Monday, I had a steady uphill ride for around 25 miles to Villes sur Auzon through vineyard after vineyard. Met a kindly Geordie couple who were regulars on the municipal campsite in the town. He'd ridden Ventoux so was full of tips. AND they gave me a loo roll. Always important.
Tuesday's ride up the Gorge de la Nesques wasn't fun. I've never liked steep drop offs and this was full of 'em. It was pretty though and I met a tame "wild" boar near the top. After lunch in Sault I settled in at the campsite and was welcomed by some Scots with a cold beer.
Wednesday. Mont Ventoux. Bloody hard especially the final section. But I did it. I set off at 06:45 and summited at 10:00. Glad I did it.
Back on the road on Thursday for a steady climb before coffee in Banon. Rode a few miles with an 85 year old French roadie. And he said he admired ME! Downhill, mostly, to Forcalquier and a campsite costing me 23.3 euros! Most expensive of the trip.
Friday's journey from Forcalquier to Moustiers Ste Marie involved lots of steady climbing which is hard on the backside. When you have regular descents it's good to put weight on the pedals and off yer bum. With long climbs ya can't do that. Good lunch break in Riez though. Brilliant kebab and frites butty in a baguette.
Saturday may have been the hardest of the trip. Up the south side of the Verdon Gorge it felt like I was climbing all day long. Lunchtime cafe had no drinking water for my bottles, so I had to ration myself for the final section. Ended the afternoon chatting and enjoying tea and cake with Paul and Karen, who are full-timing in their motorhome. More friendly people. During a brief shower they let me hang my washing under their awning.
It was only a short ride on Sunday cos I'd had to ride into the 30th stage, there being no campsite, or any accommodation in fact, at the end of stage 29. Hence, after just 18 miles through the wonders of the upper Verdon Gorge, I was in Castellane, lunching at a boulangerie. For the first time, my campsite pitch had no shade, forcing me to sit on a vacant motorhome pitch under a tree. Discovered that Paul and Karen from last night had donated to my Justgiving page. I hadn't given them any details. Heartwarming.
I wasn't quite mentally prepared for Monday's ride. It was harder than I expected. I did enjoy a stop at a rural boulangerie though, with fab coffee and croissants. The ride down the Gorge du Loup was interesting... in rain. And a short uphill to the site, meant I was drenched with sweat under my waterproof jacket. There was one hell of a thunderstorm after I'd put up the tent and showered. I dined on my emergency backpacking meal in the tent, as it poured with rain. The last night on the road!
It's Tuesday 17th June. The final day of my ride. I'm awake early as usual, thinking. It's been a difficult journey. Long, hard climbs. Solitude. Self doubt.. But there have been so many positives to balance things. The friendly cafe owner. The welcoming campsite host. The generosity of strangers. Kindness. That's it, in a word. Kindness.
In an effort to combat the effects of solitude I've many times seen myself start a conversation with someone, despite my clumsy, flawed French, to be rewarded with interest and kindness. Sometimes I've been approached by others too, interested in why I'm carrying so much luggage on my bike. A couple of times other cyclists have ridden by my side, chatting. So lovely, especially on a difficult day.
The ride into Nice was very relaxed. Hitting the Med at Cagnes sur Mer, I stopped for coffee. Then, along the excellent cycle-way into Nice and the Promenade des Anglais. I grabbed a passing Australian family to take my photo then found a bar selling superb hot sandwiches and, most importantly, a celebratory beer... a large one.
As I write now, I'm relaxing in a comfortable Airbnb room, just back from the Promenade des Anglais in Nice. I've three nights here. Tomorrow I plan to explore Nice since I've not been here before. On Thursday I'll pack my kit, including stripping and packaging my beloved Thorn. Chrissie sent my bags here about a week ago. Friday is my flight home.
I'm looking forward to getting home to Chrissie, without whose help in the background I'd never have been able to complete the trip. I love her. I'm also looking forward to seeing our gorgeous dogs, my daughter, son in law and little Noah, my favourite grandson.
I've no doubt I'll be back on here with further reflections. I know some of these updates have lacked detail, but that's blogging on the road for you. If anyone needs further info, just ask.
For now though, time to think. Time to consider. Time to relax...