How did I get here?

I was on a short cycling trip from where my son Louis works in a bike shop deeper in the Pyrenees back home to the foothills of those same mountains. I kept on having these ‘Holy S#!t’ moments saying to myself, or sometimes shouting out loud as I was alone on my bicycle, ‘WOW, I live here!!!!’

Yes, The boy from The Bronx wasn’t cycling under ‘The El’ (elevated trains for you non -New Yorkers;-) Nor was I in the shadow of castles. The green hills and beautiful Pyrenean Mountain chain which separated me from Spain were my constant companions.

I found myself on a famous Tour de France climb which had been on their itinerary for 110 years! It was a hard climb, and I was wondering how quickly the Tour de France racers would be going up this same exact climb in less than two weeks time. Maybe I’ll head back and see, but then again, maybe not. I’ll live in the fantasy that it wouldn’t have been too much quicker than my 9 kilometers (a bit less than 6 mph) per hour pace! Although, that fantasy was shattered many times on the same day as cycling up the Peyresourde seemed to be what all the roadies in the area were doing as well as I was. And yes when they zoomed past they did say “Bonjour” looking at my loaded bicycle and probably thinking, man that dude is nuts!

I was a bit nervous about the name of this one village – the French pronunciation probably makes it sound a lot nicer – but in these days, I made sure to cycle quickly past the turning.

HMMMM!!!

The ride that day was spectacular. My cycling legs were finding themselves and my favourite time of day for cycling was approaching. I was blessed with clouds the whole day, which, in the middle of a heatwave, was much appreciated.

I stopped in a lovely small village named St. Beat, there was no music apparent, but the woman in the tourist office thought I was a bit strange wanting to head up another Col (French for ‘Mountain Pass’) at just gone six in the evening. She didn’t understand about the dopamine hitting my brain, my legs feeling good, and the day still having at least three hours of daylight left. She told me of a village called Antichan where I could probably put up my tent for the night. She bid me farewell, but from her look I knew she thought I was silly not to set up camp one kilometer back near Lac Gery (Gery Lake).

I was starting up the next Col’ but the difficulty of the climb was nowhere near as steep as the 7, 8 & 9% grades of the Peyresourde. It was quite nice, I put on my flashing rear light and enjoyed the empty villages and roads in the soft evening light.

Just the previous day, right near the village of Saint Lary Soulan where our son lives and works, Angie and I climbed up to another lake named Oredon. That really was a long steep climb and it put me off of lakes, because after nearly three hours of climbing, it was a steep drop to the lake, so Angie and I took some photos of the lake and opted for lunch in a lovely spot along the river we had seen about an hour previously and nearly 500 meters lower in elevation! We were glad to have done the climb though, and now today, with those miles in the old legs, as well as the day’s pedaling, I was feeling good on my loaded beast of burden!

I showed up in Antichan, found the mayor of the small village of 180 inhabitants, and asked if I could put up my tent somewhere. With the true French hospitality I always find in small villages, he didn’t bat an eye, pointed to the small orchard across the way, and said, “That land is mine, put up your tent anywhere you’d like, but don’t be late, in an hour we are having apero.” Apero being short for Aperitifs, before dinner drinks, hey, this is getting even better.

I headed to the small market that was taking place, bought myself a melon and had a chat with the woman selling fresh fruit and veggies. An older woman came up to me and asked where I had just been cycling. I told her about the Peyresourde, and she went on to tell me she had climbed many of the Cols around the area, Her husband was out that day riding, (he probably was one of the many who passed me earlier on in the day;-)! I met a few other locals and we had a chat about this and that, then one of them said, ‘Go set up your tent, the mayor will be on time with the apero!” I smiled and duly went across the street into the orchard and started the comforting evening ritual of putting up the tent. A ritual I knew so well from many years of living on my bike.

The apero was delightful. I met some of the ladies I was talking to earlier, Bernard the mayor was there, and the Pastis and potato chips were being generously served. What a perfect ending to a long day in the saddle.

The next morning, after a light rain in the night, I packed up and was on the road by ten. Many cyclist passed me pumping their steeds up the final four kilometer climb to the Col d’Ares. I would obviously never catch them, but I’d see some of them on their way back down.

The map was showing me a few different choices home. It was all closer than I had originally thought. I didn’t think I’d be home by nightfall, but as I pedaled through the small village where this whole thing started I realised I would be sleeping in my bed, not my sleeping bag.

Where did this small journey begin? Angie and her band, Nothing Concrete, had a gig in a small place called, ‘Sengouagnet’. When we looked at the map we realised it was halfway to Saint Lary. So a plan was hatched, we’d camp in Sengouagnet after the gig in our van and visit Louis the day after. Then I thought hey, I’ll put my loaded bike in the van and ride home. Louis and his bike frame designer friend Joel even came to the gig which was an added bonus. I passed through the same village on my way home, looking a lot different than the night Angie and Nothing Concrete were playing, but that’s the beauty of it all, nothing remains the same.

Where’s the band?

The scenery started getting more familiar as were the town and village names. I couldn’t believe this was all literally my ‘hood’, a long way from The Bronx, that was for sure. I slowly cycled home, surprising Angie and Chessie. Then The Talking Heads song, “Once in a Lifetime”, came up on the playlist Chessie was listening to and the thought of writing this blog came to me. How did I get here? I got here by making lots of choices, and riding a bicycle has always been an integral part of the path I made in life.

My son Louis was wrenching on bikes back in Saint Lary, my touring bike was leaning on its kickstand in our front garden, life was feeling good and the scenery was looking even better. I was glad I just had a small taster of that life I once lived full time, and also a small glimpse of more adventures that lie ahead.

About thebikeguy61

I was born in The Bronx, in NYC. I traveled a fair bit of the world by bicycle for many years. In more recent years I have moved around Europe with my wife and 2 children. My first book was published in 2010, "Cycles of a Traveler". www.cyclesofatraveler.com Back living in France after a fantastic voyage across America with my family. Next book on its way, and always more interviews to look forward to.
This entry was posted in a town, adventure, America, camping, Cycling, diversity, europe, france, Health & Well-being, inspiration, Life on planet earth., live music, small village or countryside?, spain, The City, The City, a town, small village or countryside?, Transportation, travel and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to How did I get here?

  1. Val Valentine says:

    Hey Joe,
    Reading of your recent travels takes me back to a France I can not visit until the travel restrictions are lifted. So I’ll daydream.
    Coincidently on the day you send me your latest piece, I have just listed Through His (my) Eyes on Amazon.fr
    Bon Voyage, mon ami

    Like

    • thebikeguy61 says:

      Hi Val, let’s see who makes it where first. Colorado or France. Let’s just hope the world opens up soon. Although we are both lucky enough to live in the beauty of nature! Until next time. Be well.

      Like

  2. Bill Donnelly says:

    A long way from the El indeed my friend. Glad to see you and the family happy, well and enjoying life. Stay well

    Like

  3. forest2mtns says:

    So good!!! I will look forward to cycling there one day!
    We just went backpacking with Áine. It reminded us how much we miss it and love the power of putting everything on your back or bike and heading out into the unknown!
    Much love!!
    Dana

    Like

  4. Scott K says:

    Hi Joe,

    Thank you for sharing this story. I hope to get back on my bike some day, but not sure I could muster the strengnth to load up a campsite!!

    Cheers!!!

    Like

  5. thebikeguy61 says:

    My friend Tina from New York tried to post this comment, so I’ll post it for her. “Wow, what a wonderful experience. You are living your best life. Who needs the streets of New York when you can ride on the beautiful roads of France!!

    Like

    • thebikeguy61 says:

      Now a quick reply from me, Yes Tina, the roads are beautiful here in France, but I’ll never forget those unique, dynamic streets of New York from my younger years!!! Hopefully will walk (or ride) on them some time in the not-so-distant future. Be well!!

      Like

  6. John Clemente says:

    What beautiful scenery, Joey! I plan on doing something similar when my old car is finally on the road again. As you know, the pandemic has halted everything here. My band is still playing at outside venues, though! Geri and I are going to visit with Cecilia and Michael on Sunday. Keep on ridin’ and writin’ my friend! Love and kisses to Angie!

    Like

  7. thebikeguy61 says:

    Love and kisses back to all of you as well. Funnily enough, the lake I didn’t camp at made me think of you guys. (Lac Géry). Hopefully your road trip isn’t too far off. Be well. Keep on singing!!

    Like

  8. Maria says:

    Wait. What?? Angie’s in a band??? How did we not know this. Love the crow song. And I did very much enjoy this post. Brought back great memories of the time we spent with you and the family there.

    Like

  9. arbuiso says:

    I have been watching the Tour, and I cannot believe that they average about 25 mph (40 km/hour) for over 100 miles (160 km) in one day. Not in the mountains, but they’re fast. I ride hills in upstate NY and feel happy I finally got this bike bug thing going on as I approach 60! One day I too would like to try some of those hills, great photos Joe. – Charlie Arbuiso

    Like

    • thebikeguy61 says:

      Good going Charlie!! Yes The Tour is crazy. Especially when they not only do those high speeds all day, but wake up the next day to do it all again. The Tour is 3 weeks long, and many of the riders will race all season long!! Keep on riding!!

      Like

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