St-Enimie - St-Rome-de-Dolan - In Céventh Heaven - CycleBlaze

September 13, 2011

St-Enimie - St-Rome-de-Dolan

St-Enimie in the morning: beautiful and a welcome source of coffee and buns.
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YVES SMILED through three days of stubble. He's an impossibly lean man, tanned, honed to rib-poking slimness by cycle-camping. He's what we call an SDF - sans domicile fixe - meaning he has no proper address. He spends his time meditating at a temple in Paris or touring on the road. In winter he goes biking or trekking in India.

He smiled again.

"If there are beautiful things to be seen, you'd be silly not to look," he laughed. Or smirked. You'll find out why in a moment.

Clear road ahead with all the tourist traffic gone for the season.
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I'd told him how today I'd lost the group. I got to the right town but I couldn't find the camp ground. I had a name and I had a phone number. But the name was wrong and I couldn't get an answer from the phone. So I took a chance and rode where I thought the others would be. They weren't there.

Instead, there were the usual people you find at an inland camp ground at the end of the season. Plus around 50 German teenagers with an instructor to teach them canoeing.

Normally I'd wince at such a sight. It means noise, a lot of running around, a disturbed night. But canoeists are like cyclists. They have had a hard day. They need rest. And this group had that same air of agreeable tiredness as they pulled their boats on land.

Now, if you mix water and sun and a lot of 16-year-olds of both sexes then a lot of things happen away from home. I saw only one of them - perhaps the others were more discreet - and that was the Parading. The girls, slim because they were sportive and each of them more than usually attractive - stayed in their tiny bikinis long after their mother would have told them it was too cold. And the boys stayed bare-chested long after anyone else would have pulled on a sweater.

It was a Parade.

In that teenage way, the girls stayed mainly with the girls and the boys with the boys. But each had one eye on the other. The boys swaggered a little and the girls looked fabulous. And as girls, and able to see out the corner of their eyes more than men can, they could judge how great an effect they were having. The boys didn't exactly stare but they were noisier and no more eager to cover their bodies than the girls were.

"Oh, it was long-distance seduction," Annick laughed. She is the smiling, grey-haired woman who set up our ride. She has just spent six weeks riding in Iceland, with Yves and a couple of others, and she's inspired now to ride across America. "It's a whole different world when you're in your teens, isn't it?"

In the morning the Germans were still silent and they were much less mobile. The first to emerge from the chrysalis weren't butterflies. They wore thin tracksuits which owed more to fashion than warmth and they walked, the girls especially, hugging themselves to stay warm. They looked as haggard as a breakfast-time cyclist. I saw it in them and they saw it in me.

And I felt haggard, to be honest. The previous evening I'd been full of big ideas of riding out of the valley and into the hills. Come the morning and all I wanted was coffee and a bun, preferably several of each. I admit the wish to buy a new computer battery was as much a ruse as a need but the first thing I did was ride the few kilometres back into St-Enimie. And there I sat glued to Le Monde, weakly lifting coffee to my lips and hoping for the best.

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Well, who cares? This is a bike ride, not a corvée, a fatigue party. If I wanted to take the easy way and drift down the Tarn valley like the Germans, then I would. The distance mattered less than the pleasure. And this was no countryside to be hurried. I'd been this way in summer and it had teemed with tourist traffic. Now I had it to myself, give or take a few others.

I rode through tunnels through the rock and beneath threatening overhangs which in a million years will fall into the river. For the gorge was formed by countless time, by the erosion of the Tarn and the underground streams that feed it, by the undermining of the rock.

I found the others beside the road, looking at a rope-way across the valley: Annick, Yves, Marie the piqueuse (a neighbourhood nurse who gives injections), Patrice the wandering philosopher with his Astrix moustache. And then by chance I lost them again. No matter. What I needed was food, a restaurant. And I sat by the river, gazing over the water through a handful of flowers, and revived myself with faux filet. It worked wonders.

Lunch by the river, my little moment of hedonism.
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Setting up camp at St-Rome-de-Dolan
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Tonight, for just 3€ 50, we are 400m above the valley in a near-empty camp site beside an international language school and holiday centre. I can see vultures turning and turning again not above me but below. Jean-Marc, a small, taut, smiling man with a shaved head who runs the site for the village, says they look first for anything dead, then for anything lame they can tear to bits.

"I see a couple of dozen of them sometimes," he tells me. "I like sharing the nature we have all around us. I like meeting people of different nationalities. If they go away relaxed and pleased with what they've seen, my day has been a pleasure."

The view from tonight's camp-site, watching the vultures wheeling beneath us.
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