It was 3am. I was lying in bed. Not sleeping, just lying there. I had two reasons for not being able to sleep:
- The next morning, we were going to ride the Col du Galibier. First up the North side, then down the South side. Then up the Telegraphe, then back down, then back up the South side of the Galibier, and then — finally — coast down to the hotel. A big day of riding and climbing for our final day on the tour. I was just too excited to sleep.
- There was a very loud group of Belgians partying all through the night outside, just below our window.
The Belgians were there for a big event: a charity ride, where thousands (literally) of people would climb the Col du Galibier, the same day we would be.
The good news — as far as we were concerned — was that the road would be closed to cars because of this event. The bad news was that thousands of bikes are almost certainly more of an obstacle than a few cars. Oh, and no cars meant that our trusty follow van wouldn’t be there for us. We’d have to carry everything we needed for the day, like normal folks.
The Belgians went to bed around 5am (really), so I got a good solid two hours-worth of sleep. So I woke grouchy and foggy. I knew it wouldn’t last, though. I knew from experience that riding gives me (temporary) relief from sleep deprivation, not to mention from cold symptoms.
But the sky was looking dark. Like it could rain.
The Hammer and I rolled up armwarmers and rain jackets and stuffed them into our jersey pockets. Surely, that would be enough.
A few miles of climbing from our hotel in La Grave brought us to the Galibier. Carlos — a heart surgeon from NY who goes on a couple tours with Andy Hampsten every year — rode with us. He asked The Hammer if she calls me “Fatty.”
“No,” replied The Hammer. “I used to, but now I call him Elden.”
Carlos looked at me. “You should have everyone call you ‘Fatty,’” he told me. “Who would want to be called ‘Elden‘?”
I admitted I had never thought about it that way before.
Summiting the Galibier (The First Time)
The Galibier is a daunting climb, because you can see all too well where you’re going. The road just grinds up and up and up.
Fortunately, as you climb, you can also look down and see what you’ve accomplished, so far:
We weren’t trying to set any records that day — I’d had enough of that for one trip — and so we took time to get pictures.
Thanks to Carlos, we were even able to get some with The Hammer and me together.
There were several cows — all white — alongside the road. Some of them would run beside you. Most of them would moo at you, too.
“Fatty, I think that cow just told you to get moooooving,” Carlos said. Which started a whole string of moo-related jokes. Which all seemed totally hilarious at the time.
Laughing and joking the whole way up, I hardly noticed that we had just climbed around 4000 feet in under twelve miles.
We were there. At the top of the Galibier.
As were about five hundred other people.
We got a shot of us with Andy Hampsten:
And I got this shot:
It was kind of fun to stand back and watch people on the summit. I saw several people suddenly recognize Andy and point him out. It was the cycling equivalent of going to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and seeing Mic Jagger hanging out there. Or something like that.
We began the descent down the South side of the Galibier, which meant we were going the opposite direction of most of the thousands of people still climbing. All the way down, I looked at peoples’ faces. Some were having a great time; some were suffering bad. But everyone was doing what it took to get to the top.
I love that about cycling.
We got to a cafe, where we bought all kinds of pastries. And paninis. And quiche.
And, for The Hammer and myself, a couple of Cokes.
For whatever reason, there was nothing quite as wonderful as Coke during this trip.
I don’t know if it was that we were hungry, or just that we were tired of 12-course meals, but this was my favorite meal of the trip thus far. If I ever go to France again, I am going to do all of my eating out of roadside cafes.
As we ate, the clouds got darker. The wind picked up.
“I don’t think we should do the Telegraphe,” said Andy.
On one hand, I was a little bit disappointed. On the other hand, it’s not like we didn’t have plenty of riding ahead of us. In point of fact, we now were going to climb the South side of the Galibier.
The Galibier Climb (the Second Time)
We started climbing again, this time with The Hammer, Carlos, Andy and I all riding together.
Then I made a mistake.
I told Andy, “You should really be writing a book. Have you thought of writing one?”
“Actually, I have,” said Andy. And he started telling me about it. From time to time, I’d throw in a little piece of input.
But you know how when you get absorbed in a conversation, you can totally lose track of what you’re doing? That’s what happened with Andy. As he got interested in telling me about his book idea, he started riding faster and faster.
Still talking easily, still breathing calmly. But definitely going faster.
Before long, Carlos and The Hammer dropped off the back. I was hanging on.
Andy was riding easily, thinking and talking about how he’d organize the chapters in his book.
I’d say maybe two or three words between gasping breaths. Andy spoke in full paragraphs.
And the climb just went on and on.
Finally, we got to the top. I figured, based on how I felt, that we must have been ten to fifteen minutes ahead of The Hammer and Carlos.
They rode up about one minute later.
At which point, I got my favorite shot of the trip.
At the moment I took this shot, it began to rain. One drop.
Then ten at once.
Then it was a downpour.
We put on what we had brought with us and began the trip down. At which point, I began to wish we weren’t descending in this downpour; that just made us all the colder.
I followed The Hammer the whole way down. I am not ashamed to say it: she is a better road descender than I.
Half an hour later, we were soaked, freezing, but back to our hotel.
La Grave is beautiful even when it’s raining.
This gave us a daily total of 43.5 miles, with 7200 feet of climbing.
I love the elevation profile:
That was the end of our last ride. Sure, we finished with soaking bike shoes, but we spent the whole week riding with dry shoes. That’s not bad at all.
It rained the next day as we made our way back to Lyon. Torrentially. And the bus broke down. And it rained all through the night and into the next morning.
And our train — the Rhonexpress, which had broken down on our way from the airport to Lyon — broke down on the way from Lyon to the airport.
It didn’t matter. We were giddy from what we had experienced.
It’s now been almost exactly a month since we finished this trip; it’s been fun for me to re-live it by writing the stories down. Earlier today, I asked The Hammer, “Can you believe we got to go on that tour? Any one of those rides would have been worth the trip. Stacking that many incredible rides together, well…wow. That was the vacation of a lifetime.”
And it really was.
PS: In case you’re curious, our total mileage for the tour was 420 miles, with 45,344 feet of climbing. That’s a lot.