The View from Up-High — But Not Quite the Top

The view from my apartment in Vaujany as dusk settled in around 21:30 in the evening.

I have yet to pedal the bike, having only arrived in Vaujany last night, sleeping off jet-lag, and getting out first thing to find a coffee and the bike shop so that I could have my new bike — that I don’t quite understand the mechanics of — assembled by the pros. Because that’s what you do. You don’t leave it to guesswork or hack it with the tools you can fit in your suitcase if there is any doubt. You put it in the hands of professionals.

Around the time that I first started to ride a bike as an adult, I had a chance on a family vacation that had no TV and no internet (#gasp), to read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Outside of the rights of passage stories that were contained in that volume, about relationships with loved ones, the perspectives learned by travel, etc…the first four chapters focused on knowing how to fix your own gear. But here I am, and frankly unashamed, as I know I will learn, and it gives me to the day to explore, which I have already started in earnest, pausing only to write this before I lose the edge of the journey out the windows with the sounds of the waterfall pictured above, and with the dissipating jet-lag that will go away with water, food, and more coffee.

For this one, the GFNY La Vaujany, the challenges are more than I have ever conquered. I realize I am not supposed to say this, but I am more than a little nervous. New bike, new roads, long climbs, long descents, and a kicker to the finish line that would not allow me to get the stick shift out of second gear on the way in. (I drive like it’s a horse and buggy, so please take that with a grain of salt). But driving around, everything is uphill or downhill. I have seen this in Italy, and in other parts of France, but never quite like this. On the drive in from Lyon airport, I saw beautiful rolling farmlands and thought “well this is nice”, only for me to suddenly see a wall of mountains before me the likes of which I have never seen. Having lived a hair’s breadth from the Cascades, and having journeyed through the Cascades and Rockies a number of times, my perspective still leaves me at a loss for words. A loss of description. No context for what I am looking at in seeing how surrounded by the Alpes we truly are in this beautiful place. But there is, ever forward-thinking that I will have different feelings about the majesty of the location while I am climbing. And so the nerves.

New Bike Day

The De Rosa SK Pininfarina was the bike that got me writing in this space, and has been a valuable asset on many GFNY races starting with GFNY Italia in 2017. At the time, I was just getting used to a professional type groupset with a standard 53/39 crank. It’s seen the top of Mont Ventoux, the cobbles of Roubaix, and 10 GFNY races since then. But there comes a time in every rider’s life that they have to accept that the groupset and geometry of such a bike are made for certain types of racing and riding, and so I began the hunt for a new rig that would allow me to climb for a long period of time, put more RPMs into each climb, and save my knees which I now need — desperately — to stay healthy for the GFNY Marathon, Florida in October. But while I was blissfully riding the SK, the bike industry started changing.

Luis at Crankworks getting the bike ready for packing. The integrated bars/stem made it a challenge, as did the disc brakes. Many firsts on this rig.

In shopping for close to a year for just the right frame, some realizations about the tide of the bike supply chain (and certainly pushed this way by COVID-19), toward disc brakes. In finally finding the ideal frame, there were some things that I would have to accept to get the things that were most important to me. Those being the geometry and the groupset. With parts on shortage, and supply chains impacted, I was finally able to put together the right build, but on arrival, realized that I knew nothing — and I do mean absolutely nothing — about how to get the wheels on, what the magilla with the brake pads went, where the washers and spacers went, etc…and this is before I realized what I would have to do to get the integrated handlebars into the box.

Luckily, Wendy and Luis at Crankworks were ready to help, and were able to complete the build for me, and get the bike packed in the box after I was able to test everything out on a GFNY group ride. Bike packed — check, and now on to make sure that the people of France would accept me in.

The New Age of International Travel

March of 2020 saw the start of the pandemic in earnest in the Western Hemisphere. There I was on my way to GFNY Uruguay, realizing that things could get dicey if this thing was for real. As it turned out it was, and so travel became strange. The trip home from Punta Del Este (another beautiful place), was confusing and frightening. There was no one at the time that had definite answers on where, how, and why anything would work. We would be settling in for the long haul, and the feeling of that impending set of circumstances was palpable.

But I only bring this up in contrast. While I needed my proof of vaccination, and a PCR test (taken two days before flying), to travel, it seemed a small price to pay to sit where I am sitting currently. As I spoke to the mechanics at the bike shop in Bourg d’Oisans this morning, they asked “no trouble for you coming here to France?” — no trouble. In fact, the only doubt I faced was in explaining the test result to the gate attendant in Lisbon before boarding for Lyon. Prior, I presented my information, it was read, and I was sent on my way. Without the masks to give away the times, I might not have known that we were in a pandemic, as it all seemed quite normal. Here, more than a year since lockdowns and other measures started, the sun is shining, and everything seems hopeful.

Sitting in an outdoor cafe sipping a wonderful coffee and staring at the mountains around me, seemed an appropriate start to spending some time in one of my favorite countries (although this beautiful area is still very new to me). No matter the outcome of my race, I can only feel hopeful, optimistic, grateful. Here we are.

The views in Bourg d’Oisans, at the foot of the famous Alpe d’Huez — a mountain to be climbed twice on Sunday.

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