I am getting pretty good at hill-climbing these days. The sight of a looming hill is demoralizing at times, but at least it's familiar. After all, it isn't like we're in the mountains… right? I have a confession: a heavy dread has been weighing on my mind. It has been lingering there since long before we embarked on this trip. Mountains. I've been envisioning vertical roads that go on endlessly—impossible ascents curling up into the sky with sheer, deadly drops on either side. I found out today, of course, that the reality was much less scary than my elaborate fears.
Thinking we had a hilly and/or mountainous day ahead of us, we made sure to pack lots of snacks. It's one thing to eat lightly and pedal 80 kilometers of relatively flat terrain, but entirely another to cycle endless hills without lots and lots of fuel. In preparation for our ride I made us monsterous ham sandwiches last night. They lay nestled in my handlebar bag, wrapped in tinfoil, next to zillions of coconut & chocolate cereal bars waiting to be eaten on the road. We used to prepare food every night but we've been lulled into laziness by the flat(ish) terrain and the relaxing French atmosphere as of late, opting instead to have leisurely impromptu picnics that don't provide quite as much sustenance.
In keeping with our plans to be well-fueled, this morning I made a large batch of eggy crepes which we wolfed down with large helpings of butter, jam, honey, and nutella. Despite our lengthy feast and 'late' rising, we still managed to leave camp by 9:00. We started the day by pushing up a comically steep hill just outside camp on our way to the highway we would ride all the way into Rodez. Butterflies flitted by at a faster pace than us! Nonetheless, we reached the top, made it to the highway, and were very relieved to find we were following a river in the flat valley between hills and mountains.
Very, very thankful to cover some ground without too much suffering, we enjoyed easy pedaling and moved along swiftly enjoying the scenery. With a solid 30 kilometers of flat, winding roads under our belt, we felt that no matter what lay ahead of us, we now had the heart to face it. After a large and satisfying lunch Tyler noted that the river we were following ended just ahead. :-(
What came next was a slow, steady climb up curvy mountain roads. To my surprise, I found a rhythm and quite peacefully pedaled up, up, and up some more. My music helped set the pace, and miraculously, I enjoyed our first proper mountain(?) (we're not sure if it actually qualifies) climb. Many of the hills we've cycled (or pushed) up have been much steeper. It was simply a matter of finding a nice gear ratio I could pedal comfortably in. I didn't mind the endless switchbacks and I was relieved that my fears of an imposing and dangerous vertical road proved to be unfounded.
When we reached the top I felt an overwhelming sense of accomplishment. With satisfaction we both took a break to admire the view. That small road way down there was the one we came in on! I'm not sure what the road/mountain situation will be like in our future, but if it is anything like today I know that I can handle it.
Carrying on we rode a nice stretch of flat, high ground that took us all the way to Rodez. When we arrived, cheering at another successful day, we turned in all of our hard work by coasting down, down, down in to town. There was one minor hill just before the campsite, however, that nearly did us in. The sun beat down on us mercilessly as we pushed our way in, sweat gushing out of every pore. The smallest patch of shade was nowhere to be found. At the top, thankfully, we found our campsite! Of course, reception wasn't open during the hours it was supposed to be (judging by the sign they had put up themselves) so we found a nice shady spot and called it a day at 3:30 in the afternoon. Not a bad work day! We've just eaten leftover hamburgers and now we're off in search of freezing cold showers.