Friday, September 22, 2017

Newton, Kansas

Other than a brief outburst of enraged sculpture along the roadside from a venomous welder in the small town of Mullinville, there hasn't been much variety to the scenery through the Plains of western Kansas.  Corn struggling to make it and soybeans and grasslands have dominated the scenery.  The soybeans respond with more vigor than the corn to the not so fertile soil. A competition is on to get a yield of one hundred bushels of beans to an acre.  The few towns look almost as withered as the corn.  Trees are a rare sight.  With little to block the ferocious winds whipping up from the south gusting between twenty and thirty miles per hour, I have been buffetted all over the road.  The temperature has been in the 90s for several days, ten degrees above normal.  What had been most pleasurable cycling for ten days has become an ordeal.  The lone salvation has been the wide shoulders, nearly an extra lane wide, giving me enough leeway not to be blown out into traffic.  

I chose not to abandon the four-lane divided highway heading into Wichita for a parallel road with less traffic, as it did not have a shoulder providing me with a life-saving cushion.  A librarian in Kingman, forty-four miles from Wichita, warned me about heavy traffic heading into the city, strongly advising me to leave the main highway in Goddard, nine miles before Wichita, but she had a much different sense of traffic than someone from Chicago.  She was 65, but had never been in a city larger than Kansas City, and had barely left the state in all her years.  When she retires next year her dream is to see an ocean.  Her choice is the Atlantic, as driving across the Rockies scares her.  

The ovenish heat and the fierce winds forced me to take shelter every four or five miles on my run-in to Wichita whenever I came to the shade provided by an overpass.  There wasn't a town or service station for twenty-eight miles.  This was a more demanding stretch than the sixth-nine miles between towns in eastern Colorado.  It was more sapping than the high nineties of Madagascar, as there was no wind to contend with there.  At least I wasn't dripping sweat here.  The water in my water bottles was nearly scalding and even though I had flavored it with Tang, it was hard to force myself to drink.

All that kept me going was the prospect of a service station with a soft-drink and ice dispenser. Even better than a service station is a MacDonald's with its offer of help-yourself unlimited soda for one dollar.  It's array of drinks also includes Powerade.  I couldn't have been happier when I saw some Golden Arches ahead.  I tried to sip and not guzzle first one and then another giant ice-filled cup of the 
Powerade with a splash of Sprite.  I absorbed it like s sponge.  It was just a relief to be in air conditioning after roasting for four hours in the heat.  I was lured to the large city of Wichita for its Carnegie.  There had been two, but the other on the campus of Wichita State had been torn down a while ago.  

I reached the sprawl of Wichita an hour before dark.  I could have camped in a huge cemetery on the outskirts of the city, but I was concerned about how much liquid I would need to drink so opted for a cheap Indian-run motel near the airport.  There were several to choose from.  Even more important than WIFI was that it have an ice machine.  I drank and drank, so much so that I didn't eat enough, waking up at three a.m. starved.  I had hoped to watch the Ken Burns documentary on Vietnam, but my selection of channels did not include PBS.  I was unable to report in to Janina, as she was experiencing a similar heat-wave in Chicago, with a record high for the day, and had her industrial strength fan cranked up so she was unable to hear the ring of her phone or the ping of FaceTime on her computer. I had to wait until the morning to talk.

I would have liked to have gotten an early start in the predawn cool, but I was so exhausted from battling the wind the previous two days that I slept until 7:30.  At least I would be heading north from Wichita for fifty miles, so my lone adversary for the day would be the heat.  I had a pleasant seven mile ride through "suburbia" to downtown Wichita and its former Carnegie, now housing a bank, across from the new library.  It retained its stunning majesty.  The new library was just a building, hardly worth a glance. 

I left town on Broadway, taking it twenty-five miles north following railroad tracks and Interstate 35, passing a $25 a night motel, to Newton and another most regal Carnegie. 

It had been a historical museum since 1973, after serving as the town library for seventy years with just one expansion in 1923.  It had an exhibit on the Chissolm Trail, which I had been following since Wichita.  It was the route Texans had used to drive cattle up to Abilene, one hundred miles north, to a rail terminus.  It had been established after the Civil War when the state of Missouri put a halt to Texans bringing their cattle through the state to reach the eastern markets.  

Now that I have reached the more populous eastern half of Kansas my days will be filled with multiple Carnegies.  My nostrils will be spared the stench of feed lots and the piles of manure dumped by fields.  I had to be wary where I camped, lest the wind shift in the night and I be assaulted by unwelcome aromas.  I have so far been spared goatheads, those prickly burrs that can adhere to tires and turn them into a sieve.  They have bedeviled me in Nebraska in previous rides back to Chicago.  My tires did pick up a handful when I wheeled my bike onto the property of what I thought was an abandoned house, but I was able to brush them off before they penetrated.

Not only did the Newton Quickstop service station have 79 cent 32 ounce drinks, but it offered the first bargain hot dogs in nearly one thousand miles.  I am always hoping for 99 cent dogs when I walk into a service station.  The Quickstop deal was three for three dollars, an offer I didn't have to think twice about.  The 99 cent hot dog may be a thing of the past, but this was close enough.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Montezuma, Kansas

I added nearly one hundred miles to my ride across Colorado bringing it to over five hundred, dipping down to Trinidad, almost on the border with New Mexico, to visit the only Carnegie of the thirty-five in the state that I had yet to get to. It took me over the 9,941 foot Cucharas Pass on a road known as the Highway of Legends, that I had nearly to myself.  It also provided me with my quietest and most pristine campsite in a lush pine forest on a thick bed of pine needles.

Trinidad sits at the foot of the Western Range due south of Denver, Colorado Springs and Pueblo, all genuine metropolises.  It sprawls for nearly five miles along Interstate 25 that connects it with its northern big brothers, but it is more small town than large despite the string of fast food franchises that  cluster along the interstate just a couple of blocks from its Main Street.  It's Carnegie, a block off Main Street, built in 1904, has only had a modest Adobe addition to its rear providing a handicapped entrance and a little extra seating and book capacity.  It nicely blends in with the stone of its original construction.  It stands across from the city hall, the other stately building in town.

I could only peer in at its high ceilings and magnificent wooden shelves, as I arrived in town after closing time, less than an hour before dark.  I was concerned about finding a place to camp, so when I saw a rundown motel with folk out front barbecuing and children playing, I was enticed to give it a try, but it was all booked up, seemingly by full-time residents.  I didn't mind at all heading out of town into the wide open flats.  Before I had left the sprawl I came upon a closed-down restaurant that I could camp behind.  It was a harbinger of things to come as I headed out into the lightly settled high country prceding the Plains.  I passed abandoned homesteads every ten or fifteen miles.

They provided places to camp in the days to come.

Not everyone though had abandoned their homes and gone away.

From Trinidad it was 69 miles until the next town of Kim on a road that I was riding for the first time.   I supplemented my four water bottles with a half gallon of an orange drink reputed to have Vitamin C from a Dollar Store, the only place for food in many small towns in rural America.  The person at the cash register is programmed to ask, "Did you find everything your were looking for?"  For once I was able to say "No," as I hadn't been able to find the ramen.  The clerk said the local fire department had been in the day before and bought a bunch, but he was able to find me one last five-pack.  That meant I would have enough food for the long stretch ahead of me, which was followed by another 51 miles before another town.  It was lucky I had the reserves, because when I arrived at Kim shortly before dark its grocery store had closed.  

I was happy to make it before dark, even though I would have had enough water to make it through the night. Though the sun shone bright all day, it wasn't excessively hot.  It was a challenge to find shade other than what my bike provided.  I came upon only one string of trees along a creek bed and then at a closed down art gallery at the only intersection in the 69 miles.  The quiet of this wide open empty space was only broken every ten or fifteen minutes by a rare passing vehicle.  I had hoped to have a gradual descent from the 6,000 feet elevation of Trinidad, but I only lost four hundred feet to Kim while the road had undulations of two to three hundred feet.  The air had been still until mid-afternoon when a strong head wind kicked up reducing me to eight miles per hour.  I was at least relieved that my water was holding out, if it kept me from reaching Kim before dark.  I made it by half an hour.  

When I arrived at the speck of Kim, which wasn't much larger than its name, I stopped at the only business that was open, a garage with a mechanic out front working on a flat tire.  I filled my water bottles and asked if it was okay to camp in the town park.  The mechanic said he had a campground back a block.  It wasn't marked.  Two large RVs were parked there, local residents.  It included a small cell block with two bathrooms and a shower.  He told me that if I needed food a rodeo was being held a half mile up the road.  That would have been an irresistible strand of Americana, but I was too exhausted to leave my tent, especially in the dark.

After going 69 miles without services, 51 didn't seem so far.  It took me to the significant town of Springfield, complete with a library in the town's municipal center.  I had dropped to under 4,000 feet as I closed in on Kansas and came upon some straggly cornfields.  Those with irrigation were much more healthy than those without.  It wasn't until I crossed into Kansas that the corn and soybean fields became more prominent than the wild grasses.  For over fifty miles through Colorado I passed through the Comanche National Grasslands, almost taking me back to pre-Columbian times.

It was only fitting that my first campsite in Kansas was tucked into a cornfield.

I went down a dirt track a tenth of a mile from the road before I found a nook to nestle in to as dark settled in further secluding me.  Not long after the sun peeked over the horizon the next morning a truck drove past as I was eating breakfast.  Surprisingly it didn't stop, nor did it summon a police officer as has happened to me on other occasions by someone perturbed by an intruder.  Such a thing wouldn't happen in Europe where people are accustomed to touring cyclists.  In the US someone, especially someone older, traveling by bike is suspect--homeless or illegal immigrant or ne'er do well of some sort, maybe even a terrorist or so people fear in these times.

I had camped fifteen miles out of Montezuma. I stopped at its town park to wash and replenish my water.  A retired farmer who had moved to town serven years before stopped for a chat.  I asked if there was a cafe in town where I could get a stack of hotcakes.  He said if I continued down the road and turned just past the high school there was a cafe a couple blocks further.  "Is that Main Street," I asked. 

"I don't know the name of the street," he replied.  "It's some Indian name.  I can't keep them straight."

There was also a library a block further, but not a Carnegie.  Kansas has 66 of them, but onky ten in the western half of the state.  I'll have to go over one hundred and fifty miles further to Wichita to the first one I haven't already visited.  Then I'll have a cluster, including the final one that Carnegie funded in 1921.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Alamosa, Colorado

For the third time in the past ten years my route back to Chicago across Colorado from Telluruide took me over Wolf Creek Pass, one of the Rockies' most notorious climbs. Knowing what awaited me didn't make it any easier.  The second time may have been easier than the first, since I knew that despite its reputation, it wouldn't be any more demanding than many another storied climb I've managed in the Rockies and Alps and Pyrenees and Andies and Himalayas and elsewhere, but taking it on for a third time I well knew that a formidable task awaited me as I approached this ten-mile ascent over the Contiental Divide.

It came on the fourth day of my ride back.  I wasn't sure if my legs were gaining strength or if they were on the wane from all the climbing I had done in the two hundred miles preceding the Pass.  My cycling muscles had somewhat atrophied during my month of tending to the shipping office of the Telluride Film Festival for the twentieth-sixth time.  Though I had been physically active lifting heavy boxes and making deliveries on my bike, my mileage had been minimal, especially compared to last year when Janina and I had an eight-mile commute from our accommodations in Mountain Village to the shipping office.  It was nice to be housed in town this year, less than a mile from work, but our bicycling suffered.

It never takes long for me to regain my fitness on a tour.  I knew that Wolf Creek Pass would be a test, regardless of my conditioning.  I began the gradual ascent to the 10,550 foot summit from Pagosa Springs, twenty-two miles away, two hours before dark. My goal was to find a place to camp within ten miles of the summit.  The first fourteen miles were through a valley of cattle ranches before the grade rocketed to six per cent for the final eight miles.  When I reached that ten-mile point, barbed wire fence still lined both sides of the road.  

There were no cattle to be seen, just inviting pasture land with clusters of trees.  If I couldn't find a gate, I'd happily pass my gear, then bike, over the fence, as I've done on occasion, but there was no gap in the traffic long enough to accomplish the deed without being seen.  Instead, I burrowed into a clump of bushes and trees below the road alongside the fence.  I'd have to turn off my headlamp whenever a vehicle passed, but it was still an amply secluded campsite, and one that felt secure from prowling bears.  My first night, forty miles before Durango, I had slipped a loop off a barb wired gate into a forest.  And the night before I had passed into a forest through a gap in a fence.

My present campsite may have been on the makeshift side, but the surrounding scenery of mountainsides covered with aspens and pines framing a tight valley had all the splendor of an idyllic alpine setting.  And so it had been all the way from Telluride, soul-embracing scenery that would entrance any landscape artist. I had to remind myself not to take it for granted after weeks in the national park beauty of Telluride, knowing full well that it would soon all be a dream when I descended to the bland sameness of  The Plains.  I knew the transition from the spectacular would commence after my descent from Wolf Creek into more arid, though still mountainous terrain.

The temperature was in the 40s when I began riding the next morning, but I was quickly shedding layers after a couple of miles when the road ramped up.  At four miles per hour, a mile gained every fifteen minutes, I had two hands of hard effort ahead of me.  I took a break every half hour when a guard rail presented itself to lean my bike against, providing me a back rest against a pannier while I caught my breath and ate and read a bit.

Two cyclists on unladen bikes flew down the road, the first I had seen since climbing Lizard Head Pass just past Telluride.  I rode a few minutes with a guy who grew up in Wilmette, one suburb over from where I grew up.  He had been living in Telluride for twenty years with the enviable job of looking after the 128-acre ranch of Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshalll, big-time Hollywood producers and benefactors of the film festival.  They had two films in the festival last year, including Clint Eastowood's "Sully," but missed this year's festival as they were on a film shoot.

As I continued up Wolf Creek Pass, I was accompanied by the cycling podcast of my friend Randy Warren.  I had fallen behind on my news of the cycling world at Telluride other than keeping up with Chris Froome's conquest of the Vielta, finally winning it after finishing second three times, becoming the first person to win The Tour de France and the Spanish three-week Tour in the same year since the Vuelta switched from a spring to a fall event. I had saved Randy's last four weekly podcasts to help me over this climb.  

Among the news I learned from Randy was that Taylor Phinney had been kicked out of the Tour of Britain for ignoring a flashing railway crossing and that Ben King had confessed to an eating disorder as a teen using extreme measures to shed weight and the shocking news of Andrew Talansky announcing his retirement during the Vuelta at the age of 28. Talansky had finished tenth in The Tour a few years ago and had been one of the two great American hopes along with Teejay Van Garderen ever since.  He didn't start The Tour last year under mysterious circumstances.  Evidently he had grown weary of the extreme demands the sport.  One has to be continually asking, "Is it really worth all the effort."

Two of Randy's podcasts included interviews with young Ameican riders getting a taste of the highest levels of the sport commenting on the suffering they had to endure.  Sepp Kuss learned that the key to success to racing in Europe was being able to "out-suffer the next guy." Chloe Dicker said that her coach Andy Sparks had taught her how to suffer "in ways I never thought possible."  I was happy that when on tour I can pretty much ride at my own pace and not have to push myself so hard that the riding becomes suffering, though Janina might not entirely agree after our experience of riding in France this past summer.

It was a fast descent to South Fork and a different ecosystem than what I'd been in the past month.  I would remain at 8,000 feet across an eighty-mile valley of sagebrush whose main product was potatoes.  Monte Vista, a town with a classic Carnegie Library, held its annual Potato Festival the weekend before. 

There were rugged 14ers to the left and right.  After fifty miles I came to Alamosa, the first town since Durango large enough to have a Walmart.  I had no need of it as I was overnighting with my friend Joel, who I have worked with in the shipping department at Telluride for years.  He's a retired physician who has lived in Alamosa since 1981, the year before a group of radical nuns brought 200 Guatemalan refuges to the town, who remain a strong presence and participate in a large communal garden that Joel helps out at, even though he has an ample garden of his own that was producing a bountiful crop of tomatoes.

Joel has led a politically active life since his days in the SDS when he was at Penn State in the '60s.  His conversation is as welcome as his assistance opening boxes and stuffing the 1,500 goodie bags for filmmakers, patrons and staff that is part of our job. Like the majority of people who are drawn to Telluride for its preeminent film festival Joel has led a fascinating life--attending Woodstock, traveling four-months across Africa, skiing, foraging mushrooms, working in emergency rooms and on and on.  Every year we learn something new of his past that we are shocked he hadn't told us before.  This year was that he passed a joint to Allen Ginsburg on May Day 1970 at Yale.  When Dick Gregory died he told us he autographed his draft card, which he later burned.  It was no surprise that Joel wasn't interested in the several American flags I had gathered along the road, but he did accept the two bungee cords I had already picked up.  He could always use reinforcements on the high deer fence he has around his back yard, which abuts the Rio Grande River.  Deer come wandering by 365 days a year.

The film festival is so hectic neither of us had been able to read the program and the accompanying 110-page magazine with articles on all the films until after the festival. No matter how many films one sees, there are always a handful we regret missing.  Joel didn't realize the Student Prints included a short on mushrooms that he would have certainly seen if he'd known about it.  I most regretted missing Paul Schraeder's film, "First Reformed," starring Ethan Hawke as a small-town preacher suffering a moral crisis.  Janina and I at least attended a conversation between the two of them in the intimate County Courthouse. We'll have a chance to see their film, but being in their relaxed presence was a rare opportunity.  Schraeder knows the milieu of religion having grown up in a strict Calvinist household.  He didn't see a movie until he went to college.  He wrote a book on transcendentalism in cinema shortly after he graduated.  Hawke said he read the book twenty years ago on the recommendation of his frequent collaborator Richard Linklater.  He and Linklater at one time had considered doing a film on St. Francis of Assisi. Their hour of conversation flew by as they shared one insight after another into what made them the artists they are.  

Greta Gerwig and Rebecca Miller had an equally fascinating conversation that was the equal of any movie we could have been seeing.   They were two of the nine women who had directed a film playing at the festival.  Gerwig's was her first feature behind the camera, "Lady Bird."  She said she had been inspired to direct after being directed by Miller.  She traced her fascination with cinema as an art form to "Beau Travail," one of Barry Jenkins' favorite films too.  Gerwig was as fresh and unabashed as many of the characters she has portrayed in her still young career.  Miller was at the festival with a most personal documentary on her father Arthur Miller, which was the first film we saw after the Opening Night Feed on the town's closed off Main Street, a fine start to the festival.  

We also managed to squeeze into the town park for the most mobbed panel discussion in the festival's history with Angelina Jolie, Billie Jean King, Natalie Portman and Alice Waters,  Telluride has always attracted great luminaries of cinema.  Tom Luddy, one of the festival founders and current co-director, has had an exceptional knack for bringing together extraordinary artists even before he inaugurated this festival 44 years ago.  Alice Waters devotes a chapter to her recently published memoirs to the time she lived with Luddy when they were in their 20s and she decided to leave teaching and open a restaurant.  She writes of a dinner in their home with Kurosawa and Spielberg and Lucas and of another with Godard.  

Luddy has transported this concept to his festival.  The artists who attend are thrilled to have the opportunity to meet people they admire and respect and are happy to return year after year, just like us attendees.  Werner Herzog and Ken Burns and Errol Morris and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and Alexander Payne are regulars whether or not they have something to present.  They are all relaxed and fully approachable.  Janina and I were treated to a private performance by Payne speaking In a thick Greek accent after Janina told him he could make the ultimate film on a Greek restaurant, considering his Greek heritage.  Payne responded, lapsing into a Greek character,  saying his relatives in Greece regarded "Nebraska" as a film on the Greek family.

Two of my other festival highlights came with two of the guest director's six selections.  This year's guest director was documentarian Joshua Oppenheimer, one of three attendees who have won MacArthur Fellowships along with Errol Morris and Peter Sellars.  He gave an impassioned introduction to each of his choices.  He was joined by Rosalie Varda, daughter of Agnes, for his introduction to "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg."  Varda was in attendance as producer of the documentary "Faces Places" by her mother and the artist JR, a film I was delighted to see again after having seen it at Cannes.  Rosalie appears in the Cherbourg film, that won the Palme d'Or in 1964, as a six-year old.  She spoke for nearly twenty minutes about the film directed by her father Jacques Demy.  Janina and I couldn't stop shaking our heads over her extraordinary commentary, especially after spending a couple of days in Cherbourg this past summer.

I was equally mesmerized by the post-film commentary by Werner Herzog after Oppenheimer's screening of "Even Dwarfs Started Small," Herzog's second film from 1970.  Herzog said he hadn't seen it in 30 or 40 years.  In his brief introduction he said he hoped everyone in the audience had had a shot of brandy before coming to the theater.  Oppenheimer said he watches the film three or four times a year and called it the best film of all time.  The film finished at midnight in the Opera House.  Herzog kept everyone in their seats for another half hour commenting on it.  He admitted it was painful to watch as the film reflected the nightmare of his life at the time.

Janina will have much more to say on all this and the many films we saw in her soon to be published Telluride Journal at her website, including commentary on a superlative documentary by Wei Wei on refugees and a tribute to cinematographer Ed Lachman and his latest film colloboration with Todd Haynes, "Wonderstruck." It was one of just two films that played in Competition at Cannes this year.  The other was the Russian film "Loveless," which included all the profanity that would be deleted for it to play in Russia. This was Janina's fifth Telluride and possibly the best.  She was able to stay four days after the festival ended for the first time, since the course she is teaching this fall meets on Monday evenings. That enabled her to see an extra five films in the After the Festival Festival for locals and staff. 

A.O. Scott had a lengthy, gushing review of the festival in The New York Times.  He loves the festival so much he brings his family each year, including a son who is a collegiate film major.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Some Bonus Carnegie Libraries Thanks to the Queen Mary

My sacrifice of the second half of The Tour de France to join Janina on the Queen Mary for our return to America afforded me the great bonus of including three Carnegie libraries in my three months of travel this summer. The first was near our embarkation point in Southampton and the other two shortly after our arrival in Brooklyn.

I had already met the one in Portsmouth three years ago when I was headed to Yorkshire for the start of The Tour, but I was happy to remew my acquaintance.  I passed by it the morning after Janina and I took a late afternoon ferry from Cherbourg across the Channel and ended up spending a night  in a bedroom above a pub.  I didn't have to go out of my way for the Carnegie, as it was on my route out of the city for my twenty-mile ride to Southampton. 

I have visited enough Carnegies over the years, close to five hundred, that each seems like a familiar friend, whether it is a first-time visit or a repeat.  The repeats all bring back a wave of memories from the previous visit.  They begin surging even before I have sited it, as I begin to sense its presence.  A second visit can be more satisfying than the first.  It was too early to have a peek inside the Portsmouth Carnegie, so early in fact that a homeless woman was just beginning to stir from her burrow in the bushes in front of the library, but I didn't care to linger long anyway as I didn't wish to keep Janina waiting in Southampton, which she was zipping to via train. 

I had to share the road between these two large ports with a fair amount of traffic, but that hardly diminished me from savoring what would be my last bicycle ride for a week, the longest spell I have had to endure in more than a decade, since a broken collarbone as a messenger sidelined me. Rather than having Janina stuck at the train station awaiting my arrival, we opted for a park just a couple blocks from where the towering Queen Mary was docked.  When Janina wasn't at the park I swung by the ship to give my home for the next week a closer look.

A steady stream of people, both passengers and crew, were already boarding.  I confirmed I could roll my fully loaded bike across the same canopied plank that all the passengers were crossing and then returned to the park.  Janina was just arriving, looking almost gleeful as she pulled her suitcase and could see our ship in the distance.  It had been too chilly to sit in the park and await me, so she had gone to a nearby teahouse.  

We had a designated boarding time of 3:30 and it was just noon, so we retreated to the teahouse to pass some more time.  I would have been happy to sit in the waiting area and watch the parade of people we would be at sea with for the next week, but Janina preferred the tranquility of the teahouse.  After an hour I suggested we return to the boarding area and hope for a lull in the arrivals that we might be able to fill.  As it turned out, the boarding times weren't being adhered to, so we could walk right on after registering at a desk with a row of a dozen clerks.  We were given our credentials and key card.  Next we had to have our luggage x-rayed, so I had to strip my bike of all its gear.  The canister of fuel for my stove passed right on through, as did my bag of tools, which included Janina's hefty knife.

I was the only one with a bike, but no one batted an eye.  We arrived in the main foyer, the equivalent of a luxury hotel, then took an elevator one floor down to our cabin.  It was the first time in Janina's six crossings that she had a private deck and a view of the sea.  She couldn't have been happier, as she finds the uncluttered vistas of sea and sky "endlessly fascinating."  There was ample room to park my bike at the foot of our bed.

After settling in our first mission was to start in on the perpetual buffet of food.  There were multiple buffets.  Our favorite was the one with the dispenser of soft ice cream.  One could put it in a cone or a bowl or a paper cup, as I preferred, as it was the easiest way to consume it as I strolled the decks and corridors of the ship.  There was such a variety of food, I'd just take a spoonful of each offering so I could sample as much as possible.  It all tasted so good it was hard not to go back for seconds of each.  Though there was a pizza buffet and offerings of French fries, the food would have met the approval of nutritionists.  There were dispensers of juices, but not soft drinks.  One had to pay extra for them.

Every day I'd make new discoveries, always regretting I hadn't known about the sushi or the herring or something else until then.  It wasn't until day six, after Janina told me there were delux pancakes with real maple syrup at one of the buffets, that I discovered smoothies being offered in a nearby corner.  They are the fastest and easiest way to pack in the calories, which I desperately needed to do after nearly five thousand miles of biking the previous three months.  I lose ten pounds or more on a tour.  I could have known exactly how many, but I didn't realize there was a scale in the Fitness Center until day six.  I would have eagerly weighed myself every day to see how much weight I was gaining as I ate and ate and ate.  It took five days of gluttony before the idea of eating lost its luster and I almost began dreading facing all the food.  

I attended whatever lectures I could as a break from the eating.  A long-time Washington correspondent gave several lectures ranging from a history of Air Force One to the era of Trump.  A retired English school teacher gave lectures on Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Nat King Cole, laced with YouTube clips of their performances. A British astronomer filled us in on the upcoming eclipse, which he was going to witness in Jackson, Wyoming.  There was also live night-time entertainment and a nightly movie, all of which were unsurprisingly well entrenched in the mainstream. There was also a nightly meeting of "Friends of Dorothy" by the Churchill Cigar Bar, the only place one could smoke indoors.  The "Dorothy" was a reference to Dorothy Parker, who was known to have a gatherings of gays at her salon. Janina had learned from previous crossings to pretty much avoid all these events.   She was willing to give a poetry reading an attempt, but could only tolerate several minutes of someone over-dramatically reading his favorites.   

There were offerings of yoga and Pilates, some free and some for a fee (always referred to as "nominal"), but I resorted to the Exercyle for the first time ever to get some exercise.  I joined the parade of people walking the decks on occasion, but it felt too much like prisoners taking to the yard for a break from their cells to have much appeal to me.  I chose to sit with my back to the sea when we dined so I didn't have to watch them pacing by with their grim and determined expressions.  It was actually too cold to sit out on the deck, even with a blanket, our first five days.  

My favorite viewing point was in the library at the bow on the eighth floor of the thirteen-floored ship.  Few took advantage of it.  I was happy to discover a recently published book on the twenty great climbs of The Tour de France.  It almost made up for not being able to view the final three stages of The Race.  We had more than thirty cable stations on the television in our cabin,  but none of them gave live Tour coverage, not even the Sky sports channel, only brief reports.  With Internet costing 75 cents a minute, I wasn't about to follow the stages, even the conclusive time trial, on my iPad, as I could have.  But by the time we put to sea, the Izoard stage had been completed with Froome maintaining his lead, so there was no drama left in The Race other than who would join him on the podium.  

It would have been exciting to have watched the Saturday time trial in Marseilles with the Colombian Uran vaulting to second, the best finish for the American Cannondale team, formerly Garmin that Christian Vande Velde rode for and had their previous best finish of fourth place.  It would have also been exciting to watch the French hope  Bardet cling to the podium by just one second over Froome's Spanish teammate, Landa.  But I could still feel the dramatics when I learned them from the Sky reporter on the scene.

One of the more exciting moments of our voyage was meeting two American cyclists after we left the ship and were in line at US customs in a warehouse besides where we had docked.  They were wheeling fold-up bikes and had been funneled into the same line as us.  They had seen me board the ship and had hoped to find me, but never spotted me among the couple thousand passengers.  That was almost as much of a regret as our not being assigned to a large table for dinner.  They had all been filled, so we were relegated to a table of our own.  

Dining at a table of eight with the same people for a week had always been the highlight of Janina's previous trips.  Only once had she been stuck with anyone disagreeable enough to make her abandon her table and eat dinner at the buffets, as we ended up doing most nights.  She established such a strong friendship with one British couple, she has met up with them several times--at their homes in Kent and Ireland as well as in Chicago.  I was eager for the possibility of a similar bonding, or just the opportunity to gain the intimacy of folk I otherwise wouldn't, resuming and  pursuing dangling conversations night after night and having some extra companionship for activities during the day.

I had no problem regaining my land legs or remembering how to maintain my balance on my bike.  I gladly merged into the bustling Brooklyn traffic and headed for the nearest of the twenty-one libraries Carnegie had funded in the burrough.  I only had time for one before meeting up with Janina at Penn Station by Madison Square Garden for the final leg of our trip home on Amtrak.  The streets were much grittier than anything I had experienced in France or Germany or England the past three months, but I felt as exalted as ever to be on my bike and in pursuit of a Carnegie--the Washington-Irving Branch on Irving Avenue.

It had more character and resonance than any building in the five miles I rode to reach it.  It's quiet dignity would lure any passerby.  A couple of people were sitting on its doorstep awaiting it to open.  A sign out front designated it as a "Cooling Center" in a long list of languages, but it wasn't hot enough yet for that to explain the presence of these early arrivals.

The Manhattan Bridge was the nearest to cross over to Manhattan.  There was good signage and a more than adequate bike lane across it.  The traffic intensified, but there was more bike traffic than I had experienced in any city the past three months.  I was to meet Janina and Ralph, who happened to be passing through New York too on his way back to Telluride, at the huge Pulbic Library at eleven.  I arrived twenty minutes early.  Janina emailed to say she was hobbled and had gone directly to Penn Station, just a few blocks away.  When Ralph arrived a few minutes later, we headed over to meet her. My direct route hadn't taken me past any of Manhattan's twenty-six Carnegies, but there was one just a mile from Penn Station that I had the time to make a quick dash to after leaving Ralph with Janina.  It was on busy 23rd Street and tightly sandwiched between two bland, much younger buildings.  It's lack of breathing room diminished its grandeur, but it still had a majesty distinct from anything else in the vicinity.

It is a testament to its significance that it hasn't been razed and replaced by a building reaching to the sky.  Though I didn't have the time to sit within and soak in the ocean of goodwill and appreciation left by its legions of patrons over the past century, I could still feel it oozing out, giving me the usual Carnegie lift.

I sped back to Janina and Ralph thinking of the Carnegies that await me when I bike back to Chicago from Telluride in September.  I'm still a long way from getting to all of the more than two thousand that he built, but I am happy that I am giving it a try.  One of those that awaits me is in Trinidad, just north of New Mexico, the only one of Colorado's thirty still standing Carnegies I have yet to visit.  I have gotten to more Carnegies in other states, but with it Colorado will become the first state that I have visited all its Carnegies. That will be one state down and forth-seven more with Carnegies to go.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Interlude in Tours

My route to Cherbourg took me through Tours where I was able to salvage a visit with Florence and Rachid, a near annual event these past fourteen years.  It was an extra bonus to taking the Queen Mary home.  And my visit to Tours was enhanced with Janina joining us.  She'd been in Paris the past nine days and was undecided on whether to head to London or Cherbourg.

There had been the possibility of meeting up with Florence and Rachid in Digne a month ago, but Florence was immersed in a job she couldn't forego.  It would have been a two-day drive across the country.  She'd just begun a two-month assignment of forty-five hour weeks.  The French worker may have won the right to a thirty-five hour week years ago, but employers have ways of getting around it and Florence had fallen victim to it.  It may be inflating her pocketbook, but at what price she's not sure.

Luckily my arrival coincided with the July 14th holiday, so she wasn't tethered to her servitude.  For the first time I could enjoy this great national holiday, as in years past I've been fully immersed in The Tour and spent the day pushing the pedals.  It's always a special stage with an extra amount of fans and fervor along the road and with the route designed with flair to honor the day.  For once I could watch the stage from start to finish and without the nagging concern of how far I could cycle after it concluded.  

It was a short 63-mile stage with three significant climbs meaning it would be vigorous racing from the gun.   It didn't start until 2:30.  The four of us watched it in the comfort of Rachid and Florence's apartment.  After a Sky rider had worn Yellow the previous eleven stages, another rider began the stage in the holy garment--Aru.  Lance commented that it was the first time in years that an Italian had been in Yellow, forgetting that Nibali, Aru's former teammate, had won The Race just three years ago.  Lance has acknowledged he hasn't followed racing very closely until recently and he proves it from time to time.  

Froome was just six seconds behind after faltering in the final couple of hundred meters up a steep 20% climb the day before.  Aru didn't win the stage, that honor went to the French rider Bardet, but he finished far enough ahead of Froome to seize the lead, heightening the drama of today's stage.  Had Froome just had a bad day or wasn't he on form to win The Race?  Up till now most had been conceding The Race to him.  Would he claw back the time he had lost or lose even more?

Today's stage further undermined everyone's expectations with Froome's Spanish teammate Landa linking up with Contador to get two minutes up the road on the main contenders.  In between the two groups was Quintana, like Contador trying to get back in The Race.  The cameras were kept busy following the three groups.  By the end Quintana and Barguil in Polka Dots had joined up with the two up the road with Barguil surging to the finish to take the victory, the first French win on Bastille Day since 2005.  

Froome stuck with Aru and Bardet and Uran, who are all within 35 seconds of each other, the tightest cluster of the four top riders in Tour history this late in The Race.  So Froome showed he wasn't vulnerable today, except maybe to Landa, who moved up to fifth, just one minute and nine seconds behind Aru.  His loyalty is suspect, as he will be moving to Quintana's Moviestar team next year.  The Race was truly heating up, and the next day had another of those short steep finishes that had undone Froome the day before,  but not after a long climb.

We hadn't been out all day, so were happy to be finally freed to take a stroll into the city center two miles away.  We crossed the Cher River and continued on to the Loire, where the evening's fireworks would be launched.  Tours is a metropolis of nearly half a million people, the 18th largest in France.  It has a large cathedral dating to the 13th century that had recently been restored by a group of craftsman whose life's mission is to go around France devoted to the enterprise.  

Janina may not attend religious services, but she is always eager to partake of these majestic, old cathedrals, as she has studied medieval architecture.  She turns tour guide excitedly pointing out gothic and baroque and Romanesque features.  The tight row of columns and the high windows letting in extra light made this a cathedral unlike any she had visited, and instantly her favorite.  Among its new features along with some modern stained glass windows was a huge rock serving as the base of the altar, alluding to the Druid predecessors of these large cathedrals.  We arrived in time for Friday night mass, watching a procession proceed to the altar for a biscuit and sip of wine and a blessing. 

Almost as impressive as the cathedral was a two hundred year old sprawling Lebanese cedar nearby with large posts holding up its lower branches that extended out almost as far as the tree was high.  Looking out from behind a window was the stuffed carcass of the legendary Barnum and Bailey elephant Fritz, who had been put down in Tours in 1904 after it had gone berserk.  Just a couple blocks away along the Loire was a memorial to the American army that had defeated the Germans in battle there.  Rachid also took us by the blacksmith shop that had made Joan of Arc's sword.  He was well aware of it as he was one of six hundred artists enlisted to contribute a work of art relating to the six hundredth anniversary of her birth in 2012.

The masses were gathering for the fireworks a couple of hours before they would commence at 10:30 after sunset.  That was too late for us.   We were content with whatever glimpse we could catch from our fourth floor sanctuary a couple miles away.  We had the television on in the background hoping to see what coverage French television would give to Trump's visit with Macron this day, but none appeared.

We watched the early coverage of The Tour the next day before Janina and I resumed our travels to Cherbourg two hundred miles to the north, me by bike and she by train.  It is always hard to say goodbye to Florence and Rachid, who epitomize the ultimate in unselfed friendship.  They are as much of a reason to visit France every year as Cannes and The Tour.  They provided a most welcome respite from the pedaling, but it was a a revitalizing joy to be back out in pastoral France gliding along on the bike.  

I continued for two hours before stopping at a bar to watch the conclusion of the day's stage.  Kittel had been shed before a late Category Three climb and the contenders for the stage had been narrowed to the elite cadre of explosive riders who could climb.  It would be a dandy finish that had Sagan written all over it had he still been in The Race.  His absence allowed the honors to go to the Australian Michael Matthews, who  is one hundred points behind Kittel in the points competition.  But more importantly, Froome rediscovered his legs and Aru lost his, finishing over twenty seconds behind Froome and losing the Yellow Jersey.  Landa too must have been depleted by his effort the day before, as he finished fifteen seconds back.  

The next major showdown doesn't come until the Alps on Wednesday and Thursday, though the next day's stage on the Massif Central with two Category One climbs could shale things up as well.  Every stage has become must-see viewing, but none moreso than Thursday's first ever finish on the Col d'Izoard.  I'll be watching it either on the ferry as Janina and I are crossing The Channel or in a bar in the UK packed no doubt with Froome fanatics.  

Monday, July 10, 2017

Adieu to The Tour

Word from Cunard is that the Queen Mary will allow me to roll my bike right on board and take it to the cabin that will be my quarters with Janina for a crossing of the Atlantic and at no extra expense.  What a contrast to the airlines.  So rather than heading to the Pyrenees, I am saying adieu to The Tour and hello to a week of luxury at sea. I  am biking up to Cherbourg, which juts out into the English Channel, where I'll take a ferry over to Portsmouth, just twenty miles from Southampton where the Queen Mary will depart.

I am sorry to abandon The Tour, but Janina has for years been extolling the joy of these crossings, which she has done half a dozen times she loves them so much, that I couldn't resist the opportunity to share the experience with her.  I would have missed the next four stages of The Tour anyway as I made the long transfer from one side of the country to the other.  I'll still be able to witness the next nine stages in bars across France and savor the wondrous French countryside at a less frantic pace.  If golf is a good walk ruined, racing to keep up with The Tour can at times be a good bike ride ruined, especially when I am under the tension of every gendarme guarding an intersection stepping out and ordering me off my bike.

I'll still be deeply steeped in The Tour even though I will be heading away from it as I listen to a handful of podcasts devoted to it as I pedal along.  There are two daily podcasts analyzing each stage--one by Lance Armstrong and another by two British and a French journalist at The Tour.  The VeloNews and Cyclingnews both offer two or three podcasts a week and then there is the weekly wrap up by the Warren brothers.  None are more passionate than the Warrens.  They first attended The Tour in 1988 witnessing two stages, camping along the route, on a cycle tour from Germany, where Dean had been going to college, to Rome.  Dean has been back many times since, but Randy has only managed a subsequent visit to the Giro d'Italia.  They watch as much of The Race as they can.  Randy calls it a "huge time suck," as it infringes on his training and coaching, not that he's complaining.   They both felt a let down, as I have, with Sagan out of The Race. It is a much lesser race without him in it.  

Armstrong's podcast has been a huge hit, catapulting it into the top ten.  His greatest listenership comes from the UK, where there is a much greater interest in bicycle racing than in the US, though it helps considerably that the Brits presently have so many top racers.  If the US had a contender it would be a different story.  Even the French need a contender to attract more than the casual fan.  With Bardet in second and other French riders winning stages I don't have to worry about asking bars to put The Race on their television.  Today in Autun there were a cluster of bar patrons gathered at the television as there has been at every stage I've watched in a bar.  And this despite the French sprinter who won an earlier stage and had been in the Green Jersey out of The Race after missing the time cut Sunday.  

Lance is the only one of the podcasters to have ridden The Tour.  He is strongly sympathetic to the riders.  They have little say-so.  The prize money hasn't been increased since Lance won his first Tour nearly twenty years ago.  Their winnings are paltry compared to what tennis and golf rewards.  The Tour winner gets 500,000 Euros which he splits with his eight teammates and all the staff.  One change Lance has noted since his time is that the numbers the riders wear on their backs are now put on with adhesive, rather than pins.  That makes it a pain to wash them.  Lance also says it was handy to have a pin as rider could jab his leg with one if he had a cramp, as a French rider suffered on Stage Eight coming to the finish. 

Without Demare and Cavendish and Sagan today's sprint was a joke with Kittel winning as handily as if he were racing a bunch of juniors.  His fellow German Griepel didn't even have enough to finish in the top ten.  It makes me inclined not to bother with tomorrow's sprint finish and just save my viewing for the following two days in the Pyrennes where Aru and Bardet can test Froome, and Uran will have the chance to prove he's the Colombian to worry about and not Quintana.  After Uran's stage win on Sunday all the Colombian fans flocked around the Cannondale bus, abandoning Quintana.

While I dwell on the racing to come I'm also greatly anticipating my week at sea with nothing but water and sky to gaze out upon and all the shipboard activities.  There will be lectures and movies and games and conversation and dancing and food and food and more food, Janina tells me.  I'm always ten pounds or more down after one of these tours, so I will have a quick opportunity to regain it.  Janina always has an interesting table of dinner mates, some of whom have become great friends. We'll have a jolly time picking their brains.  It may be a little painful severing myself from The Tour, but I know it will be worth it.

It won't be the first time I've ended a tour with a "cruise."  After I biked up to Alaska from Chicago in 1981 I returned from Alaska on a cruise ship through the Inside Passage to Vancouver.  My parents knew the captain of the ship.  He happened to have an extra cabin and let me have it.  I have never endured such a severe case of culture shock.  I had been sleeping in my tent for over two months and ended my trip staying with a homesteader eating elk and moose and other wild game.  My diet was suddenly snails and frog legs and foie gras.  The biggest assault to my senses was having to breathe all the colognes in the cramped quarters of the ship after breathing clear, fresh air for weeks.  It was an unimaginable jump from living wild to living in the lap of luxury.  This won't be so extreme, but I will still have to remind myself that I am living this experience and not dreaming it.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Stage Nine

Waiting around for the stage start in Nantua rewarded me with a close-up of Marcel Kittel in the Green Jersey edging to the front alongside the lead car transporting Tour director Christian Prudhomme, who would shortly wave the racers into action after they departed this scenic lakeside town in the Jura mountains. Froome in Yellow behind the car didn't seem much concerned just yet before the toughest stage of The Tour so far that saw his teammate Geraint Thomas in second crash out and Richie Porte in fifth as well.  Thomas, sporting a Yellow helmet like all his Sky teammates, looked perfectly calm clinging to the curb just behind Kittel trying to stay out of trouble as well at the stage start.

After all the day's carnage that saw five crash out and seven eliminated by not making the time limit, including Mark Renshaw and Sagan's brother Juraj, Froome held onto Yellow, though Bardet had him on the ropes when he took the lead on the run-in to Chambery after the descent of the Mont du Chat where Porte had an ugly crash losing his bike when he veered into the grass and was hurled into the rocky cliffside.  I watched the thrilling final hour of racing in a bar in Bourg-en-Bresse thirty-five miles away from Nantua.  If the large screen at the stage start had broadcasf the stage rather than just the the pre-stage show, I would have gladly glued my eyes to it for the  five hours of racing that began with a Category Two climb less than three miles from the start and then seven more categorized climbs over its 112 miles.

Nothing was more dramatic though then the final chase to the finish as Bardet tried to hold off the heavy hitters Froome, Aru, Fuglsang, Uran and Barguil, who had been at the front all day and collected enough mountain plots to claim the Polka Dot jersey.  Not only were they trying to catch Bardet, they were also trying to put more time into Quintana and Contador, who had both been dropped.  They caught Bardet two kilometers from the finish, setting up a sprint among six non-sprinters.  Froome took the lead but couldn't hold it.  Barguil summoned the strength to take the sprint, but the photo finish revealed that Uran had actually won.  Barguil's tears of triumph were all for naught.  The Polka Dot Jersey was a worthwhile consolation, which he ought to keep for a couple of days with two flat stages coming up after the Rest Day.

Uran's win brought more happiness to the Cannondale team.  Their American GC hope Andrew Talansky, a former Top Ten finisher,  had been creeping up on the Top Ten.  He entered the stage in 17th, less than a minute from the coveted domain of the leading ten, but he had a disastrous day coming in with a large group twenty-seven minutes after Uran, dropping him to 31st and ending whatever aspirations he might have had.  Now his efforts will be relegated to helping his Colombian teammate, who jumped to fourth with his day's exhilarate triumph.

As The Race approaches the half-way point with nine stages down and twelve to go the peloton has thinned by almost ten per cent, losing seventeen of its 198 starters.  It is still a river of bodies filling the road.

I pedaled into Nantua with the caravan.  It had assembled two miles out of town.  A gendarme initially halted me, but when there was a gap I just slipped in and rode along.  They weren't giving away anything yet other than waves and smiles and a lot of blaring music.  The speakers pointing out must not effect those on the floats, otherwise they would end The Tour stone-deaf.  After I entered the barricaded portion of the route before the starting line a gendarme on a motorcyclist chased after me and ordered me back and over on a trail along the lake for the final half-mile into town.  If he hadn't I would have been trapped on the official route for a couple of miles packed with fans on both sides of the barriers.

Luckily I'd scouted out Nantua three weeks before and knew where I could get water and how to reach the tourist office by circumventing the stage route.  The plaza in front of the tourist  office was packed with vendors giving away more worthwhile goodies than from the caravan--tiny yellow bikes, smoothies made on the spot, reflective anklets, t-shirts and more.  It was overcast with the threat of rain, but all were in sunny spirits.  There had been a few drops of rain already, but not enough for me to dig out my raincoat.  I did have to rush out of my tent in the middle of the night and put up my rainfly.  It was just a few drops then too.  I would have liked to have removed the the rainfly, as it increased the temperature in the tent a few degrees, but I didn't dare.

After a transfer across the country the peloton will head south towards the Pyrenees.  I will start pedaling west awaiting word from Cunard on their bike policy to determine whether I turn south and continue with The Tour or head north and meet up with Janina for a week on the Queen Mary. My legs feel as if they've already had a three week tour what with my hard nine-day ride to reach Düsseldorf in time.  Usually that week before The Tour I'm resting my legs, not overly exerting them

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Stage Eight

In the sweltering ninety degree temperatures the most popular person in the caravan of sponsors is the person on the Vittel float spraying everyone with water.  No one turns away or goes running as they do in cooler temperatures.  It may be the last of the 170 vehicles in the parade of sponsors and not dispensing anything to take home, but no one is disappointed by what it does offer.

Young and old have their hands out as the parade goes by dispensing morsels that they scramble for as if their life's depended on it, only to discover they've made a fool of themselves for a packet of laundry detergent or a flimsy key chain.  But they delight in it as if it's a nugget of gold.

It's as thrilling as Christmas morning for the kids.

They are nearly overcome with glee.

Capturing their ecstasy is more satisfying than capturing anything the caravan has to offer.

I nearly had the opportunity to share the caravan experience with Skippy.  He passed me in a car less than an hour after I had left my campsite in a public park.  He was being chauffeured by a fellow cyclist who offered him a place to stay the night before just minutes after we'd encountered each other on the outskirts of Dole.  They were going to continue another ten kilometers and then climb aboard their bikes.  Skippy said he'd wait for me, but I came upon a supermarket that I couldn't pass up, as one never knows when one might encounter another on the small roads of The Tour route.

After the caravan passed it was less than an hour before the peloton flew by, less of a time gap than usual as it was riding furiously not allowing any breakaway just yet.  A breakaway finally did form and for the first time held off the peloton and produced the day's winner--a French rider for the second time, Lillian Calmejana of the French Direct Energie team.  He rode alone up much if the seven-mile Category One climb seven miles from the finish and then held off the chasers on the somewhat flat remaining miles.  Froome and company came in fifty seconds later, not sacrificing any bonus seconds to any of the contenders with the top three places going to guys in the break.  The French broadcast concentrated on the French rider with only glimpses of the Sky led peloton behind, so one couldn't see the effort the pursuers were having to summon.  Contador afterwards said though it was s hard day with an expenditure of energy that may be needed tomorrow.

I was able to watch it at a bar at a lakeside resort that I had to make a two-mile detour to reach.  Both the bar and the lake were packed.  The route through the Jura mountains was scattered with lakes teeming with bathers in this heat.  Tomorrow's stage starts right beside one in Nantua.  I won't be riding any more than the first few miles of the day's route that heads into the mountains with three Beynd Category climbs that will make for the most explosive days of racing so far.  I camped fifteen miles before reaching Nantua, content to arrive in time for the early caravan departure of 9:45, followed by the peloton two hours later, its first pre-noon start.  

The next day is the first of the two Rest Days.  The Race entourage will be making a long transfer across the country.  There is no easy train connection. A friend of Skippy's took a train yesterday up to Paris and then another down to Périgueux where Stage Ten starts. I'll leave The Tour for a few days and either pick it up after the Pyrennes on the Massif Central or possibly abandoned it altogether.  Janina is enticing me to return with her on the Queen Mary, but first has to find out If it will accept my bike.  If that's the case,  I'll bike up to Cherbourg and take the ferry across the Channel with Janina and then have a week of luxury across the Atlantic.

I've gained some altitude in the Juras, blunting the heat a bit.  Just as the US has state pride, the Frenchnhave pride in their Département.  There were banners and signs all along the route celebrating the Jura Départment that today's stage took place in.

Stage Seven

No Giant Screen viewing for me on this stage as it was situated on a narrow road between vineyards alongside the finishing stretch with not a sliver of shade.  I arrived at noon, more than five hours before the peloton, and though there were a few fans already lined up along the barriers, most were cowering in the minimal shade the barriers provided.  The sun was seering and not even the cold water the Vittel reps were passing out was enough to entice me to stay.

The heat was melting my brain.  I committed a semi-catastrophic faux pas heading to Dijon for the next stage start rather than Dole.  I didn't realize my mistake until I reached the tourist office in Dijon and asked where the departure point for The Tour was the next day and the woman at the desk didn't have a map or brochure at the ready and had to go to the computer to find out.  It was only a twenty-mile mistake, but since every mile is crucial, this was a huge setback.  There were some consolations though.  

Dijon is a much bigger city than Dole, and I was able to find a bike shop with just the tire I needed.  My rear tire had worn through the tread.  Usually I put on a new tire at the Grand Départ, but since I was some 500 miles short on my training this year due to my limited mileage riding with Jamina for two weeks, I wasn't in need of a new tire just yet, nor to put on a new chain, which I did at the same time.  The forty-minute mechanical was my lunch/rest stop and also allowed me to recharge my iPad, as my generator hub has slowed down on the job.  I'm only getting about half the charge I was earlier.  I don't know if it's due to the generator wearing out or the adapter or the batteries I'm charging.  

It had been twenty miles from Nuits-Saint-Georges, the stage finish, to Dijon, then thirty miles to Dole.  Nuits-Saint-Georges is a wine town.  It was lined with small wineries offering tastings.  

Many of its Tour decorations were wine oriented.

The fans along the route also joined in the spirit.  One of the top French riders is a Pinot.

It was doubly embarrassing to have confused Dijon with Dole because I passed through Dole on my way to Düsseldorf to scout out The Tour route.  It still paid off as I know where the starting point was below the city center along a river and sporting fields.  My way into the city hadn't taken me pat any course markers, so I would have been groping.  I was three miles into the neutralized zone that went on for five miles when Skippy came towards me.  It was nearly eight p.m. and he was just competing the transfer from Nuits-Saint-Georges.  My first question for him was, "Who won the stage," as I had been so undone by my diversion I hadn't bothered to stop to follow it on my iPad.  It was no surprise that Kittel had won his third spring, though this was in a photo finish, in contrast to his convincing two-bike length win the day before.  He also accumulated enough points to take the Green Jersey from Démare.  But without Sagan, it is a hollow conquest.

Skippy was heading into the city looking for a place to stay, hopefully a hostel, while I was heading out of the city knowing I had an idyllic campsite awaiting me.  He seemed to have no more worries than me, knowing he always finds a place and that it will have an interesting story.  Last night he ended up in a convent, locked into an attic room with a chamber pot as his toilet until the sisters let him out in the morning.

I had an hour of cycling ahead of me, but it only got me ten miles down the course.  Without my Dijon fiasco, I would have been at least twenty miles further.  I camped in a field just beyond Belmont, which had lined all its hedges and walls on the route with Yellow.

It had even Yellowfied it's crucifix.

When I stopped for one photo someone asked if I needed water and filled my bottle with cold fluid.  The evening  before when I had stopped outside a tourist office to take advantage of its wifi and also to prepare my dinner of ravioli and couscous a woman asked if I'd like her to heat up my meal for me.  My most exemplary act of kindness though came in Luxembourg when I had stopped in a bus shelter with seats for a snack.  As I was eating a guy who had been washing his car across the street came over and put a cup of coffee and a slice of apple bread on the seat beside me without saying a word.  At first I thought he was reserving the seat for himself, but then realized this was an offering.  It came with two packs of sugar and a stir stick.