It's a Wrap: Final Thoughts - French Alps 2017 - CycleBlaze

June 27, 2017

It's a Wrap: Final Thoughts

I always enjoy reading the final thoughts of journal authors so here goes with my final thoughts.

France - I realize the world is a big place and discovering new places is thrilling but I’m like Pavlov’s dog and keep wanting another ‘hit’ of France. The variety of culture and geography within one small country is astounding and there’s no better way to soak this in than to travel slowly on two wheels. Simply put, we are very comfortable cycling in France. Take a look at a Michelin map and you’ll see a massive network of small roads that wind through the beautiful countryside to serve all the small villages and hamlets. These present infinite opportunities for cycle tourists. Good food and accommodation is readily accessible, especially now that we can locate and reserve these using the internet. As a cycle tourist, I feel like I join the mutual admiration society because cycling is part of their culture and they admire that we’re choosing to see their country ‘en velo’. The French people are very kind to us and almost always give us adequate space when passing us on the roadway. Signs remind drivers to leave 1.5m when passing cyclists. Though I am not particularly outgoing by nature, I enjoy engaging people we meet with my best attempt at french and then seeing where it will lead. We eventually get to ‘d’ou venez-vous?’ and when we tell them we are from Canada, they are always pleased that we’ve come all that way to visit their country. Then they ask if we’re from Quebec, to which I reply with a smile, ‘je suis desolée, nous venons de la côte ouest’. Then we hear about their cousin who lives in Montreal or the last time they visited Montreal. My recommendation to you is to be fearless about making mistakes. It’s way more fun than not trying at all.

Food - Memories of the insanely delicious everyday meals of simply prepared local food will keep me coming back to France. While we have been skunked when it comes to food, it’s been due to circumstance rather than a bad chef. We stocked up on the breakfast buffet each day and only needed/wanted snacks like bananas, prunes d'Agen, yogurt, cherry tomatoes, peanuts, and snickers bars for lunch. We drank côte de Province wine with dinner almost every night as it was so light and refreshing.

Equipment - We have been riding our Bike Friday New World Tourists for about 15 years so we know them well. David researched the optimal gear combinations for this ambitious route and came up with a great solution, to replace the 44" chainring with a 42" (rear cluster: 28-26-24-21-18-15-11). He also added a travel agent to improve the mechanical advantage of our braking. I attribute the ability to keep spinning at the top of a stiff climb and more confidence in descending those 9% slopes, in part, to these improvements. We use Continental Sport Contact II tires and wouldn’t leave home without them. Our panniers are made in Canada by Arkell and we are very happy with them. They’re mounted on the very sturdy Racktime rear racks. We each have a front pack for quick access to wallets, sunglasses, iPhones, iPad and maps. The bikes do take a beating and we are always impressed with how the Friday’s perform. As a fellow cyclist said as he bowed to us when he saw our bikes that we had just ridden over the col du Galibier, "respect, respect.”

Route & Maps - I started planning our route by loading all of Scott Anderson’s maps (thank you Scott!) into my RidewithGPS app and then into maps-dot-me. As a bonus, they’ve integrated into app. I also used the google maps app and the michelin app. We started and finished our tour at Lyon and we really wanted to ride the Alpe d’Huez so we adjusted the route as needed from this map set. Unlike paper maps, electronic maps do not provide all of the information you need in a single view so we will always use paper maps, the Michelin 1:200,000 or 1:150,000 in particular. At the start of each day, I like to know the location of significant climbs and the summit elevations of major hills and mountains and this is readily available on the paper maps. Get to know the legend so you can glean all the information on your paper map. The limitation of paper maps is in details and this is where electronic maps excel. Provided you have internet access, electronic maps are excellent for seeking out fine details, whether it’s in a city or sorting out the crossroads in the middle of the countryside. We rented a portable wifi from Hippocket in Lyon for this trip so we had unlimited secure internet access. On just two occasions the speed was 2G and was essentially unusable.

Physical preparation - We have been cycle touring since we were in our twenties and so we’ve established a pattern for our preparation that has served us well. We develop a training schedule with gradually increasing distances that generally start at about 35k/ride in February and top out at 100k/ride in May. This year we aimed for 3 - 4 rides per week with one at top mileage and the others shorter than that. We also did high intensity circuit training 2 - 3 times per week which included some specific core strengthening exercises. I found some good cycling specific advice online at And finally, I did a yoga class once a week. We enjoyed all of our training and wouldn’t change a thing for our next tour.

Mental preparation - Riding a physically challenging route like this requires that you embrace the challenge well in advance of doing it. Our good friend Dave Warnock gave us some good advice a couple of years ago when we expressed fear about rappelling off a canyon wall. He said, what’s the worst that could happen? When I replied ‘I could die’ he said no, you’ll never know what it would be like to rappel off a canyon wall. Bingo! He unleashed the beast mode in both of us. Thanks Dave. Seriously though, embracing the goal has to happen before you buy the airline tickets. Then, you have to manage it throughout your training because I always encounter doubt in the lead up period. My mantra for these tours is “conceive, believe, achieve”. Training is all about believing and doing the work to support the belief that you can do it. Achieving is all about the reward and feeding the desire to do it all over again! OK, now I’ve let out the secret to my madness.

If you've read this far and you have any questions for me, just click the contact link at the top of the post and ask away. I will be adding maps and text over the next few days where they are missing. Thanks for reading and travelling along with us.

Rate this entry's writing Heart 2
Comment on this entry Comment 0