Today I am looking back on our trip to Provence, unable to believe that a month has already passed since we were cycling through lavender fields and enjoying the fantastic scenery around Mont Ventoux.
How do you top climbing Mont Ventoux for a day out on the bikes, especially when our total distance cycled that day came in at 93km? Pretty impressive for a 28km climb, but having descended to Sault, elated and hungry, heading back to Montbrun-les-Bains for a quiet afternoon seemed rather flat. Adrian suggested a 15km loop through the lavender fields that he promised was nice and flat, although I should know by now, his idea of flat and mine are a little off alignment. It was however a stunning ride through beautiful countryside with gorse, lavender and mountain views, and I’m so glad we did it. I also felt totally justified at scoffing an entire pizza to myself that night.
Climbing Mont Ventoux changed something inside my head. The fear of the ‘what ifs’ that often rules has been replaced with an attitude, 'if I can do that, slowly and steadily at my pace, I can do anything'. Adrian’s plan for our second day in the area was cycling the Gorges de la Nesque, thanks again to Julie from Vaucluse Dreamer for the blog post that gave him the idea. It would mean a second, consecutive day at over 90km, but I was looking forward to it, right up until about 3.00am. The pizza, delicious at the time, now felt like concrete in my belly and I wished I’ve given Adrian the last slice, or two. Somewhere in the village a dog barked, on and off, all night, timing it perfectly to coincide with every time I began to drop off to sleep. To say I wasn’t feeling refreshed as I set off on the 12km uphill ride back to Sault that morning would be pretty accurate.
The Gorges de la Nesque is a deep ravine, with a narrow road cut into the rock side and best viewed from the direction of Villes-sur-Auzon, even if this does mean cycling it uphill. From Sault we took the D943 to Monieux, where we joined the D46, which then becomes the D6 for a gradual climb up to St Hubert. The road was quiet, the only other traffic were other cyclists and Mont Ventoux was watching down on us, a little reminder to my tired head that I could do it. It wasn’t just my head that was tired, my legs that had powered me to great heights yesterday, were alarmingly stiff this morning. It was deflating. They had been fine yesterday afternoon, so why was every pedal stroke today an effort for me, but not for Adrian?
It actually took a few days to recover fully and looking back I think that it was the descent from Mont Ventoux that was to blame, not the climb. Despite our weather being almost perfect; dry, not too hot and not too much of the wind the mountain is famed for, it was still a bitterly cold descent. I had added two long-sleeved layers, but my teeth were still chattering as we reached the sunnier plains at the bottom. My fingers were so cold they hurt, and I began to worry I wouldn’t be able to squeeze the brakes. My legs didn’t have to put in any effort, but I think my rigid, frozen position on the bike meant the muscles in my thighs stiffened nicely in the cold air, although they had been fine for the warm afternoon ride we then completed. A night of not much sleep hindered their recovery and although we did drink plenty, it probably wasn’t quite enough for the effort the muscles had put in.
I was determined not to give up on today’s ride, especially as it was truly beautiful. As we descended towards Méthamis we cycled through cherry orchards, vineyards and more lavender fields. The sun was warm and the scents in the air were delicious. A patisserie stop in Villes-sur-Auzon, where we had our picnic lunch, would have made all the difference, but sadly, the only boulangerie we found had just closed for lunch.
The sense of anticipation as we began to climb on the D942 built with every corner in the road as a new vista opened out in front. The soft green foliage that covers the hard rock, tumbles away to an invisible bottom, the only protection a small, stone wall at the side of the road. There are many times that the phrase ‘breathtakingly beautiful’ is used, but what was all around us on the bikes today truly took my breath away.
There were times when we caught a view of the road snaking into the distance, other times we cycled through tunnels cut into the rock as we slowly meandered along trying to take in the views that rose high above to our left and disappeared away to our right. One of the (many) benefits of cycling on a road like this as opposed to being in a car, is that you are at one with the landscape, there is no roof, doors or windows to get in the way and no one worries how slowly you crawl along.
We stopped a lot. For photos, for water and for food to keep our energy levels up, but also just to look around and watch the eagles soaring above us.
It was a long, hot day and despite the sun cream, my arms turned a little pink and I have to admit it wasn’t my most comfortable day on the bike. However, I made it back to Montbrun-les-Bains having ridden another 92kms and I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.