Take the long way home

My friend Larry as we leave for the gate at CDG (Paris) for our flight home.

Almost home. Another long travel day, but not nearly so long coming back from France as getting there, since I “only” have to get from Paris to San Francisco heading home, while getting there, it’s flights from San Francisco to Paris, followed by a train or trains to either the Alps or Pyrenees. Alps this time.

This was also my first-time-ever taking advantage of a senior discount. A day I’ve put off as long as possible, but when you can get a 40% discount on first class train travel just because you’re over 60, well, it’s tough to turn that down!

Logistically I made the day we left a bit easier than in the past, choosing to stay at a hotel adjacent to the airport, saving the hour-or-so trip from the city of Paris to the airport (which is maybe 30 miles from the city). The hotel I chose was much nicer than expected; if you have the opportunity to stay at an Ibis Styles (part of the Accor chain), and you’re not looking for a high-end high-expense “French” experience, I highly recommend it. Last year my son and I stayed at an Ibis Styles in Lyon and were similarly impressed. The rooms are Paris-sized to be sure (small) but comfortable, good air conditioning, useful bathroom (not one where you can’t figure out how to keep the water from spilling out on the floor) and, at least for this one, it included a free breakfast that was really good. $120/night for a two-bed room, $90 for single.

The airport itself? Eh, nothing’s changed, still carries the “Airport by Escher” moniker. Horrendously-long check-in lines this morning, but with even minimal status on the airline you get to bypass that. Passport control was pretty lengthy though. CDG is the only airport I’ve been to (and I’ve been to quite a few) where you really do need to arrive three hours prior to your flight.

Funny, I’ve been packing (or more correctly, my son has usually been packing) the Bike Friday folding bikes a certain way, and only this year I discovered it packs a lot easier if you place it chainring-side down, instead of the “normal” way. Good to think I am still learning new things, not “just” getting older.

About 3/4 of the way home right now, sitting in the United lounger in Chicago. Long time between flights, which I’m using to update this as well as create some youtube videos for the incredible rides in the Vercors region, near Grenoble. I’m getting a bit tired and sticky-feeling; first thing I do when I get home is take a shower! It’s going to be really great seeing my kids, my wife, my dog, my two cats, and Mike F, Jose & Roger at the shop (and the young new guys too, Spencer and Joey). Time to get back in the swing of things.

It was very nice, even if just for a week, to get away from the normal routine with its heavy focus on business and my health issues. It’s good to know I can still out-climb most, I can still take on interesting challenges where solutions need to be figured out on the fly, and dang, France hasn’t gone away, it still has great food and doesn’t cost much to get around.

A French Kebab, the local version of a Burrito. Only better, in my opinion. Simply awesome. I’ve seen no equivalent at home.

It’s about this time, each year, that I think perhaps this will have been the last July trip to France for a while, that there are other places to see and ride. And I’ll actually believe that, for a month or two. And then, in October, I start thinking about the route announcement for the next year, and look at the websites that focus on the route rumors, and start playing through the options in my mind. Because France feels like a second home to me, but with a different routine. What I do during my July trips to France are how I imagine a perfect retirement would be spent. The retirement won’t be happening, but France can.

This was also a significant trip in that it was the first time I’d “shared” my logistical knowledge of France and the Tour de France with someone other than my son. I don’t fancy myself as a tour guide, but it does make sense to share the experience with others. What comes routinely to me might seem dauntingly-complicated to others. It’s nice to have a feeling that you’re competent at something other than running a business. And being a father and husband of course.

I went to France and all I got was a fuzzy picture of Chris Froome…

Sorry no update yesterday; we got back pretty late from the time trial in Marseille and had to finish packing and cleaning up the apartment in Grenoble. But I’ve got a bit of time while on the train from Grenoble to Paris; I get to update things while my friend Larry is asleep against the train’s window, looking like a much-older version of my son Kevin.

 

Last sighting of a built-up Bike Friday night before the time trial.

The day started like any other day in France (except today, which I’ll get to shortly). Coffee and pastries from one of the two great patisseries within 50 meters of our apartment in Grenoble. Then a train to Marseille at the very civilized time of 9am, about 2.5 hours with no connections, arriving in Marseille in plenty of time to get our bearings and quickly discover that their Metro (subway) is not going to be of much help because it would take forever to access due to security screening measures. So time to figure out how to do their bike share thing, which would be really easy if, when you chose English as your language on the screen, it actually stayed in English. There are a few things confusing in French, like “retirez” is the option you choose to snag your bike (but I was thinking that was for returning it). Eventually we got the hang of it and pedaled towards the big hill on bikes that were quite heavy, had just 3 speeds, but for some reason pedaled fairly easily. We found a place to eat near the base of the stage’s climb, returned the bikes to the nearby bike-share station, and headed up the hill on foot.

 

Our route from watching the TT to the train station. What did people do before iPhones?

Hill? This time trial course was MEAN! The steepest section was probably 1/4 mile long and well over 10%. We watched from the very top, which mellowed out to maybe 8% for the last 1/4 mile. I know, I’m in France, it should be meters, maybe 500? Larry got better photos than me, as he’s a bit more comfortable in crowded quarters than I am. Or maybe it’s just that Texas thing (he’s from Houston). The tough part for us would be getting back to the train station, because the last rider (Chris Froome) would be coming by at about 5:22pm and our train departed at 6:15. No time to grab and return a bike, no time for the metro (and none close by anyway).

So imagine that you’ve got 1.6 miles (think it was actually further) to get to the train station, the app says it’s going to take 36 minutes under normal conditions, your train leaves in 45 minutes or so and the roads remain closed for a bit after the last rider goes through. And when they do let you get across the street, you’re in a huge crush of humanity, moving at a crawl until you spot the odd opening that you sprint through here & there. Finally you get past the worst of it and you “jog” as much as someone who can’t put one foot in front of the other can… thinking ohmygosh I could use a bike right now… and of course every traffic light is red, and the train station?

Train station on top of a zillion stairs on top of a hill!

It’s on top of a huge hill! Who would put a train station way up on top of a hill? It’s times like these you’re thinking about one of those “senior lifts” that run up the side of stairs, one of those things you’d make fun of anyone wanting to use, but right then I’d happily pull out my ID to show I’m old enough to “qualify” as feeble based on age alone. Heck, my knees were telling me I needed help. In fact, I’d say that “racing” to the train station was tougher than the hardest climb on my bike this past week! Seriously.

We did end up making it, with at least 8 minutes to spare. Thank goodness for apps that tell you which platform your train will be leaving from; figuring out that alone can easily eat up 5 minutes. But we made it.

It’s been an interesting trip, substituting my friend Larry for my son Kevin. On the bike rides, the big difference is that Kevin, if he suffers, suffers in silence. Larry? You and everyone within a kilometer knows when he’s suffering! And coming from Houston, where it’s flat, he suffers a lot in the mountains here. On the other hand, he did a lot better than me threading the gauntlet and climbing the hills and steps of Marseille on foot. Sure, I can climb mountains on a bike, but that’s about all I can do. Kevin’s not much different from me in that regard, he’s just faster.

We’re now on our final long train trip, two hours on high-speed TGV from Lyon to Paris. Frankly, there remains a lot of not-exactly-fast parts of the TGV journey, probably only 100 mph or so instead of 220. This train takes us straight to CDG (Paris airport) but we’re not leaving France just yet! We check into a hotel at the airport, then take a short local train back into Paris to see the finale. We’ll be at a Trek Travel function located right on the course, allowing access not just to the race itself but it’s also where the riders exit at the end of the race, which is always memorable, seeing the relief, exhausting, and friendships all come together in one place.  –MikeJ