Les jolies colonies de vacances, … (song from Pierre Perret)

For these who are not 100% familiar with French music, this might help understand the title: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oeCM3V2lqfw

Day 54, Clermont, 4.947 km

July 1997, a small village lost in the heart of the Ardèche region, France. Little Pierre is torn between contradictory feelings: on one hand, he will have to live without his mother for 15 days. On the other hand, he will spend these 15 days with many other children of his age, and even some of his cousins, out in the open, doing wonders with his hands, camping, hiking, playing soccer and many other activities… But without his Mommy, little Pierre is lost and the tears flow out of his eyes. This scene has happened several summers in a row and will happen again for a few more years: the first day of the « Colo » (summer camp) in Lanarce. Flash forward: September 2020. Little Pierre has grown up and now has been blessed (infected, some would say) by a gorgeous red beard. Flanked by his faithful companions Jay and Bob, he again sees this scene happen in front of him. He blinks and everything disappears: there are only the empty buildings and the memories that still live within them…

I’m leaving Valence, after this weekend of rest with my cousins ​​and making a first stop at the supermarket: my bags are empty and I need some refueling. Probably influenced by the rumors of a potential new corona-shutdown, I go on a rampage: 1 kilo (1 KILO !!!) of plums, 500 grams of dried apricots, 8 chocolate bars, 6 rice dishes, sardines, more rice, sauce, soups,… in short, enough to last for at least 3 weeks while I am going to join Clermont in 3 days. Smart. I ask myself two questions once I leave the supermarket: 1. How do I fit all this into the saddlebags? 2. Why? I remember that I planned 2,000m of elevation gain for today’s stage. WHY ??? I manage to fit everything in and set off. The wind is on my back, I follow the Rhône on the Via Rhôna (cycle path which, as its name suggests, follows the Rhône). So far, so good. I then head to the west and join the Dolce Via, another cycle path that runs along the Eyrieux river. It’s a bit old (the signs and stakes are all rusty) but very beautiful.

The Eyrieux river…
… seen from the Dolce Via

I leave the Dolce Via and start the ascent of the Ardèche hills. I am on a departmental road, alone. Not a single car, a single cow, a single sheep, not a single noise. Only the wind chatting with the chestnut trees… The views over the mountains are superb. The sun compensates for the drop in temperature associated with the increase in altitude. I go through Saint Pierreville (interesting name) and pass by the Roux tunnel (Roux = redhead). It goes up hard and I can feel the extra 6 kilos I am dragging, hopefully I’ll learn that lesson… Moreover, it goes down and up and down again all the time, hard to pick up a rhythm. The advantage is that I climb at least 8 passes in 30 minutes, I feel like a Tour de France climber!

During the ascent…
… view of the Ardèche hills

I also cross the Loire: I know it in Sologne (very large river indeed), I must admit that I find it hard to believe: a mini-Loire (to be pronounced with a shrill voice), very cute, very small, which is barely a few meters wide. Apparently even the Loire started out small… I finally arrive in Lanarce, where the local cheese maker is still open. I’ll have a feast for dinner! I find the buildings of my childhood, pitch my tent near them and taste my cheese, my saucisson accompanied by a bottle of red wine (now that I think about it, this one also helped to make the climb more enjoyable…).

Mini-Loire
Memories, memories…

The next day it is cold. And the sun is struggling warm me up. In order not to improve things, I realize that my gas bottle is empty. This guy buys 6 kilos of unnecessary supplies and doesn’t even think about buying a gas bottle. Did you say stupid? There is only one solution, the demonstration … Since no one seems to want to give in to my demands, all I have to do is pedal. I head for Le Puy en Velay. I find a small waterfall on the way, then a cycle path that goes through tunnels (Z would say it’s cheating, I know) one of which is over a kilometer long. Fortunately it is lit so Jay and Bob are not too scared… I arrive at Le Puy, where the old town is dominated by a statue of the Virgin Mary and the Saint Michel rock. It is easy to get lost in its cobbled streets. Especially since one in two restaurants is called « Le Relais du Pèlerin », orientation can become difficult…

Waterfall on the way
The Virgin of Le Puy en Velay
Jay gathers his strength before heading into the tunnel
The Saint Michel rock which dominates the city

The rest of the stage is rather ordinary, I follow small country roads, pass through villages with stone houses and fountains of non-drinkable water, forest paths where I am afraid of losing a wheel and end up finding a clearing to stop for the night. The next day, same game: forests, small villages, and the valley that opens before my eyes. After passing the “difficulty” of the day (The pass “De la Croix des Gardes”: 654m… Ha. Ha. Ha.) I see Clermont in the distance. The arrival in the city is not very cyclable, I go through a small dirt road. I have to get back to the road at some point, the slope seems steep to me. I tell myself that it will be ok. It’s not. I have to jump off my bike to avoid being run over (by my own bike, yes…). A few scratches but nothing broken. The GPS then recommends that I go through a motorway interchange. Okay. Detour. Fortunately it is early and I have time to eat and drink to recover from my emotions before meeting my uncle…

For geographers (and designers who carefully plot my travels on a map), here is the journey of the last three days:

Valence – Lanarce
Lanarce – Fayet-Ronaye
Fayet-Ronaye – Clermont-Ferrand

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