A Biker's Reverie

Cycling the French River Valleys
  |  Gorp.com

When the sun's first light finally drips over the Alps and dips into the river valleys of eastern France, the flood of color and release of perfumed pollen seem straight out of childhood dreams. Cobalt waters glide past color baths of hay brown, oak green and mustard yellow. A breeze sweeps seaward buzzing and tweeting with life. There is also a path pushing sometimes to the edge of the river, plunging happily into the plush waterside brush, and detouring through extended fields of chest-high vineyards. Like the waters it parallels, the path too lures color and sound down its narrows, but these are man-made colors and human-fashioned sounds. The flash of green or ruby (no, not a hummingbird), the rush of air (really, not a hummingbird) and the almost hush hum and clatter like that of a young cicada are all that an observer needs to guess at the speed of passing cyclists. Even with this invasion of the unnatural, there is a refreshing continuity to the wash and blend of sensory wonder on this and many a beau matin in France.

Like a child that dreams, many adults caught in urban pressure cooker eddies cannot help but contemplate a cycling vacation away from it all. Many of these post-adolescent fantasizers, fed up with pollution, cars, and hamburgers, let their thoughts wander to the dawnscapes and bicycle paths of the French countryside. It is, after all, the foil to everything that makes us bitter. Why eat mystery meat street food when the local road-side flavor could be as exotic as escargot or truffles? Why fume unhappily on the sweaty vinyl cushion of a yellow cab when you can sweat happily on the broken-in leather saddle of a yellow 21-speed road model? Why be cowed by the noxious exhaust of a zillion honking delivery vans when you can moo at the placidity of a herd of ruminating bovine? And why oh why drink soda if the local brew could be a recently uncorked elixir pressed, bottled and aged just down the road?

Fortunately, France lives up to the vivid color and rich bouquet of people's imaginations. France really also is everything a cyclist could ever want, even those unhappy about the unique and outrageous pace of the world's premier bicycle race, the Tour de France. Whether you are a roadster, a mountain biker, a long-distance animal, a day-tripper, or an urban pedal-about, France has a gear meal to fit every appetite. There are numerous major river valleys running great distances and peppered with cities and villages full of attractions and places to stay; there are long stretches of ocean coastline, sometimes quite rugged; there are mountains and gorges, and wide plateaus both rolling and flat. Some people honestly believe that France has everything anyone and certainly any cyclist could want. This is a classic bit of definition chauvinism (a word born in France and named after a soldier in Napoleon's army who was famous for his loud and excessive patriotism). That said, France really does have a lot to offer.


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