To Millau - Three Seasons Around France: Autumn - CycleBlaze

October 21, 2022

To Millau

Today’s ride to Millau comes as a last minute change of script.  When we planned out our month in the gorges we had booked ourselves for three nights here in Sainte-Enimie, followed by four nights at an apartment in Florac - an abundance of time to explore the region in depth on bike and on foot.  Beyond that we left open what to do with the final five weeks of our tour, depending on what transpired with autumn’s weather.

About a week ago, the forecasts for the region started looking grey and wet so we cancelled our stay in Florac while we still could without penalty.  No sense holing ourselves up in a small mountain apartment if we’re just going to be stuck inside hiding out from thunderstorms.  And then we had the same thought about our third night in Sainte-Enimie also.  With days of rain looking more certain the closer we got to them, we decided to reverse direction and bike down to Millau.  Millau because it has the closest train station around and is a reasonably easy downriver ride; and we picked today as the day to leave because it’s Friday.  Biking to Millau today means we can catch a train to somewhere drier on Saturday, but trains don’t run to Millau on Sunday.

We’ve been bracing ourselves for a soggy slog down to Millau, so we’re elated this morning when we find the forecast completely changed overnight.  We’ve got a dry day for our ride down the Tarn!  Later, we’ll feel some frustration that it’s not just today - the forecast for the next five days also looks sunny, so with more patience or gumption we could have stayed in the gorges longer.  Weather!

We enjoy a final breakfast with Susan, pack our bags, and say our final goodbyes.  Really final this time, since we’re pretty sure we won’t be seeing her anytime soon unless she surprises us and pops up in Tucson this January.  Between last autumn in Salzburg and Burgundy, Paris and the gorges this year we’ve all gotten to know each other well and feel like family.  

Thanks for everything, Susan. It’s been a remarkable year, and the richer for sharing it with you.
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Leaving Sainte-Enimie.
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CycleBlazers have gotten a lot of exposure lately to today’s ride through the Gorges du Tarn, surely one of the finest road cycling experiences to be found in France.  The Fenwicks biked it in the reverse direction earlier this spring, as did Susan just two days ago.  It’s the second time for us, but 25 years is a long time between visits and our memories have grown very dim.  We’ve remembered it as an exceptional ride that we hoped to repeat some day but were still totally awestruck by today’s experience, as if seeing it for the first time.

With two other descriptions of this magical ride so close at hand, we don’t need a third.  Just the pictures, please! And the video, of course.  Let’s start there: 

Video sound track: Black Frost, by Grover Washington, Jr.

It’s still overcast when we start riding but will get sunnier as the day goes on. The walls of the gorge are deep enough though that it will be well on toward noon before the sun breaks over the rim.
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We can’t be more than a quarter mile out of town when I have to stop for the amazing cliffs rising straight above the road. We’ll be passing view like this for the next 25 miles.
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The variety in coloration of the cliffs is exceptional, reminding me of the colors of southern Utah.
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Two of the first short tunnels we’ll pass through today. If you look closely you’ll see a camouflaged Rachael approaching the first one.
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Saint-Chély-du-Tarn. Our first viewing of this was by canoe, which we drifted from Sainte-Enimie to La Malene. There’s a photo of this bridge taken from the river in our journal from 1997, but misidentified. For years I’ve mistakenly thought this was the bridge at Sainte-Enemie.
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Another pair of tunnels! For awhile I kept count but lost track at around twenty.
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About five miles into the ride the sky is blueing nicely and the sun is just beginning to lighten the tops of the cliffs.
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It’s another tunnel!
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It’s another tunnel!
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A giant black cat lurks ahead.
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Beth ArtWhat am amazing picture. At least puss doesn't look like she is hunting. Or is it the sceptre of a saber toothed tiger that used to roam these gorges?
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1 month ago
Scott AndersonTo Beth ArtI was really surprised by this when I looked at the photo later. It’s the shadow cast by the rock on the opposite side of the road.
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1 month ago
It’s another tunnel!
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In the Gorges du Tarn.
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The drought continues. Not much water running down the Tarn this autumn.
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Looking across the river at Hauterives.
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Graham FinchGreat shot!
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1 month ago
Scott AndersonTo Graham FinchThanks. I liked the one ivy covered house highlighting it.
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1 month ago
It’s another tunnel!
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In the Gorges du Tarn.
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ann and steve maher-wearyWhat a fabulous route. Hope to do it some day too!
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1 month ago
Scott AndersonTo ann and steve maher-wearyNext spring? It’s not much over 100 miles from Toulouse to Millau.
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1 month ago
In the Gorges du Tarn. Amazing to bike past mile after mile of this. Your wow muscles start getting fatigued.
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The variety in color and contour is exceptional.
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La Malene.
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La Malene.
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Still at it. We’re only about halfway through at this point. Just when you pass through a widened and less dramatic spot and think you’re getting out of the best of it, you round the bend and stare at something like this.
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In the Gorges du Tarn.
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Some of these exfoliating cliffs remind me of Zion.
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In the Gorges du Tarn. We’re so lucky to be seeing it on such a gorgeous day, especially when we anticipated rain the whole way.
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Oh, and one more thing: it’s quiet! We see very few cars on the road today.
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It’s another tunnel!
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In the Gorges du Tarn.
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Keith AdamsLovely patch of red there.
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1 month ago
It’s another tunnel!
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An improbably perched house in La Sablière, seen from across the river. The ancient hamlet was forced onto the opposite bank by the coming of the road, and is only accessible by boat and cable.
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In the Gorges du Tarn.
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It’s another tunnel!
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In the Gorges du Tarn. To get a sense of scale, note Rachael at the bottom.
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In the Gorges du Tarn. Here’s something you won’t see in the Fenwicks and Carpenter journals. The road is split and unidirectional here, and the upriver lane is down below.
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In the Gorges du Tarn.
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Most of the fireworks end when we come to Le Rozier at the confluence of the Tarn and Jonte.  The Jonte is another impressive gorge on the opposite side of the Causse Méjean, and one I’d been anticipating riding if we’d stayed up here longer.  It gives us a reason to find our way back up here again.

Beyond Le Rozier the ride becomes less interesting for the next ten miles - the landscape opens up, the road straightens out, the traffic intensifies enough to be noticeable.  We’re happy when we finally make it to Millau, although the town leaves us with a poor first impression biking in because we haven’t found the best route to our hotel.  We’ll come to regard it much more highly in the evening when we walk across the passerelle to dinner in the historical center, charmed by dozens of bats flitting around us.  

Looking up at Compeyre, a place undoubtedly worth a stop.
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Approaching Millau, we get our first view of its famous viaduct, the highest bridge in the world. It’s impressive from this distance, and it’s still about four miles off.
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Millau’s footbridge across the Tarn is a much nicer way to get to the opposite bank than the busy arterial we arrived on. I was hoping that one of the photos I took here would have captured one of the many bats flitting around, but luck wasn’t with me.
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Ride stats today: 37 miles, 1,100’; for the tour: 1,104 miles, 72,400’

Today's ride: 36 miles (58 km)
Total: 1,104 miles (1,777 km)

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Scott FenwickYour routing into the Tarn at Sainte-Enimie had me a bit confused at first. You missed the best part I was thinking. But roads do allow two travel after all. So glad that you and Rachael saw Gorges du Tarn on such a fine day. As usual your pictures were fabulous and brought back some great memories. It is a day of riding that is rarely matched.
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1 month ago