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Riding Through a Painting
Words by Fiona Adler
Cycling in France is such a cliché but, as it turns out, for good reason. We’re a few days into our trip and I’m still pinching myself because it truly feels like we’re riding through a painting. The landscape of the Vercors is absolutely stunning and there’s almost a magical haze making everything somehow brighter and larger than life (including the hills). The towns are quaint, the drivers courteous, the locals are charming, and the spring air is rich and full of life. This is truly living!
Boarding the plane seemed like stepping out of our usual lives to experience a different life. We felt very self-indulgent – especially those of us leaving others to carry the load of our absence. But without trips like this, it’s all too easy to let months and years pass by and after all, it’s only 2 weeks and 8 days.
Our trip began in Paris where we set about some sightseeing, shopping and enjoying some of the treats of the city - carb-loading at its best. We happened to be there for the French elections and soon found ourselves in the midst of the dramas of another country - passionate people celebrating and commiserating the fate of their favoured candidate. A day and a half didn’t seem nearly long enough but sitting on the train as we headed south to our first cycling destination, we were all glad to escape the bustle of the city. The towns quickly thinned out to small villages with fields spanning between them and the speed of life seemed to visibly slow down. Thoughts turned to the riding ahead, the weather forecasts and our provisions for the coming days – the simple things.
We arrived in St Jean-en-Royans and were greeted by Teresa and Roger, as well as the bikes that we’d hired – all set up and waiting to be ridden. It became apparent that we were in good hands at Velo Vercors. After a short reconnaissance ride we were thrilled with both the bikes and our location.
The bikes we have here in France have been perfect, the carbon frames, compact cranks and triple chain ring have made climbing that little bit more do-able!
Our subsequent rides have continued to exceed expectations – passing through old-world towns, lush country-side dotted with bright red poppies, walnut tree orchards, and recently plowed fields. The road through the Vercors mountain range tunnels through and cuts into the face of sheer rock cliffs, and ensures an exciting ride. We were not surprised to hear that a car chase in a James Bond movie was filmed here. Parts of the riding are hard (with much bigger hills than Melbourne) but the views, and resulting photo stops are so overwhelming that the discomfort is mostly overshadowed.
Although we’re only a few days into the trip, it’s not been without some glitches. Unfortunately one of our party has not been able to join us due to some pressing business matters – which is very disappointing for everyone, her especially. We’ve also had a knee niggle get a lot worse and we’ve had to call in a pickup to get our rider up the remainder of a mountain (it’s now being rested and we’re hopeful it will come good). And of course, we’ve had the obligatory couple of tumbles. Extremely minor, but still not recommended!
We’re starting to find a rhythm to our French-cycling lifestyle. We know which boulangerie does the best baguettes and which is best for croissants, we plan our ride the night before and head out after a leisurely breakfast, and most of us are even getting used to the recommended 20 minutes in the freezing cold stream after a ride.
As we tick over the kilometres, do our laundry, and generally learn to live alongside each other, we’re gaining a new perspective into each other’s lives. We haven’t quite left behind our usual existence (we’re still checking in and are conscious of what’s going on with our families and work lives), but we’re so far away – both physically and mentally. We’re absolutely loving this style of trip. Cycling is truly a great way to experience a place – fast enough to cover a reasonable amount of ground, but slow enough to appreciate the details.
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