Day ride: our loop de Loup - An Autumn by the Sea - CycleBlaze

November 21, 2018

Day ride: our loop de Loup

      May I suggest, may I suggest to you, 
      May I suggest this is the best part of your life
      May I suggest, this time is blessed for you
      This time is blessed and shining almost blinding bright
      Just turn your head, and you’ll begin to see
      The thousand reasons that were just beyond your sight
      The reasons why, why I suggest to you
      Why I suggest this is the best part of your life

                      Susan Werner, New Non Fiction (2001)

I’m writing this entry on Thanksgiving morning, the day after today’s ride.  Susan Werner’s inspirational folk song, which we heard her perform years ago in a concert in Portland, has been running through my head ever since Rachael attached it to the day’s video.  

It’s Thanksgiving, and the two of us have so much to be thankful for this season.  Not least is today’s wonderful ride, in many ways one of the best of the tour.  It’s the sort of outing I’d envisioned and hoped for when we imagined touring here at this time of year.  A day not quite like any other we’ve experienced, and one we’ll remember.

That’s the beauty of travel - each day is unique, and for better or worse holds something unexpected and special.

We begin the day apart.  I go out in the street to find breakfast, coffee and pastries at an early-open cafe with WiFi, and to work on the journal; while Rachael stays around the apartment.  We’re taking our time getting started to give the day a chance to warm up a bit.  It’s only 48 when we wake up, and by 10 when we bike out of the square it’s already a balmy 50.  Every degree matters!

We saw this colorful headless quintet yesterday, but it looks even better with a bicycle. Doesn’t everything?
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Today’s ride is a loop we selected cooperatively last night.  I had my ideas to bring to the table,  but Rachael was interested in seeing a place she had researched: Pic Saint-Loup, a low promontory north of town.  We worked through several options before settling on one that encircles the formation and seems like the right length and severity for the day.

This is something fairly new for the two of us, cooperatively planning our rides.  We’re also deciding together where to stay next - which town, which lodging, how many days to stay there.  This is quite different than how we’ve approached travel in the past, when we worked from a predefined itinerary that I mostly invented myself and walked through with Rachael before we left home.  We like our new approach a lot.

The ride begins with the expected few miles of biking north through the city, generally along the route Rachael took on her walk to the zoo yesterday.  Montpellier is a fairly large city, but has an extensive network of well marked bike routes and is quite easy to bike through.  Drivers are courteous, expecting to see bicycles and showing them respect.  The town feels about as bike-friendly as Portland, really.  We feel right at home.

A half hour later we’re out of town, weaving our way through columns of plane trees.  They’re dropping leaves fast, carpeting the ground in brown beneath them.

I’m starting to conclude that the Hérault has the best cycling in France. I’m not sure why. Something about the trees, perhaps.
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The route we’ve picked is a pure loop - we’ll bike north along the western side of the tiny Lez River, circle the peak, and return on the eastern side of the Lez.  The ride north is wonderful.  Route D112 is a perfect cycling road - a single traffic lane, with both shoulders marked as bike lanes.  Pretty remarkable, especially given that there is virtually no traffic.  We see about as many bikers as cars.

It’s chilly, but not cold; grey, but not wet; gently uphill for the first ten miles,  closely following the river (small enough that it’s more like a creek, really).   We’re biking into a mild headwind - not enough to slow us down, but it does keep us cool and under wraps.  Ahead to the north we can occasionally see our target, Pic Saint-Loup - or the bottom half of it anyway.  It’s solidly overcast this morning, and the top half of the mountain is wrapped in a white cloud blanket.

The unexpected highlight of this part of the ride is a small, double arch stone bridge.  It’s a bit off the road, down an unpaved side lane.  I missed seeing it completely and would have just biked by, but Rachael picked it out.  We stop of course, climb across, take some shots.  It reminds of the small single arch bridge we carried our bikes over a few days ago.  It’s nice to be able to just admire this beauty without carrying the bikes across.  It’s steep and rugged enough that it’s not all that easy just to walk across, frankly.

We both loved all the color in this. The white one looks like it’s in its spring bloom, but we’ve seen others like it up close - it’s just it’s snowy bark. On the horizon on the left, the lower half of Pic Saint-Loup; on the right, Hortus Mountain.
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This delightful road went on for about five miles like this. We saw perhaps three cars, and as many bikes. Surprising that bike lanes have been marked on it.
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We return to the land of the elves.
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After crossing the bridge, I wandered on a bit for a better shot of this stone outbuilding. Remember this setting for future reference. There’ll be a quiz.
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About twelve miles into the ride we come to Les Matelles, a small medieval village.  There’s not much to it, but what there is is fascinating and worth a brief exploration - village gates, passageways, old stone towers.  It’s too soon to stop for lunch quite yet, but we at least slow down a bit to give it an appreciative look.

Entering Les Matelles, through the western gate
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Leaving Les Matelles, through the eastern gate
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Beyond Les Matelles, we soon start climbing as we traverse along the south face of the ridge.  We’ve seen photos of Pic Saint-Loup, and it’s quietly dramatic - a low ridge with exposed limestone outcropping at the top.  We can’t see that much today though, because the cloud cover is too low.  We climb gradually for a few miles, never very steeply in spite of a few switchbacks, and finally top out at the western end of the ridge.

She’s flying around this gravelly bend, one leg out for added security.
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The view south toward the sea, beyond Saint-Jean-de-Cuculles
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Pic Saint-Loup is hiding its best face from us this morning.
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Approaching the base of Pic Saint-Loup
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Well, most of the climb was pretty easy anyway.
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At the high point in the ride we aren’t all that much below the cloud base, and it’s feeling a bit damp and cold.  We stop for lunch in Cazevielle, eating our lunch sitting on the ground inside a covered bus shelter, our backs leaning against it’s cold concrete wall.  As we eat, we stare at the grey sky, contemplate the situation, and discuss whether we should just turn back after we finish eating rather than risk getting wet.

We decide to continue on.  Soon, we’ve rounded the western nose of the ridge, are heading east, and losing elevation.  It no longer feels like rain is imminent, and it feels a bit warmer to no longer be biking into a headwind.  The road is quiet, the terrain is attractive as we coast through the garrigue, low ridges appearing further to the north.  Right decision.

Eastbound, dropping toward Col de Fambetou. If we kept going straight for another ten miles in this direction, we’d be back in Sommieres.
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It just wouldn’t seem like a complete ride without a scene like this, would it? Here, we’ve wandered off into the bush for a better look at jagged Hortus Mountain.
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As we move east, our road bends south and threads through the gap between Pic Saint-Loup and the next formation to the east, Hortus Mountain.  From this direction, it’s fascinating to look at, the two formations facing each other across a broad divide.  They look like part of the same formation, but with a giant bite taken out of it.

Gradually, the day has begun clearing up.  We can see blue off in the distance over the sea, and the clouds have lifted a bit.  It’s still overcast, but we can see most of the range now.

Col de Fambetou, the gap between Hortus Mountain and Pic Saint-Loup. It looks like some mountain gnawing Godzilla passed this way.
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Jen GrumbyI'm sure that's exactly what created the gap. Godzilla was hungry that day!
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5 months ago
Hortus Mountain. We’re lucky that the clouds have begun to lift a bit, just in the last hour.
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Further east along the south face of Hortus Mountain
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There’s a lot to like here: two camargue horses, a cute little dog, even a person.
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After passing through the gap we come to Route 17, the road we plan to ride all the way back to Montpellier.  To our surprise though, it’s fairly busy, and not a great cycling road.  Trucks, no shoulder.  Not bad, but we’ve gotten spoiled by how great the ride has been up to now.  We decide to add a mile by cutting back east to the other side of the Lez, and ride back on the beautiful single lane road from this morning instead.

It’s only a mile, but partway through I spot a smaller, quieter road that we can veer off on and save a few feet.  Shortcuts are always good when you’re getting cold and a bit anxious to get home.  Soon though, we discover it’s one of those shortcuts, as the pavement ends and we start weaving between puddles.  

It’s well worth it though when we come to a field with six donkeys, three of them white.  I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a white donkey!  I stop, get out the camera, and reach up over the fence to get a picture of the six together.  I’m too slow though - the three white ones immediately move up to the fence and stick their noses to it, hoping for a handout. I’m left with a poorer shot, but a good memory.  As I bike off to catch up with Rachael, all six begin braying.

One last off-pavement stretch to add texture to the day. You might recognize this vinyard, from the earlier photo.
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Wow - I don’t remember ever seeing a white donkey.
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Soon, we’re nearly back to the pavement; and suddenly, I recognize where we are when we bike past a stone hut beside a vinyard.  We were here this morning, on the other side of the vinyard, and I remember stopping to take a photo across this field from the other direction - you’ve seen it above.

Then, we round the bend, and come to a bridge.  It’s that bridge.  Just too funny - we have to lug the bikes across after all.  Way too funny.  Ha, ha.

We saw this double arched bridge earlier in the day, but it looks even better with a bicycle. Doesn’t everything?
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Jen GrumbyI'm sure the bridge feels much more important and loved, having been photographed with such an attractive bicycle.
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5 months ago
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Ride stats today; 46 miles, 2,800’

Today's ride: 46 miles (74 km)
Total: 2,707 miles (4,356 km)

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