Alex Bikes

Ottawa bike politics.

Monthly Archives: September 2014

Another French tour: Nice to Groningen

This is the luggage at the Ottawa airport. That's 30lbs I'll be hauling up the hills...

This is the luggage at the Ottawa airport. That’s 30lbs I’ll be hauling up the hills…

I’m going on another tour, and I was looking for something hillier than the last trips (Texas and Quebec). I have 14 bicycle days to get from Nice, France to Groningen, Netherlands. That distance is technically 1500km, but I’m unlikely to be able to keep up the 150km/day pace I had in Texas.

First I’m starting with an established route called Le Tour des Grandes Alpes. which runs from near Nice (Menton) to near Geneva (Thoulon). Normally it’s run southbound, but I’ll be doing it in reverse. It is 600km with a total climb of 20,000m. includes Bonette (2800m), D’Iseran and various others. These are higher than anything I’ve done before.

The second part is getting from Geneva to Eindhoven. I’m expecting I’ll have to take the train for parts of this. I have no real plans on how to do this. I’ll meet up with my parents there; they’re there to reminisce about where they grew up. After that, to Groningen in the north where my sister is celebrating her 50th birthday.

A lot of this is just easier to arrange now. I know what equipment to bring, what to expect, etc. I’m always worried my bike won’t make it or that I’ll suffer some horrible mechanical problem that can’t be fixed.

I’m really bad at blogging during trips. Maybe this time will be different.

 

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So what happened in Texas?

The last time I wrote on this blog was back in February as I was planning my bike trip across Texas. Here’s a quick review.

The ‘why on earth would you bike in Texas?’ question continued well into the trip and after I got back. My values and political views don’t match a typical Texan’s, although typical is part of the problem.

Here’s something I learned: political views don’t really show through that much when you’re just visiting somewhere. Sure, there were a lot of pickup trucks with gun racks and wildly xenophobic views of Hispanics. If you can look past that (without forgiving it), you’ll find the people caring and genuine. And you’ll have quite an experience.

I learned a lot about nothingness and loneliness. Often there were no cars for an hour. There were no trees to ruin the views. I’ve never gone so long in my life without ever talking to someone. Emptiness. You should experience this, just not all the time.

Here’s a rundown. The average here is 150km / day, by far more than I’ve ever done.

Day 1 – El Paso to Ft. Hancock

IMG_2600.JPGI’d stayed the night before in El Paso with the president of Velo Paso and his wife. The cycling movement in El Paso is further behind Ottawa, shall we say.

I got up before my hosts. Most of the morning was spent exiting, among the avocado trees until we hit the highway. An 80mph road sounds terrible, but with an 8ft shoulder it can actually be okay. There were service roads which I used plenty of.

The population was thinning out, there were more abandoned buildings. The emptiness was starting to show.

I spent the night in a flea-bag motel. The owner warned me not to go to the other part of town as the police no longer had control over it. Fun!

Day 2 – Ft. Hancock to Marfa

This was magical. Suddenly I was on Highway 90 which has nothing on it. Chispa, Valentine and Quebec are abandoned.

I’d filled up on water (around 8 litres) in Van Horn but was completely empty by the time I hit the Marfa Prada, this art thing in the middle of the desert.

IMG_2656.JPGIMG_2662.JPGIn the parking lot, some tourists in a truck saw me and said ‘you don’t look so good, everything okay?’. They gave me a gallon of water which I drank right there. I have never been so thirsty ever.

I finished off the day in Marfa itself and camped in the desert. A fantastic and tiring day, around 170km.

IMG_2699.JPG

The hostel in Marathon.

Day 3 – Marfa to Marathon

Just 90km this day, mostly windy. I was still tired and thirsty. I’d heard about this great hostel in town and hunted around for it. Marathon has few paved roads and I sense there’s a lot of unlocked doors. I found one guy on his front porch and I asked him if he could help me find the hostel. Guil invited me to drink bourbon while we talked about it. He owned the hostel, he said it was free for cyclists. I had the place to myself, so it was a great deal!

Day 4 – Marathon to Sanderson

Not much to report. Windy. Desolate. Road runners.

Day 5 – Marathon to Comstock

Here, I’d deviated from the Adventure Cycling Association’s prescribed Southern Tier route, which meant fewer bikes. I hadn’t actually seen anyone on a bike since El Paso.

I wandered into Comstock and partook of all their retail: gas station (junk food), hotel (room) and newly opened restaurant. This was an experience… the owner had never seen anyone on a bicycle before. Beer was $1.50 a pint. I had two main courses and still left with paying just $20. You can’t plan vacations like this.

Day 6 – Comstock to Eagle Pass

The desert was changing. Still, very few people. I could pump Van Halen on the headphones and nobody could hear or judge.

Eagle Pass is a gambling town. I found a fantastic taco stand and ordered several main dishes. It was a crappy hotel that night with mirrors over the beds.

Day 7 – Eagle Pass to Laredo

What a shitty day. All tours must have a day or two like this. It was so windy, I almost gave up before I started. Many years ago I’d met someone from Laredo and I’d envisioned it being this great place. I was looking forward to it. After a day of constant wind, it started getting dark. I’d done just 130km (after 13 hours). I got a flat tire (the first one in 5 years) so thought I’d camp out by the side of the road. But then I came across an RV park. They’d never had someone show up on a bike (and rarely without an RV), so I was a novelty. What a terrible place.

Wild dogs tried to run off with one of my bike shoes the next morning.

Day 8 – Laredo to McAllen

The last day of biking. McAllen’s a huge place compared to anywhere else I’d been. I stopped at this all-you-can-eat pizza place and ate until I could eat no more. Then met up with Anouk, a full day early.

The next day I slept to 9 and had two breakfasts and lunch. It was nice to be off the bike.

The astute will notice that I missed a day, I lost it in the emptiness of Texas.