Life in the old bones yet - Five days in July - CycleBlaze

July 10, 2019

Life in the old bones yet

NEAR MONTFLANQUIN - There is life in the old bones once more. And there's no doubt that I needed that rest day yesterday, which ended with the campsite owner bringing an unsolicited glass of whisky.

I don't know how old he was. He was in that comfortable stage of older middle life in which he'd found contentment along with a living which doubtless he no longer needed to make but pleased him.

I forget how long ago he said but it must have been 30 or 40 years earlier. He'd been staying at a campground when he strolled into a naturist area he didn't know was there.

"I thought 'Wow!' I looked down at myself and thought 'Look, who's the ridiculous one here? Me in my shorts or the rest of them, without? I was convinced there and then. My wife, too, when I told her what I'd discovered."

His wife, he said, had died young but he had remarried, to a woman who shared his idea of contentment.

No one was around when I left. There'd been a sudden, hard rainfall towards the end of the evening and that had sent everyone running . Unsure whether it would rain again in the morning, they'd decided to stay in bed. This, after all, was a holiday. Only the strange would fill their time by riding a heavy bike.

I left the village by the route I'd taken to enter it. And I'd been right about the exhausting climb. I was going down it now and braking for the bends. It was unrelenting.

The morning traffic was a rip tide but, hey ho, I felt good again. Let the world rush to its offices if it chose. I'd see that same world at my own pace.

Roads never look the same when you ride them the other way, and so it seemed as I retraced my outward route as far as Cazals. I saw things, the little pleasurable things we all see, which my exhausted eyes hadn't spotted. Nothing worth mentioning: just the pleasing fields, the unusual house, the posing horses of every bike ride, but a pleasure nevertheless.

The Tour de France is on at the moment. And there's been a Frenchman in yellow. It doesn't often happen and it's three decades since a Frenchman won. Nobody expects Julian Alaphilippe to take his place beside Bernard Hinault, who's qualified for cheap travel on the buses for quite a few years now, but it's pleasing all the same.

An unusual man, too. Which other rider do you know who not only plays the drums but broke off during the Tour to play them at a wedding reception? And who do you know, cyclist or not, who can walk up stairs on his hands?

I turned off to the right in Cazals, my gentle if busy road now a silent but hilly one. Michelin gave it a single arrow but that was for steepness and not the length. It climbed and climbed between trees through which I saw harvest-ready fields sloping to the valley. Things were good; I had the rhythm of two days' riding and the freshness of a day off.

Three Dutch riders were waiting at the end of the pedestrian road through the heart of Villefranche-du-Périgord, two women and a man, all in the same shade of blue.

All the usual questions. Where had I come from? Where had they come from? What were we each doing?

I'd have joined them for coffee. But they were getting ready to leave and they passed me as I walked back to where I'd turned off the main road.

"Gooie weg!" each of them shouted.

And now the climbing started seriously. I had a swoop to the railway line that ran along the valley and then came a long, long grovel up the other side on roads worryingly unlike my map.

And then, suddenly, I rode into a five-house community called Aygueparse, known only to those who live there and the tax people. Swallows flew around the determinedly four-sided tower of a tiny church, its churchyard wall pinning one half to the living and the other to the dead.

There are times I can't resist the charm of unknown rural churches
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I was hot and tired when I reached Domaine Laborde, near the hilltop bastide of Montflanquin, but finally happy at how I'd been going. I still had a day to go but I knew now that there was an element of form in my legs. I sat in the bar and watched the Tour de France on a large screen, content that others were having a far harder time than I'd had.

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