The lost album of bike riding to my Dreamland

As a riding bug, I always keep myself busy in searching for the overseas riding events. As a sweet fruit of that search tree, last year I heard that there was some sort of big bike riding race going on in France, so I thought I’d go check it out. I even got a sweet jersey to wear there

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beautiful jersey

As you see, it’s not a jersey and I don’t really have it, but I wish I did. In my Wednesday night cycling group a few guys were talking about going to the Tour this year, seeing as it is the 100th edition and riders are now clean. Really. The long and short of it is that they couldn’t make it, but as I’m celebrating the gift of walking and riding, I’m on my way.

I’ll be riding with the nice people at Trek Travel – think of it like an all inclusive beach resort vacation but in place of the beach I will be in the Alps, and instead of drinking/relaxing/tanning I will be sweating/cycling/cheering. On the day leTour goes up Alpe d’Huez (2x), we’ll ride up as well (1x). It will be crazy riding through the crowds!

This is a real life story from one of our friends John Gorman who is a husband, father, friend and catalyst and passionate about those we love, being outside, good food and stunning cycling. This is a motivational story and you’ll get it if you read the full post carefully without missing a single line.

Today I left my family after a great b-day with my son Will. I’m going to miss them but thankful technology will keep the distances short until my lovely wife joins me after the finish in Paris. Stay tuned for selfie and photos from the rides and other fun along the way – I look forward to sharing this adventure with you!

Now I’m going to learn French. 1 hour is enough time, right? Two?

Well, here’s my bike riding adventure –

Day 1 – Travel to Grenoble:

Off to a good start – no real issues getting out of Dallas despite the rain, and found a very comfortable place in the lounge to kick back for my 6 hour wait in Chicago. Then the sun came in the window, which made the seat hot, and a little less awesome. I escaped the lounge, heading to my flight after getting moved to a better seat by the nice ladies at the desk.

Long flights across the Atlantic are dull. The movies are mostly just ok or plain bad, the food either in edible or uninteresting (or both). A nice love note from your fantastic wife in your bag makes things waaaay better (even if it comes with a homework assignment)! Thank you Elizabeth – I love you too!

Heathrow is just a big mall that happens to have flights delivering customers to it’s doors. Neither the best nor the worst place to have a layover. A quick hop to Lyon, followed by the TGV to Grenoble. How hard can it be?

First my bag did this:

my backpack

But then I found a random traveler playing with a piano in the atrium of the train station, which was nice and I didn’t miss the chance to record it.

Afterwards, some very boring train riding at 100+mph – until the mountains came into view at which point I began to wonder how my riding in the flat and hot of Dallas will have prepared me for these epic hills. Stay tuned… . .

Just an amusing endnote – it would appear that my large bed was really two small beds pushed together. I found the crack at 1am.

Day 2 – Bike Riding to Col du Lautaret:

What a beautiful way to start this trip! We rode a bus from Grenoble into the mountains to La Grave (very tiny mountain town), where we had lunch and our bikes fit to us. Trek had a Domane 5.9 ready to roll for me, and in spite of it being a touch small it was a good ride. We started out of town, through a quick tunnel, and some of us chose to make the run up to Le Chazelet for a little extra distance and climbing.

When we got to a spot just above the town, we stopped to turn around and I met two of my fellow riders who are here from Austin (Steele and Todd), so we posed for a TX pic.

we posed for a pic

Here is a quick shot across the valley to the glacier before heading back down toward La Grave and then turning up the road to Col du Lautaret. Nice spot. A little sad news was that one of our guides, Tara, took a spill on the descent and gave some of her skin to the French Alps – hopefully all is well, but I’m guessing she gets van duty for the remainder of the journey.

remainder of the journey

After riding a little way up the Col, I took a shot of myself and grabbed a little video with the iPhone (GoPro working too, but I haven’t gotten to the footage yet).

And this is what I look like after just getting to the top of the Col du Lautaret. Good to work the travel out of my legs. Somewhere around 3500ft of climbing with around 15mi of riding. Big hills – and getting bigger tomorrow. I enjoyed wearing my GPM10 kit that I got while training with them on Mallorca – hoping to run into them here if luck is good. Yes, I know I should have zipped my kit before a photo. . .

i should have zipped my kit

Speaking of big hills, and getting bigger tomorrow – see the road cut in this photo? That is the “easy” side of the Galibier, which we ride up in the morning (8km) down the other side (17km) then up Telegraphe (easy side) down, then back up (hard side) followed by, you guessed it, hard side of Galibier on the way back to the hotel.

Some scenery (can’t show you as the album is lost) – this is the view from the balcony of my hotel room. Very nice! I heard some bells through the open door, and after looking around I saw the sheep grazing on the hill. The shepherd came and got them a bit later and they literally RAN down the hill – I was surprised none of them went tumbling.

After a happy hour to get to know each other better, a bit more about the trip, and dinner with the Columbians (Nico, Juan Carlos and Hernan), I stood in front of one of the Tour bikes that are all over the place for a quick photo op and then headed back to the room for some needed R&R before a huge day climbing up Galibier and Telegraphique. I’m glad to be here, to celebrate having (mostly) overcome the injury suffered in 2010, and while I wish I were on my bike, the guides have taken great care of me and my needs.

Day 3 – Galibier and Telegraphe:

As I ponder the mythic climbs I will ride today, I am feeling a bit reflective. Three and a half years ago I was hospitalized, paralyzed from the belly button down, and today I climb giants. I may ride with only a calf and a half, but I ride. So many people have made this possible, through their support of my healing process and of me. Thank you all, but thank you especially to my lovely wife Elizabeth! Without her, and the motivation of playing with my kids, I may have accepted the prognosis of the doctors and be using a walker or cane to this day. A pic with my favorite person to start out this day:

start out this day

To the ride….

On the slate – starting from Col du Lautaret, up Galibier the easy way, down to Telegraphe, up Telegraphe the easy way, down the other side, then back up both the hard way.

Weather – supposed to rain this afternoon. Hoping to get all but the Galibier rerun done before then, and sit in a cafe for lunch while it (hopefully) blows over.

Bike – I’m on a Madone today rather than Domane. I hope it makes me fast. Electronic shifting is cool – since Shimano Di2 is opposite to Campy EPS, I instinctively shifted the wrong way yesterday and hopefully won’t do that again (very steep short hill @25%+ in the big ring = suck).

The ride started from the hotel with 8km up the Galibier. The last 1km was pretty spectacular at 11% with the turns being over 20% if you took the inside line.

We then descended 18km to the base of Telegraphe, which was a fairly sedate climb (see ride profile at the end of this day). At the top of Telegraphe we had to decide whether to descend and them climb back up or turn around, grab lunch and tackle Galibier. I chose both.

I chose both

Riding Telegraphe was great, very much like climbs in Colorado below tree line – wonderful pine smells, good shade and a nice even grade to get into a rhythm.

Riding Galibier was both long and difficult, but with some fantastic views. It did start to rain when I got to the top, which made the descent tricky and cold (Rapha rain jacket made this suck less), but all in all a great day with nearly 10,000 feet of climbing in about 55 miles. Here are the pics from Galibier and the ride profile.

Day 4 – Alpe d’Huez:

Today we rode Alpe d’Huez one less time than the pros, but tomorrow we will ride it one more time than they do, so I figure we are even. We stopped for pics near the top on a side road to get good switchback views.

good switchback views

On their first lap I was just at the crest of their climb, and for the second I was at the 500m to go banner. Following these pics are the two rides of the day – first a descent and then up Alpe d’Huez, then around the back the way the pros went on their first lap and part way back up to the hotel. A little tired, so letting pictures do the talking but may come back and write more later. We were very lucky with the weather and had a great day!

Day 5 – Alpe d’Huez and Balcony Road:

Today I rode up Alpe d’Huez again so I could ride all the way to the finish on the same route the pros did yesterday. It didn’t get easier the second time – and I waited a day between laps unlike the racers.

Before going up the mountain though, we descended from our hotel to Le Bourg d’Oisans to watch the Stage 18 start. Here are pics of the front and rear of the race at the start, and a pic of yesterday’s winner doing his best to look like me.

Along the way I amused myself by taking photos of the switchback markers still bearing LA’s name.

I passed a man riding a Serotta, so stopped to take his pic and cheer him on.

cheer him on

When I passed him again, I introduced myself and had a nice chat with Trevor for a few switchbacks, took a better pic, then carried on.

took a better pic

After I got to the top, I hurried back down to the Trek store, got my water topped up and a map so I could hit the Balcony Road. Since I was doing it solo, they gave me tools and extra food too – glad I didn’t need the tools. I did have to hurry to make it to the pick up in 90 minutes, so off I went in the rain. Pics below from that loop – beautiful ride! Ride profiles below that. Oh, and I did make it back, with 2 minutes to spare – stay tuned.

Day 6 – to Paris:

Today we got up bright and early (5am), boarded a bus to Grenoble, where we took the TGV to Paris. Fast train – averaged (per my bike computer, no kidding) 123.4mph for the 336mi journey, and killed a lot of bugs.

boarded a bus to Grenoble

We then boarded a bus to the hotel – lots of people were trying to look in the windows, and when we asked why our bus driver informed us his bus usually is hired by pro athletic teams (futbol players usually). Sorry we disappointed fans. I did see Notre Dame Cathedral – very cool and probably one of the few churches people line up to get into.

few churches people line up

Here is the view from my hotel room – in the first pic you can just see the Eiffel Tower over the rooftops.

Eiffel Tower over the rooftops

I went on a quick walk to the Latin quarter to grab food, and saw the Cathedral again as well as the fountain for Michael – Archangel.

While I was walking I was amused by the most French looking man I had seen yet, and he was pedaling a bicycle cab.

pedaling a bicycle cab

I was then amused by the fact that KArlLagerfeld has his very own Dr. Evil doll of himself in his shop window.

in his shop window

Day 7 – Spin & Grin on Champs-Elysees and Final Stage:

Today we did the Randonnee du Tour – which was essentially a lap of the circuit the pros would take through Paris 10 times. This was pretty fun because I got to ride across the finish line with 4,999 of my closest friends. We were required to wear our yellow shirts to enter the course, so I also felt a bit like a Star Bellied Sneetch. We arrived early, got our yellow shirts and baked in the sun for about an hour before departing.

There was a French flag hanging in the center of the Arc de Triumph, which looked great with the gentle wind blowing, and I gained a greater appreciation for riding on the cobbles. All in all it was pretty cool – I congratulated my new Colombian friends who were very excited to see a countryman take 2nd.

excited to see a countryman take 2nd

Then Jeff, Patrick and I rode to the Latin Quarter for some falafel sandwiches before heading home to change and get to the stage viewing. Maoz makes awesome falafel sandwiches, not your traditional Parisian fare, which you can then fill up at their little salad bar with tasty bits.

We walked to the Automobile Club of Paris for our viewing because the area was basically shut down for the race.  It was a nice walk through the grounds of the Louvre. We had two tiers of balconies and an open bar to amuse ourselves with until the race came through.

two tiers of balconies

While the beers were tiny, if you ordered three everything worked out fine. Partway through the adventure we watched some Gendarmes abscond with some BMC bottles (I also got one because one of my fellow Trek riders saw this and collected a few for us too). Mine had an “S” on it. . . and since it was full, I tasted it. Pretty good.

good taste

We then got down to the team bus area and got close to the course for a few laps and afterwards wandered the team bus area giving riders high fives. Some photos of the race and team bus area below. . . I sat on the race barrier at the 450m to go marker just before they turn up the Champs-Elysees and got a very close view. All in all a pretty great way to watch the final stage of the 100th running of the Tour!

Post Riding Commentary

I’m back and settled after a wonderful trip to France. While I missed my family terribly the first week, I was excited to travel with my wife during the second week and looking forward to our first vacation together since having children. While the first week was devoted to riding, Elizabeth and I did explore Paris a bit on the Velib’ bikes, which was both fun (for me) and nerve wracking (for her), but a faster way to get between things than walking.

First, to the cycling. As you might expect, I was anxious about riding the storied climbs of the Tour de France, not just because they are challenging, but because I was running on a calf and a half. When I was admitted to the hospital in 2010, my dreams were of walking again. I did not dare dream I would ride some of the roads where legends were made.

My primary goal was to be able to ride without excuse – to keep up with the group in such a way that my injury was invisible, and I believe I succeeded. Only one time did someone notice or comment on my limp, and I was surprised nobody asked why I wore a green compression sock on only one leg. . . I think the sock also made it harder to notice calf size difference and the fact that there is no muscle definition on the left. In any case, the rides were epic, the company was great, and I am glad to have had the opportunity and ability to go.

We started out in Grenoble, where we met our Trek Travel guide Tara and then headed to La Grave, where we had lunch together, met our other two guides, Elizabeth and Rebecca, and then got our bikes dialed in. Throughout the trip, the guides for our trip worked tirelessly to keep everything together – even after one was sidelined with an injury. We also got some support from the guides of another trip (more on that later), and credit goes to the Trek Travel team for making the trip shine regardless of the mechanicals, weather, etc.

Our bus ride had introduced me to some of my fellow riders, as did lunch – looking back now, I am glad I found a seat between the Nico and Patrick – both good company on and off the bike. Across from Nico is Juan Carlos, who spoke only a little bit of English and forced me to revisit my Spanish (gracias!) when he and I were on the road without his countrymen.

hangout party

And here is our guide Elizabeth giving us our ride briefing for the first day of bike fit, with Rebecca in the foreground. Yep, that’s me sitting off to the right and trying to stay out of the way because we hadn’t played with my bike yet. I was hoping they didn’t mind my GPM10 kit, but I loved my trip with them in February on Mallorca and the kit I bought.

the kit I bought

In La Grave, On the first day I rode a 58cm Domane – which was a great bike! There were two options for the ride, one straight up the Col du Lautaret to our hotel, or the other taking us up to the little town of Le Chazelet and then back up to the hotel.

I chose the latter to give me more time with the bike, which was a good thing. Our ride to the top was uneventful – everybody working the travel out of their legs and just soaking in the beautiful scenery. Here’s a pic at the top, and a view of Le Râteau. Simply beautiful.

Simply beautiful

As we pedaled through the town of Le Chazelet, there was a brutally steep little incline. I instinctively confirmed my downshift, which was disastrous since I ride Campy at home and this was Di2. The good news is that Di2 gets into the big ring quickly, the bad news is that was not what I needed. I tried to gut it out, but could not, and had to stop to shift. Good lesson. At the top of this little hill, Hernan had a mechanical that ended his ride, so sadly he missed our “Leaving Le Chazelet” photo. Sadly Tara had a spill on the road shortly after, which I jokingly blamed on Patrick because he was the only witness, but as he is conspicuously missing from this photo I wonder. . . .

he is conspicuously missing

After this, it was a fun little descent the way we came up, and another hill to our hotel, which is where we would be until we went to Paris. It was nice not having to move hotels too many times but still follow the Tour through the Alps. The view at the top from our hotel was stunning – the hotel and one other building were the only things there in the middle of an Alpine paradise. The best one of the views:

amazing view

And on one of the days where it was a bit grey:

where it was a bit grey

The first full riding day turned out to be an amazing cycling – we pedaled up the easy side of the Galibier (which was right outside our hotel), down the other side, up the east side of Telegraphe, down the other side, and then back up the hard side of both. Absolutely fantastic!

The last few switchbacks of Galibier, above the tunnel that sensible car drivers use, are comical because they are so steep; both ridiculous and wonderful at the same time. Regrouping at the top of Galibier, we took some photos, fixed my rear derailleur (too much power, I am sure), and pedaled down toward Valloire and Telegraphe.

Elizabeth  took this pic of me riding up, which I’m not sure I love because it makes me look more tired than I actually am, but here it is. . . Trek fans out there will also notice that I moved to a 60cm Madone for the remainder of the trip.

i am on 60cm Madone

The rundown into Valloire was a thrilling 18km descent, with only some of the joy sucked out by knowing I had to ride back up what I was riding down. Through Valloire to the top of Telegraphe, quick photo then a Telegraphe yoyo and back to Valloire for lunch. At this point the groups had splintered, with some skipping the 2nd Telegraphe or only doing part of it, so I rode with the Columbians and Jeff – in fact we watched Hernan ride away, and then rode together for the most part. I think Hernan caught up with all but the pro riders training on Telegraphe that day (some Argos guys rode past after a few other teams). Telegraphe felt a lot like riding in Colorado below treeline – not as scenic, but the smell of pine was refreshing.

After a longer than expected lunch in Valloire (even by French standards), where Hernan taught us about avoiding egg yolks before a ride, we rolled out toward Galibier with bellies full of pasta. Hernan, Jeff and I split from Nico and Juan Carlos early on, and then Hernan went ahead.

Jeff and I ended up riding nearly to the top together, and I was happy to have his company. Upon hitting the summit I did not wait for him though, instead racing down to stay ahead of the weather. It didn’t work – chilly descending, but a great ride. Visibility went to absolute zero before the weather passed, which was wild.

The next day was one for the books – we rode down from Lautaret to Bourg d’Oisans, where we pointed our bikes uphill and worked our way to the top of Alpe d’Huez’s 21 switchbacks – the same ones the pros would be riding in a few hours. We didn’t get to do the last couple (or at least most of us didn’t) because they closed the course near the end.

Nevertheless, it was a great run down and a challenging climb. We got to the top just as it was starting to sprinkle, had lunch and watched the pros attack Alpe d’Huez – many photos in my other posts, some interesting things from the top of the Alpe and the race I pulled together from other TT groups as well.

Alpe and the race

Riblon can’t quite believe Tejay couldn’t hold his wheel and he is about to win!

he is about to win

I love the classic bikes, and their riders (click the photo to make it big and check out the wooden wheels):

wooden wheel bike

Afterwards, we descended the back and did the Col de Sarenne, following the pros first lap down into the valley. I nearly went off the same corner Riblon did – and have video that I will post later of this minor transgression. In fairness, I stayed on the pavement but he was racing to eventually win the queen stage. It was fun descending through the clouds you see in this photo taken just before we left the Sarenne.

descending through the clouds

Quick pic of our guides on the road today – Rebecca and Elizabeth enjoying their spin up the Alpe.

enjoying their spin

Sadly, some of our group didn’t make this trip because they were concerned about the weather – very reasonable, and they took the safe choice to avoid the dangerous descents and ride again tomorrow. We missed them, but understood. We got lucky with weather, and happily no issues on the descents.

The next day was another descent Oisans to watch the stage 19 start, then the plan was to go to the Col d’Ornon. I really wanted to ride all the way up Alpe d’Huez, then down the Balcony road instead (this was our last day in the Alps). Luckily one of the other trips was doing Alpe d’Huez, so I was able to ride supported to the top (I also met a nice Aussie on the way up riding a Serotta – had a great chat with him since that is what I ride at home and this was the only one I had seen in France), then hit the Trek store with my plan.

I had limited time, but Lisa believed in me (guide from the other trip), took me to her vehicle to give me water, food, a map, a CO2, confirm I had rain gear and hustle me on my way. The descent of Alpe d’Huez was nothing special – lots of vehicles still trying to get off the mountain from the previous day, but the Balcony road was amazing! Here are some Balcony road photos (most mine, some stolen from another TTer):

Amazing Balcony road photos

Nearing the end of the balcony road I had a choice: make it to the top or short the ride to get back on time. . . I shorted, and after riding a time-trial in the rain I got back with 2 minutes to spare – an absolutely phenomenal adventure that I would not have completed without the support of guides both from my ride and our neighboring ride, and while I enjoyed riding with the group, the solitude on this road in the rain was peaceful and awe inspiring.

After this, we packed up and went to Paris – you’ve seen the sights (Notre Dame, Eiffel Tower, Arc, etc), but we were going to ride in the Randonnee du Tour and then watch the race finish. Rando-what? What this means is that we got to ride one circuit of the Paris loop, cross the finish line, and pretend we were racers.

At 12mph. With people who may or may not have ridden their bikes this year beforehand. I saw people wearing helmets backwards. I wish they were being funny. My strategy: stay near the front where people know which end of the bike to ride and the only danger was getting run over by a motorcycle. Seriously. It only almost happened twice. Then someone took a dive in the tunnel to make sure it was interesting.

Watching the race finish and getting to mingle with the racers was a great wrap up to the adventure, but I think seeing them on the Alpe d’Huez was more inspirational because I saw them struggling up the same hill I had (albeit a bit faster). However, here is a gratuitous photo of the Sky cocoon that was not always present for Froome this year except Richie (the) Porte(r):

gratuitous photo

A quick photo with most of the ride group – and Tara made it into this photo too!

tara made it

I had a wonderful time, met great people, and got to experience a sporting spectacle like no other.  It was a celebration of overcoming some adversity for me, and a memory I will cherish – almost as much as the photo of Elizabeth actually riding a bike in Paris, but sadly this was lost in my phone software crash, so only in my memory.

Since Elizabeth came to Paris the day after cycling was finished, and we enjoyed visiting the Louvre, Musee d’Orsay, Notre Dame (shorter line if it is raining by the way), Versailles (shorter lines in the morning), very tasty restaurants, Annecy, and a small town called Arle that had stellar Roman ruins – some photos below.  I loved having a new adventure with the love of my life! This is from the Amphitheater. Notice the lighting rigging? They still use this.


Next is what they found underground from when the Romans did some leveling work to put the square on – from what I read this was structural first but became part of the forum and much business was conducted here. I took quite a few photos in the Coliseum – again they are using this (currently a traveling horse show), and you can see that the uppermost deck was even higher – apparently this was a small walled city during the dark ages and many rocks were harvested to build other structures in the city.

We spent a little time in Annecy as well – enjoying the lake and even a foot soak after walking around.  We even found an outdoor dance hall with what appeared to be a club/class going on one evening. After this fantastic bike riding, a quick shot to Zurich and then home  – absolutely great trip and memories built!