by J. Dunn
There is nothing greater than going to your in-laws summer home to ride bicycles through the countryside. Just make sure that you take your spouse with you when you do it, otherwise, any fun photo that you come back with will turn into dust in your hands when you show it to her. I speak from experience. Which is why I've been saving these until just *now. Until right here.
If we go a couple years back we get to a summer where Julie still wasn't allowed to travel outside the U.S. Weird rule, I know, but if you leave the country when your immigration paperwork is in-process, you get to start all the way over. Do not pass go, but DO pay another $460 processing fee. Now, it may be weird, but we try to abide by the rules over here. So, when I went to the Rapha 10th Anniversary party in London and then decided to carry on over to France, she was left behind, quite angrily in Portland. However, she did go out of her way to set up the summer home for Garrett and I to link up and do a few rides. Which was nice of her.
Thankfully, Garrett had a couple cool Swiss cats by the name of Larz and Christoph that were down to meet up, ride bikes and just generally harass the locals out in the backwoods of France. Oh, and harass we did. Turns out if you interrupt their petanque game. Oh? Excuse et moi? I'm sorry folks, we're getting word from the booth that the sport is actually called lyonaisse in this general region, thanks very much. Merci beaucoup. But, if you happen to interupt their game, and the mayor of the town happens to be playing, then you might just be in the shit.
What can we say? We were just excited to be out riding in the sunshine.
Larz came out hot on his first day there. Fully whipping through some new turns on his road bike and somehow, miraculously, coming off his bike at the right time and running straight over his handlebars as his bike went catapulting into the ditch. It was fine. Apparently, even the French grasses are the perfect landing spot this time of the year. He casually laughed it off and we continued our traipse about the countryside. Stopping in one little town or another to catch a stage finish or have one of their short beers — pression — with a collection of locals that for once didn't look at us in bewilderment of our "cycling outfits."
On this occasion, these tubby old men and their balls, they were having none of our "crazy boys of cycling" routine. Well, actually there was one guy. You can see Larz chatting with him here. He knew of all the Americans in the Tour that year - the Talansky fellow, TeJay, and Farrarr - a triple threat of "Great White Hope's of American Cycling" which is what I envisioned him saying to me as he laughed, tears streaming from his eyes. "Trois! trois Americans." Yeah, thanks, we get it.
As soon as we stepped into their little "club de petanque" it was obvious that we were not only seeing the inside of something that was untouched by "outsider's eyes" shall we say? The mayor came shuffling overall in a huff, his thin mustache twittering from side to side." He was talking sternly to our friend who gently urging us out of the little hut. "He doesn't want you in here."
He quickly horrified us further by telling us that indeed, the mayor wasn't into outsiders at all actually and had once turned away Bosnian refugees. Rousting them in the middle of the night and making them leave. But, that was a long time ago. Wait, what?
It was then that our pal Major Mayor came back and spat the words at us.
"Tête de Chien!"
They made me giggle. The words made all of us laugh quite heartily. It was partly because I understood them. The words I mean. It was one of those rare moments when a foreign language clicks and you actually process the words as they're happening. It's is a phenomenon of language understanding that I've only experienced one other time. I had been pretty deep into Patagonia and was staying in a small village with two crazy traveling Argentine brothers. Not sure how we linked up, but late one night, our limbs and minds quite loose from walking through the forest - one of them pointed at a dog attempting to eat us through his front gate. "Mira los ojos!" it was a simple enough phrase but one that made me look at the dog with two different colored eyes. And I understood it as it was happening. Maybe the threat of the angry dog forced an opening in my brain where one previously didn't exist?
Is it curious that both of these "language breakthroughs" were associated with dogs? Probably more of a coincidence than a power animal.
It was only later that we learned the phrase "tête de chien" is actually quite rude. In a sort of 1950's way that makes the younger of us laugh and sort of cringe at the same time. Don't get me wrong, he said it with enough vehemence that we understood his intention. But, it's also hard to take an old man in droopy tube socks hurling tiny balls around in his homemade court seriously.
We were over it. Fuck those angry old men.
The real action was happening in a day or so. The Tour de France was rolling through the region. Just our luck. We knew that we would have to do some navigating and probably get up early to drive the 100k, and then ride a whole bunch of km's real fast. But, there was a chance that we could actually see the race, in all its glory, pass by. In any case, this is why we were here.
We found a town near enough that we were able to park the rental car and load up on snacks and drinks in small loose backpacks and start climbing towards where we knew the race would pass. For some reason all I can remember is the hill, that we would climb and climb and climb with sweat pouring out of us, just to see the racers fly by on the ridge of the hill that we had just traversed.
But, it didn't happen that quickly. This being my first real time with the Tour - out on the road - I'm not sure what I expected. But, we waited, and waited, maybe even more than we climbed. We waited, and as the sun beat down on us and we shifted uncomfortably towards any slice of shade that we could find. Garrett jammed his bike into the hay bay that we occupied and pitched a tent with his jersey. Anything for some respite from that blasted sun. How must these racers feel in this heat?
In any case, it gave me time to shoot some portraits of these fine gentlemen.
Garrett - Designer, rider, all around cool guy. Lover of old trucks and dogs.
Christoph - works at Obst & Gemüse in Basel Adventurer, medium distance rider (at the time we took him on his longest ride).
Larz Wolvh - tattoo artist, teacher of children, excellent French translator.
Just as the racers were about to pass the helicopters arrived and to our dismay, or humor, the bales of hay that we had been using were actually part of a very large diorama that was about to come to life in the field behind us. Garrett tried to be a spoke in their wagon wheel or something to that effect, but they were not having any of his shenanigans and booted him right back to us, laughing at the side of the road.
Then, the race was here. Then, just as quickly, it was gone.
There were the many lycra colors flying at us, then past us. The memories of races like this are so much more about the day. About the bread that we bought and took all the way up there with some sweaty cheese. Or, about shooting downhill after the race had passed. Swarming on other cyclists that were out doing the same thing. About the super cold beer in the cafe, while we waited for all the traffic to die down. And then navigate our way back to home base in the late evening sunshine. Is this not what summer is all about?
There were more than a couple great days on the bike with this trip. We did indeed take Christoph on his longest bike ride ever. We started by climbing the Puy du Dome and musing over mushroom knives and snacks at the gift shop at the top and ended lost in some small town bar with no TV, but plenty of salty snacks. Garrett and I even tried to convince the two of them to stay longer. There's always that moment with vacations this good - where you try your damnedest to make it last.
*Let's be honest here, I'm laid up and realized that going back and revisiting all these rides, pouring over photos (literally the reason that I take so many - to remember) is good for me. It's helping me focus on the future rides by remembering the past.