Today was our last day in the mountains for the next few weeks. I expected we'd have an easy ride with a short pass to climb somewhere in the middle of the day and then we'd be home-free. Boy was I wrong! Instead of easy cycling we battled fierce headwinds and a nagging, energy-sapping, upgrade for the first 30km. It really felt like we were fighting for every meter we covered.
In spite of our inability to maintain anything resembling speed we were in great spirits as we rode because the weather was so invigorating. It was actually chilly! For only the second time in weeks, we had good cloud cover; we were even wearing our jackets to stay warm! As we spun our legs into the wind, barely breaking 10kph for most of the morning, we were wildly outpacing the cars to our left who were stuck in a traffic jam heading in the opposite direction.
Riding along we observed hundreds of French "sheep" flocking to the Riviera for their crowded, overpriced holiday. We laughed and smiled merrily at them stuck in their endless gridlocked chain of woe. Almost everyone we passed grinned broadly in our direction, and many even gave us a big thumbs up. Others looked at us longingly and still more were too busy looking like caged animals to notice us as we cheerily cycled into the wind a few feet beside them. Several people called out asking if the road ahead continued like this, wanting to know if there was an accident or something going on. Maybe they felt if they knew what the problem was it would make things go faster, or be more bearable. We had noticed no accident, just too many cars trying to funnel through small towns on their way to the coast. Tara delivered the bad news to them as gently as she could while we slowly cycled by.
The headwinds finally let up as we approached the French Alps. Unlike the mountains we climbed a few days ago, these were much more lush and green, and well, Alpine. As we slowly pedaled, the weather turned progressively colder, and soon we could see our breath! During one rest break, Tara pulled out her baselayers for the first time in what felt like years, and bundled up for the rest of the short climb and the presumably fast, chilly downhill. While Tara changed, I observed motorists as they passed and was horrified by the cars driving at break-neck speeds around blind turns on this mountain road. Were they really in such a hurry? I felt like an old man when I told Tara that when we got home I was done "driving like an idiot" forever, imagining a cycle tourist around every corner.
We cycled easily up the 10km pass, climbing steadily for an hour past pine trees and little streams to arrive at Col de Cabre (1200m). Waiting for us at the top was a warm, welcoming beacon of a restaurant, serving coffee and food for its chilly mountain travelers. Tara ordered a cappuccino to wrap her fingers around and we sat outside talking excitedly about the changing scenery, the massive downhill ahead of us, and how glad we were that we'd left the Riviera behind. We're both really, really looking forward to Switzerland these days!
Leaving Col (the highest point of a road) de Cabre (a type of mountain goat) behind us we began our descent out of the mountains into the heart of France. We thoroughly enjoyed the long, tame downhill filled with spectacular forested views in every direction. Coasting along, we passed little Alpine villages and came eventually to a touristy area where kids could rock climb under professional supervision while their parents went hiking or rafting.
After more wonderful downhill coasting, we decided to call it a day and quit "while we were ahead" instead of biking all the way to the town of "Die." We had no trouble finding a campsite, passing sign after sign advertising each one's number of stars and special amenities. Eventually we settled on a clean, simple municipal campsite that offered free pool access and washer and dryer usage along with the normal amenities for only 8 euros for the night. Though we took advantage of neither option, we both felt it was well worth the small price we paid.
As we were unpacking we exhanged smiles with our neighbors, a friendly Dutch couple in their early sixties. Before long, they came over to visit with a couple of other curious neighbors, and soon we were all laughing and chatting about our trip. After some time they ceased their (welcome) barrage of questions so we could finish unpacking and make dinner. When we were wrapping up our meal, Jone (pronounced "honey") returned again, this time asking us if we would like some coffee. We enthusiastically agreed and pulled our walkstools up to their folding table. As the sun was setting, we stirred sugar and milk into our mugs of coffee and peppered them with our own questions about their lives and vacation in France. We tried our hands at learning some basic Dutch words and then it was time to head back. Thank you Jone and Dries!