A somewhat quirky hotel: greeted with a cup of coffee, run by a Chinese gentlemen, me the only guest, a room in the attic, my own (separate) bathroom, all for €40. I leave (after another courtesy cup of coffee) as the village clock strikes nine, surveying the scene as I go: it’s clearly rained overnight (but dry now), the village is deserted and the roads are empty. And the weather? Exactly the same as yesterday; actually, very good for a long day’s cycle. Apparently, today is a public holiday in France. I’m in for a quiet ride.
Over the river, turn R, and once again along the Gorge de la Loire. (I’ve got the gender right today)
A fantastic start to the day – though these hills are now getting steeper, higher and longer. Stopping for a pain au chocolat at Voray, I continue southward.
Passing the village of Lavoute I, once again, ignore a Route Barree on the gorge road. The scenery is now spectacular ……
……. and I’m cycling in splendid solitude – worryingly so! After several miles I start wondering whether the road may indeed be impassable. But then I encounter another cyclist …… coming towards me. Huzzah!
A second cyclist, all the gear, whizzes past me; his greeting wave comprises an arm vertically down with hand outwards at right angles.
Is this intended to minimise air resistance? Obviously a Strava afficionado.
This may be an opportune moment to explain what, for me, is the attraction of solo cycling. All the senses are heightened and somehow I acquire what I can only describe as a sixth: a spirit of “being”. Our lives are so busy we often lose our appreciation of the moment – that roadside flower; the snail laboriously crossing it; the scent of wild garlic. A human “being” is so often swamped by a human “doing”. It’s a bit like the contrast between a movie/video and a still photo. In the former, everything is ephemeral – the detail is missed, lost or forgotten. In the latter, detail is frozen in time – waiting to be appreciated from the first instant to eternity. Enough of that!
I arrive in Le Puy, with its magnificent setting
I find a suitable cafe to enjoy a grande creme and a croissant.
Leaving Le Puy I realise it’s getting colder, with a strengthening NE wind. A roadside thermometer reads 10C; colder than in Horsham?
I start a long ascent towards Arsac, fortunately with the wind on my back. Feeling hungry, I raid my emergency rations – a “protein bar” (yuk!) and some Kendal Mint Cake (fantastic!) Whoosh! I’m off with renewed vigour. A series of long ascents and, all too short descents follow. This is how it is; you have to enjoy hill climbs. If you don’t – don’t cycle in this part of France.
The final ascent to St Paul de Tartas (to over 4,000 ft) is a thing of magic and wonder. The road is now akin to a country lane and devoid of traffic as it winds its way between steep banks, profuse with wild flowers, and over myriad streams. I drop my pace to the slowest I can manage without falling off, and, with my heart-rate and breathing barely above normal, drink in the solitude and beauty. Fantastic!
St Paul de Tartas boasts a largely Roman church
The final descent to Pradelle is fast and furious. I arrive at 6pm local time and the first hotel I encounter is …….. open!
So, on to the Universe. The universe is big beyond big …… and, every second, getting bigger. And yet, unbelievably, every gramme of the existing universe was contained within the “big bang” singularity” – a point so small that is impossible to ascribe it with dimensions. This event must have been cataclysmic beyond cataclysmic. And, of course, there was no space beyond the singularity, and no time prior to it. The Big Bang defined both space and time.
And yet, why did it happen? Where did it come from. To these deep questions we have no (scientific) answers
Following a single blinding pulse, a universe a million billion miles across, containing 98% of the matter that exists, or ever will exist, along with all the forces we know from physics was produced within 3 minutes. Amazing! Unbelievable?
And in all this vastness, planet earth is, to the best of our knowledge, the only minute oasis of life. And no – for all their endeavours, scientists have so far failed to organise inanimate atoms and molecules into living matter.
So many questions and so few answers. Perhaps, counter-intuitively, it is only by asking questions which lead to more questions that we ever approach any answers
And so, dear reader, for the moment, over to you!
Distance travelled 58 miles
Average speed 8 mph (but see below)
Elevation gain 5,273 ft !!!!
Maximum speed 30.2 mph