Sunday, July 13, 2008

July 9, 2008 – From Forest to Cliffs

Today we were leaving away from the dense forest of Perigord Noir and heading for the limestone cliffs, where we would see the beautiful Medieval city Rocamadour. The day was warm – the first warm day in a while. After 3 days of riding, and being totally wiped out yesterday, I was feeling strong and ready to cycle hard today.

I started with the group, and saw the first hill out of town. I decided to peddle hard up the hill, and passed some of my companions that were enjoying a more moderate pace. There was a lot of traffic in Sarlat this day. As I was halfway up a hill, I was almost the victim of a second accident. This one would have been much more serious.

A car pulled out of a driveway on the left side of the road. Obviously the driver didn’t see another car heading down the hill – going the opposite direction from me. The oncoming car saw the car pulling out of the driveway, and swerved into my lane a bit and slammed on the brakes. I was about 20 feet away when the two cars collided. The impact pushed the car going downhill into my lane. I hit my brakes and desperately tried to unclip from my pedals. Since I was in a panic, this wasn’t as easy as usual. I managed to stop with feet on the ground about 6 feet away from the accident. The cars were really smashed, with the one that had been driving downhill dripping transmission fluid everywhere. The man who pulled out of the driveway exited his car first. He had a gash on his head that was bleeding a little. The man and the woman in the other car appeared unhurt, but the woman was quite shaken. She left the car and walked over to the side of the road, where she held her head in her knees.

I got off my bike, and waved to the car coming downhill so he would stop. He did and put on his hazard lights. My companions were behind me, and I waited for them to tell them about the accident. We slowly rode through the debris, carrying our bikes over the worst part of the mess, and made our way passed the wreck. Claire, one of the tour leaders, asked me if I was OK. I said I was fine, but I was a little shocked myself. I realized that if I had been going a little faster up the hill, I could have been seriously injured. I wanted to cry – but instead, I rode harder to get my mind off my swirling emotions.

After a while, I was riding on my own. I enjoyed buzzing along the beautifully isolated roads from Sarlat to Carsac, Veryignac, St. Julien de Lampone and Payrac. There was little traffic and the sunshine lit up the lush green of the area with an iridescent glow. Along the way, I saw a woman with a young girl pedaling behind her on a tandem-like bike. The child’s bike was attached to a standard woman’s bike. I rode ahead, and asked if I could take their photo. The woman stopped and we talked in English. She was Dutch, and knew several languages. (That’s one thing that is surprising – many people – even the campground staff – are multilingual. Makes me wonder why we don’t put more emphasis on that in the U.S.) Her name was Josie and her daughter’s name was Ura.

At about 30 miles, I arrived on the cliffs above Rocamadour. This is a very popular tourist destination, and I can see why. The city is built into the face of a limestone cliff that is 150 meters high. From the top of the cliff, where I arrived, I was captivated by the beauty of the village below. I couldn’t believe that a city from hundreds of years ago could be constructed in such a manner.

I decided to spend some time in Rocamadour, and I started with a prehistoric cave. This tour was much different than the one in Montignac in that I had no line and a one minute wait. The tour was in French, but I got notes in English. The cave included ancient pictographs – estimated at 20,000 years old. There were pictures of horses, an elk and handprints. The cave also included a fossilized fish jaw and vegetable. The cave was compact, which was nice considering I was wearing my cleated shoes.

My next stop was the church, which was also on top of the cliff. The church was a beautiful, old structure made of stone. I went inside, sat down and said a prayer of thanks for my walking away from what could have been two serious accidents.

Rocamadour is a major center for religious pilgrims. Apparently, in 1166 the body of a man named St. Amadour was discovered and subsequently, as the story goes, miracles happened in the area that the body was discovered.

If you want to descend to the city you have three choices. You can take the 223 steps on the Via Sancta staircase; you can take a lift or you can ride down (on bike for me.) The cleats on my shoes eliminated the possibility of walking down and up 223steps. (Although, it might have helped for my later ride in the Alps. Many professionals train for the ride up l’Alpe d’Huez by climbing and kneeling up the steps up the cliff.) The lift felt like cheating. So I rode down to the city below.

I was hot, and needed something to eat. I had a protein bar, packed from home, and I wanted some fruit to accompany it. I stopped by a restaurant, and I saw some of my group there. I bought a banana and an orange along with a Coca-Cola Light (not called diet here – and Coca-Light (as they call it here) and other diet drinks are not readily available).

After a quick break, I returned to my bike and ascended up the hill. By the afternoon, I was still feeling strong, and cycled hard toward our stop for the night, St. Cere. We stayed at a beautiful campground within walking distance from the city. Our group dinner was at the Hotel Victor Hugo. The highlight for me was Tour Leader’s comment about a sign with a young Victor Hugo who looked like Little Lord Font LeRoy. We agreed that the photo on the wine bottle had a much more dignified rendition of Victor.

Total miles: 60

Below are some photos of some of my cycling companions: Duncan choking Karen (from England) and Luke (England) and Ian (Australia).

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