From June 17 to June 30, our Executive Director Christy Cowley embarked on a 14 day, guided ride across France. Starting on the northern Normandy coast at Ouistreham on the English Channel, she rode southwards for approximately 870 miles through the stunning French countryside. Experiencing the Loire Valley, Puy-de-Dome and Provence, she finished the tour near Nice on the Mediterranean Sea.
Her group numbered 24 cyclists with 3 guides, one of which rode with the group and acted as the sweeper to ensure everyone was kept on the correct course. The other two drove the ‘brew vans’, which would meet them at mile 15 and then again after lunch at about mile 55 to provide much needed fuel and liquid throughout the day. In Europe, brew typically implies coffee and tea, not beer. The riders luggage was transported to their accommodations each day, so they didn’t have to worry about lugging it on their bikes.
The ride took place almost exclusively on local roads, with a few miles on paved trails. “We were rarely on roads with much traffic. When cars did pass us, they always gave plenty of room to the cyclists,” Christy recalled. “Traffic didn’t get heavy until the final days as we got closer to Nice. Most of the days we were in very unpopulated areas of France. But even on the heavy traffic days, the drivers were careful to give us space.” They crossed the entire country and not a single car honked or tried to run her off the road!
During her ride, Christy experienced a wide range of temperatures, from heat, cold, rain and even hail. On the final day of riding, there was a serious rain and hail storm so the rider took cover in the tunnels with the cars, whom also took shelter in the tunnels to wait out the storm. 2 hours later they were swimming in the Mediterranean.
Great food and spectacular views
France is renowned for its food, and there was no shortage of good food to eat. Staying away from the fried foods like the french fries, or frites, they dined on Croissants, yogurt, fruit and eggs every morning. “We always looked forward to the lunch stops at local restaurants (provided by the tour) or picnics in the countryside,” Christy said. “I honestly forgot what it felt like to be hungry.”
Christy said that one of the most spectacular days was on day 13 when they rode into the Gorges du Verdon. This stunning gorge is the second largest in the world after the Grand Canyon. They started the ascent near the azure waters of the Lake de Saint Croix and slowly pedaled their way to the top of the gorge. The most beautiful aquamarine Verdon River greeted them at the bottom of the descent, and yes, “I did take a dip to cool down.”
Another standout was the ascent of Mont Ventoux. “The climb was on Day 11 so we had 10 days to fret and chat about it,” Christy said. “It’s a long, slow grind just as advertised, so I just found the (slow) pedal cadence that I could comfortably maintain and tried to enjoy every single moment. Conditions were perfect, low 70s with cloud cover. The descent was a blast!”
Fixing a flat
Asked about a nice detail about the trip, Christy recalled an experience with a flat tire. “At the end of one of the rainy days we were about 5 miles from our hotel and completely drenched. One of the riders got a flat tire in the middle of nowhere. Well, almost nowhere. There happened to be one small country house and a lady popped out in her raincoat and umbrella,” Christy said.
“She spoke only French and we spoke only English. At some point as she was speaking (really fast in French) I heard the word ‘garage’. I repeated the word and she turned around and led us into her garage so we could fix the flat out of the rain. It was such a kind gesture and she was happy to watch as we repaired the flat, all the while talking in French and smiling. With the flat repaired, she guided us out of her garage and waved goodbye.”