Day 51, Valence, 4.641 km
No offense to my Berlin, Vienna and Rolle friends (and hosts), France has a little something that the countries I have just crossed do not have: it is (very) densely populated with family members, friends, friends of family members, friends of friends, etc … which makes its crossing much livelier! A chocolate bar and a packet of dried prunes suddenly turn into mutton ribs, green beans and reblochon… An evening looking for a nice bar and people to make conversation with me turns into a tour of the locals’ finest and a lively discussion about ecology, mountains, literature, drawing, cooking, and many other subjects… A Sunday wandering from cafe to cafe and from park to park turns into a descent of the Drôme in a canoe and a pint in a small brewery in the mountains… Let’s see what comes next!!
I’m leaving Rolle after spending the morning writing the last article you read. My stomach is full, the weather is nice, there is a little wind but not too much. I do not ride along Lake Geneva unfortunately but I go through small villages and fields… Too bad. I arrive in Geneva. It’s a bit of a chaos, there are people and cars everywhere. I quickly take pictures to be able to prove that I have been there (I am sure that some people would invoke a glaring lack of evidence to question the numbers I am showing…) and head for France.
The way out of town is terrible, people ride on the bike path, I’m supposed to cross 4-lanes roads every 5 minutes, I’m in the mufflers for several kilometers, well… looking forward to the end of it. I cross the border and enter the European Union again. Big disappointment: not even a border post, a sign or a flag… I was expecting a triumphant welcome, fireworks, dancers, champagne… Jay and Bob are very disappointed and I have to use all my powers of persuasion to prevent them from turning back… In addition, the road is bad, there is not really a cycle path or clear signs indicating the direction of Annecy… I hope that it does not represent the state of cycle paths in France, otherwise I might as well take the train… After a few kilometers on the emergency lane of a departmental road, watching out for drivers stuck in traffic jams looking at their phones, I find a nice bridge which overhangs the valley and meet a cyclist who recommends me a slight detour by a (I quote) « bucolic road to avoid all this s**t ». It is quieter, indeed, and I arrive in one piece in Annecy, by the lake. I’m not hungry (oddly enough, it must have been Valentin’s lunchtime muffin that set me up for the day), so I spend an hour watching people go by and thinking about what to do next. I finally decide to go around the lake until I find a place to camp for the night. Good plan. Even better execution. My tent pitched in a small forest, I can fall asleep peacefully.
Wile analyzing the route of the stage the next morning, I realize that I am passing just a few kilometers away from Villaroux (a small village in the mountains where my family has a house). So I decide to take a little detour, just to relive some childhood memories (I haven’t been in this house for at least 10 years…). Departure ! The cycle path is superb (I am reassured, no need to take the train). Passage through Albertville for a breakfast and then I continue for a little while along the Isère. I ride. The mountains are watching me pass by. The cows too. I go through the vineyards, it looks like the harvest is approaching… I arrive in the village, next to the church, where in my memories the house is located, and I find an inn… It must be further away. I move forward a bit, think about it again, this house was definitely next to the church… I go back, take a closer look at the inn: it is indeed the family house! There is someone inside so I knock. My Aunt Martine opens. “Yes, hello, how can I help you? – It’s me, Pierre! – Pierre !! come on in!!” (It must be the beard, at this rate even my own mother will not recognize me in a few months…). And now my lunch break turns into a warm welcome in one of the houses of my childhood …
After this nice surprise and with a full belly, I set off again for Grenoble. I go along the Isère, in the forest, it’s very nice. On my arrival, I am greeted by a friend of Géraud (one of my cousins) who takes me out for a drink on a terrace, to eat Lebanese food and even offers me a glass of excellent whiskey, while pretending to be interested in my rantings on ecology, the benefits of cycling and life outside… What more could you ask for !! The next day, early morning departure for Valence, to meet some cousins there. The weather is perfect, the road is flat, along the Isère, very pleasant. A road that sometimes deviates a little from the river to take me through vineyards or walnut trees (Sandrine, you can be proud of me, I recognized them on my own this time !!). Then comes down and meanders along the water’s edge again. At Romans-sur-Isère, instead of following my instinct which advises me to ride along the river all the way to Valence, I follow the sign indicating the cycle path that goes there. Result: I ride along the motorway, then I cross an industrial zone, with the wind head-on. Great. Only positive point, I do 8 kilometers less and am therefore a little earlier at the cousins !! Weekend rest, we take advantage of the sun, we eat and drink well, and we even go as far as to change means of transport and go down part of the Drôme river on canoes! And to recover from our emotions (especially a collective fall in a « rapid », the pros will probably speak of small waves), we grab a small beer in a brewery in the village of Saou (providence sometimes does things well: Saou is very similar to saoul, which means drunk in French).
Tomorrow direction Clermont and the next member of the family on the list!