Sunday, July 13, 2008

July 10, 2008 – Mystical Conques!

I woke up feeling very sore and tired from the five days or riding. My knees ached, my legs felt out of energy. I was not looking forward to a half century ride today.

I started late, working on my computer for a while. I started after 10 when the support van was leaving. I pedaled slowly, by myself up the hill out of St. Cere. It was a long, gradual climb of about 12 miles. I didn’t feel too strained at this point as I stayed in my granny gear and kept a high cadence.

We started in the valley of the River Cele about 820 feet above sea level and then climbed up to the Lot River Valley at about 1500 feet. The beauty of the ride helped me keep my mind off my aching legs (and sore bottom). And if I just kept my speed slow, I seemed to be able to keep moving. (The cows kept me company along the way!)

Like the day before, this day was very hot. My stops were for quick water and fruit brakes. Today there was a more difficult, optional route that climbed along the south bank of the Lot into our final destination of Conques. When I had the choice to go the easy route, along the river bottom, or go for the climb, I opted for the easy route. This was very uncharacteristic of me, but my legs were hurting.

The highlight of the day for me was not the ride, but the city we were near – Conques. Like Rocamadour, Conqques is also a major pilgrim center. I was excited to see the “Roman Bridge” constructed by the Romans in 8th centure and the gold statue of Ste. Foy made in the 10th Century.

I arrived hot and tired. I had afternoon tea, set up my tent and got ready for a group meal at Conques. I haven’t mentioned the state of hygiene on a biking/camping adventure in France. Every day we are at a new campground. Our afternoon consists of getting our gear set up, showering, watching the last part of the Tour de France (when possible) and then eating dinner at 8 or later. We get up the next day and start again with breakfast at 8, tearing down camp and on our bikes between 9 and 10. During this time, I have kept clean, washing my clothes by hand most days and drying in the open air when it’s warm enough. My hair and makeup haven’t been a regular routine in a week now. I lost my shampoo and conditioner at one campground, and bought a substitute at a campground for 2 euros (about $4 American). It sounded nice – Orange et Miel (Honey). Unfortunately, the shampoo smells like antiseptic and makes my hair look dry and straw-like. Besides, I don’t have a hairdryer here. So I keep my hair in a pony tail consistently. And makeup is only used for special occasions – like a dinner out in the town. I went all out tonight – putting on my khakis, a cute t-shirt and sandals – and on my face I had on all of usual makeup. In a way, I felt foreign to myself. I would have to say, if I ever do such an adventure again, I would bring more biking gear and less civilian clothes.

After my complete grooming – but with hair in a ponytail – I walked toward Conques, passing the Roman Bridge along the way. I stopped to take some photos and saw a man working in a garden by the bridge. He stopped by to say hello, and we introduced ourselves. He was named Dominique.

When I told him I was interested in the bridge – he told me that the name “Roman Bridge” was a misnomer. The bridge wasn’t constructed by Romans, he said. The Romans weren’t even in the country in the 8th Century. He said the name was for Le Chemin de St. Jacques – The Way for St. Jack he said was the translation in English. (I had never heard of a disciple named Jack – but who was I to argue with Dominique? Later, one of the group leaders told me that St. Jacques was St. James.) Apparently, in addition to being known for the relics of St. Foy, Conques was also along the pilgrim’s path of St. James from Rome to Spain. That is why it is called the Roman Bridge.

There are steep steps up to Conques, and I was wet and sweaty by the time I reached the city. I realized that I was in a very special place. There was just a feel of serenity and peace about me.

My first stop was the Church of St. Foy. It was a remarkable structure, with a history of all of the carvings and architecture of the church. I didn’t try to figure it all out – instead I just sat in one of the pews and put my head up and looked up. I said another prayer for the safety and for the return of my cat, Oreo, who I understand is missing back home. (The picture of the church had a family arm in arm who were obviously moved by the spiritually moving feel of the place.)

There was no Internet at camp, and I heard the Visitors Center had access, so I walked up to the building to see when it opened. I met a nice couple from Toulouse, France (famous for violets). They were Robert and Rosalyn – they said in very French accents. I pronounced their names with a heavy American accent and they laughed. They didn’t speak any English – but I did manage to have an actual conversation in French! My French still sucks, but at least it is sucking less!

We had dinner at a wonderful restaurant – a 5 course meal with 2 desert courses! I told my cycling friends that I loved Conques, and I wanted to stay for another day. One of the group leaders suggested that there probably wasn’t too much to see in Conques – maybe a morning would do. So I decided to get up early and see the gold statue and relics of Ste. Foy before I left.

Total Miles: 52

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Fantastic entry... reflecting on your subtitle (men, wine, and cycling in a midlife tour de france) - perhaps the most important man you'll meet on this trip is "the man upstairs". I think that all too often in our lives of relative comfort, we lose sight of the eternal significance of our lives and lose touch with our spiritual side. Only when we step outside the bounds of comfort do we come face to face with our need for connection/help/guidance from our creator.

I'll be praying for the rest of your trip... don't forget to update with your Mt. Ventoux and Alpe d'Huez climbs!