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Chapter 3

At first I feel somewhat unusual to go my own way. Soon the impressive things around do not allow to think too much about it.

The mountains ahead, a slight tailwind and sunshine. In front of me there slowly rides a biker in racing dress. For I do not want to pass him, I stop and change my clothes in respect of the warm weather. But he is too slow, so I must pass the sportsman some time later. He is a biking oldie, the faded and torn bikeshorts will have seen many kilometers.

At the next junction I turn back and am astonished, the grandfather has entered my rear wheel and got profit of the reduced wind there. I hope that the wind was reduced really, for I did not pay attention...

At the next slope I slow down, now he passes me and I enter his rear wheel. After a while I feel bad to let the old man do the work and lead again. In silence for some km we make the pace like a harmonic racing team. At Caunes-Minervois there is the junction towards the Col de Salette, where I want to go. And then I hear a rough shout from behind: "Bonne Route!". I swing my arm - end then this episode finds its end.

I climb up a narrow valley. The wind comes straight from behind - OK. The yellow blossoms of the broom (Ginster) flash aside the creek. Up above the next village: Citou, the houses sticked to the slope. The people enjoy the sun of the afternoon and sit on chairs near their frontdoor. So many greetings fly to-and-fro. There are wells to fill up the water-bottle. I hope the water is clean and I do not get sick of it.

Once you climb beneath an old fort, the tower high above you. Than you accomplish two or three hairpins and find yourself up above this same tower. But it is too early to look up to the summit.

Many red orchids aside the road and you forget the sweat dripping of your face for a moment. And the pass will not end - starting at the level of 100 m up to 913 m: more than 800 m to climb (you have enough time to figure this out).

Once everything ends, at the top you may be proud of the work behind you. But at the descent I have to stop soon: a meadow blue of wild pansy (Stiefmütterchen).

Then there is a panoramic view: Roc Suzadu. A man on a bench lies in the sun. His wife appears out of a bush carrying a bunch of those wonderful orchids. I am sorry to speek French not good enough to start a discussion about this criminal behaviour.

I reach the small village Verriers, hidden down in the deep valley. So you get thoughtful at a monument for the victims of the Resistance during the War. About 10 persons, some of them women of this small village have been killed. You cannot guess the background of the tragedy. I can translate the words at the monument: "You have died that we can live". (The same you can read at monuments in Germany, what makes the sense of this all?)

The last km down to St. Pons, the destination of the day. I find a hotel at the junction. The bike is placed inside a garage big as a cave. At the village there is not much to be seen, some narrow roads and dark houses. The kerbstones are made of marble, may be they break it nearby.

The dinner at the hotel is superb: Truit aux Roquefort (trout and cheese). May be the pommes frites are not the optimum.

Fri 13.5. St. Pons - St. Rome 125 km: Up and Down

Dark clouds are hanging in the mountains. 700 m are waiting to be climbed up today. Just above the village the clouds begin but may be it gets better within the day. I go shopping and banking and then the rain stops. So I can start but there is a change to the beauty of yesterday. Mechanically I climb up, nothing to be seen of the landscape around. In the ditch there lies a dead deer, it looks completely intact like sleeping. Another time a truck passes me and I disappear in a black cloud of steam. As I reappear there is a sign at the street: "Medical Center for Asthmatics". That's it.

Nothing else to tell about this climb, 1.5 hours for 10 km and then you have done the Col du Cabaretou, 949 m. A steady drizzle and cold mist make you feel cold in spite of the strenuous ascent.

Down to Salvetat s. Agout located upon a picturesque hill. Some lakes nearby may be attractive to tourists, if there is a better weather. I stroll around in the village, twisted streets like in the middle-age. Up to the next pass Col de Piquotalen 1004 m.

Then I run down to Lacaune. Many pharmacies let you guess that there is a health center at this place. Now up again to the Col de Sie, 999 m.

Finally I've done it. The rain has stopped and the clouds have risen. But the descent is not easy. A strong sidewind tries to push one off the street. The character of the land around has changed. Woods and valleys lie behind, this is a wide and rough high-plane without trees. You can look far in front, where the valley of the river Tarn should be.

Now 20 km downhill. Wide switchbacks and curves can be run at full speed without using the brakes. So I fly down to Belmont, a village built of red sandstone, the material of the district.

There is the main road now leading to St. Affrique, 15 km ahead. I thoroughly study the road map and find onother way in a valley down to the Tarn. And be happy, with a good tailwind and another 20 km downhill you nearly forget to pedal. A larger water surface ahead, "Hello Tarn" I say. (You get somewhat curious after cycling alone for a while). I cross the Taran over a one-way bridge and the road disappears in a 400 m long tunnel. So I switch on the generator (dynamo) and rush into the darkness. The tunnel leads in a wide curve so the daylight soon ends. But my lights do not burn, the wheel of the generator only slips on the rubber of the tire. Zigzagging from one wall to the other I find my way.

But now a big noise comes up and grows louder and louder. There must be a bigger Truck, a Bulldozer or a Tank or altogether coming nearer. I press myself to the wall and thoroughly place the bike beside in hope to leave enough space for the roaring sensation. Then two lights come around the corner and two small automobiles come along. Seem to be enormous acoustics inside this tube.

I am happy to reach the daylight again and to see what's around. I didn't have the time yet to look around at this valley. The landscape is not as wild as those canyons up the river. But the valley is cut 400 m deep into the plane high above. The slopes are covered by woods. Nearly no traffic so peace and tranquility are around (if you are not inside a tunnel). Good biking again.

Well, the next tunnel is short, but then a annoying situation or harassment (as my dictionary says). You leave the valley of the Tarn crossing a bridge and go up the river Dordou a couple of km, then pass this river after an additional tunnel, then go back a couple of km and - you have run 6 km now - finally reach the same place as before. But you have changed the shore, that's it. But do not think of lost km - it's biking in France, and one of the nice kind anyway.

No I go up the valley and enjoy. Unfortunately they have broken the wildness of the river by dams to generate electricity there. And the street goes up and down, half the slope up and down to the river again.

At the final section before St. Rome the last power has to be offered. The road leads up to the higher plane (400 m) and then downhill until you finally see St. Rome on the other side upon a hill. At the river there is a porous rock (Tuff) full of holes like a Suisse cheese and a waterfall falling down. It makes a picturesque swimming pool for the summer time. Above all there is a campsite of course.

At the bridge before the village a couple of bikers take a rest. A kind "Salut" and then I must behave as if there is no problem in climbing the last hill up to St. Rome. At the central place there is the hotel Commerce, that's it for today.

Some time later the other two bikers from the bridge come in. They are from London and make a one-week-tour in a district, that a madman as me rolls up within two days.

In the evening I have a "Menu d' Jour" again. For little more than 1 Dollar they offer Salade, Sausage and Bacon, Steak and Vegetable, Cheese (you can have as much as you want) and finally a portion of Ice. From the bar you can hear another guest having dined well, I try to do this more quiet.

As I am back to my room a noise comes up from the bar below. They begin to sing, more songs, accompanied by rhythmic stomps and the hammer of spoons on the table. The songs sound international and you know them from the soccer stadiums: "Rucki-zucki..." or "Ole, ole, ole..." etc. But at 10 pm. they finish and the silence of the night is preserved.

Sat 14.5. St. Rome - Pont de Montvert 128 km: The Gorge of the Tarn.

The breakfast is finished soon: two cups of coffee and two croissants from the bread basket. The road is wet and I start into the grey. There are not so many climbs today, a light rain is falling until I reach Millau. Now I have to take out a greater portion of credit from my guardian angel (Schutzengel). At a roundabout I have to apply the brakes in violence. And I can't tell how it happens I suddenly slip along on the sleek road, my bike and panniers over me.

I cautiously get up and a driver - a driving school in addition - stops to ask if I am ok. I murmur "Petit Malheur" and find anything complete at myself. Some parts of the bike have suffered, I have to turn handlebar, lamp and brakes back into their correct position. But I feel a pain at the right side of my chest, it feels like a bruise (Prellung) of the ribs there. Somewhat toddling I continue on my way.

But the sun comes up now and you can think of other things again. I use a quiet road on the right shore of the Tarn to avoid the main road at the other side. The great attraction comes near, the "Gorges du Tarn". At 35 km length there is a wild scenario, where the Tarn digs its way through the mountains. The rocks get higher and steeper and the valley becomes more narrow. At Le Rozier this all begins, much folk around here like at all nice points of the world. The sun shines bright now and we can start to the approaching highlight with best weather.

Now you must have much time, stop at many places and look around. Some people go canoeing on the river. At the wilder passages they shout with joy. Aside the road there are orchids again, at the rockwalls curtains of green moss.

You can climb up an exposed rock (Point Souci) and pay 2 Fr. for it. At the opposite shore there is a trail, wanderes shouting with joy as well. On the road the motorcyclists throw themselves into the curves.

The steep walls of the rocks high above like thrones. Up there the bottom of the present valley waters have washed out tubes in former times. Many caves are here as well, but I have to restrict to the overground.

Another sensation is a restaurant at the opposite shore. If you want to get there you have to ring a bell and phone them up. They will send you a cable lift then. At Les Vignes a group of canoeists dry their clothes in the sun. May be they had some trouble before.

The waters of the Tarn have been of blue to green colour all the time. Now they turn to be muddy brown and there are several bushes and branches of trees in the river. At St. Enemie the parking place is partly under water already. There must have been a thunderstorm up the valley.

At St. Enemie many visitors finish for the canyon and the wild part of the valley ends here. I stay to the Tarn, the valley is not as wild now but beautiful anyway.

At Ispagnac I reach a main road and head towards Florac. It is early afternoon, fine weather and not the time yet to stay for the night. A look around, the people sit at the restaurants and enjoy the sun. I continue to go up the Tarn valley.

There is a sign of a hotel, "English spoken" they offer. I go in there and a kind lady explains, that there are hotels at Pont de Montvert, 20 km ahead. She is willing to phone up there and settle a reservation for me. So I am very grateful about this help, I even have not to pay for this service. And now I feel great.

The character of the valley has changed. Less woods and wide slopes of the mountains. White waters fall down some cataracts. I cannot imagine, if it is possible to mange those passages by a canoe. The sides of the road are insecure, you have to move carefully if you have a sight to the depth. I remember a movie with Louis de Funes starring, where an automobile falls down an abyss and ends at the top of a staggering tree. They had funny situations up there ("Balduin der Sonntagsfahrer", "Sur un Arbre Perche").

To reach my destination I have to climb again. The height of Pont de Montvert is 875 m. So those 20 km cost some time and sweat but I got time enough now. Finally the village is in front surrounded by the mountains and the yellow broom (Ginster). The name of the hotel sounds romantic: "Aux Sources du Tarn". At my room there is a balcony, the Tarn rushes just below. I have made my way 150 km with the Tarn and it was a wonderful section of this tour. At this evening I do not dine and dedicate the meal to a Camembert inside the panniers since some days. And it's time now, he is pretty soft and moves by himself.

The night is not as well, my right chest hurts and I have to turn in my bed carefully. I have to run to the toilet several times as well and am afraid to have drunk spoiled water on the way. Or it is the Camembert? But this thunderstorm soon blows over. But my ribs - I shall have some fun of them.

Sun 15.5. Pont de Montvert - Vallon Pont d'Arc 90 km: Rain and Sunshine

Authors of bike-tour-reports use to begin the story of the day to tell about the weather. So I do all the time. In the last day the weather has proved to change from one day to the other: every first day is fine and every second is bad. Today it seems to be a second day - everything grey and a slight drizzle. I have to climb 300 m up to the Col de la Croix d Berthel, 1088 m.

It is easy to go, the slope is not steep at all. The valley rises with one of the source creeks of the Tarn. After passing the summit the drizzle gets stronger. Soon I have to put on warmer clothes, the hat deep down the face, gloves and the rain coat like in the winter. 20 km downhill in a wild valley. You need some concentration down there.

Now I reach the route leading up to the Cevennes as I have planned it. But I stand at the road and watch the rain and the clouds at the mountains. What to do now? Is there a chance that the weather changes during the day? I do not believe in it, so the only decision is: go on downhill to the deeper regions. I reach the villages Besseges and St. Ambroix.

And what shall I say, soon the rain stops, then the road is even dry. So it never rained around here this day. I enter a cafe and then look around at the historic center of St. Ambroix. I pass a hill with a castle on it's top - as usual.

It's summer again and I wear shorts and my new bike-shirt of course. The landscape varies between dry areas at higher planes and wet swamps at the deeper flats. Far ahead the mountains of the Ardeche district. My small road is very nice, up and down on short distances, no traffic and pretty flowers around. My favorite flower (besides orchids) is the red poppy (Mohn) which begins to make fields and meadows red coloured.

Far away of the Ardeche you already realize the signs of tourism. Campingsites, boat and bike rentshops, souvernir and snack shops. Before 4 pm I reach Vallon Pont d' Arc and enter a hotel. I cannot continue my way today, 40 km of the Canyon of the Ardeche are waiting - you must have enough time for this. Today there is time for a nap, something new.

But then it is obligatory to visit one of the most famous sensations of France and even Europe. It is 5 km away from the village easy to reach with the bike. Now I have problems to sit on the saddle, may be I am not used to short trips any more. Suddenly I realize that the Ardeche has disappeared at the right side. After a wide bench you reach a parking place behind a big rock. And there it is the sensation of the Pont d' Arc, where the Ardeche breaks it's way under a huge rock barrier.

Now I watch to a group of motor cyclist and listen to their chats. I cannot translate the dialect, for they are from Southern Germany. "Did you see the big Gate?" a young girl shouts to her companions in excitement. But those stay to be cool as if they had seen this many times before. "And watch the camping-sites at the road!" the bike-girl continues. But I continue to make my photograps and change to the other side of the "gate".

At the evening it's a pizza restaurant and fruits de mer again.


Some months later they will find just at this site one of the most exciting sensations of this century, only comparable to the discovery of "Oetzi", the 5.000 year old iceman. Near the Pont d' Arc under a stone-(debris)-field there is an entrance to a "vast underground network of caves" where thousands of years no human beeing has come in. At the walls there are hundreds of "paintings and engravings from the Palaeolithic age" (17.000-20.000 years before our time). Unfortunately I missed to make this discovery once I was there.

Mon 16.5. Ardeche - Avignon, 100 km: The Canyon of the Ardeche

I start into the fog today but when I reach Pont d' Arc it becomes clear. Now the exciting trip in and above the Canyon of the Ardeche can begin. At the camping-site the motor cyclists in their leather-suits rush to the toilettes. Some time later they rush along with their roaring aggregates. I just start to push the bike for the road gets steeper and leaves the canyon now.

An older racing-biker passes me and disappears up the hill. Sweating profusely I reach the top. The reward for the strain are some admiring glances of some car drivers, who look down to the depth from the parking-place. The name of this first panoramic point is "Belvedere du Serre". All the parking-places up here have nice names all beginning with "Belvedere" or "Belvue". At some places you must leave the main road to reach the most beautiful points.

And this is the advantage of the biker, he can stop and look around whenever he wants to. The Ardeche winds itself among the rock walls vertically falling up to 400 m. On the top they have built fences for security. Paragliding is not allowed as to be read from the signs. You need some time to have enough of the views all the time. So this first half of the day passes as I stop and go on. But when I enter the bike I make a face for the chest hurts, but no one cares about it.

The special experience: once back to the road some small animals large as a finger cross the street. I guess that they are lemmings which like to commit suicide in falling down into an abyss. They would find optimal conditions here. Fortunately no car is just passing, so they succeed to reach the grass. I am just early enough to recognize them as wease (Wiesel). With clumsy motions they disappear behind the bushes.

I climb and run downhill in change, it's not hard for you always can see the end of the next section. Finally downhill all the time back to the shores of the Ardeche. At St. Martin across a bridge to the opposite shore.

At Pont d' Esprit I reach the river Rhone. Esprit is romantic again, houses not as perfect as our German sense of order usually demands.

The small twisted road I go now is very nice among vine-yards and orchards. I resist to pick some cherries for the owners houses are in sight. I just take a photo of the Rhone and a windmill when another biker passes by. But it is not my fellow Rainer and I let him go.

The beauty of the landscape ends abruptly. There are sites of the nuclear industry at Marcoule. High fences and guards everywhere, you do not dare to shoot a photography. Many cars and parking-places, so there are a lot of work places anyway. The creeks and pools around here seem to be dead, the colour of the cloudy waters is green and grey. You can watch Anglers and hear frogs though.

When I cross the Rhone I exactly did 2.000 km on this trip. So to make a joke I take a photo of myself in a gesture of exhaustion (unfortunately I do not wear the new bike-shirt).

The next photo is shot of a field red like fire from the poppy-flowers.

I pass Roquemaure - some piece of cake -, Sauveterre - a coffee - and approach to Avignon the final end. First you reach the suburb Villeneuve and the traffic grows. This is not the "new" town as you guess of the name. There are a mighty fort and twisted roads.

Then there is a bridge over one arm of the Rhone and you are at the Island "Ile de la Barthelasse". I have not so good memories on this place. I was here in the 60s as a hitchhiking student bent down under my rucksack to spend the night at the Youth Hostel. But there was a festival or something like that and they didn't want me for the hostel was full. At that time I left Avignon and spent the night together with other fellows in the straw of a field.

You then enter the second bridge and better walk to look ahead. In front there is the ancient skyline of Avignon with the towers and palaces. At the left side you see that famous half of a bridge and hear the song in your ears: "Sur le Pont d' Avignon..." At my former journey I mentioned above I saw this all under the glowing of a red sunset. And I still have the slide of that view.

Now I look at the center for a tourist information and find it in front of that half bridge "Pont St. Benezet" (12th century). You can enter the bridge if you pay the admission.

I have to organize my retreat now. I choose a hotel near the railway station. But the baggage office at the railway station is closed already, so I cannot send my bike back home today. At a walk in the center of Avignon my mood is bad, the tour is over and the excitement has gone. At the roads of Avignon many strange people hang around. One is lead by his dog, he himself is drunken and nearly unable to walk any more. Others try to beg for money so you often look into opened fists. I seems to be a nice place here to get the money of the tourists instead of own work.

At the main boulevard "Rue de la Republique" I pass Mac Donald's and other fast food bars but enter a Chinese restaurant at a side street. My order is something like ... fruit de mare ... I wonder if you have to dine with the Chiese sticks for no knife, fork or spoon are to be seen.

But I get a soup. I tastes very well but costs as much as a complete meal otherwise. This is the reason I thought of a proper dish in the menu card. I pay and leave. At the hotel I finally write some postcards to friends and relatives. It is the time now...

Thur/Wedn Avignon - Strassburg - Braunschweig: Way Back

At this morning everything goes well. At 8 am I give up the bike at the station. The luggage is depositted in an automat and have my trouble to get in the coins for a time of 72 hours instead of 2 as I need. Back to the hotel, breakfast. Back to the station to get the time table of a train connection to Germany. But you cannot go to the information desk directly but must draw a number label first and then wait until this number is called.

Meanwhile I find some information papers at the wall and see the next train to Strassburg. As my number is called I can buy my ticket already. It turns out that the officer at the information desk at the railway station of the famous tourist town Avignon is unable to speak any foreign language. I don't bother but wonder about it. Short time before the French government has issued the order to keep free the French language of all anglicisms. And the nationalism of France is well known in contrast to the European idea.

I do not leave the station for I soon enter my train. 700 km to Strassburg, you need all of the day and I reach Strassburg at 6.30 pm. To avoid to travel at night I stay here and spend the night at the hotel "Les Vosges" near the railway station. I have never been at Strassburg so I am curious of a stroll there.

Nice little lanes with numerous restaurants and people sitting on the outside. The most famous building is the cathedral (Muenster). Detailed decoration and oraments, the big Rosette above the entrance. Two towers, the left is one of the highest in Europe, the other one has not been completed and has a meteorologic laboratory or something like that at it's stump.

After some time of undecision I choose a China restaurant again in spite of the desaster yesterday. Now everyone speaks German and there are no problems with the menu. And you don't have to dine with the sticks...

At the next morning the last part of this trip, 19 days biking and 2 days by train. I am back again, won some strength and lost 5 kg of my weight.


At Saturday Rainer calls me up. He feels splendid and came back on Friday. Essentially he has made the same tour as we. He resignd to use the train in between so Thomas was sure not to meet Rainer at the roads again.

Rainer went to the south to Biarritz/St. Jean de Luz, then to the east at the Pyrenees. The famous pass "Col du Tourmalet" was closed caused by snowfall.

He then went to Toulouse and Albi, stayed at the Tarn too and reached St. Rome some days after me. He was at the same hotel there and remembers the menu as well. He then changed to the valley of the Lot and its canyons. The final sections to St. Etienne and Lyon there were to climb several passes of 1000 m height.

At Lyon he got the train to Mulhouse, crossed the border to Freiburg by bike and then finished the trip by train.

Some days later I have regenerated as well. And now I can tell you how long you will enjoy the bruise of some ribs: 6 to 8 weeks.

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