Although I have a whole blog category dedicated to When Bad Things Happen to Good Travelers, sometimes – huzzah! – good things can happen to good travelers quite by accident.  So when I say “happy accidents,” I don’t mean wheels-in-the-air-feet-awkwardly-clipped-into-pedals-thrashing-on-your-back-like-a-struggling-bug-bicycle-crash kind.  (That sort of indignity has never befallen me, as far as you know.)  I mean the kind of unexpected boon that luck bestows on us all from time to time.  And because I have a follower who, after reading all of my When Bad Things… posts and then my recent post about a near miss in Paris, has made a request for somewhat lighter fare – at least until he can get some counseling for his blog-induced nightmares – I thought I’d recount those fortuitous incidents here.

Lucky Break #1: The French Alps

As I’ve mentioned previously, the husband is a cycling nut, and some time ago we headed over to Europe for a cycling-themed vacation.  Our Belgian friends, The Belgians, collected us and our massive bike box from the airport and we spent a day or so warming up our legs on the relatively flat Wallonian terrain, including a ride to visit the Monkey of Mons.

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If you want good luck, you must rub the monkey’s head with your left hand

We then drove to their three-hundred-year-old cottage located in France’s Massif Central region.

 

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Our lovely home base in south central France. With a patisserie directly across the lane, I got daily practice in speaking French and eating pastries.
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The hills of the Massif Central, with the River Lot below

After several days of sight-seeing and cycling, including testing how long before my grip strength gave out on a twisty, scream-inducing, 20-minute descent (according to the husband, it would have been a mere 12-minute descent if only I had kept my hands off the brakes, or as he calls them, the “go slow levers”) to the River Lot, we met up with the rest of the Belgian family at a lovely mountain lodge in Prolagnon-la-Vanoise in the Alps.

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The scenery is almost as good as the fondue.

Like many cycling nuts, the husband adores the Tour de France, so cycling in the Alps, but especially cycling up the famous Tour route of Alpe d’Huez, was the highlight of this trip.  Thus, after we bagged the summit of Col de Petit St. Bernard, which was my one and only ascent, and the husband and the Belgians bagged a few others, we made our way to the base of the infamous Tour de France ride.

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The Petit St. Bernard ascent is 30K long at a mostly 4-6% grade.  It took me about 2.5 hours.  That was plenty of cycling for me.
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A the top of the col, I rode a few hundred more yards to a shop on the Italian side of the border where I giddily said “Buongiorno” and later, “Grazie” to the shopkeeper.  It was my first foray into Italy, and it left me wanting more.

Due to weather conditions the previous day, we’d had to leave d’Huez for our very last cycling day of the trip, so if something stopped our group from getting up that mountain, it wasn’t going to happen at all.  We drove over three hours to get to the base and when we finally arrived, we were met with an alarming sight:  hundred of cyclists and a nearby bank sign stating that the route up was closed to cars.  The famous Alpe d’Huez Triathlon was taking place before our eyes.  (A major triathlon on a Wednesday??)  Rapid-fire French began to assault our ears as the Belgians tried to problem-solve.  Before long, though, we were met with welcome news.  The route would be closed the following day, and we could proceed!  One of the Belgians and I made our way slowly up the route in the support vehicle, stopping at various points along with way to cheer on our riders.  (I adopted “Allez! Allez!,” the preferred cheer among the French.)  This had been the plan all along.  What hadn’t been anticipated was having thousands of other spectators cheer our steadfast little group up the mountain.

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Fear not.  I got la permission to photograph this guy’s backside.  Besides, he probably wouldn’t have cared anyway.  To the French, we Americans are massive prudes.

Just ascending Alpe d’Huez would have been enough for the husband, but being able to take part in the middle leg of the triathlon was a coup indeed.  I like to think it was the doing of the Monkey of Mons.

 

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Un exploit fantastique
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Amazingly, Alpe d’Huez has the singular ability to vary its elevation by up to ten meters on any given day, baffling scientists worldwide.

Coming soon: Happy Accidents in International Cycling #2: Italy

 

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