2013 Tour de France Travel Log #3

July 13, 2013

Day 3. Travel to Avignon France.

On Saturday morning I got up early so that I could catch my train to Avignon to meet up with Jennifer Sage, my Tour de France group leader. Since I had survived the Via Ferrata the night before I now had confidence that by comparison climbing the Alpes on a road bike should be much more manageable for me.

I left the Geneva train station at 7:30 am. My train was from Geneva to Lyon and then I needed to switch trains for the second leg to Avignon. This first train was very crowded and I had a very heavy 45 pound bag holding my clothes and gear. Seats were full and there was nowhere to put my bag on the floor. It seemed impossible that I would be able to get this bag up into the luggage rack which was up at about the six foot level way over my head. Luckily a young German backpacker/hiker couple who spoke English saw me struggling with my bag and the young man helped me hoist it up onto the overhead rack. Soon after that the train rolled out.

After we arrived at the first stop in Bellegarde the train paused for about 15 minutes until finally we were all asked to exit onto the platform. Apparently there was some sort of mechanical problem with our train and it would not be taking us to Lyon. Given the fact that there had just been a very tragic train accident in France the day prior everyone on the platform seemed a bit anxious. In the chaos I tried my best to stay near the young German couple since few others seemed to be speaking English and I really didn’t know what was going on. While waiting on platform I overheard two young men with cycle helmets attached to their packs speaking in English so I approached. It turns out that these young men were tourists from Canada on vacation in France to follow the Tour de France stages just like me. They showed me a Garmin race jersey that they had signed by Ryder Hesjedal earlier in the week (very cool), and they gave me a nice preview of some of the exciting and beautiful road riding that I could expect when I arrived at my destination.

After about 30 minutes a new train arrived in Bellegarde and we all boarded. I rushed to stay close to the German couple since I thought they might help me with my bag again. In the shuffle I lost sight of the Canadian men who went to different car. I was hopeful that this new train would arrive at the Lyon station in time for me to catch my connecting train to Avignon.

Fortunately the train arrived in Lyon with about ten minutes for me to find my connection. At this point I began wishing that I could remember my French numbers and letters better! The attendant told me my gate, but I could not tell if he meant G or J. After puzzling over the departure displays I was able to figure out that it was indeed J, so I rushed up the escalator. The TGV train was coming and by the looks of the crowd on the platform I could tell that it would be a super packed train. Fortunately I had a reserved ticket seat for this leg of my trip, so I was feeling a bit of relief.

I was looking for coach car 13, seat 31. Unfortunately in the rush to get on the train before they closed the doors I had entered at car 15 so I needed to back track through the food car up and down the stairs with my bulky bag. Awkward. After a lot of physical effort and rolling the bag over my foot several times I arrived at my car only to learn that it was completely full. Carefully I staked out a place for my bag on the lower luggage rack near the door and then I attempted to locate my assigned seat. I was being followed by a French woman also looking for her seat in the same car. We soon learned that two young women with small children were taking up 3 full reserved seats including ours. I looked around the car. The women were the only dark-skinned patrons in this car. Everyone else was white. At this point I didn’t know what to do. I showed my ticket to the young woman occupying my seat and she nodded “no” as if to indicate to me that she was not leaving. She had an infant in her lap and she pointed to the baby as if to imply that she deserved the seat. The French woman who arrived with me received the same reaction from the second women occupying her assigned seat with another child. The mothers refused to vacate. At this point I resigned myself to the idea of standing up for the trip to Avignon; I figured I would just deal with it. However, the French woman became quite angry. She demanded her seat! The women were resolute, so the angry French woman marched abruptly out of the car. She returned a few minutes later with a train agent in tow and the agent summarily informed the two women that they needed to leave the reserved car. They were very upset, almost on the verge of crying, and desperately tried to plead their case to the agent. It didn’t work. The agent insisted that the car was for reserved first class seats only and that their tickets were for second class. Ultimately the mothers complied and clumsily exited the car grasping onto the young children and baby carriers.

I felt so guilty kicking these moms out of these seats. As they left I realized that they were likely to be standing for the reminder of their trip holding children and carriers. There were no seats to be had anywhere in the unreserved cars and the luggage racks were all overflowing by this point. Sadly I looked around and I saw that there were actually several scattered single seats open throughout this reserved first class car. Everyone in the car had witnessed the calamity, and yet no one offered to give up their extra seats to these young moms. Instead these empty seats were filled with expensive bags and lounging white children sleeping across two seats in ultimate comfort.

Usually I am the recipient of the second class standing room treatment so I can relate to the pained look in the eyes of the two young women as they were escorted out of the car. The fact that I paid extra for my seat filled me with contradictory feelings–a strange pride that I could afford it and also a sickening guilt for ejecting the moms. I felt queasy.

Later as the train was approaching Avignon the French woman who earlier had secured our seats came to me with an urgent question. It took me a while to decipher what she was trying to ask me as she was speaking in French very quickly. I concentrated real hard and I finally understood that she needed to borrow a pen. Proud to have deciphered her question (stilo!) I gladly pulled a pen out of my bag. She abruptly took the pen and ran out of the car. But as she walked away the second part of her question finally dawned on me. She had wanted to know if I was getting off the train in Avignon (the next stop) or if I was going further so that she might have time to return my pen. Just then the train arrived at my stop and I got off without my pen.

I met Jennifer and Joni in the train station. We had a few hours to wait before the last member of our party, Chuck, would arrive. We left the train station to do a little grocery shopping and then returned to have lunch. By then Chuck’s train pulled in. Together the four of us rode in the van to our hotel the Chateau le Martinet in Violès.  http://www.chateaulemartinet.com

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Once settled in Jennifer helped us set up the rented road bikes with our own pedals and saddles and we took them out for a quick test ride around the neighborhood. And what a neighborhood for riding! Provence. Absolutely beautiful. Our riding group consisted of Jennifer, Joni, Chuck, me and Allistair, a man from Great Britain who had snatched up one of Jennifer’s extra booked rooms at the hotel. The night was capped off with a lovely gourmet welcome dinner at the hotel. Truly fabulous.

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While we were eating dinner some other hotel guests arrived. I recognized “Jonny Gunn” from Cyclismas right away and I did a double take. Jennifer had sold her other extra reserved hotel rooms to the owners, editors/authors of the cycling news and satire site called Cyclismas. It was really fun to talk with Jonny (whose real name is Justin Pickens) and tell him how much I enjoy his website and very humorous reports. We learned from the Cyclismas team (Lesli Cohen, Dave Smith and Justin Pickens, aka Jonny Gunn) that their former partner on the site Ripp Finklemann (aka the UCI overlord on twitter) whose real name is actually Aaron Brown turned out to be major scam artist. He ran off with the Paul Kimmage defense fund money that the site collected last year from fans. Aaron is now in hiding in another country living off of the cash and the remaining Cyclismas staff were left to face the legal mess. Awful. Interested cycling fans can read more about this story in published news stories at site such as this one: http://road.cc/content/news/82358-mystery-over-whereabouts-paul-kimmage-defense-fund-cash  Or this one: http://www.bicycling.com/news/featured-stories/missing-kimmage-defense-fund  In the meantime the Cyclismas website has regrouped and their effort continues without Aaron. It’s a fun site. Check it out when you get a chance. http://www.cyclismas.com/

Daily Ride data:

On Strava http://app.strava.com/activities/69110120

On Garmin Connect: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/346841222

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