And it was off to Ardeche! We decided it would be easiest to rent a car in France, we had bikes to carry and a two hour drive ahead of us. Although I don't doubt that we could have made it there easy enough on public transit, having the freedom of your own vehicle is much preferred. Alison and I had decided on a small Peugeot SUV to tote our junk around in, instead we somehow wound up with a Toyota Aurus. Although the preferred brand (Toyota), I felt as if I suddenly had my foot in one of those 4x4 meme's about guys who drive Prius'. Luckily the Aurus is the Prius' far sleeker and slightly less metro-sexual European cousin. Admittedly the car was pretty cool, although it never ceased to creep me out when you 'start' the car and hear nothing. OK! Enough about the stupid rental.
We reached Ardeche in quick order, mainly due to the high speed limit (130km/h). The French countryside is really beautiful and skirting the mountains as we did, there were many natural spectacles to marvel at. The campground that the race organizers had us set up at shouldn't really be called a 'campground', I mean sure people come from all over to stay there, but super fancy pre-fabbed cabins and the occasional 'caravan' (UK/EU word for RV) aren't what I'd say qualifies for camping status. All said though, pretty nice place, they've got it all, swimming pool, spa, paintball, ziplines, river, restaurant, bar you name it. We arrived before the team, unpacked the car then took an obscure looking road to a tiny supermarket in a tiny town nestled somewhere in the French countryside.
After that, things got busy. I'm not going to tell you much about the races (race results can be found on the internet), just that Alison and her international team did a bang up job, won a bunch of jerseys and essentially kicked ass the whole way through. Myself on the other hand, I did a little exploring of my own, found out that trails in Ardeche are maybe not as populous as I had hoped, explored a very old farmhouse, saw a bunch of French villages and swam under a very large, naturally formed rock arch.
REFLECTIONS: I mentioned in my earlier post that my reaction to France may not be exactly what you'd want to hear about the popular travel destination, I mean, c'mon it's France...most people want to go there. I also mentioned that I learned some things about myself in respect to international travel, so here they are.
1: France is beautiful, there's absolutely no doubt about that, but it has also been a country in development for a lot longer than Canada. I was born and raised in Canada, I'm used to being able to walk out my door and within half an hour be very nearly completely alone. What I discovered quickly about France is that the country is what I consider, domesticated. It seems crowded, even in the big mountain passes that I saw there were buildings dotting the sides of the mountains. Now, granted I did not see ALL of France and I can only speak from my limited understanding, but I'm telling you my subjective impressions. I've dedicated most of my travel in the past to finding wild places to go, Alaska, the Rockies and Northern BC, Californian desert etc. So, perhaps I should go to Europe next time knowing this about myself and adjust my attitude accordingly, this time I think it may have fuddled my experience a little.
2: I don't travel well alone. This may be something that I need to take into consideration seeing as I'm planning on traveling for a year through North America, a lot of that time by myself. I had planned to do some riding by myself while Alison raced and she had done a quick search for trails before we left, so I went with the preconceived idea that there were a lot of trails. What I found when I did the search myself was that the trails that did exist were far off and not as plentiful as I had hoped. After discovering this I found myself discouraged and almost paralyzed because I couldn't get over the notion of driving so far for a trail that I possibly couldn't find and had very little information on. I was a little frightened of navigating on French roads by myself and I just couldn't get past my fear. Luckily my friend TJ goaded me to get out and I did the next day (turns out the trail I picked didn't really exist anymore and I rode for half an hour to the top of a mountain just to bushwhack down). This experience woke me up to the fact that I'm easily discouraged when faced with traveling outside of my comfort zone, something that won't bode well when trying to adventure.
3: Experiences are better when shared with an other. I did go and see places and did explore on my own, but the things I saw and experienced were my experiences alone. I'm not necessarily a recluse by nature so it doesn't sit comfortably with me that I had no one to share my adventures with. (On a side note, it's nice to have a moving, breathing subject to photograph when adventuring and random people don't always fit appreciatively into that category.) Perhaps I need to start writing more about my adventures and explore the realm of sharing my experience through words, or maybe I'll just get a dog.
4: Go prepared. I didn't do any research before I left, partly due to my stigma towards European travel, and therefore had no idea what was close to me when I was there. Again, thanks to my buddy TJ, I discovered Pont l'Arc at the very least, but I definitely could have done some reading about the area before I left, it would have helped my overall experience.
So there you have it, my thoughts on my trip to France. I definitely could have done things better, I'd go again, I'd just do it differently next time. Last but not least, I'd like to mention my great improvement in the use of my Franglais, by the end of the trip I ordered a plate of food, like a total boss I might say. Somehow I got just a plate of fries, and a sausage...I thought there would be more.