ride came back and said it was the most beautiful of the trip. Oh well.

Jul 19, 2006

France: Part 3

Click to see image enlargedJuly 19 – Albertville to Taillores 55.8 miles – We got another early start this day. We climbed to a really cool castle early on, but it was closed. Then we continued up the Col du Frene, then through the classic alpine valley to the Col de Leschaux. (It almost felt like we were going downhill to get to that “col”.) Then we had a blistering fast downhill to Lake Annency. Our hotel was 10.5 miles away on the other side of the lake. We cruised on the lake’s bike path most of the way. Some rather large shirtless men tried to “race” with us from time to time. Then we’d stop and catch them again when they’d stopped. It was kind of humorous.

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The high point of the day was our lodging, a former abbey right on the lake. It is now a 4 star hotel. We changed our clothes then went swimming and sunning. The Tour was full of bad news. Landis had bonked on the climbs today and lost almost 10 minutes to the new leaders. He was out of the yellow with no chance of recovering it.

Our meals were sumptuous. They even brought us out sorbet when they brought out the cheese course to the rest of the group. Then we had additional sorbet for dessert. We were stuffed when we finally finished at 10 pm. I tell you, the late eating was the most difficult thing to adjust to. We’re used to eating before 7. Starting a 2 hour meal at 8 was a huge adjustment. When we got back to the room, we learned they’d turned down our bed and emptied our garbage while we ate. Amazing.

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Click to see image enlargedJuly 20 – out to see Le Tour 37.4 miles – Today was the day for watching the Tour de France. We had decided to head for the Col de Colombiere, find a good spot, then wait. We headed out about 9. We climbed 1800’ to le Grand Bornand, then found a spot more than a mile further that was perfect. We were at the top of 3 switchbacks, there was a retaining wall to sit on, space for our bike off the road, and even a bit of shade. We set up camp at 11 and waited.

Click to see image enlargedI “read” the French paper we’d picked up so I knew what the riders’ numbers were and who was where in the rankings. The articles were full of despair for Floyd. A French woman nearby helped translate some of it for me. We had an umbrella from the hotel and lashed it to our bike for more shade. We ate tarts and watched the cars, bikes and pedestrians stream up the hill looking for their perfect vantage point.

Around 1:30 the Tour caravan came by. This is where the 51 sponsors strut their stuff. They have a special car that is almost like a float, then 5-6 smaller convertibles with women strapped in the back who toss out goodies to the spectators. We got bunches of swag. We got a backpack, several hats, water, candy, comic books, bracelets, foodstuffs, it went on and on. We gave much of it to the French woman who was collecting things for a 100 year old friend who couldn’t attend the tour this year. After an hour or so, the caravan ended and we were back to waiting.

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An American nearby told us to watch for the gendarmes and the helicopters because those were the surest sign the tour was approaching. And sure enough, they were. Eagerly we looked down the hillside. We had no idea what was happening in the race, but I had my list of race leaders. I was going to know who was out front.

Then we saw the official’s car coming up at 15 mph. That meant there was a group of riders right behind. We saw it was a Phonak rider, a T-Mobile rider and a Credit Agricol rider. Could the Phonak guy be Floyd? One switchback higher and we were pretty sure it was Floyd. Who was with him?

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Then they came on our stretch of road. It was definitely Floyd. “Go Floyd, GO!” we both screamed. Sheila was snapping pictures and I was writing down rider numbers. I referred to my list. The guys with Landis weren’t among the leaders. Where were the leaders?

I had started my stopwatch when Floyd passed. Minutes passed. A couple more riders went by, but still no leaders.  Where were they? Now we heard more helicopters. The peloton must be close. There it is! Four minutes have passed and they’re still well below us. When they went by they were 5:42 behind Landis. What a great day he was having.

If you have a high-speed broadband connection you may view this file in Media Player. It’s a 2 minute clip from OLN that shows Spencer & Sheila on the sidelines watching the Tour go by. You have to really know what you’re looking for. We’re on the left wearing purple bike shorts and yellow ETC jerseys. Sheila is standing on a wall and Spencer is standing with a headscarf on. We’re about 30 seconds into the clip.

We had to wait for the broom wagon to go by before we could head back to our hotel. That was quite a sight. In the Tour de France, you have to finish each day’s stage within a certain percentage of the winner’s time or you are eliminated from the race. Unfortunately, many of the riders are slow in the mountains. They would surely be eliminated when the leaders do their hard-charging hill-climbing thing. So they bunch up for protection, just in front of the broom wagon. They call that group “the bus”. They figure the tour won’t eliminate 50 riders in one swoop and they are right. So just in front of the broom wagon came a huge group of tired riders. We were surprised to see so many of Floyd’s Phonak team there.

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The broom wagon went by and we immediately high-tailed it back for our hotel. We wanted to see the end of the stage! We wanted to see what had happened. We really cooked, topping 44 mph on the long descent. Even cruising as fast as we could, we noticed more than a dozen hang gliders sailing over our heads.

When we arrived, we ran to the TV in the bar only to find they’d decided to install a new flat-screen TV and were in the middle of the initialization process. What were they thinking? We charged up to our room and were in time to see Floyd, still leading by 7 minutes, crest the last climb. He ended up gaining back all but 30 seconds of his lost time. WOW! And the reason his team was all on the bus on the third climb of the day was because they set a break-neck pace on the first climb which shattered the peloton and launched Floyd’s escape. How exciting!
Click to see image enlargedWe later found out that some of the hang gliders we were watching as we rode in were from our group. A bunch of them had gone off on a tandem-hang glider setup instead of going to see the tour. Both were exciting, although I’m glad we made the choice we did.

July 21 – Taillores to Ferney-Voltaire 50.3 miles – All good things must come to an end and this was to be our last day of riding in France. We started by climbing the Col de Buffy, then had to go up a road made for Roman Legions, a 15% grade! We made it safely, but within 2km we broke a link on our  timing chain. Tony lent me his chain tool. (I’d left mine off the bike, trying to save weight. Dumb.) I fixed it and everyone went on. Then it broke again. We tried to call for help, but our cell phone was dead. Sheez! What bad luck.

Everything changes, though and soon Glenn, our tour leader showed up. He had the tools, but because of one thing or another it ended up taking the better part of an hour to get our bike rolling again. We had to scavenge so many links off our drive chain that our shifting was somewhat reduced. Glenn showed us how we could trim a big climb out of the ride and get caught up with the rest of the pack. He took off to rejoin the group (leaving us his cell phone) and we cautiously proceeded. The rest of the day we were babying the gears. The scenery stayed beautiful and the water was plentiful, so how bad could it be?

Indeed, we did catch our group on the far side of the climb, just in time for a long descent. We all stopped short when there was an unexpected traffic jam. Oh yes! The Tour was due to cross our course today. We hurried to the front, parked the bikes and only had to wait 10 minutes to see the bunch swoosh past. It was a flat stage and they were really motoring.

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Then we were able to cross the road and continue into Switzerland. Roads aren’t marked in Switzerland. (I think it is part of their defense system. Invaders would just get lost and find themselves back in France.) So we bumbled our way along until finally we took a left, crossed back into France and arrived at our hotel. We’d made it without further mechanical problems. Hooray!

Then it was just a matter of repacking the bike in the airline cases, cleaning up, and enjoying one last meal. There were awards, courtesy of Dan and Laura, and a slide show put together by Kyle. Then we headed for an early bed because our flight to Edinburgh was at 7:30 a.m. So long, France!

Jul 23, 2006

Edinburgh, Scotland

Click to see image enlargedWhen we got to Edinburgh, we were picked up at the airport by Lindsey, the UK Tandem Rally organizer. He took us to a bike shop downtown for a new chain, then out to the campsite. We were staying in a trailer with our friends Janet and Steve Sisson from Seattle. It was a chance for us to be trailer trash in style.

Click to see image enlargedWe had a mass start on Sunday as about 50 tandems wound through Edinburgh toward the Forth Bridge. On the way, we broke another link of my timing chain. Yipes! This was getting annoying. At least this time I had the tools to fix it. I made another adjustment that I hoped solved the problem, then we continued across the bridge.

Click to see image enlargedClick to see image enlargedWe worked our way through backroads to the town of Culross. The streets here were paved in river rock, very round and very bumpy to ride on. This used to be home to a royal “palace”, the small yellowish building in this picture.

The cue sheets were a bit cryptic on the way home, but with the help of Heather and John from Glasgow, we were doing well. At least until I broke another link. Then another. We limped slowly back to the campground.

Click to see image enlargedWhile it was strange to drive on the left in Scotland, the most difficult part for me was that Scottish drivers park on whichever side of the road they like. Most of the time I was riding toward parked cars, which always made me wonder if I was on the wrong side of the road. I’ve since learned that parking in the direction of travel is a purely American thing. I hadn’t noticed it so much in France, though.

Click to see image enlargedThe next day John and Heather gave us a ride to the bike shop with our bike. Actually we went to two before we found available mechanics. (Thanks Bicycle Works!) Heather gave us her cell phone to stay in touch with the bike shop while we took a walking tour of Edinburgh. We went up to the castle, a magnificent structure. Who would have thought it could ever be taken? The gates are guarded by William “Braveheart” Wallace and Robert the Bruce, the king who routed the English invaders. The panorama is the view from the castle.

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Guess what eClick to see image enlargedlse we found in Edinburgh? Fiberglass cows! They seem to swarming all over Europe. Is this what they mean by mad cow disease?

Click to see image enlargedThe next day we were riding again. We toured Roslyn Chapel, made famous by The DaVinci Code. It’s completely covered by a temporary roof while they let the stonework dry out as part of a general restoration project. Visitors have gone up from 2,000 a year to 16,000 a year since the book came out. We continued across the countryside populated mostly by sheep until we arrived at Gladhouse Reservoir. A little lunch there with other riders, then back to our trailer.

Click to see image enlargedOur last day of riding took us west to Linlithgow Castle, birthplace of Mary, Queen of Scots, and on to the Falkirk Wheel. This is a wonderful piece of engineering designed to bring barges down 30’ in one drop, rather than through a series of locks. Only problem is that there isn’t much call for barge traffic anymore. But it looks neat.

Click the last thumbnail to see it in action!

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It stays in balance at all times because of Archimedes’ principle which says that anything floating in a tub of water displaces its own weight in water. Ergo, the two ends of the wheel are always in balance regardless of whether they have a boat in them.

Click to see image enlargedAlong the way we also saw this railroad bridge that looked like an aqueduct. By the end of the day, however, we were ready to be finished. We’d ridden 72 miles, our longest ride of the entire vacation and had finally gotten “butt-weary”. We were ready to go home.

One last time, I packed the bike. We were generously given a ride to the airport at 5:30 AM by an English tandemist named Michael. His stoker wisely stayed in bed. Our Scottish adventure had come to an end.