A number of years ago Yvonne was given a book about a region little known to North Americans, a rugged volcanic region in central France known as the Auvergne. 4.5 hours south of Paris (at a legal 130km/hr.), the 450 volcanoes of the region are believed to be the result of the collision of Europe and Africa. While unable to understand much of the French text in the book, I was intrigued by this landscape of black basalt rock, snow caped peaks, sheep pastures and tall forests. When friends invited us to visit them in the Pyrenees, the decision was made to include 4 days of riding in this region.
Within the Auvergne there is a 45 km by 5 km belt known as the Chaine des Puys; 85 volcanoes rising to a height of almost 1900 meters. Smack dab in the center of all these puys sits Le Mont-Doré, a spa and ski-town ideally located for launching forays into the surrounding countryside. After some searching we settled on a a Gite a few km away from Le Mont-Doré , booked our West Jet flights and rental car, and prepared for our trip.
While this region may not be as well known outside of France, we did see a good number of French riders. There are a number of excellent routes mapped out on the various websites such as mountnpass.com and freewheelingfrance.com. I imagine that with the efforts to promote the area and the development of e-bikes it might well become an international cycling destination. Like many other regions of France, the government does its part by posting road signs educating motorists to leave 1.5 meters space when passing riders and other signs giving road grades and distances. Climbs are generally friendly with typical grades on the long climbs typically varying between 5 and 7%. The steepest climb, which we didn’t do, corkscrews up the Puy de Dome at an average of 12%. Excellent pavement, great sight lines due to an abundance of hay fields and pasture land, and low traffic allow for fast and reasonably safe descending. The rugged appearance of the region is matched by weather that can change quickly. Even at the end of May there was snow on the higher peaks and temperatures were cooler than I would have expected. Having said that, we had excellent weather with no wind and temperatures in the mid teens to low twenties.
The puys give the region their unique character. There is a fair amount of distance between volcanoes so there is a nice balance of mid-length climbs and lower elevation rolling terrain. The area also has a number of lakes that add picturesque beauty. Le Mont-Doré is also the start of the Dordogne, which on its lower reaches attracts cyclists looking for a more leisurely pedaling experience.
The town of Le Mont-Doré was quiet in late May. It is a typical ski town in summer with a number of sport shops selling the usual hiking and climbing gear and cycling gear. There wasn’t a really good cycling shop, but the town of la Bourboule, less than 10 km away, has good shops.
If we had more time I would have gone to the Charade race track outside the city of Clermont Ferrand. The track is not far from Le Mont-Doré and would make a nice ride destination. It hosted formula one races up till the 70’s and is an old style track with little regard for safety as the roads are narrow and the corners insane. The track is closed but cyclists are allowed to ride on the circuit on certain days. Clermont Ferrand is also the home of Michelin, and the factory has a good museum which we also did not have the time to visit.
The area is known for its cheeses. This isn’t a wine growing area as the climate is too cool, but they do produce some very good beer. Throw in the usual excellent French breads and pastries and all is well on the culinary front.
Some places just don’t change a lot over time, and that can be a good thing in some cases. Ottertail County MN is one of those places that still seems to be off the radar, not attracting a whole lot of attention from anyone. The idea of constant growth as a good is so ingrained that it is easy to conclude that Ottertail County is failing. I have always felt a connection with the Luddites who saw the advent of the factory as a threat to the good life of the cottage owning peasant. For me, Ottertail is as it should be. It is still the same bucolic countryside of small farms, villages, forests and pothole lakes. The slow pace of life is evident in the lack of traffic. Ottertail is all that one could hope for in a road cycling destination.
After the miserable weather of late September and early October it didn’t take long to make the decision to drive down to Ottertail as soon as the weather improved. After a four hour drive from Steinbach to Pelican Rapids, Rod T. and I were on our bikes and tackling the 70 km loop of rolling hills around Maplewood State Park. While none of the hills are very long, the grades make the riding a good challenge. The scenery constantly shifts from more open rolling cornfields and pastureland to maple hardwood forests to marshlands and countless lakes with the sort of family style resorts popular in the 1960’s. The historic Lutheran Church in Maplewood State Park is an interesting side excursion on this ride. Access is by a gravel road but easily ridden on 23c’s.
Fergus Falls, with a population similar to Steinbach’s, is at the south end of Highway #59. With Grand Beach on one end and Ottertail on the other, Manitoba and Minnesota should play up this highway as an ubercool tourist corridor. Fergus Falls has a good choice of hotels and Mable Murphy’s Restaurant. With the low CDN dollar the prices are a little higher than in comparable Canadian restaurants but the food is very good and the quantity substantial.
Day two of the mini tour had us riding from the village of Battle Lake to the village of Underwood, on to Phelp’s Mill, around Otter Tail Lake, through Glendolough State Park and back to Battle Lake for a 105 km loop. The weather was nearly perfect for October with a high of 24c and a beautiful clear blue sky. The grades are more gentle than those around Maplewood State Park, so we could generally leave it in the big chainring and keep up a good pace. The terrain is still rolling except for the ride around Otter Tail Lake. Highlights of this ride include the Phelp’s watermill (National Register of Historic Places), the ride around Ottertail Lake, the new paved bike path through Glendolough State Park and eating at Thumper Pond Golf Course.
Our last day of cycling was a 67 km ride from Pelican Rapids to the town of Vergas. About 15 km of the ride duplicated part of the first day’s ride on the north side of Maplewood State Park. With a gusty north, a lot of hills, and the previous two rides in our legs, we tried not to push the pace too hard. Vergas, home of the world’s largest Loon (which we were unable to find) is a perfect stop for all day breakfast, a walleye dinner or a bowl of chili on a cool day.
Once again the riding was entertaining from start to finish.
Along the western shore of Cape Cod lies another rail to trail conversion called the Trail of the Shining Sea. This cycle path runs half the length of the Cape, 17 km. from North Falmouth to Woods Hole. Some serious riders may scoff at rail to trail conversions as mostly flat and straight, with too much pedestrian traffic and too little to challenge a rider. I would generally agree with this assessment. At the same time they can be useful as a part of longer more challenging rides. On arriving on the Cape, without a good idea of which roads would be best to ride, and with limited time to explore, Yvonne and I defaulted to the Trail of the Shining Sea.
The primary reason for coming to Cape Cod was to connect with a friend, Eric Anderson, who was doing research at Woods Hole. I spent 4 months on the beach in PEI as a 10 year old and developed a fascination with diving and deep sea exploration. Woods Hole is a Mecca for oceanographers, and as a kid I was fascinated by both the explorers working out of Woods Hole and the romantic sounding name of this town at the center of deep sea research. The goal of our ride was the Woods Hole Research Institute.
While many of the roads on the Cape have very heavy traffic, the roads leading from our Air BnB had little. A 10 km ride on hilly roads brought us to the trail head. Rather than using the trail we chose to ride the more interesting roads that followed the coast as far as we could. The bike path would be used when road traffic became too heavy. Sea side rides have the advantage of being breezy, something we were grateful for as this area gets both high heat and humidity.
Cape Cod is “old money”! Large estates and exclusive gated seaside communities line the coast. Many of the access roads to these exclusive retreats for the rich have security guards to keep out the sweating unwashed. Fortunately the rich spend most of their time on their yachts or at the country club or in Boston, New York or Paris or London, so road traffic to and from “the summer cottages” along the coastal roads tends to be fairly light, making for good riding.
An interesting feature of riding along the shore is the tidal marshes and the many creeks that we crossed that feed the marshes. While we didn’t stop to watch birds, other than seeing a bald eagle on an enormous nest along one of the creeks, I imagine that these would be great places to bird watch.
Halfway to Woods Hole we took the bike path. It is shaded and flat and Jac would love it as it is perfect for high speed cruising. The speed limit is 15 mph; of course with no speedometer one really has no idea how fast one travels. It did seem however that we might have slightly exceeded what was allowable.
Our time at Woods Hole involved checking out the experiment being done to study the tail resonance of fish to determine at what resonance they achieve “sweet spot” efficiency moving through the water. Werner would love this sort of thing. The experiment requires analyzing many species of fish, so Eric fishes for sharks, blue fish and a variety of others fish. I had always pictured WHRI as involving the most sophisticated equipment, like the Atlantis research vessel and the Alvin submersible used to discover the Titanic. I discovered that there are big fish and little fish at Woods Hole. Eric, as a little fish, uses his little sail boat to fish for his experiment subjects. This would be Mark’s sort of thing.
In good MIT tradition, a cafe stop was in order at the halfway point. Again, in MIT tradition, the return home, was fast and with wind. Final distance – 60 km.
When I first began riding there was no thought of cross training. It was easy to pile on the miles and motivation was not a problem. I didn’t see a reason for cross training as injury from overuse was not an issue. Tennis was my primary alternate activity. About 20 years ago I also bought a sea kayak as another alternate activity to riding. It was something fun to do but was not something I thought of as useful cross training.
Over the last few years bursitis in the hips made running impossible, so tennis regrettably disappeared from my activity list. With several herniated discs, kayaking was a rather painful experience and was an activity I had essentially given up. This was disappointing as I expected that kayaking was something I would do a lot of when I retired.
Last summer I paddled again for the first time since I started to experience more serious back trouble. I managed an hour with a stop to get out of the boat in between. I decided this was manageable and that I might be able to do some limited boating after all. After buying another boat so that Yvonne and I could paddle together, I discovered that with a better kayak seat I could paddle more comfortably for a longer period. Enter Kayak #3, my own Current Designs Caribou to match Yvonne’s boat.
The more I paddle the more I am convinced that kayaking is the perfect summer cross training/alternate activity. While cycling is all legs and lower back muscles, Kayaking is all upper body and core. A strong core is essential to strong cycling and can prevent back injury.
Like cycling, kayaking is a perfect way to explore; a simple but beautiful. machine that allows you to cover more distance while still allowing you to see, smell and hear the beauty of God’s creation around. I love cycling next to water; alternately I love kayaking along the shore. This is where the action is.
Just as riding is more enjoyable with the challenges of hills, winding roads, changing road conditions and group dynamics, paddling has its challenges in currents, waves, and unseen obstacles. When it gets too hot for cycling, kayaking is the ideal go to.
Many cyclists are initially reluctant to don the tights. Wearing the skirt may also be something novice kayakers feel uncomfortable in. Over time these fears pass and anyone not wearing the kit looks the fool.
So there it is, my plug for Mennonites in Tights to go all the way and become Mennonites in Skirts.