Day 16, Monday 13th of August, started with an alarm. I‘m part of a research group at the University of Applied Sciences (HTW) Berlin which is looking into caching optimisation at the CERN utilising Deep Learning technologies. Since I was in Geneva, I wanted to meet the people at CERN I usually Skype with. My contact, Thomas, met us and gave us a backstage tour. The LHC is used for running experiments throughout most of the year and therefore can only be visited during the month it’s shutdown for maintenance; usually around February. Therefore we couldn’t go down to the LHC, which is just another reason to come back to beautiful Geneva. After the two hours tour, and resisting buying a nerdy CERN Poloshirt at the merchandise shop, we had lunch, packed everything up and left. In the drizzling rain. Crossing the border to France and cycling for just a couple of hours, I already noticed a change in the landscape compared to Switzerland: the colour of the grass and trees. It was still green of course, but a different shade of green. Darker, less saturated and drier. 200m before Seyssel it started to pour cats and dogs. Soaking wet we found a supermarket and camping ground. Enough for half a day, and day one for my friend.
My friend and French countryside.
The next day, everything was wet and cold – inside as well as outside. A hot chocolate for breakfast helped. The landscape was not particularly spectacular and the riding was easy and fast. Although we noticed that we are going west because of the headwinds. Eating fine dinner and sleeping for free at the local camper parking matched my style of traveling.
The clicking in my back wheel made me nervous. Also, it started to bend after I fell over a curb and I wanted to get to Lyon to get it fixed as soon as possible. A hot day (day 18), perfect for me, not so much for my friend. The heat was hard on her. Since the next camping was outside of Lyon but we had to stay in the city to get the bikes checked, my friend treated us to a private room in a hostel. The next day, day 19, I got the back wheel readjusted and my friend the gear settings. Lyon was also halftime of my trip, I had made 1537 km in total and 10 days left to arrive in Valencia. Since my friends knee started to make trouble, she decided to take the train for the next 80 km to avoid the upcoming gravel track. We wanted to meet that evening in Saint-Vallier. I left Lyon by 3pm and thought I should be with her for dinner time. Well, it turned out to be the day of bike breakdowns: about 20 km out of Lyon my pedals started to shift, it felt like swimming. The bottom bracket of the front chain wheel got loose. It became that independent that it started to come out and I had to push the bike to the next train station 5 km away. It was incredibly hot, sweat ran, stung in my eyes and wouldn’t dry due to missing air streams because of the not cycling but pushing my bike. I was extremely annoyed because I had feared something like this could happen. My bike is about 30 years old and still had the old parts built in when I bought it. After last summers ride from the black sea back to Germany the bracket was slightly loose and I got it exchanged before my departure in Berlin. It was supposed to last for at least 10.000 km and now it was completely destroyed after 1.500 km … The plan was to follow my friend via train and as the clock was ticking I concentrated on pushing instead of being angry and hurried. At the train station I was informed that there will be no trains until the end of the week due to maintenance work on the railway tracks. Busses wouldn’t take me, since it is apparently illegal in France to take bikes by bus. Don’t believe it but anyway, there was no way out other than getting the bike fixed there. In the village. Where everything was closed but McDonalds and Decathlon 2.5 km away. I decided to try my luck and pushed the bike for another half an hour along a busy industrial road. The very friendly mechanic at Decathlon was shocked by the damage and took to my bike immediately. The bracket was totally broken, the soldering loose and the little metal balls completely smashed. Four hours after leaving Lyon and one huge caramel ice cream later I was finally set to go. It was 7pm, my stubborn head had decided to still make it to Saint-Vallier that evening and my body delivered. 65 km, or two hours and 15 minutes later, I had a lovely hot shower, my friend had bought me cheeses and beer for dinner and I was happy. In a 30 Zone I was photographed for going 42 but what can I say, I just love cycling fast.
Day 20 was a long 140 km day which ended in another night ride. But this time together with my friend and after a super nice dinner in Châteauneuf-du-Rhône. I realised, I don’t just love riding fast, but also riding at night. My self made backlight, which I assembled at this years re:publica during a workshop for making wheelchair backlights, is rawcking! That day we also passed one of two nuclear power plants during our route along the Rhône. I have never consciously been so close to a nuclear power plant. They are so huge! Approaching the power plant I thought we’re getting to a water fall. My mind already sketched romantic images of a Niagara like waterfall and I was pleasantly surprised because I hadn’t seen any waterfall on the map whilst planing that days route. When going around the corner and seeing the towers I was very confused. Then I made out the cooling water that runs through the facilities and was the source of the Niagara image. I could see it falling through the reactor towers in the bottom. Pretty scary thing. I decided to not take a bath in the Rhône at all. It smelled anyway. Not particularly, just like rivers do. A bit stale. Not so fresh. Sweet and not salty. And sometimes like bad morning breath.
Day 21 was a quick and fast roll to Avignon. The wind gave us wings and we even had time for some sight seeing. Although, 6.5 km before Avignon, something snapped in my friends knee and made her almost collapse right on the quite busy road. A break at a creepy camping place just there didn’t help. She really tried hard, but just couldn’t lift her leg anymore. She suggested to zip tie her other foot to the pedal but I refused – way too dangerous. I rather pushed her the last stretch. We had a stroll around town (walking was ok for the knee) and delicious dinner and wine in this very old and lovingly restored town. We had cycled through Côte-du-Rhône that day and of course had to try some of it that evening.
My friend decided to call quits on the biking trip but wanted to see Montpellier, the next planed destination. After a joint late breakfast on the next morning we parted at the train station around noon to later meet in Montpellier. This time not for dinner. I was super excited to finally get to the Mediterranean Sea and wanted to spend some time in and by it. Whilst cycling, after coming out of a tunnel, it was the first time I sensed this typical mediterranean smell of pines and the loose sand they grow in – which made me even more excited, and, after almost 2000 km and 19 cycling days, I finally arrived at the sea! I bounced up and down on my bike in anticipation and finally there, I was very calm. A refreshing swim, the taste of salt, the waves telling me that nothing else matters in that particular moment, the light – always feels like being hugged by some strong and caring arms and coming home at the same time. I arrived in Montpellier after 10 pm, my friend had arranged a room in a way too fancy Hotel for the smelly me and organised a delicious Thai dinner full of carbs and proteins for my legs. She had already explored the city and we went for a stroll and drinks. I definitely want to come back to Montpellier for a couple more days. So much to see, so much to do. Maybe next year on the way back to Berlin. But for now, tomorrow, direction south, Spain. Unfortunately without my friend, who wanted to come with me all the way to Barcelona but will now go back to Zurich to get her knee sorted out.
Day 16: Geneva – Seyssel 64,15 km
Day 17: Seyssel – Morestel 100,16 km
Day 18: Morestel – Lyon 107,65 km
Day 19: Lyon – Saint-Vallier 82.57 km
Day 20: Saint-Vallier – Châteauneuf-du-Rhône 140.93 km
Day 21: Châteauneuf-du-Rhône – Avignon 90.29 km
Day 22: Avignon – Montpellier 154.64 km