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

September 14, 2011

St-Rome-de-Dolan - Meyrueis

I have been after an adventure all my life, a pure dispassionate adventure, such as befell early and heroic voyagers. All around there were bare hilltops, some near, some far away, as the perspective closed or opened, but none apparently much higher than the rest. The wind huddled the trees. The golden specks of autumn in the birches tossed shiveringly. Overhead the sky was full of strings and shreds of vapour, flying, vanishing, reappearing, and turning about an axis like tumblers.

First thing after breakfast, straight down into the valley, a drop of 400m.
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I KNEW what Stevenson meant. I wasn't his early or heroic adventurer, that's sure, but I left the well-trodden path and today I rode where only sheep and birds could see me pass.

The joy of these Cyclo-Camping International quinzaines is that you ride where you like and when you like. You join the rest at the camp-ground in the evening or, if the fancy took you, keep riding to the Limpopo.

Yesterday, of course, I didn't want to leave the Tarn, still less search for unknown parts where men would stare at me and throw things. Today, though, I was over all that. I slept well last night and, to judge by the early snoring, so did everyone else.

It's puzzling the others how fast I get away in the morning. I think it's more that they're slow, disorganised. There are many people faster than I am, the sort who get on the road before the birds start singing. All I do is pack my kit, rolling up my sleeping bag, stowing my clothes, while the water boils for coffee. I take out the two buns bought from the baker the previous afternoon, stir condensed milk into the mug and - when it's cool enough, for condensed milk does nothing to lower the temperature - drink it. By that time I've stowed the stove and the pots and pans. Only the tent remains.

I got away first again this morning and I dropped fast and cold back down the 400 metres I climbed yesterday. Then the sun had been on the road and in the valley. This morning it was looking the other way.

The camp-grounds on CCI trips are rarely more than 50km apart. That's far enough to ride from one to the other on an off-day, like yesterday, but close enough to allow for exploring. It was predictable that we would all ride down the valley to Le Rozier because there was no other way. But even in those 10km the traffic had increased and justified my early start.

Not much happens in Le Rozier if there aren't tourists about. The man in the bread kiosk made me coffee and told me he could find the computer battery I hadn't traced yesterday. I drank the coffee as I sat on a low wall. A man stopped in his car and stepped out. He was, let's say 55, grey-haired and a little round of waist.

I expected him to ask how much the bike weighed. Everybody wants to know that but it's never been a question I've asked myself. I just say "More than I want to know."

But this man knew what a loaded bike weighed. He'd ridden one many times.

"Not for a while, though," he apologised, running his hands round his trouser belt. "Have you ridden in the Black Forest?"

I said I hadn't, although I'd skirted it.

"Oh, you should," he urged. "Lovely cycling there, it is."

He stepped back and studied the bike in a way that only Italians to do.

"Get on OK with the Rohloff, do you?" he asked.

This, clearly, was a man who kept up to date with cycle-touring even if he hadn't ridden for a while. From his tone and the way he glanced back at the car, I got the impression there were Troubles At Home. Best he stayed there and didn't go off a-roaming. I didn't like to ask.

Tourists at Le Rozier are mainly walkers. They split into groups, the ramblers and the walkers. The first have white and shapeless legs and get into cars and drive to their start point and ramble. The walkers are lean and tough-looking. They have what French people call full calves, striped with muscles like a cyclist's. I sense a distant affinity with walkers. We do it differently but we share the same sensations.

The third group, less visible, are the cavers, the spéleos. I don't know much about them but it was they who created the tourist industry here and there's a relief at the entrance to the village of the man who explored and opened their caves.

Tribute to the first of the region's cave explorers, the man who brought tourists to remote France.
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I began the long climb to the plateau. The road rose gently but with enough vigour to gain height. Blackbirds sang, the most beautifully vocal of all birds, and butterflies disputed territory ignorant of the greater danger of my front wheel.

At St-André, the cemetery was locked. Who locks a cemetery? Nobody wants to get in and nobody can get out. For cyclists, cemeteries are a source of water. There is nearly always a tap, intended for flowers for the graves rather than thirsty travellers, it's true, but the dead are past caring.

Back on the edge of the causse, these interesting walls and pools at St-Antoine: but no water fit to drink.
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It was only when I stopped that I realised there was no way out of the village. Not the way I was going, anyway. The map clipped to my bars had shimmered enough as I rode to hide the line of dashes that showed the way I'd picked was about to deteriorate into a path. There'd be five kilometres of narrow road to get there - that and more back again if it looked impassable - and then this 'path or track.'

I gave it a go.

They didn't like tourists at the last farm. The notices made that clear. They'd had been tacked to the fence and to trees all along the road showing a no-stopping symbol, to which a firm hand had added 'Anywhere on property.'

It was nonsense, of course. Nobody has the right to stop travellers stopping outside his house. But it opened the way for a little worry - worry that increased when I found that access to the stony path at the end of the road had been barred by a metal gate.

We don't have hillbillies in France but that doesn't mean some nutcase with a mad dog wouldn't come after me. I was stopping on his property. There was no greater sin. But, no, the gate opened easily and it seemed that all that was required was to close it behind me.

The path began and I felt that sensation that walkers have all the time, of being alone in the world.
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The trail was wide and stony, the sort of path that had seen cattle for centuries. Elsewhere it would have developed into a road but, here, nobody drove it except on tractors. And that was the condition it was in.

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"I know... let's all hide until he's gone past."
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I pushed as far as the ridge, then bumped slowly downwards. The road ran straight, sometimes between wire fences, sometimes alone. It narrowed to a track just wide enough to walk, then stretched out again.

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I couldn't have been more than three kilometres from civilisation but, out here, I felt alone in the world. Walkers get that feeling all the time but cyclists only sometimes.

The path joined a smooth but narrow road and led through a village known only to tax inspectors. I rode into Trèves - an odd name, because it means 'truces' in French - ate a baguette with cheese and ham beside a stream, then set off up the Trevezel valley.

It was green, rising, often wide enough for just one traveller - or two if they were on bikes. I played mental games about holding my course if a driver came up from behind, but nobody came. Two unloaded cyclists puffed past on the double chevron of steepness at the end, he the stronger, she the leaner but slower in black shorts and shoes and nothing else but a sports bra.

'Il fait chaud,' I said in my usual spirit of stating the obvious. The man agreed, repeating the words, but after that he spoke Russian.

I was at more than 1 000m at the top. Apart from one short rise in the sun, it was all downhill all the way to the end. A perfect end to a wonderful day.

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