Sunday, August 3, 2014

Day 4 Alpe d'Huez!!

The weather was decent on Day 4.  No sun but not pouring down rain.  All was well except for my horrible eating on Day 3.  Why oh why did I think a cheeseburger and duck confit would be a good eatng plan???  Well the tummy was not happy (SHUTUPTUMMY).  I figured it may be a pull over and barf kind of day and my dreams of a 30minute ascent of Alpe d’Huez was dashed. 
It just looks like any old mountain side right?
We began the descent from La Grave to Bourg d’Oisans (base of alpe) and had my first tunnel experiences on a bike.  Let me just say I do not like tunnels on a bike.  They are narrow, dark and any car that enters the tunnel sounds just like a Mack truck roaring up behind you.  And then it passes you and it is a teeny tiny Fiat.  Oye. 

My legs were NOT happy either (SHUTUPLEGS).  The first little climb felt awful and I figured another long day in the saddle.  But hey, I’m riding my bike (OK, A bike) in France.  Suck it up buttercup – when will you get to do this again?  Despite the pissy tummy and legs, I was still excited to do this iconic climb. 

The group gathered at the base of the climb and got suited up.  Guide Lisa was driving the van today and was getting everyone fired up with music and a generally awesome attitude.  And then it was time to begin. 
What have I gotten myself into??

We are going up there!!!

Laura Lee and Lisa had both warned us that the first 3 switchbacks were the steepest and that is where you usually see the most carnage.  So take it easy.  And, there are not 21 switchbacks.  Most people stop right when they hit the town at the top – there are all sorts of “fake ” finish lines.  But the TDF finish line happens after switchback 0 (thus 22). 

The road immediately turns up and you are climbing.  I had my bike in my lowest gear and it stayed there the remainder of the ascent.  Climbing was a combination of in the saddle and out of the saddle and yes, those first 3 switchbacks were a beotch.  Since my tummy was gross and I knew I wasn’t going to win the ascent, I lowered my heart rate targets and just kept a somewhat “comfortable” pace going up. 

The climb is stunning.  Absolutely gorgeous.  And unlike the other climbs we had done, this one had marker signs for each switchback counting down.  So the first sign was 21 and the grade for that section was like 22%.  Or 10%.  I don’t really remember.  I got in a groove and started counting down signs.  And then I would argue with whoever did the signs when I thought for sure that counted as a switchback yet there was no sign. 

The coolest part of the climb?  Well, there are several.  Starting with seeing the names of your favorite dopers riders painted all over the road.  The next was seeing all of the people out there on their bikes!  I thought I was doing great passing people until I would look over and see that the girl I was passing was 12.  On a mountain bike.  And then there was the 80 year old man on a fixie.  I am not kidding.  I had been passed by an 8 year old boy at some point who must have had a 36 on his rear derailleur the way he was spinning his legs.  He stopped at the first “finish” line he saw.  I smiled as I passed him back and knew that I had just crushed the 8 year old.  HA!!!!  I cruised through the village, hit the right turn at Intersport, nailed the first roundabout and then promptly missed the next roundabout.  I ended up with Daniel (fellow tour member and hilarious Brit) at the golf course.  We were pretty certain that it wasn’t the finish line.  So we turned back and finally got to the finish.  Pretty fucking awesome. 

After taking off the time for the missed turn, the 4 flat tires, the guy that needed CPR and the 9 holes of golf I played, my “official” time came in around 10minutes.  Take that Lance!!!

Lisa was waiting at the top with champagne and a medal!!! My first medal of the year –so excited!
The sun even came out at the top!!!
Dad nailed the climb at age 70 – just 10 minutes slower than what he did 10 years ago.  Nice.  Nicole made it up too.  So proud!!!

The rest of the day?  A very long lunch at the top, some shopping and then time to finish up the ride.  With a bitch of a climb up Col de Sarenne (8-9% average grade over 5k) and then a death defying descent down the back.  Yea, that wasn’t fun.  Skinny road covered with gravel and drops off the side.  My hands hurt after that.  Then one more climb back to La Grave after that and we finally made it back to L’Edelweiss.

What a day!!!!

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Day 3 Rain Day

Today was supposed to be Col du Telegraphe and Galibier (highest climb of the tour).  But it continued to pour down rain.  We considered Alpe d'Huez.  But it was 38 degrees 3k from the summit.  So it was decided to wait until the next day for that epic climb regardless of the weather.  The group drove 2 hours from Menthon to Bourg d'Oisans (base of Alpe d'Huez) and decided on a "recovery" day.

Me and the boys
Sounds good to me!!!  But that also meant 2 back to back brutal days (alpe d'huez followed by Telegraphe/Galibier).  It was raining but the six idiots (me included) took off for Telecabine (gondola) to Les Deux Alpes. But when we arrived at telecabine we had only been riding 35 minutes, we were warmed up and it had stopped raining.  We continued on to St. Cristophe (described as a gentle climb followed by a fairly steep climb to St. Cristophe).

I thought we had done the steep climb.  I was ready to turn around and go to lunch.  But Lisa pointed up at the side of the mountain and the road. Wha???  It was literally straight up the effing mountain.  No joke.  The switchbacks were incredibly steep.  I refused to look to the right because it was straight down.  Don't look down don't look down.  Just keep pedaling just keep pedaling.  But this valley was unbelievably gorgeous.  The waterfalls were amaze balls.  The town we came into was just classic Europe.  Flowers everywhere, skinny streets, the church and the gravestones with dates of 1914 and earlier.
Of course, when we decided to stop, Lisa mentioned that we had blown off "recovery" day.  Yeah, that made sense since we had just climbed 3k+ in 30k.  Ouch.
Waterfalls everywhere!

The descent was a bit scary….do not look down!!  But in no time we were on the telecabine to the ski area base of Les Deux Alpes.  I am totally coming back here one day to ski - it looks fabulous.  We stopped into a pub and I was freezing my arse off.  I switched into some dry clothes and slammed a hot chocolate laced with cognac and baileys and whipped cream.  And then had a cheeseburger and fries.  (remember this for Day 4)

Food service does NOT happen quickly in France.  So after what seemed like forever, we finally ate and decided to descend and then ascend to La Grave.  But after the descent, the cheeseburger was wanting to make a second appearance and I opted for the van ride to La Grave.  Not proud but I also didn't want to blow chunks on my bike.

The day ended with a lovely massage with Bruno who is now known as my moto-man.  Yes, after the massage he gave me a couple of pills - which he said were all natural but would help me up Alpe d'Huez in the morning.  I really didn't care what they were - if he had said EPO - whatevs!!  I'm in!!!

Then a lovely team dinner at the hotel where I had duck for the first (and maybe last) time.  (once again, remember this for day 4)  My sis had planned a 70th birthday celebration cake for my dad and everyone had a blast eating cake and wearing silly sunglasses.  Great hotel, great staff, great dinner. (Hotel: L'Edelweiss)
Dad's sunglasses "Older Butwiser"

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Day 2 Col de la Forclaz, Col de Leschaux and Semnoz….

Day 2 started off with that same effing climb out of the hotel and then a climb to the climb.  Help me - I need warm-up!!  Once again, my HR was in Zone 17a within 3 minutes.  Oh this could be a loooong day!!  The boys and Laura Lee took off and I was happy to be in a little control of my own destiny for the day.  The first climb (other than leaving the hotel) was Col de Forclaz.  A beautiful climb.  With an average grade of 8% I think.  There were section of 13-14% grade and the first time I wished I had more gears:)  It was sunny, warm and just plain gorgeous looking back down at the lake.  Just Wow.

The descent was a bit sketchy and one of the guys almost went down but had an amazing save - I was impressed.  Plus there was the mountain bike dude that didn't care for being passed on the descent so he passed everyone back and took off.  Another wow.

The next climb was Col de Lescheux - it was a bit more gentle but just as beautiful. And as a bonus, I got to kiss the podium girl at the top.

The weather up to this point was fantastic but as we started the climb to Semnoz (and the first time out of tree-line) the big clouds started lining up.  The best part of the climb?  Each kilometer, there was a sign announcing how many more k's to go.  The worst part of the climb?  Each kilometer, that same sign also announced the average grade of the upcoming kilometer.  It really sucks when it says 8% and you are on a flat cuz you know what's going to happen:)  About the time of the ski area, it started sprinkling.  After tree line at the cows, it started raining.  I decided not to put on my rain jacket since I only had 1.5k to go……Plus the cows were giving me more cowbell and I felt obligated to really go for it.
And then the skies opened up and it started pouring!!!  Thank goodness the Trek Travel van showed up with our dry warm clothes and the cafe had awesome potage (soup) and cafe au lait.  It didn't let up so 11 of us piled into the van and drove down the mountain.

Fantastic day 2.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Day 1 Classic Climbs of the Alps

Yesterday was Day 1 of the tour…..a "warm-up" day.  A mere 31 miles and just 1600 feet of climbing.  Just 1600. Cuz today was NOT going to be a "warm-up" day with 54 miles and just 7200 feet of climbing.

The day's elevation profile

Anywho the day started out meeting our group (3 women other than guides and 6 men) at the Annecy train station.  We are 9 strong from all over the US.  Our guides are Lisa and Laura Lee and I pretty much just love them!  We took a boat from Annecy to Menthon, had lots of meat and cheese for lunch, got fitted on our bikes and then took off for "warm-up".
Dad and sis before start of warm-up

Yes, the bikes are great and I am now completely enamored with UI2.  Must. Have. On. Home. Bike. Here's how "warm-up" went.  Somehow I managed to get myself right behind Lisa who was leading the group for today.  She doesn't suck.  The ride starts uphill and then really goes uphill.  Like my heart rate went from 115 to 150 in approximately 4.2 seconds.  Holy Moly.  Are we kidding??  So in between labored breaths I looked up and around and was completely in awe that I was riding a bike in France!!  Yes, I was 10 minutes into the ride and in zone 7ab but I was also in France!!!!
I'm riding my bike in France!!!!

This was the Col du Bluffy - yikes.  But I loved it.  I mean, really, I can't even describe how awesome it was:  so green, waterfalls, rivers, small towns, amazing mountains, skinny roads.  From there it was flats and then another climb.  Lisa left our group of 6 to check on the other group and that's when 5 penises came out to test out each others testosterone levels and pound on their chests.  I lost this one.  As the lone female in the group I had no penis and was shunned to the back.  Well, actually off the back.  But that was totally cool since I could finally look around, talk to the cows, and drink out of my bottles.  Col du Marais was this climb - a much kinder, gentler climb.  And then…..a descent!

The penises guys waited for me at the bottom (how nice!!!) and we continued the ride back to Menthon.  So freakin' cool.  The rest of the day brought a nap, watching the last stage of the Tour - in French (not as exciting as the US coverage) and taking a dip in the amazing waters of Lake Annecy.  Incredibly clear water.  And my first open water swim since last year.
Our hotel in Menthon.  Awesome until you have to climb all 109 stairs just to get to the lobby.   Poor planning for a climbing bike tour:)

Nic diving into Lake Annecy

Glad I found my big girl panties last night since I really needed them today……Day 2 recap coming soon!

Saturday, July 26, 2014


Where do I even begin……so much has happened over the last year and so much of it I just chose not to talk or write about.  I went rogue. Undercover. But it isn’t hard to figure out.  So let’s just talk about the elephant in the room and get that one out of the way.  Yes, my name has changed.  Yes, it is my maiden name.  Yes, divorce.  But to answer the inevitable next question – are you OK?  Is this a good thing?  YES.  I am fantastic and yes, this was a very good decision!  I am in an amazing place right now for so many reasons.  Let’s face it, divorce sucks ass.  And you certainly don't get married thinking you'll eventually divorce. But, I was looking for a better place for me, a happier place and that was not going to happen in my marriage. 

So I guess I’m ready to open up again.  (well I’m an introvert so don’t expect too much) But the last year plus has been cathartic.  It’s been a journey. I have learned tons about myself and the people aroiund me. It’s been incredibly difficult.  It has also been incredibly great. 

The top 10 list of biggest life stressors includes divorce, personal injury and moving.  And that has all happened over the last year for me.  2013 was my year of change (and it’s really no surprise that my ACL tear happened on December 30).  2014?  It’s the year of rebuilding.  Of growth.  Of change. Of being better.  Of healing and moving on.  Of recovering.

And so here I am.  On a flight to Geneva that I really didn’t think I would be on several months ago.  My knee is doing great and I’m off to ride the Alps with my sis and dad.  Then meet mom in Paris for a few days.  Yes, feeling blessed is one way to look at it.  Feeling lucky that I am able to do this right now?  Yes.  Feeling light-hearted and happy and healthy?  Yes.  2014 has been awesome so far.  And I know it will only get better.

So that’s it for now.  A challenge has been laid out for me (and we all know how I do with challenges…..).  Write everyday while on my bike adventure in the Alps.  I’ll post pictures and write about the riding.  The scenery.  The baguettes and camembert. 

And who knows, maybe I’ll even start posting regularly on my return:)  Baby steps…..