Tag Archives: cycle tour france


I have spent the last two and a half weeks here at Pouygarin volunteering; tending to the two big vegetable gardens, cooking meals for the pottery students, the big awesome family and friends, cleaning, organizing, preserving the fruit and vegetables ripening too fast to harvest, milking the goats and enjoying country life. It is amazing here.




































Tagged , , , , , ,

Les Alpes Français

It’s the 11th of August and I’ve been back in France for almost a month and a half.  

On June 28th I took a two day ferry from Tangier, Morocco to Sete, France in order to continue my very indirect route east towards my cross-continental destination of Bucharest, Romania.

Immediately after stepping off the boat and back into France I remembered how much I love it here.  

From Sete I rode my bike northeast towards the French Alps where I intended on leaving my bike to hike around for a few days to a couple weeks.  I pedaled through fields of lavender in Provence and through vineyard upon vineyard in the Rhone Valley.  I picked fresh cherries and figs and plums from trees and communicated in frustratingly halting baby French with people along the way.  I consulted my dictionary constantly, I listened to my French language “tapes” and I contemplated staying in France and learning French.  How romantic would it be to volunteer on a farm and learn how to make cheese and grow organic veggies in the shadow of the Alps?!  The wild Carpathians and unknown rustic splendors of Romania (and everything in between here and there) were still a draw, but after a couple weeks in challenging Morocco and almost 5 months of near constant travel after leaving Antarctica, I was tired.  I had decided that I wasn’t in the mood to tackle Romania alone, if at all.  

My first stop in the French Alps was Parc national des Ecrins.  I hiked hut to hut for a few days among the impressive contrasts of glaciated hanging valleys, towering spiny peaks and glowing green pastures.  I appeared to be the only non-French person in the valley and at the rustic mountain huts I was forced to awkwardly communicate with French hikers and mountaineers – each of us interested to hear about the other’s routes and adventures.  I had an amazing time and would have stayed longer but unending rain and storms were in the forecast.  

I pedaled my bike northwest to Grenoble where my good friend Shane, who I had met working on The Ice, had just arrived to study French for the next 6 months!  The timing couldn’t have been better.  I waited out the rain in Grenoble for 5 days and explored the city on foot.  I relished cooking in a kitchen once again and enjoyed great conversations in attempted French, and mostly English, with Shane’s French roommate, Fred.  Shane would come home from class each day having learned something new and exciting about French and I was inspired to look into taking a French course in the Alps.  

So that’s what I did!  I found a language teacher in the legendary mountain town of Chamonix, a place I had always dreamed of skiing in the winter but I would settle for visiting the summer.  When the rains cleared I rode my bike there over a day and a half and as the mountains grew around me, I fell more and more in love.  I had arranged to camp on the lawn of a house of cyclists I found on warmshowers.org and when I showed up at their house I was armed with a bottle of wine and prepared to cook a simple dinner of lentils, chorizo and rice for the household as a thanks.  I was greeted instead with a dinner of amazing pork belly stuffed with apricots, fresh fennel from the garden and cashews that Marty, had put in the oven just before I arrived.  Iris,  who I had been communicating with regarding the lodging, arrived home with Hugh after rock-climbing post-work.  She popped open her experimental jar of homemade ginger kimchee and we dug into amazing food, easy conversation and hearty laughs.  Charlotte got home later that night after her job waiting tables at a hopping restaurant downtown and the household was complete.  I couldn’t believe my luck to have found such awesome people immediately upon arriving in Cham.  What a great intro to my new hometown for the next month or so!  

I spent the next few days getting oriented, riding my bike up and down the valley, studying a bit of French and looking for a place to live.  I was introduced to Myriam, a French teacher originally from Lille in the north of France, at a bonfire/ BBQ one night and the next day she found me outside my tent and asked if I would be interested in staying with her while I was in town.  YES!!!  I moved into her cute two bedroom flat a five-minute walk from the famous Aiguille du Midi tram the next day and started my French lessons with my incredible teacher, Karine, two days after that.  Let the learning begin!  

I had grand aspirations of hiking every day and rock-climbing and riding my bike to Italy and Switzerland over the weekends, but time flew and July had a record number of rainy days.  I did go on some amazing hikes, picked wild strawberries, raspberries and chantrelles, attended concerts in the high valleys overlooking glaciers during the annual jazz festival, rode my bike to neighboring villages to have picnics while reviewing my conjugations and I continued to meet really great people.  Living with Myriam and her crazy dog Bamboo was so fun and grounding.  I cooked and studied French more than anything else during the many rainy afternoons and I relished my downtime.  

With the end of my three weeks of lessons nearing I had to decide what to do next.  I was loving Chamonix but also not speaking as much French as I would have liked.  It often seemed that English was the first language there rather than French, which was easy and fun, but not going to get me to where I wanted to be with French over the short period of time I had left to learn.  I started looking into volunteering at farms around France – my original idea revisited – and found a spot in the midi-Pyrenees.  A pottery retreat/ goat farm/ veggie farm where I’ll be cooking, cleaning, milking goats and tending the garden in my few remaining weeks before heading back to Alaska. En route I stopped back in Parc national des Ecrins and hiked with Shane for a few days into the mountains of Val d’Oisans, then returned to Grenoble, where I am writing this from. Continuing southwest tomorrow!

!!Pictures are horribly out of order – excuse the mess, enjoy the visuals!!




Le Sirac, Parc des Ecrins.


Corps at night. In between Parc des Ecrins and Grenoble



My first home in Chamonix. Mont Blanc in the background.


Me and Shane hiking down from an awesome concert at the end of a dam at 2400m in Switzerland.




Myriam, my roomie, on the right, and her friend Caroline visiting from Lille in front of chez nous.


Concert at Montenvers over-looking le Mer de Glace/ Vallée Blanche




Looking up at Mont Blanc from La Jonction, 2589m, on the historic route of the first ascent of Mont Blanc.


P1060677P1060691P1060698 Last minute BBQ my last night in town!


La Berarde, Val d’Oisans on the edge of Parc des Ecrins – round two!


Shane at Refuge La Pilatte, 2577m.

P1060775Take off your nasty hiking boots and slide these comfy puppies on your tired feet! Compliments of Club Alpin Francais.


I’m crrrrrrayzay for Glacier du Vallon de la Pilatte!


Bol du café


Not posing.


Just taking it all in. Casually.



Base of Le Sirac and the old refuge.

P1060104 P1060168 P1060238 P1060307 P1060312 P1060390 P1060583 P1060588 P1060618 P1060626 P1060660


Tagged , , , , , , ,

4 days in the Pyrenees

Leaving Plateau d’Lhers 4 days ago

Top of the pass between Val d’Aspe and Val d’ Ossau. There were a ton of Spanish road cyclists at the top – at least 15 – 20 in the time I was there, training for a big race coming up. This isn’t the highest pass, but one guy said it’s one of the steepest in the area. I asked him about the passes to the east (which ended up being closed) and he said if you can do this, those are no problem. Yes!

Camped in a trashy trailer park/campground in Laruns with beautiful views of mountains in every direction

French fast food to go with my trailer park!

The next day I biked UP a very steep 4km from the highway to a lake, packed a backpack, hid my bike and hiked to Refuge d’ Ayous. Still closed for the season, as I knew they would be, I slept in the winter room. WOW!

Biking up into the storm yesterday. Heading back south towards Spain over the Col du Portalet: 1972 m

My feelings when the rain first started. It got a lot worse. Cold headwind and pelting rain. This is me working through it



Gorgeous even in bad weather


And here’s Spain! Beautiful!

Leaving a parking lot at Formigal, Spain’s (arguably) biggest ski resort

About 10 km from the border is Sallent de Gallego. A beautiful little Spanish mountain town. I almost passed it by, but there was a sign for municipal camping (the best, because it’s usually cheap, in a park setting and not overrun with caravans, like most campgrounds in Europe), plus, at the top of Col du Portalet, I stopped at a lovely historic hotel for a coffee and the woman recommended I check out the town. I SCORED on muni camping. Free and right behind the town sports complex. 2€ for a shower and they even had wifi I could use! Plus, the guy in charge, Angel, is a cycle tourist! Ha! I couldn’t choose the best angle for a photo of my camp spot…



Passing through Sabiñago on my way to Huesca today, I spotted this! I unintentionally did all except for Hoz

I made up for that, however (and 10m +!!) by summitting this beast between Sabiñago and Huesca. No idea this existed due to shitty, free tourist info maps that I’m using. This was one long climb. I think it took me at least two hours. Raining the whole time. Then fog. So not fun. I screamed in frustration a couple times. Then laughed at myself


On the other side of the pass the storm really happened. Thunder and lightening and driving rain, and about 15 km from here, a crazy hailstorm. I rode my bike as fast as I could to the nearest shelter, which turned out to be a flimsy piece of shade netting covering a driveway – it barely held!Hail the size of pennies came flying from every direction for a solid 5 – 10 minutes. I stood, dripping wet and freezing cold, glad I was wearing a helmet, and waited it out. Then I rode the last wet wet wet 15km here in less than a half hour. That storm also provided an awesome tailwind. Now I’m in Huesca, staying in a simple pensión, with great retro furnishings and a color television set, for 20€ a night. I have my own room and my saturated belongings are strewn across the room drying. Thunderstorms are predicted for tomorrow too. Maybe I’ll stay here another night and catch up on my Spanish telenovelas…

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Pamplona y Les Pyrénées Occidentales

I’m about to ride down a long winding hill that I rode up two days ago. Out of this amazing alpine valley and Plateau de Lhers where I have been camping for two nights at a perfect campground at the end of the road, and where I happened upon the amazing Pic de Labigouer yesterday.
The Summit

Me at the summit and my new backpack that I made out of a big stuff sack with neckties for straps.

On the way down



I lost my hat somewhere on the road heading back to the village and rode up to find it in the evening. Found it in the middle of the road, and then this dude found me, while taking pictures of the herd and the illuminated mountains in the distance

I woke up to frost on the ground the last two mornings. Yesterday I had breakfast in bed

30 km ride, all uphill from Jaca, Spain to the pass of Somport and the border between France and Spain the day before yesterday




The top! At the old border station pre- European Union

Between Donosti and Jaca I stopped for a day in Pamlona and stayed at a pilgrim’s hostel, for those hiking the Camino de Santiago. I followed the route backwards to the aforementioned pass. Pamplona is an awesome spot to eat and drink.




Pilgrims in the morning about to head out.

Just like me! Off to ride down to the main road, then over the Col de Marie Blanque into the next valley!!!

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Last Day in France

I’m sitting at a picnic table at my campsite – I never get a picnic table! My mantra as I look for a paid campsite for the night: “less than 5€, picnic table, less than 5€, picnic table…” Well, got one of those! Drinking a half bottle of Alsace riesling and I’m about to indulge in my pasta, last cube of veg boullion, red pepper, tomato and arugula feast. Rye cracker with brie on the side. I hadn’t had any brie since coming here and it seemed I should check out the real thing – unpasturized milk of course – before I cross the border to España! I’ve been wiggling steadily southwest since leaving Paris and tomorrow I’ll be in San Sebastian, where I’ll be staying with my old roommmate Asier, who I lived with the winter before last in the Catalonian Pyrenees!

Update, now that I’m actually in range of internet: I’m in San Sebastian – Donosti – in Basque! It’s almost midnight and we just finished our dinner with Asier’s awesome family. Vive “not Spain!”

Some photos from between here and Paris…
My first day south of Paris I happened upon an ancient route between there and Orleans. Old road marker.

Riding one evening amongst the fields. So pretty.



A quick bite


Riding along the Loire river, there are limestone cliffs and caves carved into them where wine is aged and sold. This spot had honey and chevre cheese too.



Chateaus that I would barely catch glimpses of beyond the outer walls were all over the place!

One of the hundreds of vineyards I’ve passed in the past week and a half.

I took a wrong turn and this was my dead end.

A turret?! Stop it, France!!


I took another wrong turn that day and ended up at this crumbling chateaux

Why you don’t go to the grocery store hungry. This brioche is literally the same size and weight as my tent. “I’m so hungry, I could eat a tent!”


Castle and vines

Long, straight roads with no cars the day before yesterday.


Some sammies I’ve made along the way





Tagged , , , , , ,


Paris is huge and bustling and beautiful and has great food and it’s really fun to ride a bike here. I’ve ridden more than 100km in the city these past few days. I get lost constantly because no streets are at a right angle and street names change a lot. An awesome way to get to know the city. Get lost.

I’m always hesitant to do the tourist thing and see the big attractions in a city, prefering to visit the neighborhoods and check out the “real life” thing. But hey. I’m in Paris. My first day here I rode to see the Eiffel Tower and was so impressed. What a beautiful work of art. I rode all around it and from every angle had a new appreciation for it. Humans sure can create some magnificent things.



On the flipside, we make a lot of trash too. But I think that’s also pretty. Maybe the person who decided on these clear bags sans container feels the same way about trash that I do.






Street scenes…

Bike lane

Ripped poster

Broken window

Bar. Closed on a Sunday.


Tuula’s toilet at her flat in Paris. Literally a water closet!


À le marché


Later in the market day, close to noon. Terrines.

This is a horrible picture of an amazing traditional dish. Tartiflette – basic ingredients: potatoes, cheese, onion, lardons. All cooked on this huge skillet and scooped to order. Simple, rich, delish. Breakfast for me today at the market.

My market purchases today. Ingredients to make fried egg sandwiches tonight for Tuula and her roommate, Hugo (eggs and fancy butter were purchased prior).


An American version if Croque Madame, I suppose. Pictured here.

I hear it’s now passè to take food pics. Oh well. I am in the motherland of modern American cuisine!!! It’s so exciting.

Tuula and I enjoyed some delicious fondue and a salade nicoise.


The next day I enjoyed a leisurely, traditional French lunch. I ordered the menù – set menu that changes daily. Pouilly-fumè to drink and to start a salade de chevre chaud (warm chevre salad – this is called the entreè here). Bavette grilleè, sauce poivre, frites maison (grilled beef, pepper sauce, pommes frites – the plat, or main cource). Créme bruleè for dessert. The first two were simple and perfect – like the tartiflette! Dessert was not the best example I’ve had, but I had to try this dish in its homeland!



Today I also tried my first macarons – little, light, delicate cookies with different fillings and flavors – a Pariesenne specialty.


I visited one museum in Paris. Le Grand Palais. Tuula and I went to a Robert Mapplethorpe photo exhibition. Why not check out an American photographer when I’m in possibly the greatest art capital of the world?! Yeah, I took a photograph of photographs. Everybody’s doing it…

And speaking of the must-do in Paris. Sit outside a traditional cafe where almost all the chairs are facing the street. Watch people. Drink coffee. Smoke cigarettes. I don’t have any desire to inhale cigarette smoke, or I would get myself a “city pack” so I could really partake in these scenes…


I leave Paris tomorrow and head south towards Spain! I love this city. And just when I can finally ride “home” without looking at a map, it’s time to go. Tuula has final exams to concentrate on and I am ready for the country roads again. I have most of France to go through which is perfect. France is so great. I’m studying French along the way, learning more by the hour, and yearning to have a better grasp of this language that I have always wanted to learn but have never had a real reason to. I should be riding along the Loire river valley in a day or two. Wine country awaits!!!

Tagged , , , , , ,

New Zealand – UK – France

This post is a tad belated…

After arriving in Christchurch, New Zealand on February 21st from Antarctica, I began a 5 week cycle tour of the South Island, first with Susie, my roommate from The Ice, then I headed up north to meet up with Dylan in Marlborough wine country. From there we rode south to Wanaka, met back up with Susie, rode up to Mt. Cook and back to Christchurch.

Wine country!



On the road…













We picked lots of apples


And camped under some bridges





And in awesome spots like this

Shoe fence that kept going and going…20140424-101526.jpg

New Zealand was so much fun. Dylan and I parted ways at the airport – he back to the long quiet roads of Australia where he had been riding for the past 5 months, and I decided to return to Europe. This time, riding my bike from France to Romania (or that’s the “plan,” but we’ll see where to roads take me)!

I flew into London and took a train to Eastbourne to hang with Lillian and her fam for a couple weeks. It was so nice to be in a house (not a dorm room or tent) for a little while and be able to cook! It was like coming home.

Tea time! This tea house has been around since the 1700s.



And now I’m in Paris! I took a ferry to Dieppe, FR 6 days ago and took the very long way to Paris, riding on mostly winding back roads the whole way. Along the coast to Ètretat, to Rouen, to Gournay en-Bray to here. Now I’m staying with my friend Tuula who I couchsurfed with in Finland 2 years ago. She then came up to Alaska last summer and now is studying in Paris – perfect timing! I just arrived yesterday evening and in moments will go off to explore the city!

Lunch my first day in France. Baguette, rillettes de beouf, camembert, pomme


Velo avec baguette à un cemetière


Me and a field of rapeseed – canola oil plant. These brilliant yellow fields are all over the place!


Dinner two nights ago, camping in a forest (not many forests left here). I picked tons of fiddlehead ferns and stinging nettle and made veggie soup. Dèlicieux!20140424-120058.jpg

Croissant and a random gorgeous castle.


La vie est belle!

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,