For most of the past two weeks we’ve been away. We left on May 10 for an 11-day trip to Normandy. Norman cyclists, it turns out, take to the open road a lot. Parts of Normandy are almost as flat as Kansas, with vibrant yellow fields of rape seed interspersed with more sedate green crops, and occasionally the light violet of flax. Other areas are rolling hills, some forested and others with apple orchards, from whence comes the ambrosial cidre of the region; these trees came into blossom during our visit.
French roads, on the other hand, are less vivid or ambrosial. They are graded from the “A” autoroutes, to the “N” nationally-maintained roads, to the “D” roads maintained by the area’s départment, roughly equivalent of “county.” Quality level varies greatly on the N and D roads; in fact it is really impossible to distinguish between them based on any material criteria. Any level of road is likely to have stretches of quite rough surface, though probably not any serious potholes. Shoulders are often a bit iffy, especially on two-lane roads, of which there are many. Posted speeds are slightly higher than on comparable US roads, though the frequent small villages in the countryside require frequent and severe slowdowns to 35 or even 20 mph (50 to 30 kmh).
Connecting the roads at their interstices are roundabouts, which we have decided are vastly superior to crossroads with traffic lights or stop signs. Traffic always flows, full stops are minimal, and best of all for the tourist you can circle around two, three, or four times until you’ve sorted out your direction. Most roads are well-signed, more consistently so in small towns and countryside, slightly less reliably in town, depending on the city.
On any road other than the Autoroutes you’ll encounter cyclists, at any time of day, tricked out in colorful racing kit and blasting along on nice bikes with brands names we’ve never heard of. Most of the riders seem the big, muscular sort of roleur; none of the skinny little climbers produced by Spain and Italy. Even in May it seems generally necessary to wear long sleeves to ward off the coll, breezy air, but there’s a lot of cycling going on in the beautiful Norman countryside. They deal with the iffy shoulders, the bumpy road surfaces, the speeding cars, and the roundabouts with great aplomb. Whether muscular young adults or grizzled velo veterans, the Normans love to cycle.
As for me, I looked on the riders we passed with some envy, giving a few stalwart climbers the thumbs-up as we rolled by. My training regimen, already compromised by schedule and weather this year, was getting another hiatus. But the good news is that I lost several pounds on the trip. You know you’re overweight when that happens after 10 days of croissants for breakfast and both cheese and dessert courses on several evenings. Either that, or you’ve been setting a challenging holiday pace and burning tons of calories, which I confess we tend to do.
So now it’s back to toast and no desserts. And I’m back cycling on my own turf. Allons-y! Vitesse!
©Arnold J. Bradford, 2010.