The rest day was perfect. Dad didn't move at all and was able to enjoy the rest day to the fullest. In our planning there is no rest day until the end. We don't know if we'll make it, but we continue our journey with the idea that we will make it.
The route we are following is called The Green Way to the Mediterranean Sea. The route starts in Maastricht and ends in the south of France. We don't cycle to the sea, but we finish via a detour to the Mont Ventoux in Avignon, that's the plan. That Mont Ventoux is the idea of me and my two brothers. That challenge appealed more to us than the last one hundred and fifty kilometers on flat roads in the scorching heat all the way to the sea. After the physically demanding days before the rest day, Dad doubts whether the Mont Ventoux plan is such a good idea. "We'll see when we get there," I keep saying.
Our first day goal after the rest day is a village at 85 kilometers where there is a municipal campingground. The footnote in our 2018 travel guide makes us hesitate a bit. It says that the campsite was closed in 2017 and it is not yet clear when it will reopen. The travel guide is right, the campground is still closed. Nine kilometers, admittedly off the trail, is another campground. The first day after the rest day promises to be over 90 kilometers right away. The other campground is reserved for the whole month of July by a scouting group. They direct us to the next place, just a few kilometers away. After 95 kilometers a few kilometers with a long climb feels heavier than the 95 kilometers before. At exactly 100 kilometers, we arrive at the Ecolonie campsite.
From that moment on, our trip got the routine we had thought of together beforehand. We wanted to experience France with croissants, wines, cheese and baguettes. We wanted a good balance between the life on and off the bike. Leaving at eight and arriving at four seemed ideal. The first eight days we didn't really achieve this. We did not manage to get on our bikes on time and arriving early was out of the question. The next morning, at a quarter past eight, we are on our bikes. After twenty kilometers, the first bakery stop follows. We buy baguettes and a few croissants. Dad asks if they have coffee. They don't, but the baker's wife is willing to make a cup of coffee in her own kitchen. Dad comes out with two cups of coffee, poured in Mrs. Baker's best china.
Having covered sixty kilometers, we look for a lunch spot. We look for a bench or set up our camping chairs. Then we have another twenty-five kilometers to cycle before arriving at our next campsite before four o'clock. We have found the right routine.
The following days we cycle further and further south in France. We cycle through the foothills of the Vosges and the Jura, over quiet roads in the green and through beautiful gorges with high rock faces. And suddenly we're in the middle of the market square of a lively village. There's a nice little market and people are drinking coffee on the terrace. The market square is filled with large plane trees under which lies white yellow dolomite. The houses are plastered in light yellow, white and beige colors. Although it is still early, the facades and streets already radiate warmth. We cycle through the village, followed by long straight roads with vast fields of sunflowers. It smells, feels, sounds and looks different. We are in the south of France.
We cycle from one Provençal village to another. Compared to the first week we cycle a little slower and that makes a big difference for my father. He doesn't fall asleep exhausted on his camping chair, but can read a book when we arrive. Our average speed is about fifteen kilometers per hour. That's a lot slower than the nineteen kilometers an hour we cycled during our world trip passing France. In the evening we cook ourselves or we go out for dinner. Dad didn't mind sleeping seventeen nights in a tent, as long as we would eat out every now and then. There is no lack of food on our journey anyways. We devour several croissants, chocolate rolls, apple turnovers and ice cream, followed by wine and beer in the evening. A touch of luxury in the simple cyclist life.
Three days before we arrive in Avignon, we leave in Crest. We are all looking forward to today. According to the route guide, the upcoming section is one of the most beautiful parts of the entire route. For my father, it's the last long day of cycling. Simon, Maxim and I are especially looking forward to the end of the day. We are cycling to the foot of Mont Ventoux which we will try to conquer tomorrow. My father has already decided a few days ago that he will not join us. He does not enjoy it and is already satisfied with all the other climbs we have done. Today, moreover, two six-kilometer climbs await. That's his Mont Ventoux.
The first climb is over six kilometers long and goes on a narrow asphalt road, through a beautiful gorge and past beautiful views. We almost don't feel the climbing, that's how beautiful it is. Pure enjoyment. Proudly, Dad raises his hand in the air when we reach the top. The second climb goes over a wider and busier road. Although the gradient and length are the same, this one feels twice as hard. It remains a mental game.
After lunch, the summit of Mont Ventoux appears in the picture. From this point on we leave the Green Road and follow our own path. I have mapped out a route myself over small, quiet roads. It is challenging and tough. We don't make it to Malaucène, the foot of the Mont Ventoux, but find a campsite at fifteen kilometers. Dad falls asleep again on his camping chair. He has had his victory today and can be proud that he has been able to follow his three sons for fifteen days. Three months ago he was still on the operating table for a hernia in his back. He cycled four times before we left. It's no wonder he was having such a hard time. Thirty years older and not at all fit. When you look at it that way, his achievement is the most remarkable of us all.
It is southern hot and even without the rain fly on the tent it was far too hot to sleep. With little eyes, we crawl out of the tent. "We'll wake up on the bike," I say. Dad isn't worried. He is cycling the short route from Malaucène to Bedouin today. Simon, Maxim and I do go over the top. In Malaucène we buy a supply of croissants, bananas and energy bars for our climb. Dad goes straight on, we turn left, "Mont Ventoux, 21 kilometers" it says on the road sign. A moment later, an information sign tells us that we are climbing an average of 7.5% for 21 kilometers. The steepest kilometers are 12% average. It doesn't matter to us, we will certainly suffer.
We have one goal: to overtake a cyclist without luggage. Soon we realize that this is going to be a very tough challenge. One after the other cyclist on a racing bike passes us. Seemingly effortlessly they cycle uphill, as if we are almost at a standstill. When one of them cycles slower, we say hopefully, "We'll catch him later". We never see them again, until a Belgian overtakes us agonizingly slow, followed by a man who, from the first few kilometers, rides uphill in a lurch. We get hope.
21 kilometers of climbing at this gradient is tough. Because our father is not here, we cycle faster than the last two weeks. Moreover, we don't want to be inferior to each other. Every kilometer there is a concrete post next to the road which indicates the percentage of the climb for the next kilometer. After 10 kilometers climbing, we briefly catch sight of the summit. "O god that's demotivating," Simon shouts. It seems unlikely that we would need barely 11 kilometers to be up there. It only means that there are very steep kilometers coming up. In front of us is the Belgian, whom we overtake meter for meter. Mission accomplished. From then on it's tough. Together we make it to the top, although it is Simon who wins the sprint with remarkable ease. Maxim and I don't stand a chance against his racing bike and clip-in pedals pedals. On top of the summit it is extremely busy with cyclists who want to pose in front of the sign. We get a lot of congratulations from the other cyclists who look surprised at our packed bikes. I don't know if it is extra tough, because without luggage you just cycle faster uphill. They think so and that makes us a bit proud.
In the afternoon we rest at the campsite, enjoy the pool and a rosé wine on the terrace. We end the day with a cheese and wine evening. It is the last evening of our trip. Tomorrow, 45 kilometers remain to Avignon where we will take the bus back home in the evening. It was unforgettable!
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