Monday, August 30, 2010

I'm Home.

After traveling 1h30m from London to Dusseldorf and 9h30m from Germany to Miami, I am finally home.

I was welcomed by all the people I love.  And I didn't care one bit that my luggage had been left in Germany because I had my family all around me.

My mom and two grandbabies Austin and Braden.

My brother Ronnie with Braden.

My Aunt Bonnie and Dad making my "Welcome Home" sign.

Sister-in-law Tiffany and Dad.  :)

I have to say that seeing my family on the other side of the doors as I passed through Customs was one of the best feelings of my life.  I was ready to come home.

After a lovely dinner with these beautiful people I drove 4.5 hours to Gainesville, FL, where I go to school.

BUT, before I did leave for Home, I did a few things around the North of England and around London.

Such as...

Ride a big 'ol draft horse named Duke!

[note the tiny sports car that belongs Ged's sister.  There were a few moments where Ged had me fearing for my life as he barreled along the narrow country roads.]

The horse is owned by Ged's aunt and uncle.  It's been more than a year since I've ridden and it felt good to get back on, even if it was on a bulky draft horse.

Aside from equestrian endeavors, we visited a beach.

On Crosby Beach in Sefton there are 100 cast iron figures that stand on the beach facing the sea.  Antony Gromley's art installation, entitled "Another Place," is now a permanent fixture in the area.  The statues are actually replicas of Gromley's own body.
When we arrived at the beach we could only see a dozen or so of the statues.  But the tide quickly receded and they started appearing all over the place.

My final night in Europe was spent in London.  Ged and I checked out the Tate Modern Art Museum and saw King Henry IV at the Globe.  So cool..
One last tube ride...

My summer in Europe was amazing.  By far the most unforgettable summer I've had.  Thank you, Ged, for making all of it possible.  Best.  Boyfriend.  Ever.

Right.  Lot's of schoolwork to attend to, unpacking to do, etc. etc.


Thursday, August 26, 2010

Normandy in Pictures

I've been to where the Battle of Normandy began on June 6, 1944.  I didn't know how I would feel or what I would think upon seeing the dozens of bomb craters, German bunkers and thousands of graves in the Normandy American Cemetery.  I didn't know if I would be indifferent to this devastation that I personally had taken a part of or if I would be interested from a simply historical, objective perspective.

What I ended up feeling was deep melancholy.

As I ambled past rows and rows of white marble crosses in the American Cemetery, a strong sense of patriotism mixed with sadness struck me.  Here were my countrymen buried six feet under in order to defeat an evil force and protect people like me who were safe back at Home.

When I sat by the seashore of Omaha Beach, I didn't see a beach.  I envisioned the thousands of young men running up the sand and being picked off by German bullets.  I felt proud of the fact that so many soldiers were brave enough to sacrifice their lives but also bitter by the fact that they had died at such young ages before really beginning their lives.

I'm very glad I visited this place and saw it firsthand instead of relying on a textbook as my only knowledge.  Seeing devastation like this up close, even if it is more than 60 years old, really brings you to scale and changes the way you might've previously thought about it.

This may sound cheesy, but seeing all the graves and where the soldiers fought and died made me more proud than ever to be an American.


Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Pictures from Noirmoutier I Meant to Post

I finally have access to a decent Internet connection so I'm posting the pictures I intended to post the other day.

Here's some of the Passage du Gois:

And when we drove over the Passage at night, TomTom looked like this...



Monday, August 23, 2010

Where Le Tour Starts

(note:  Having some slow Internet issues so wasn't able to put as many pics in as I would've liked to)

I went from one of the highest places in France (Col du Tourmalet) to one of the lowest.  Just spent two nights in Noirmoutier, an island on the Atlantic Coast of France, which is where the 2011 Tour de France is starting.  I'm so dedicated to the tour that I'm here 11 months early...

107km in total from Noirmoutier to Pornic and back.

Rode around the area Sunday and traveled across this really cool road called the Passage du Gois, a road that is only usable around times of low tide and submerged in water the rest of the time.

We actually got to ride across it with our bikes!  Really freaky for me to see something like this.  I'm not used to such a dramatic fluctuation in tides.

Thick banks of seaweed about six feet wide bordered the road on both sides.  Massive jellyfish laid in the seaweed.  Loads of tourists with buckets and shovels and nets pillaged the shallow water for crustaceans--mostly mussels and oysters.

The road to Pornic was flat but a bit busy, windy and filled with dead rodents.  Not the most pleasant ride I've been on but I dealt with it.


Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Last Big Climb: TOURMALET

Another fantastic ride yesterday in the Pyrenees.  Climbed the Col du Tourmalet and totaled 100km at the finish of our ride.

[This was the last big climb in a series of big climbs across France.  Rode up Alpe d'Huez, Mont Ventoux, Col d'Izoard, Col d'Aubisque]

Unfortunately, the ride didn't start out so great...

The morning started out normally enough.  Ate breakfast, dressed in my kit and filled up the water bottles.

But it seemed as though as soon as I sat in the saddle, I knew I didn't want to be on the bike.  I had a bad attitude that provoked toxic thoughts:  I didn't care about cycling, had no desire to ride and wanted to be as far away as possible from that col.  I'd have much rather gone back to the campground, laid by the pool and read my book.

I dawdled along the flat bike path as Ged gained more and more distance until he was so small I couldn't make out the giant Florida Gator mascot on the back of his jersey anymore.

I had completely the wrong mindset for a hard bike ride.

When we reached the main road I told Ged I didn't feel good.  I said "nevermind" and wanted to go but he insisted we talk about what might've been the problem.

I told him I didn't want to climb this crazy mountain and that I've had enough of the intense cycling.  He understood but said that since this was the finale of our big climb series, I almost had to do it.  He said he wasn't sure of when we'd be back here again and that it would be the perfect 'big bang' ending to an amazing couple of weeks of good riding.

We rode on.

The road to Luz-Saint-Sauveur (where the climb starts) is quite busy.  You sometimes don't get a lot of respect or room, and that hostile road environment mixed with my bad attitude only spurred more problems.

Ged and I stopped on the side of this road a few times along the way.  I wasn't even at the base of the climb yet and I really wanted to turn back.  I just didn't have it in me.  The second time he stopped he said I shouldn't go because it wouldn't be worth it if I have this awful attitude the whole way through.

I pedaled past him in my stubbornness, cried a little and in my obstinacy decided that I was climbing this mother.

We arrived at the base and Ged gave me 30 minutes head start while he looked around the town.


The climb started easy enough.  Stayed in second cog until the gradient reached 9% then dropped down to the smaller cog.

Farms and chalets and green everywhere.  Gradient stayed at 5% for a little while.  Very pleasant.  Was even able to get a good pace.  Cycling shorts were starting to get a bit uncomfortable though.

The road had signs posted every kilometer telling what altitude you were at, the altitude of the summit, how many km you had left and the average gradient of where you were at that point.

Even though I like that sort of thing so I can count down, the climb felt sooo LONG!

And aside from my uncomfortable cycling shorts, my knees started to feel a bit sore, however, my attitude was slowly improving.  I would see a sign and think to myself See, that's another km you've just completed. You're once step closer to getting there.

Encouragement instead of continual negative thoughts.

Besides being the toughest ride mentally I've been on, this ride was also different in that I couldn't see the top until much later on.  Usually, the summit has been visible much earlier on (like Ventoux or d'Huez) even if it's still really friggin' far away.

One really tough point was coming out of the town of Bareges.  You could see the road shift from horizontal to vertical once you left the town center.  Kind of a dreadful feeling.

Once the remaining distance dropped to 9km, I felt a little better but it still felt like it took forever just to get to this halfway point (total climb is 18km).

Kept pushing onward and Ged caught up with me with 5km left to go.  Could see the top now.

The roads leading up there didn't seem to make visual sense to me.  Looked like a jumble of crisscrossing paths leading up there.

With 3km to go, I ran out of water and gas.  My knees ached and my lungs tightened with each stroke.

A guy in a Cervelo kit came storming down and slowed as he approached me so he could yell, "C'est le dernier.  Tres bien!"  Very nice of him.  

I kept my head down as the bike inched forward.  I swear a diead person couldn've ridden faster that I was at that very moment.

I turned a corner and there was the last sign indicating I'd reached the final km and that the gradient was now 10%.  I could see Ged waiting at the top taking pics of me over the edge of the mountainside.

When I turned the final hairpin, I was spent.  My body was shaking, I couldn't breathe and I wanted to cry.  I came up to Ged and started bawling, which didn't help my breathing.  I pushed all the way to the top with Ged jogging behind me.

My legs were trembling as I dismounted, I was crying and I needed a hug.  I buried my face in Ged's chest and had a good sob.

Seemed as though everyone was struggling though.  Even fit men with big calf muscles and large mustaches were gasping for breath.

The downhill was BEAUTIFUL!  I could see exactly where the road was leading and could gain a lot of speed and let my bike go instead of worrying what may be lurking behind the corner and constantly breaking.  I guess I still haven't quite gotten over my CRASH.

A bit of rolling hills and then a stop in Bagneres for an apple tart.

More awesome flat.  I can shut off my brain and go forever on the flat.

Rode on for a bit more through the French countryside and before I knew it we were back at the bike path in Lourdes.

This rode was like so many other things in life:  homework before playing outside, veggies before dessert.

We got the hard part done with first then we enjoyed the fruits of our labor.  And the ride didn't drag on until I had absolutely zero energy left like the previous ride to the Aubisque did.

Left the Pyrenees this morning and now we're on the Atlantic coast on the island of Noirmoutier.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Perseverance in the Pyrenees

Great ride yesterday.  112km in total.  Started from Algeres-Gazost (where our campsite is) and climbed the Col du Soulor (1474m) and pushed on to the Col d'Aubisque (1708m), which was part of stage 16 of this years Tour de France.

I left at 12:05 p.m. and Ged gave me 30 minutes head start before starting.  

The very first part of the climb was nice and gentle.  I almost thought it would be that enjoyable all the way through.  Silly me.  This is one of the routes the Tour does, of course it's gonna be tough.

I must say that these mountains are different, though.  Unlike the French Alps, the Pyrenees seem to be slightly smoother or docile.

I stayed out of the small cog for the first hour and 15 min of the ride but once the gradient kicked up past 7.5% I switched down.

Ged caught up with me with 3km to go to Soulor.  We stopped at Soulor for a quick break and to look at the wild horses.  We both admitted that we weren't feeling the usual power during this climb.  

A stud was actually trying to mate with a mare in heat while we were there.  Quite funny explaining to Ged how that sort of horse stuff works (sidenote:  I used to ride horses for several years).  

Then 10km more to Aubisque.  First few km were all downhill and beautiful.  Went quite fast past grazing cows and goats.  Almost like a videogame trying tto swerve around them.  

Then the climb started.  First 5% then 7%...then 8%.  Kind of a slog up to Aubisque.  

Really cool giant bikes of Le Tour jerseys were at the top.

I'm Queen of the Mountains.

More downhill ensued.  Stopped for quick refreshment at the 50km mark.  We both needed some type of refueling.

Downhill and rolling hills continued.  Ahh.  Nice to catch some momentum and actually keep it for once.  Got in a good rhythm despite gusts of wind from time to time.  Ged says I do "really well" on the flat.  Nice to know I don't completely suck at this while cycling thing.

Clouds started hovering over the mountains and I couldn't tell if they held rain or simply indicated the end of another day.  No rain came, luckily.

Passed trhough barren-looking towns.  Ged reckons everyone's at the beach.  Makes the towns look sad and dark without people and especially with the gray light the sky was emitting.  Quite unusual for me to feel this way about places I usually think are bright and cheery. 

One thing I do notice is how fast I seem to lose momentum if there's a slight uphill after miles and miles of flat.  Even if it's a quick bump, my wheels slow and my legs tire and it takes a few minutes afterward to regain that momentum I'd lost.

I know I have to get out of the saddle and attack those quick, sharp ones but doing that takes even more enegy out of me.  My legs feel like bricks when I sit back down again and it's so hard to pedal.  All about building up muscle and gettin' the miles in, I suppose.

Lush fiels and country roads pretty much all the way until Lourdes where we took a fun and flat bike path back to the campsite (La Bergerie).  The path probably used to be old train tracks.  

Chillin' in Lourdes for a bit then maybe a picnic.  Life is good.