We set off again, straight uphill this time, and yet again, I’m soon watching the tail end of our pack riding off in the distance, as I slog along behind. Which is fine – I just want to get up these damn mountains, not keep up with our freakishly fit group. It always takes me a long time to warm up anyway, or to feel like I’m not going to die on my ride, so I figure eventually the miles of cycling fitness I’ve put into my legs will kick in. Right? Maybe?
Since the group is so far ahead, Chris and his red van have been stationed at the next turn, to point me in the direction we’re supposed to go. Uphill again. Up and up and up. I think of this as a BabyAlp because it certainly has the climbing of an Alp, but it doesn’t have the Col moniker attached to it. Hence, BabyAlp. Which is still about 8 miles of climbing at a ridiculous gradient. Yes, 8 miles. You hit a corner and turn, then chug along….then hit another corner, and look, more uphill! Corner, turn, more uphill! Repeat. Many times. And I’m learning the cardinal rule of Alpine climbing, though it’s one I continually forget:
Yep, that’s pretty much the one key thing that gets people up these hills, and that’s the fact that you literally can NOT stop, because if you do, you’ll never be able to clip in and get going again. Even the guys in the Tour get a push from the rabid fans lining the streets. Us, we have no such benefit, and I don’t think the local farmers or townspeople would appreciate it too much if I asked them for a push. And as another writer once said about himself, I'm carrying a lot of ham up these hills.
This means that I can’t even stop for a drink of water – and given my newfound paranoia after the crash, I’m not about to reach down and get a drink – so by the time I reach Chris (again), parked at the top of this endless climb, I’m parched.
Chris: How are you gettin’ on there, okay?
Me: Yeah, I’m fine. That was tough.
Chris: The others have gone on ahead, so Ade was thinking you could skip this one other climb, but do the rest of the route, and then we’ll all meet up in Corchevel. That way you can take your time, take pictures, stop for coffee, and so on.
Me: That sounds like a plan. Umm, is it mostly uphill? I prefer going uphill.
Those who know me know that this is the ultimate irony – that I’d be anxiously asking if there are a lot of uphills rather than downhills. Because yes, suddenly I have a bad case of PCDD, or Post Crash Descending Disorder. I’m scared shitless about descending. The very thought terrifies me. Yes, me, the fearless one who bombs down any hill, no matter how long or steep, who tries to pick up as much speed as possible. But here, well, what if there’s a sudden hairpin turn – pretty common around here – and I can’t stop? It’s not like I’ll go into a cornfield, oh no. I’m heading straight down a cliff, thank you very much.
Chris: Yeah, it’s mostly uphill. A few descents, nothing crazy.
Me: Okay, whew. So that climb I just did, what grade do you think that was?
Chris: Hmm, I’d guess about 11%.
He thinks for a moment.
Chris: Nah, we’ve definitely had worse.
Me: Was that at least the earliest that anyone crashed?
Chris: Oh, we’ve definitely had a few crashes.
Me: But that was probably the earliest on, right?
Chris: Well, yes, probably.
Score! At least I’m excelling at something, even if it’s in being a roving disaster.
Chris heads off, as he’s going to wait in the next town for me to show me where to go, even though I assure him I can read maps and he doesn’t have to do that. But the others will be looping back that way as well, so at least I’m not being too much of a pain. Too much. And at least now the pressure is off – self-imposed pressure, in that I hate the thought of being a drag on anyone else’s ride, where they have to wait for me, or make allowances, or whatever. Now I can do my own thing, so that helps.
As he heads off, I continue on, and soon realize that the typical local person’s idea of “nothing crazy” as far as descents are concerned and my idea are quite different. Granted, there’s nothing as bad as the road down from the chalet, but there are definitely some sharp turns that overlook the cliffs. So I’m pretty much back to braking anytime there’s a descent. This means I’m constantly veering between sheer joy and happiness as I’m going through the most amazingly quaint French villages, with gorgeous flowers and gardens everywhere against the background of the Alps……..and crying tears of bitterness and rage, wondering how I got to this spot where I hate myself so much. Where no matter how hard I try I can’t get back to where I was, or not even close to it. Where hundreds of miles of cycling and months of dieting has had no discernable effect. I want to tell the rest of the group, hey, I USED to be in great shape, really! Once I would have done this kind of training and been flying up these hills like the rest of you. Now? Here I am, soldiering on by myself. Again, which I don’t mind, but the whole thing is still a bitter pill to swallow.
For the most part though, I’m happy just toodling along, climbing hills, gingerly making my way down descents. And I realize that my legs are fine as far as climbing is concerned – I’m just slow. So I know the training did pay off, because there’s no way I’d be able to make it up any of these hills otherwise. And especially when I look over to where I just climbed – and even I have to be impressed. Yep, I’m a rock$tar. Or something like that.
I do in fact stop to take lots of pictures, those you see here in fact, and meet up with Chris two more times, once in the town of Bozel, where everyone is walking around with a fresh baguette. It’s almost like a Monty Python skit. Then a ride through a forest, and a final turn at a roundabout, where I shout out anxiously to Chris “Uphill, right? Good!”
I end with a long climb up Courchevel, not only an actual Alp but an actual Tour de France climb (whee!), but I don’t put it in my so-far-non-existent Alp count since we only go up halfway, and then meet up at a town there to head back to the chalet. That night, I take stock of my many bruises – my whole left leg is one big scraped up bruise – and lament my overall suckiness to Stacey, and the fact that Ade and Shelley are probably surely regretting having my Alpinian disaster self along on this trip. Even though Stacey has been fine so far and spent her summer training, as I did, she still thinks she should have trained differently, and asks if I feel the same.
And I have to say – no. I can honestly say I did what I could, trained as much as possible, put everything I had into this endeavor. The fact that it’ll only get me so far, well, I’ll just have to work with what I have.
And I also make the mistake of looking at my Garmin, to see what my average speed was today. Which is when I notice my top speed. Of 41.7 mph. Which I somehow achieved while strenuously braking. Shit. This could be a problem……