Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Last Week

In three days, my year in France is over. The TGV will take me to Paris and then a flight to my new home in Oslo.

I have a mixture of feelings from relief to fear to joy. First of all, I'm finally going home to this:

This is how much Audun looks forward to me moving in with him

 ... which I'm obviously looking forward to. I can't say I've loved everything about my life in France (let me tell you about some of the paperwork I've had to do!), but in some odd way Grenoble has become my home. Or just the mountains around Grenoble. I still find myself getting lost in the maze of the old city occasionally.

So last weekend was my goodbye to the mountains. Mom and Dad have driven down from Norway to hike in the Alpes and then drive my bicycles (!) home for me. We were in Annecy for the Tour de France stage on Saturday (I'll post pictures when I get them - my camera was on strike). Then on Sunday we tackled Grand Veymont in the morning.

The trail starts out steep - no zigzags here! - and rocky. Mom declared she was feeling tired from the previous day's hike, and then proceeded to motor up the hill.

The Momster in action
Sebastian, know as Ralph, the Dog was along for the ride, and stopped often to pant in the hot sun and make sure that the Master, aka Dad, was coming along. Dad was moving along rather slowly because he was stopping to smell and take pictures of the flowers (these biologists!)

Ralph watches observes Dad's progression along the trail
It was, as the photos hint to, very hot. Luckily a slight breeze helped our sweat do what it's supposed to.

Mom below the mountain.
We reached the col before the final climb to the mountain and to our dismay met a park ranger who had bad news. NO DOGS in the natural reserve of Vercors. So Ralph didn't get to go to the top, and neither did Mom. Dad and I powerhiked the rest of the way, and dug the view of magnificent Mont Aiguille.

Father/Daughter on top

After a late lunch in boiling hot Grenoble, Dad and I headed up to the Chartreuse to finish a piece of unfinished business I have from back in October: Dent de Crolles.

We took the steep way up:

 The light over the rest of the Chatreuse was incredible.

Chamchaude in the dark, and the hills above le Sappey-en-Chartreuse in the light.
 The view from the top was not too shabby, either. On one side, the drop down to the Grenoble valley.

Don't jump!
And on the other, more of the Chartreuse mountains

Ajouter une légende
All the way across the top of the mountain there are sinkholes, which Dad said meant there were probably caves. He was completely right - Dent de Crolles was once the deepest cave in the world. We found a gaping entrance on the way down. I found it a little spooky, all wet and dark.

Dad just inside the entrance (sorry about the smudged camera lens)
The hike down was also really cool because the path went through several tight passages.

Exhibit 1

Exhibit 2

So glad to have gotten around to going up Dent de Crolles before I left! 

- The Wild Bazilchuk

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Stalking the Tour de France part 1: Mont Ventoux

It was almost 1 am when our creaking car overloaded with 5 bicycles and camping gear pulled into the tiny town of Malaucène. A large truck and a group of men were out in the darkness, setting up metal barriers along the road. We drove back and forth for a bit, looking for a place to camp.

Down one side road was a sea of camping cars with names of various press organizations. Even in the quiet night, something indescribable was in the air. The Tour de France was here. The riders hadn't come through yet, but everything else was just the quiet before the storm.

The next morning I walked to the center of town, taking in the scene. Everywhere, venders were erecting tents to sell TDF t-shirts, water bottles and other brickabrac. The line out the local boulanger stretched out the door and far out on to the street, and I gave up the idea of a fresh croissant.

A hour or so later, breakfast ingested and all five bikes untied from the car, Roddy, Leyre, Maxime, Rafa and I followed the stream of cyclists out of Malaucène and along the route the TDF cyclists would follow. They would likely be going upward of 40 km/h, whereas we bobbed along at 15 or 20. Route-finding was easy - just follow the stream of other cyclists!

I have never seen such an absolute circus of people in my entire life. All along the road, camping cars, tents and other shelters to shield the piercing sun were set up. People were playing music, there were flags and posters. Up and up this continued for 30 km. (I was unfortunately have some camera troubles and so didn't get any pictures until later).

I wasn't feeling awesome. It was close to 30 degrees C, and I was still shaking my cold from earlier in the week. Basically, once the climb started in earnest, I got into my lowest gear and keep it pretty low intensity. Literally thousands of cyclists were headed up the mountain, and I was passed by plenty of long-legged men in Lycra.

The spectators were pretty crazy - some of them had clearly started to drink early and were noisily cheering on us cyclists as if we were Tour de France riders ourselves. Some were wearing crazy costumes. I even got pushed once!

As the road emerged from the trees higher up on the mountain, the air started getting noticeably cooler and I started to feel better, spinning rather than grinding on my low gears and even passing a few people in spandex. At 6 km from the summit, every km was marked, and this motivated me even more. Well over two hours from the start in Malacuène, I passed under the 1 km arch and a shiver of anticipation passed through me. I was so close!

Two hundred meters later a policeman stopped me.  "C'est fini pour les cyclistes", he said, "You have to get behind the barrier." And so I wasn't allowed to bike to the top.
So close!
I met Leyre, although we had lost the others, and we decided to walk our bikes the rest of the way to the top, just to have gotten there.

At the finish line
We found the others a bit later, and settled on a placed to watch around 800 meters from the finish. An hour or so before the Tour, the publicity caravan pulled through. The publicity caravan is a set of extravagant cars with giant plastic sculptures representing different companies that sponsor the tour. It passes through and throws freebies, mostly crap, but also snacks, to the crowd. Take these lovely attractive hats for example:

From the left: Leyre (spanish), Roddy (scottish), Rafa (spanish) and Maxime (québécois)
Example A of the publicity caravan: A car with a gigantic bag of Madeleines on top

After the caravan passed, the air became thick with suspense. Loud speakers boomed out commentary. Sylvain Chavanel was in a solo breakaway, reaching the base of the mountain. Could a Frenchman do it? On Bastille day? We didn't think so. A few minutes lead wouldn't enough against the pure climbers that would surge forward as soon as the mountain hit.

And we were right. Striving to here the radio, we heard Chavanel get lost in the pack, Quintana surge forward, Contador and Froome duel until Froome broke away, caught Quintana, and finally attacked to gain the lead, alone.

Froome, alone in the crowd
The riders passing by was all sweat and steel and forceful concentration. They seemed to be in a world of their own. Some were clearly in what is colloquially known as a 'pain cave'. Others were just working there way slowly but steadily to the top. The leaders, Froome and then Quintana, were absolutely cooking.

Quintana passes quickly
Contador passed by, all high cadence and dark determination. Voeckler came by, 'dansant' as they say in French, meaning he was standing up, tongue wagging in a characteristic Voeckler climbing face. Rolland, the previous owner of the polka-dotted climbing jersey, passed by, looking angry as he knew he was about to loose the jersey. They all passed, and a half an hour after Froome motored through, it was all over. (In fact, there was another straggler from the Sojasun team who arrived nearly 20 minutes after that. The police were pretty angry with us for trying to use the road then!)

So that was one of the 100th Tour de Frances most anticipated stages. A hundred thousand screaming fans on the mountain. One hundred and eighty cyclists. Craziness and love of cycling and excitement. I'll be back, TDF - see you in Annecy on Saturday!

- The Wild Bazilchuk

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Forced to rest

It's mid-afternoon on a Saturday in Grenoble, and the weather is beautiful. This being Grenoble, there are endless possibilities to bike, run or hike. I, however, am sitting inside. Relaxing. Lounging. I don't do this very often, and I'm really not that comfortable with it!

Sometimes a little rest is necessary. Last weekend I went home for a (beautiful) wedding in Norway. I was glad to go home, but it was a weekend of lots of travelling and little sleep. No wonder I woke up Tuesday morning with a fever. I've been feeling under the weather all week and haven't been working or working out very much. So basically I'm feeling a bit depressed.

Luckily I have things to look forward to! Sylvia got an early birthday present last week:

That's right - we're going on a trip! In three weeks, me, Sylvia, Audun and his soon-to-be-multispeed singlespeed Swift are headed to Nordkapp in the far north of Norway. Then the basic plan is this:

Vis større kart

I've never been to the northern most part of Norway despite having lived there for 10 years, so I really excited to see what there is to see. And, as usual, to ride my bike as much as possible. I hope to be able to post some blog posts during the trip, so watch the blog to see how we are faring on our 1200 km journey.

The week before, I'll be on Jostedalsbreen learning more about how not to fall into crevasses. Next time me and Dad are here I'll be better prepared to cross the glacier!

I also have to continue getting ready for the marathon I've signed up for in September. I've been running a few races, although I didn't do the one I had planned to run today. Hopefully the 42 km of mountainous terrain will fly by. Although the way the weather usually is in September in Norway, it could potentially pretty awful.

Finally, the Tour de France is happening, and they are coming to my area! I'm headed over to Mont Ventoux this evening to see the stage tomorrow. Hopefully I'll get some got pictures of men in Lyrca with their veins pulsing with EPO battling there way up the epic mountain pass.

Ventoux being scaled back in the day.
So there are impending adventures, and this is the light in the end of my summer cold tunnel!

- The Wild Bazilchuk

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

You know you've lived in France for too long when...

... you can't touch type any more because you never know if you're using a QWERTY or AZERTY keyboard. think a kiss on each cheek is basically like a handshake. also know that in Switzerland and the south of France, three kisses are expected, and you are able to execute this correctly without batting an eye.

...instead of saying 'ummmm' when you're trying to think of a word, you say 'baaah'. no longer blink at the sight of men with purses. think a single croissant, or a piece of stale baguette, is a perfectly acceptable breakfast. know that cheese that is not French, is not cheese. know that the form has to be filled out twice and sent by mail. Always. expect to have time to drink an espresso every time you want to load a web page.

...checks seem like an acceptable payment method, and you don't find it odd that someone would choose to spend 5 minutes filling out a check at the supermarket.

...everyone you know watches the Tour de France, but they only know the French riders. expect your lunch break to last at least an hour, and involve a three course meal rounded off by an espresso.

So I guess it's almost time for me to go home?

- The Wild Bazilchuk