Backstory - Stress-free Cycling the French Countryside - CycleBlaze

August 18, 2019

Backstory

A not so welcome virologist-virus reunion

I had big plans for 2019 - a year in which I'd hope to tour through several of my "high-priority" regions of the world.  I started the year with a bang -  2 weeks backpacking and hiking in Southern Patagonia followed immediately by 2 weeks cycling the the Patagonia Lakes Region. It was an exhilarating yet challenging month. I returned a bit weary and hosting a fairly nasty parasite.  Undaunted, I was soon on the road to recovery and planning the next chapters of my BIG year: a ride across Iowa in the summer; a European tour in the fall; and a return to Southeast Asia sometime in the winter (which would technically be in 2020).  

The European tour included places I'd been wanting to cycle for years - the Dolomites, Slovenia, and the Prague-Vienna Greenway.  My plan was to spend a couple of weeks in Paris before training it to Donauworth where I would commence cycling the Via Claudia Augustus to Verona and on toward Venice.  Another train would take me to Trieste followed by two weeks touring Slovenia; then I'd head up to Vienna to spend a few days with friends before cycling the Greenway to Prague.  

The route would include more elevation than I've previously done, including a couple of passes in the Alps.  However, my trepidations were eased by the accomplishments/encouragements of fellow Cycle Blazers who'd successfully untaken similar or greater challenges at an age equal to or greater than my own.  Also, I had done a fair bit of climbing in Patagonia and considered myself in fairly good (for me) biking shape. I continued to put on lots of miles over the the spring and summer and all was going swimmingly well until...I was reacquainted with the Varicella Zoster Virus (VZV).  You may also know this virus as herpes zoster, or the chicken pox virus.   

Cartoon of herpesvirus with cross-section of virus on the left and a virus particle on the right. From Fundamentals of Molecular Virology, 2nd Edition, NH Acheson, author
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Aside for a little lesson in Virology:  

Like many if not most of you, I first met VZV as a child - I was about 10 when I came down with chicken pox.  As a virologist, I learned that VSV did not leave us when the chicken pox lesions cleared.  Rather, the virus went up our nerves from the skin to our spine. The virus remains dormant in these spinal nerves, but can reactivate if you are stressed and/or if your immune system weakens (e.g. as you age and work yourself into a frenzy getting ready to cross the Alps!!!).  In the case of VZV, the virus travels down from the spine and along the peripheral nerves back to the skin. The resulting skin lesions are known as Shingles.  

It was during the first week in July that I experienced stinging pain on my right foot and within a few days had a full outbreak of shingles - lesions, pain and fatigue. I reluctantly cancelled my ride across Iowa and, given that the typical recovery period for shingles is up to 5 weeks or more, realized that conquering the Alps in early September would be unrealistic. Not wanting to abandon my European tour altogether, Plan B began to take shape as I lay listlessly watching the Tour de France in my darkest "Shingle days".  My advice to those in the shingles-susceptible age group: get vaccinated! 

I've slowly regained energy over the last few weeks and, while not fully recovered, I arrived in Paris a few days ago as scheduled. I've reassembled the bike and have taken a couple of strolls around the neighborhood, experiencing warm welcomes at my favorite fromagerie and butcher shops. As a concession to the power of viruses, and to my sisters, I've extended my stay in Paris a week, during which time I will not only gain strength but also enjoy the delights of the city and visit some old and new friends. 

Back in the old neighborhood - the 15th arrondissement
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Plan B is to start cycling on September 8 - my 68th birthday.  For the last 8 years, I've celebrated my birthday by biking at least my age in miles.  This year, I had carefully planned my original itinerary to cross Reschenpass on September 8.  As neither option is now available, I will celebrate by launching my stress-free tour of the French countryside.  No doubt a decidedly acceptable alternative! I will begin in the Poitou-Charentes region and then head down toward the Midi-Pyrenees and the Lot and Tarn valleys. Following doctor's orders to "listen to my body", I will not follow a pre-set itinerary but rather "take each day as it comes."  As a resolute planner, I find this approach a bit unnerving, but nonetheless exhilarating.  Carpe diem. 

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Steve Miller/GrampiesWishing you luck and fun on your new modified tour. Try to look on the change of plans as an experiment in a different touring style, rather than abandonning your original plans.
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4 weeks ago
Jacquie GaudetYour story is yet another one that makes me glad I spent the money to get the new Shingrix vaccine (which wasn't covered by basic or my extended health plans here in BC).

Since you are travelling in the fall, it shouldn't be a problem to book as you go. I agree with Steve. Consider this an opportunity to try a different touring style!
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4 weeks ago
Ria HermansHave a great time during your biking trip in France! We keep following you!
Ria & Eddy
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4 weeks ago
Keith KleinHi Susan,
Welcome to France! You don't say where in the Poitou/ Charentes you are starting, but it matters little, its all beautiful. La Rochelle is one of my favorite cities, and the adjacent Ile de Re is a cyclists paradise. Of course, who could miss Poitiers? Ah, well, you will have a splendid time, and no stress: finding lodging in September shouldn't be a problem.
Bonne Route!
Keith
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4 weeks ago
Susan CarpenterTo Keith KleinHello Keith,
Thanks for the suggestions. I'm starting in Angoulême and, after reading your latest journal, think I visit Oradour-sur-Glane. My thoughts were to head back west thru Cognac and maybe Saints before turning south. I'll definitely look into a detour to La Rochelle and Ile de Re - especially if the weather looks promising!
-Susan
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4 weeks ago
Susan CarpenterTo Steve Miller/GrampiesThanks Steve! I am intent on not planning too far ahead. I've been reading/re-reading Grampies journals of your travels in France and squirreling aways places/areas I might like to explore.
And a very belated congratulations to you and Dodie on your 50th (soon to be 52nd) wedding anniversary. It looks like you two had the Parisians eating out of your hands!
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3 weeks ago
Susan CarpenterTo Jacquie GaudetThanks Jacquie - glad to hear of your decision to vaccinate. There is such a demand and consequent short supply in the States - thy were out every time I asked my doctor about it. Ironically, the day I was diagnosed I received notice that my shingles shot was now available!

Re touring without a set plan: as I told Steve, I'm intent to keep my agenda pretty open. It's hard to go too far astray while cycling in France. I've been re-reading Grampies and your recent journals for interesting places/routes I might want to explore. There is such an abundance of inspiration from fellow CycleBlazers.
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3 weeks ago
Susan CarpenterTo Ria HermansThanks Ria - Best to you and Eddie!
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3 weeks ago
Suzanne GibsonThis tour can't go wrong. We did some touring in the Poitou region several years ago. Amazing little Romanesque churches and no crowds, and beautiful countryside and small roads. We did a lot of one-day out-and-back rides since there was often so much to see in a small area.
I might be looking here for inspiration for next summer.
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3 weeks ago