Thursday, October 23, 2008

France 2008 Day 9, 10 The Mountain, Avignon

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Some of the following is based on fact, and some is not.
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DAY 9 and 10

Mont Ventoux is a mountain with its base in Bédoin. The top is 1909 meters high (6,000 feet) Bédoin is at 324 meters (1,000 feet) so from bottom to top is a climb of around 1,600 meters 5,000 feet or 1 mile.

The road from the bottom to the top is 22km about 13 miles. That means the average grade is 8%. I challenged Mobe that I could beat him to the top, under normal conditions he could crush me, but with the way I have seen him drinking wine and eating pastries over the last few days and with me in the middle of my marathon training already having some long hilly runs under my belt I was confident I had a chance. I knew he was stronger, but felt if I could get the lead early my endurance would out last his strength.

“The Rock” made us a huge breakfast of eggs and toast to fuel the ride. I was hesitant to eat a meal that “The Rock” prepared after he tried to poison me, but I needed the food/fuel for the ride.

We headed out at 10:00am I figured I needed 2 hours to get to the top.
That is what it takes me to run the same distance in a training run on a hilly course.

The ride turned out to be the worst bike ride "OF MY LIFE". Margarite took the lead in the first kilometer so I followed, G d’B and Mobe hung back. The only way I had a chance to beat Mobe was to have a huge lead, at least a kilometer at the halfway point so Margarite breaking away so early and pulling me up the mountain was perfect.

I had never ridden a bicycle on a road this steep and this long. The first 5km were not that bad 4% grade I was able to keep up with Margarite and we made good time 15-20 km/hr. At 5km the grade increased to 6% I no longer could keep up with Margarite she would take short break every few kilometers and I would catch her, but as soon as she started again she would blow by me. At 10km the grade increased to 10% I expected Mobe to pass me at any time. Ten kilometers to 16km was absolutely brutal, the absolute worst 6km of my life. At one point Margarite stopped to take a break and it was so steep she had a hard time getting started again. At 16km Mobe had not caught me and I knew I might beat him to the top. At 18km the grade had dropped to 7% but I was "OUT OF GAS". In endurance sports the term out of gas is used when your body is depleted of nutrition and possible water in this case I was out of both. I still had 5km to go. I had not consumed any nutrition or water as I was afraid if I reached for my water bottle I would fall over and there was no way I was going to stop to get water as I would not be able to start again. I had not seen Margarite for sometime it was now over 2 hours into the ride. I started praying Mobe would pass me so I could stop. As long as he was behind me I had a chance to win so I had to keep peddling, but once he would pass, it would be over since he was stronger I would never be able to keep up with him once he passed me, so I prayed for him to pass so this hell would end.

Over 2 hours of non-stop peddling the last 5km was above the tree line the wind picked up and the temputure dropped. Even though I was working so hard I was getting colder and colder the ride just hit a new level of awful. Other riders were passing fairly consistently. I feared and hoped that the next rider to pass would be Mobe. Feared because being this close and having gone through so much pain already I really wanted to beat Mobe while at the same time I hoped Mobe would pass so I could stop and end this misery.

I had less then 5km and less then 300 meters in elevation change to go. The tower at the top looked deceivingly closer then it was. With 1km to go I caught Margarite she had taken a short break, with the tree line gone I could see back a few kilometers and Mobe was no where in sight. I knew now I was certain to beat Mobe, at the same time I was done, cooked, out of gas, no more. I knew I would not make it to the top, but when would I stop or would I just fall over and die on the side of the mountain, seconds seemed like minutes, minutes seemed like hours. Margarite was back riding and passed me like I was standing still. I passed a memorial for Tom Simpson an English professional rider that had a massive heart attack and died at this very point riding up this DAMM Mountain. I pushed another 300 meters, I tried not to think that I could be the next Tom Simpson. I was ready to quit when a spectator on the side of the road yelled out, "500 meters to go." I figured pure heart should get me 500 meters. I gave one last push just as the grade increased from 7% to 9% I gave it everything I had. I made it 300 meters and dropped half falling over and half consciously stopping. I was riding at 5km per hour I figured I could walk at 4km so it was not worth the pain so I walked the last 150 meters, my time 2 hours 27 minutes. Not bad for a guy that had not been on a bike for 4 months the best part, Mobe was no where to be seen. I crushed him!

Neither I nor Margarite had any money, dumb thing but we had just not thought about it. There was a little shop at the summit but without money it did us little good. Cold, hungry, and thirsty we waited for Mobe and G d’B, hoping one of them brought money with them, the minutes ticked by as we waited in the cold. We felt they could not be more the 10 or 15 minutes behind. After waiting 30 minutes we started getting worried. Either they stopped, took a lot of rest breaks or they joined Tom Simpson. At 40 minutes Margarite and I started heading down to see if we could find them. Just a few minutes into our ride down we saw them coming up a full 45 minutes behind us. Margarite and I turned and headed back up to meet up with Mobe and G d’B and find out where the hell they have been.

Here is the Mobe story as he tells it. He claims he did the ride in
2:19 and thus beat me. He said the reason he took so long is he had to sample pastry at the 4 pastry shops on the way up the mountain. As far as I was concerned from the bottom to the top for me was 2 hours and 27 minutes for Mobe it was 4 hours 12 minutes so I won.

The best news about finding Mobe and G d’B was they had money and we could now get water and food. Mobe bought these great fresh baked cookies he bought 2 dozen and the 4 of us devoured them in minutes. We hung out at the top for another 15-20 minutes. At this point Margarite and I were getting very cold we had now been at the top of the mountain for over an hour. Our clothes were wet from sweating from the ride up and with the wind blowing it made us very cold. We really needed to head down.

The way down was hairy, the good news no peddling. In the first couple of kilometers there was a herd of sheep. I had passed them going up but at 6km per hour it was not a worry, but going down the mountain at 40km per hour if you hit a sheep, it can kill you. It was freezing! At 5km there was a ski chalet we all stopped Margarite was shivering so bad we all told her she had to have hot tea. We were concerned her hands would not be able to work her brakes if she did not warm up. She said no at first we insisted and she finally agreed. We all had hot drinks and warmed a little. Thirty minutes later we headed the rest of the way down. No pedaling just controlling your speed with your breaks. At 14km it warmed and the rest of the ride down was somewhat pleasant. So out of 44km of riding only 10km was bearable, the rest was just miserable. Thirty-eight minutes to get down 2 hours 27 minutes to get up. Once back at the villa we just hungout or should I say vegged out. Shortly after we arrived at the villa the rest of the group returned. They had gone to town for lunch. Once we were altogether the whole gang vegged out for the rest of the day.

At 7:00pm we headed into town for dinner. We found a great traditional French restaurant. The waitress spoke no English and the menus where in French only. What that meant is we had an idea of what we were ordering but not 100%. As usual the food and service were great. Bebe and Matalin ordered what they thought was a fish dish. To their surprise they had ordered clams called razor clams. The clams looked like something you would see a contestant having to eat on fear factor. They both ate them and said they enjoyed them. Either they were both very hungry or had a lot of pride. After dinner most of us were bushes so off to sleep we went.

DAY 10

When I woke, Mobe was up and getting ready to go on a bike ride, I told him I would join if it was flat. So we headed out for a 25km ride with rolling hills 500 feet elevation change nothing compared to the 5,000 foot elevation change from the day before. We did stop once at a pastry shop which had the best cream puff I have ever had, maybe the best in the world. The ride took just over an hour, 15 miles total more respectable and enjoyable then the day before.

The plan for the day was, return the bikes and then head to Avignon a town about 40 minutes south east of Bédoin. In 1309 the city was chosen by Pope Clement V as his residence from 9 March 1309 till 13 January 1377 Avignon was the seat of the Papacy instead of Rome. Avignon belonged to the Papacy until 1791, when, during the disorder of the French Revolution, it was reincorporated with France.

We arrived in Avignon at 1:00pm I was able to convince Margarite that we should head off on our own, separate from everybody else. The next day Bebe and “The Rock” would be leaving so in the next 24 hours Margarite would need to decide if she was staying in France with me or going home.

We toured the main square which was like many quaint European cities the square had a few street vendors a 2 story carousel and many sidewalk cafes. After touring the square we took an audio tour of the Papal Palace. This was very interesting tour. The period from 1309–1377 — the Avignon Papacy — was also called the Babylonian Captivity of exile, in reference to the Israelites' enslavement in biblical times.

The walls that were built by the popes in the years immediately after the acquisition of Avignon as papal territory are well preserved. As they were not particularly strong fortifications, the Popes relied instead on the immensely strong fortifications of their palace, the "Palais des Papes". This immense Gothic building, with walls 17–18 feet thick, was built 1335–1364 on a natural spur of rock, rendering it all but impregnable to attack. After being taken following the French Revolution, it was used as a barracks and prison for many years but it is now a museum.

Avignon, which at the beginning of the fourteenth century was a town of no great importance, underwent a wonderful development during the time the seven Avignon popes and two anti-popes, Clement V to Benedict XIII made their residences there. To the north and south of the rock of the Doms, partly on the site of the Bishop's Palace, which had been enlarged by John XXII, was built the Palace of the Popes, in the form of an imposing fortress made up of towers, linking one to another, and named as follows: De la Campane, de Trouillas, de la Glacière, de Saint-Jean, des Saints-Anges (Benedict XII), de la Gâche, de la Garde-Robe (Clement VI), de Saint-Laurent (Innocent VI). The Palace of the Popes belongs, by its severe architecture, to the Gothic art of the South of France. Other noble examples can be seen in the churches of St. Didier, St. Peter and St. Agricola, as well as the Clock Tower, and in the fortifications built between 1349 and 1368 for a distance of some three miles (5 km), flanked by thirty-nine towers, all of which were erected or restored by the Roman Catholic Church. The frescoes that are on the interiors of the Palace of the Popes and the churches of Avignon were created primarily by artists from Siena.

The popes were followed to Avignon by agents of the great Italian banking-houses, who settled in the city as money-changers, as intermediaries between the Apostolic Chamber and its debtors, living in the most prosperous quarters of the city, which was known as the Exchange. A crowd of traders of all kinds brought to market the products necessary to maintain the numerous court and of the visitors who flocked to it; grain and wine from Provence, from the south of France, the Roussillon and the country around Lyon. Fish was brought from places as distant as Brittany; cloths, rich stuffs and tapestries came from Bruges and Tournai. We need only glance at the account-books of the Apostolic Chamber, still kept in the Vatican archives, in order to judge the trade of which Avignon became the center.

During the Great Schism (1378-1415) the antipopes Clement VII and Benedict XIII returned to reside at Avignon. Clement VII lived in Avignon during his entire anti-pontificate, while Benedict XIII only lived there until 1403 when he was forced to flee to Aragon.

Next to the papal palace Notre Dame, the Avignon Cathedral (Cathédrale Notre-Dame des Doms d'Avignon) it is a Roman Catholic cathedral, and a national monument of France, located in Avignon, above the Palais des Papes. It is the seat of the Archbishop of Avignon.

The cathedral is a Romanesque building, mainly of the 12th century, the most prominent feature of which is the gilded statue of the Virgin Mary which surmounts the western tower. Among the many works of art in the interior, perhaps the most beautiful is the mausoleum of Pope John XXII, a masterpiece of Gothic carving of the 14th century.

From the church we toured the gardens which were more like a small park that over looked the Rhone River.

We regrouped at 5:00pm and headed back to Bédoin, on the way home we detoured and stopped at a little hotel restaurant that the owners of our villa had recommended. Mobe and Testa Rossa chose not to join us.

After dinner it was home and sleep, 12:00am a long day. Just as I was falling asleep I heard a loud shriek, at first I thought it must have something to do with “The Rock” but it was Testa Rossa. She had found a spider on her bed and was yelling for Mobe to come kill it. Fortunately Margarite was in the next room and being from Botswana she is used to bugs so she quickly caught the spider and released it into the wild.

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