Fatty Goes to France, Part II: Le Chatelard and a Non-Finite Number of Quaint Villages

09.15.2011 | 11:00 am

What would you expect from a ride in the French countryside? If I had ever stopped to consider that question, I might have imagined the ride we went on our second day in the Aix-les-Bains area, as part of our ten-dayish biking vacation in France with the Andy Hampsten-led Cinghiale Tours.

Sadly, however, I am — as I stated yesterday — a yokel. And so I had never thought about how a 69-mile ride with 6800 feet of climbing in France might be a different experience than a ride with similar distance and elevation in Utah.

This ride would fill up that particular hole in my imagination. From now on, whenever I think of the French countryside, I’ll think of the sights and sounds from this ride.

Born Follower

I’ve described before the sad, sad state of my sense of direction. What I have not described — at least, I don’t remember describing this — is that my memory of roads traveled is no better than my sense of direction.

Which means that while I might have a really vivid mental recollection of many parts of a given ride, you wouldn’t want me to be the guy who guides you on that ride again.

Which is my way of saying that I probably should not be on Andy’s short list of people he considers hiring as a guide at Cinghiale. Even though I am very charming.

The above three paragraphs are not really my point, though, and if I had an editor, she would be entirely correct to delete those paragraphs (and this one, too).

Unfortunately for you, I do not have an editor, and so you have to read everything in the order it occurs to me.

I apologize.

Anyway, the point I did want to make is that I was fairly startled to see that our route from this ride looks like this:


And I wasn’t just startled for a single reason. No. I was startled for three reasons. The first — and most obvious — reason for my startlement is that this route tracing looks like some kind of evil dragon/snuffleupagus hybrid.

What, you don’t see it? Here, I’ll help:


No, that’s not right. That image is conveying all the wrong things. This is better:


Now it’s a friendly dragon/snuffleupagus hybrid (notice the eyebrow change and the not-sharp teeth?), and instead of breathing fire, it’s eating candy corns.

That’s more what the ride was like. A candy-corn-eating, square-tooth-having, friendly imaginary creature.

OK, this post is getting kind of strange. Please give me a moment to collect myself.


The second reason I was startled was that when I looked at this route on a map, I realized I had no idea which direction we had traveled this route: clockwise or counterclockwise.

Finally, I had no idea that the “extra credit” part of the ride some of us chose had us cover so much extra ground (out to Ecole, then to Aillon-le-Jeune) without actually having us go anywhere.

Though I guess that was kind of the point, now that I think about it.

Impressionism, Or Something Like It

The point I’m edging up to here is that this ride wasn’t really about going anywhere — we clearly didn’t take the most direct route, and we weren’t focusing on going fast.

This ride was about seeing. And hearing, too. And, in general, just being overwhelmed at how privileged I was to be experiencing such a beautiful ride.

Really, I’d have a hard time describing the order of what I’ve seen, because we were all over the place, and memories start to blend together a little bit. But I would like to share some impressions. And photos.


I don’t even know how many quaint villages in the French countryside we rode our bikes through that day.


Five? Seven? Maybe even more?


Regardless of how many there were, there were certain common attributes to each of these little places. First, it seemed that so many of these houses had flowers in every possible place:


Next, the houses were old. I asked The Hammer if she had seen any buildings during our ride that looked like they were fewer than fifty years old. She hadn’t.

Without exception, each of these little villages had a large, old church as its centerpiece:


And every village had a wonderful little fountain and trough, decorated with flowers, where we could refill our bottles with cold water. Like this:


And it was good (as in, I never got sick), cold water, too.

Though I wouldn’t have wanted to scoop water from the trough. Greenish, in case you hadn’t noticed.

The Countryside

I’ve long held that pretty much everywhere in the world starts out as beautiful. Desert, mountain, plains, everywhere. Nature is, by default, spectacular.

Sometimes, of course, people mess it up.

Other times we tame it a little, but mostly just to add some finishing touches. And that — more than pretty much anywhere I’ve ever been — is how the French countryside appeared to me:



Mountains everywhere. Some farmland. Really nice, well-paved roads. Cows on the sides of the road with bells around their necks — together making a sound like windchimes.


I kept looking over at The Hammer and said, “We’re in France. In the countryside. On a perfect day. With nothing to do but take it in and have fun for the next week.”

And then we’d both start laughing. It’s not often that everything seems just perfect, so when it is, you’ve got to enjoy it.


This second day was loaded with climbing. About 6800 feet of it, in about 69 miles (it’s possible I have already mentioned this). Here’s the thing, though: I never really noticed it much. The Hammer and I were riding for fun — not to set climbing records.

That said, the elevation profile is worth checking out:


And while we were definitely in the mountains, those mountains started about 3,000 feet lower than the mountains The Hammer and I live in (our house is right at 4912 feet). As we rode, The Hammer observed, “Isn’t it great to not have your lungs burning at all on a climb?”

“Yes,” I agreed, my lungs burning only a little bit.

Bad Dog

After a full day of climbing and picnicking, we got to an overlook at a ski resort — the high point (literally) of the day. 4000 feet below, we could see the lake, where our hotel was.


The above image, by the way, is probably the most spectacularly ineffective photo I have ever seen at demonstrating a dramatic 4,000 altitude difference between where you are and the water below. You’re just going to have to believe me that it would take more than a short walk across a flat grassy field to get to the lake over there.

While I was taking this picture The Hammer started laughing. I looked down and saw why: a very small dog had lifted its leg and was peeing on my bike’s rear wheel.

So I got my revenge by peeing on the dog.

OK, not really.

Improbable Is Not Impossible

From this overlook, we had a ten-mile, 4,000-foot descent back to our hotel, in one giant, unbroken, twisty bomber downhill.

It was glorious. Beautiful. A perfect descent.

It was also something that you did not want to interrupt to take pictures. So you’ll have to trust me.

But the problem is, the tour group had broken up into several group-lets during the long climb, so that The Hammer, one other rider, and I were the only ones together. I believe that I’ve already mentioned what a comical sense of direction I have, and — alas — The Hammer is not much better (this is actually a good thing in our relationship; it means neither of us ever gets mad when the other gets lost or fouls up directions).

Naturally, the guy riding with us had no idea how to get back to our hotel either.

And so we went with a simple premise: since our hotel was lakeside and thus the lowest place in the area, we’d always turn downhill when presented with an option.

And you know what? This method worked perfectly. We got to the hotel without a single wrong turn or double-back.

And thus wound up as one of the first groups to arrive at the hotel. Later we’d find that most of the other grouplets got semi-lost once they got into town, having used their sense of direction rather than the arbitrary “go the direction water would flow” technique.

We were so proud.

So . . . Cold . . . Must . . . Eat . . . .

The group ate at the hotel restaurant that night, out on the patio. Honestly, I do not remember what we ate, but I do remember that it was around eighteen courses, each the size of a single beanie-weenie (but not quite as filling).

And then there’d be forty-five minutes of waiting for the next course.

As the night wore on, I had two distinct impressions:

  1. I became increasingly cold. Thankfully, I had filled my suitcase with pretty much nothing but jerseys, shorts, and every SmartWool product imaginable. The Hammer and I excused ourselves multiple times to go add another layer to our clothing.
  2. I became increasingly hungry. After riding all day, you — or at least I — are more interested in calories than cuisine. I started the evening hungry, and found that the precious, artistic courses weren’t enough to even keep up with my hunger, much less beat it back.

I decided that I am probably not a good bet for fancy food in general, and especially not when I enter a restaurant thinking about meat loaf and mashed potatoes.

Like I said before, I am a yokel. I was in France for the riding, not the food.

Stanley Tucci and Patrick Dempsey

Let me conclude this post with a photo of me with Brian, one of the riders on my tour.


I post this because I’m pretty sure that when people saw us together, it looked like Patrick Dempsey and Stanley Tucci were vacationing in France together.

Which they may be, as far as I know. But I’m pretty sure Brian and I could kick their respective butts, riding-wise.

PS to the ladies: Brian is a practicing doctor, is very fit, is good-looking (The Hammer kept saying so, ’til I asked her to please stop), has a thick, full head of hair, and is single. Act now.


  1. Comment by eclecticdeb | 09.15.2011 | 11:09 am

    Wow…incredibly jealous (in a good way). Will future installments describe your lodging accommodations?

    The BF and I are hoping to do bike tour through Italy next summer — based on your 2 posts so far, pretty much the same type of riding (only in Italy).

    I welcome any suggestions from your captive audience regarding tour groups.

  2. Comment by Orbea Girl | 09.15.2011 | 11:19 am


    Now you understand why I live in France.

    electricdeb – one word, Tuscany!

    Yeah, I really do. And you’ll notice The Hammer and I also agree on your choice of road bike! – FC

  3. Comment by davidh-marin,ca | 09.15.2011 | 11:31 am

    Fatty- maybe you could get Dr. Brian to ‘donate’ himself as ‘prize’ for an upcoming challenge. Ladies only, of course, I would love to see the response.

    As for hunger… that’s what the cheese and wine are for. And what, no ‘bike through’ fast food establishments in quaint picturesque, French villages?

  4. Comment by bikemike | 09.15.2011 | 12:00 pm

    not trying to insult at all here but at what point does a practicing doctor/lawyer become an actual doctor/lawyer?

    After he’s practiced enough? – FC

  5. Comment by leroy | 09.15.2011 | 12:15 pm

    My dog insists that he has been house sitting for Bike Snob while you were in France and disavows any involvment with his Gallic canine counterpart’s greeting.

    Of course, if Bike Snob returns to a trashed apartment and empty fridge, my dog will no doubt claim he was with you.

    In the meantime, he suggests you may have received a warning shot from the army of chihuahuas Levi Leipheimer has been raising in his quest for world domination.

  6. Comment by J. Wall | 09.15.2011 | 12:43 pm

    I was half expecting to read that you were munching on honey stinger waffles and energy bars in between the eighteen courses.

    Oh, I would’ve, but we only brought a limited supply on the trip; had to save those for on-bike eating. – FC

  7. Comment by Allyson | 09.15.2011 | 1:12 pm

    So…um….is Brian/Patrick from Utah? Because I might have a “friend” who might be interested.

    Sadly for your “friend,” he’s in Michigan. But I hear long-distance relationships usually work out AWESOME. – FC

  8. Comment by Liz | 09.15.2011 | 1:31 pm

    Now you are a matchmaker, too?! What a full service blog this is.

    Another beautiful ride. I had the good fortune to visit the Alps about 15 years ago and I remember the flower boxes on every window, too.

    Thanks for letting us be armchair travelers!

  9. Comment by Ingriddeke | 09.15.2011 | 1:35 pm

    Go to The Italian Alps. You would love the food and the mountains. The other good part is that there are no French people!

  10. Comment by a chris | 09.15.2011 | 1:48 pm

    Awesome, awesome trip. We did some cycle-camping versions of this before kids and can’t wait until the time is right for us to go back. The drivers are mostly friendly and the campsites are comfy. Pizza, baguettes, chocolate, cheese, saucisson sec, pastries, pastries, pastries…I recommend France for cycling tours, heartily.

  11. Comment by Mateo | 09.15.2011 | 2:06 pm

    I almost breathed in a Reece’s Pieces when you displayed that awe-inspiring rendition of an “evil dragon/snuffleupagus hybrid” tamed to eat candy corn. You are one lucky son of a bitch Fatty, love the travelogue, what a great way to spend the waning summer.

  12. Comment by Susie H | 09.15.2011 | 2:16 pm

    ah….to be a practicing doctor,very fit, good-looking have a thick, full head of hair, and single….

  13. Comment by Bicycle Bill | 09.15.2011 | 2:30 pm

    Let me just make one suggestion to you for a location on a future cycling itinerary: Italy.

    Specifically, northern Italy.

    And to narrow it down even further, Magreglio.

    Magreglio is the home of the Chapel of the Madonna del Ghisallo — declared the patroness saint of cycling by Pope Pius XII in 1949.

    The chapel there is replete with artifacts such as bicycles, jerseys, and other memorabilia left there by cyclists, both famed and anonymous, either in tribute or in supplication — so much so that it is a de facto shrine to cycling.

    Since many of us will never visit the location in person (although it is on my bucket list!) perhaps you would be so kind as to figure out some way to get there and take us all along with you through the pages of your blog.


  14. Comment by Eric L | 09.15.2011 | 3:16 pm

    It’s a good thing you weren’t in the Basque region. It’s a known fact that peeing on an Orbea will earn you an unpleasant visit from the ETA (Euskadi Ta Askatasuna).

    …or at least a snot rocket from Sammy Sanchez.

  15. Comment by Jeff Bike | 09.15.2011 | 3:36 pm

    Didn’t you know that Wine, Cheese and Bread make really good cycling food? Learn to appreciate the fruit of the land! Oh Ok have a beer and a hotdog.

  16. Comment by Trailer Park Cyclist | 09.15.2011 | 5:23 pm

    Fatty it ain’t none of my business but where is your left hand in that picture with Dr Brian?

    Hey, I know, it’s France.

    BTW, don’t leave without getting a Royale With Cheese.

    You’ll dig it the most.

  17. Comment by AK_Chick | 09.15.2011 | 10:09 pm

    Fatty, you don’t live in Midvale do you? Someone from Utah called when i was 75 miles into a 110 mile charity ride last Saturday. I was riding up a hill, into a vicious headwind, freezing and wishing I had worn long underwear under my jersey and a heavier jacket, long pants, and booties over my shoes. BRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR I’m hoping it was a wrong number and not that I missed out on a prize because I didn’t answer. I really want Chris Horner’s socks (I know Wife #1 does too, maybe we could split them? :)

    Are you going to post some info about Team Fatty in Austin? I was leading the team in fundraising, but I’m sure Paul has caught up to me by now.

  18. Comment by Tank | 09.16.2011 | 1:19 am

    That’s Gabriel Byrne not Patrick Dempsey.

  19. Comment by Lana | 09.16.2011 | 5:10 am

    I would sign up for Fatty’s dating service, but only if he wrote everyone’s profiles.

    That said, I DO live in Michigan…..

  20. Comment by eileen | 09.16.2011 | 5:18 am

    I can’t recommend enough coming to Chile for some brutal hillclimbing, and the food is extremely meat and potatoes, potages of ground meat with corn much on top, hearty, giant portions and the some of the highest bread consumption in the world. I’m sure someone as skilled and desirable as Brian would have no problem communicating in sign language. Oh wait, he does speak Spanish as well, does he not?

    Glad you had a great trip, and loved the dino/snuffel renditions. My trip to NZ looked like a giant stethescope.

  21. Comment by Jenn | 09.16.2011 | 5:46 am

    @eclectic Deb…at the risk of starting an opinion war, I will tell you that (IMHO), if I had to choose between France or Italy for a cycling trip, France would win, hands down. The infrastructure (think: roads, buildings, landscaping of public areas) is far, far better maintained in France, which makes it an exponentially prettier place. Italy is wonderful in its own way, but it is…how shall I put this nicely…tired? We lived in Italy for a year and have been in Germany for several. For us, France is the perfect combination all of the good qualities of each: great food, laid-back lifestyle/people like Italy, but more structured and well-maintained, a la Germany.

  22. Comment by Jenn | 09.16.2011 | 5:47 am

    Oh! Hey, Fatty! Any idea why his tour company is named after wild boar?

  23. Comment by dgaddis | 09.16.2011 | 5:50 am

    HAHA, Got you a new signature Fatty:

    Fat Cyclist
    World famous blogger. Part time wing-man.

  24. Comment by Cyclin' Missy | 09.16.2011 | 9:03 am

    When I lived in a small town in France, we used the same method of finding our way around. If you went uphill, you knew you were heading into the center of town. If you went downhill, you were heading out of town. It really worked!

  25. Comment by The Bike Nazi | 09.16.2011 | 11:21 am

    Fatty, how fit do people have to be to sign up for such a vacation? I live in NJ where there is very little elevation. In a week long biking trip, do you ride everyday or have optional restdays? I want to go a trip like this!

  26. Comment by rich | 09.16.2011 | 11:27 am

    another great post! Really enjoying this trip via your blog….
    Glad you and the Hammer are having a great time…

  27. Comment by Ryan Surface | 09.16.2011 | 11:30 am

    Stanley Tucci! I knew you reminded me of someone and it has been niggling in my head ever since I saw the, now infamous, “Levi Headlock” shot. Hey if Mr. Tucci were to ever star in an fast action bike racing movie you could be his stunt double. BTW on my bucket list is to take a Andy Hampsten Cinghiale tour in Italy. So I am hating/envying you and loving this article at the same time…is that wrong?

  28. Comment by Bryan (not that one) | 09.16.2011 | 3:22 pm

    Loving these posts, Fatty.

    Hey, could you do me a favor? I know this is kinda selfish of me, but I’ll ask anyway. After you’re done with all the France stores could you go to some other cool location (Italy?) and bike for a week or two and then come back and blog about it? :-D

  29. Comment by Wife#1 | 09.16.2011 | 9:33 pm

    @AK Chick – LMAO! How about we take turns with the socks? You take them for half a year and then send them to me for the next half a year – joint custody.

    I really hope you did not miss that phone call either! I’ll just be happy if one of the
    “regulars” wins ‘em, or at least someone who will love them as we would. ;-) I thought that WBR was making the calls so hopefully they just have not reached you yet!

  30. Comment by davidh-marin,ca | 09.16.2011 | 9:45 pm

    It appears Fatty is still on a ‘French’ work week (about 30hrs plus scheduled breaks). Paul would not have left us in suspense all weekend. What will I do till Monday?

  31. Comment by AK_Chick | 09.17.2011 | 12:41 am

    @Wife#1 It’s a deal! We’ll split custody of Chris Horner’s socks. :) We can work out the details once Fatty calls one of us to tell us we’ve won them. :)

    If WBR is in Utah, maybe it could have been them? But I have voicemail so suspect that it was probably a wrong number or a telemarketer. I never win anything, but that’s okay, I don’t donate to win things. :)

    Also @davidh-marin,ca is correct. What up Fatty? What gives? I think we are now very spoiled by Paul and it appears that Fatty must have Paul guest blog even while he is here to keep up with his demanding fans. :)

  32. Comment by AK_Chick | 09.17.2011 | 12:41 am

    Forgot to mention, I am one of the demanding fans. :)

  33. Comment by Jenn | 09.17.2011 | 12:43 am

    @david-Marin…I know, right? Is he on strike now? Here it is Saturday morning, and still I’m checking in! Pitiful…

  34. Comment by Grant | 09.17.2011 | 6:04 am

    If you find the gourmet meals are not keeping up with your calorific requirements, ask for a side of pasta – most places are more than happy to oblige. After a couple of days mountain biking in the Alps we did this as standard and it helped a lot!

  35. Comment by davidh-marin,ca | 09.17.2011 | 9:15 am

    Those Fatties who follow ‘tweets’(like Wife#1- a tweet follower, not a fatty, oh never mind, I better stop) will know the Hammer and Fatty are already off on their next adventure….some endurance race in Steamboat Springs, if Wife#1 has informed me correctly from the tweets.

    Paging Paul Guyot, Paging Paul Guyot…………..

  36. Comment by Wife#1 | 09.17.2011 | 10:28 am


    Sundance, not Steamboat Springs. I swear I am going to sign you up for Twitter without your permission and set the feed for posts from Fatty, Johan, Paul Guyot and a few others to go right to your email.

    Drag ya kicking and screaming into the Twitterverse.

    BTW husband dearest, my twitter handle is acnpiratewench, don’t go looking for Wife#1.

    @AK Chick – you’re on! Joint custody it is once they call us. *drumming fingers impatiently*

  37. Comment by Rumpled | 09.17.2011 | 2:43 pm

    Love your interpretation of your route. We have a local MTB ride called The Buffalo for that same reason.
    I also think most of my out and backs end up looking like snakes.

  38. Comment by adventureswithdelilah | 09.17.2011 | 7:33 pm

    Do they have candy corn in France? Isn’t it just a silly American candy for a silly American holiday? I hear them say this with the french knight’s voice from Monty Python.

  39. Comment by VA Biker | 09.18.2011 | 8:53 am

    Thanks for the entry. Winding narrative? Maybe, but always a good read! This one brought me back to my single trip to Switzerland, touching the Juras a bit, but mostly in the Swiss Alps. Makes you wonder if all of alpine Europe is equally nice.

    I remember going to Disney World with my wife and kid in 2006. I delighted in my kid’s reaction, but positively hated the artificial nature of it all. Then I went to Switzerland in 2007 and had to keep telling myself that all of these pin-neat villages were real! You really do have to see it to appreciate the sights, sounds, and terrain (the infrastructure ain’t too bad, either).

  40. Comment by cece | 09.18.2011 | 9:22 am

    Brian is in Michigan? That’s pretty far from New Mexico! But….you never know. Perhaps matchmaking is your true calling!

  41. Comment by davidh-marin,ca | 09.18.2011 | 9:42 am

    @cece I believe every practicing doctor in Michigan yearns to visit New Mexico in the winter. Go easy on the green chili though. Elevation should be no problem after Alp D’Huez. Post a picture of your bike, that should sink the hook.

  42. Comment by bikerchick | 09.18.2011 | 9:56 am

    Hey Eldon– who’s the dude in the Pony Shop kit in your photo filling up the water bottles? That’s my neighborhood shop and chances are I know the guy! Glad you had an awesome time and thanks, as always, for the colorful descriptions. ps. Don’t ever get an editor, please– it’s part of your charming style and the reason I’ve faithfully read your blog for the past 5+ years!

  43. Comment by Suzanne | 09.18.2011 | 10:14 am

    Re: Brian, hmmmmm, I’m a practicing cyclist am very fit, am good-looking (so I am told), have a thick, full head of hair, and am also single. I live in Illinois but have family in Michigan, who I could visit more often. Act now.

  44. Comment by cece | 09.18.2011 | 12:57 pm

    I ride a beautiful red Colnago called Little Red Riding Hood! Maybe Brian is the Big Bad Wolf? :)

  45. Comment by Hamish | 09.19.2011 | 7:05 am

    Wow how rude of Ingriddeke. I was just in France to tour and ride the Paris-Brest-Paris 1200km randonnee and the French were lovely and very supportive of cyclists!

  46. Comment by Gunther (from Germany) | 09.19.2011 | 10:37 pm

    Wow Fatty, with the last paragraph, you really made my day ! Sounds like a pretty ok vacation. Keep these posts comin’ – pretty pretty please :-)


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