Day 0 - Provence
No more winters in Paris
The forward of the story is now, 6 weeks before departure. Our bicycles are ready and we’re getting into shape by spending our days out in the Luberon park, on the edge of the French Alpes. Friday afternoon and Saturday morning, we rode 90km from Lagnes along the railroad turned bike path past Apt, into the park and through half a dozen villages before coming home.
We're not used to long climbs, and after fifteen minutes of doing nothing but go up, I’m on my
lowest gear, my heart sinking and my legs burning each time I round a curve to see that the road
continues to go...up...
Finally, Quentin calls out and I join him on a pathway leading away from the road. We walk our bikes atop a wall, several terraces of oak trees looming above. The path is so overgrown that sometimes the bike gets stuck and we must push hard to get them moving again. Our oasis for the night is the edge of this oak grove.
The night is uneventful, and, as the sun peeks out and promises a beautiful day Saturday morning, we have tea, hardboiled eggs, and the remaining cheese and bread from our evening meal.
A curious pitstop
We finish the climb to Saignon and pedal out to Le Potager d’un Curieux, French for « A curious person’s garden, »an ulterior motive for our weekend ride. Here we meet Jean-Luc Daneyrolles, a
seed preserver and philosopher in his early sixties. For twenty years Jean-Luc was a regular at the weekly market, selling forgotten varieties of fruits and vegetables. He tells us that at the time people didn’t know that a tomato came in yellow, much less « purple zebra. » For the past decade, he has dedicated himself to collecting and distributing the seeds to help preserve these old varieties. His association grows, harvests and sells over 80 varieties of tomato seeds, almost the equivalent in pepper seeds, a dozen kinds of beans, potatoes, cucumbers, corn – a real encyclopedia of the fruits and vegetables of the region. He has been rebuked several times with fines and restrictions by the government, as his seeds are not approved by the French seed registry (which happens to be dominated by large companies). Industrial seeds are sterile and can only be used for one season, whereas his varieties can be collected and used season after season –not great for business but wonderful for biodiversity and much healthier for those of us concerned about our food.
Up and out
Back on the road, we begin the 60k trek home. Rather than take the railroad track that we rode last night, we set our tires north to climb into the Luberon park. This is nothing compared to the 2000m passes we’ll have to ride in central Asia, but for today, it’s a good workout.
Once we’re on top of the mountain, the next 8km slip away, as we glide down to Bonnieux. It’s a quiet village that offers a nice view of the valley, and directly across is Lacoste, our next destination. A route we’ve driven many times, we have a new outlook on it as we ride down only to climb back up. We repeat this same ritual as we descend from Lacoste and start climbing again towards Menerbes. Up and down again to arrive in Robion. The entire Luberon valley is like this and makes for a beautiful day of riding. After this outing, we realize we’re not fit enough to climb the Mont Ventoux just yet, but it feels good to finally feel like we’re beginning. These weeks are the forward to our story, a word that will become a mantra over the next 22000km: forward, forward ever.