Monday, June 30, 2008

Gorges du Verdon

It's just after midnight here. Dinner is sooooo late I have trouble sleeping. Ali's asleep so I'm looking for stuff to do...hence the blog.

Today we drove (too far) from Menerbes to Gorges du Verdon, the 'Grand Canyon' of France. I was feeling a bit sluggish when we started so we didn't really have an agenda. After an hour of climbing the East rim of the canyon we reached a lookout spot. We had a snack and took some pictures and then decided to continue on a bit further. Warning: you know you've been in the mountains when you say 'It's only another 1000 feet up'.

The Gorges were great but it was nice to get back to our hotel for our final honeymoon dinner in France. The meal was great and we had a little surprise when we got back to our room after dinner.

Sunday, June 29, 2008


After our epic ride we’ve been moving a little slowly. We briefly considered trekking up to the Alps to ride l’Alpe d’Huez and Col du Galibier but decided it would be too much time in the car. So, the last two days have been spent mostly exploring by car. Visiting some of the well known sites in the area and checking out some of the local markets. We’ll let the pictures speak.

One more day in Provence and then…vamos a España!

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Let's Not Forget...

It’s still bike racing season. While it may seem like we’re over here in the old country working on our tans and wishing we had a few more notches in our belts we haven’t forgotten that Superweek is just around the corner. So, with that in mind we planned a little training ride to prepare us for the racing to come.

Many of you may think of the Midwest as pancake flat but it isn’t. There are a few hills, Allison learned to ski on suburban Chicago’s Mt. Trashmore; as a child growing up in Iowa, I lived in fear of riding up Benton Street on my bike. So, we thought a little climbing might be a good addition to the training plan. Also, the races at Superweek tend to be a bit longer than many of your local crits often ranging from 60-90 minutes, so we wanted to ensure that we don’t arrive ill prepared.

Some rides become epic purely by accident; mechanical problems, weather changes or unfettered pets wreak havoc on what should be a leisurely ride. Other rides have mild potential due to distance and or elevation gain. And then there are rides that are epic from the first moment the idea is uttered into the ethos. Yesterday was one of those days.

As we mentioned, Mt. Ventoux is visible from the road outside our hotel. By visible, we mean its peak can be distinguished from the distant clouds on the horizon with the just the right level of squint of the eyes. At some point one of us proposed riding from our hotel to the mountain, up the mountain and back…an epic ride was conceived.

We figured that we wouldn’t stop for lunch, so we did our best to gorge ourselves on the gourmet breakfast at our hotel. The staff at the hotel thought we were insane, “Maud, you are maud” they said as they pointed out the sheer distance we’d have to ride, coupled with the 90+ degree weather and gusty winds. We replied that the Tour de France does similar distances up these same roads. They countered “Ze are paid to ride up zee mountain.”

We smiled, grabbed a few more chocolate croissants for the road, donned our Minty suits, and headed north. Each road was as car-free and breathtaking as the next. Our route took us through lavender fields, a pack of German cyclists, goat cheese producers, farm stands of fresh honey, castles atop red cliffs, steep gorges , endless rows of grape vines, and so much more.

Have you endured the 14 mile climb to the treeless, exposed peak of Mt. Ventoux? If not, you’d never guess what you’ll find there: sugar, as far as the eye can see. We spent almost $20 and it still wasn’t enough to fuel as home without a bit of bonking.

Ninety-four miles and not nearly enough water or calories later, we were ‘home’. Dinner included gazpacho accompanied with tomato sorbet and roasted sweet pepper ‘foam’, roasted duck in a lavender honey glaze, and rhubarb crisp with coconut sorbet. Twist my arm and maybe we can do it again tomorrow.

Superweek here we come ;).

Action photos here and here.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Lavender Fields Forever..

We normally do a lot of research on our destinations before we pick a town and a hotel. We consider restaurants, sights, cycling…many guide books and web sites are consulted before the final selection is made. This year we did something new…we simply took a good friend’s recommendation. With wedding planning, the end of school (etc.) we didn’t feel like we had the time to do our normal due diligence. We knew the hotel would be phenomenal but we didn’t have a good understanding of where we would be situated within Provence. As we consulted the maps the day before we left and on the plane, we realized we could not have picked a better spot.

The hotel is situated in a vineyard with beautiful grounds, a pool and a fantastic restaurant. Actually there’s no actual ‘restaurant’, just an open kitchen and tables set up on the patio, overlooking their vineyard. There are many great local roads right out our door for biking and exploring. We are within an hour drive of many other great sights and cycling classics (more about those in the days to come).

Today we decided to take another easy spin and explore some of the neighboring towns. What a great day! We’ve all seen the photos of Provence when the lavender is in bloom but what the photos don’t capture is all the other dimensions: the smells, the sounds, the warm sun and breezes. All day long we felt like we were riding through a sachet. We would be riding along, turn a corner and we were enveloped in lavender or honeysuckle. Diesel cars would grumble by and I would think ‘you don’t know what you’re missing.’ The roads here are incredible networks of rural outlets. Cars pass at rate of one to two every ten minutes. Heaven? Absolutely.

After a meandering 70 K of lavender, vineyards and medieval towns we returned to the hotel for a dip in the pool and a scrumptious dinner. Our knowledge of appertifs is improving by the day as we use every opportunity to try something new.

Kir: homemade Crème de Casis mixed with white wine
Rin Quin Quin: peach liquor served over ice
Melon liquor, also served over ice
Fig wine

Life is hard, but we’ll suffer through it.

Tomorrow we conquer….The Beast (Mt. Ventoux will be our first famous assent of the trip)!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008


As you can see, we’ve decided to try a few new things on this trip. France (as opposed to Italy) and using extra miles to fly business class being just the first two. The next new thing we decided to try was driving. It seemed like it would provide an opportunity to see the French countryside, be a little easier to deal with the bikes and give us some flexibility for sight seeing. So after our luxurious flight, we picked up the car and jumped on the Parisian freeways…at rush hour. Talk about Baptism by Fire. With Ali navigating and my eyes on the road we managed to get out of Paris without incident. There was a major accident that caused a huge traffic jam…reminded us of home.

It’s a long drive from Paris to Provence so we decided to take a day and investigate Burgundy (Bourgogne) and spend a day in the town of Beaune near Dijon. We had a great day walking around town, taking a spin through the vineyards and generally getting adjusted to the time zone.

Tuesday evening we set out for a classic French dinner. On the way we made a quick stop at a bar for a little aperitif, the local favorite is a Kir, yum! Then we headed over to the restaurant which was a converted wine cave. We shared a couple of classic French entrees and of course we had to partake in the cheese course. We half expected Julia Child to step out of the kitchen at any moment. We enjoyed everything but agreed that we’re not huge fans of ‘classic’ French food.

Tomorrow we head South…can’t wait.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Le travel to France

Many moons ago, when we planned our honeymoon, Mike suggested (in fact, strongly encouraged) that we fly first class. Despite us having enough frequent flier miles between us for 2 first class tickets to Europe, I was hesitant. I know you’re thinking I’m an idiot for being so frugal, but I thought that we shouldn’t use so many miles on a single trip.

Thanks to Mike, we are celebrating our honeymoon in style, and had a lovely night at the Four Seasons Lufthansa in ‘rooms’ 4A and 4B. I have never flown first class before and frankly, it makes me want to bid adeau to developing young mathematical minds in Berkeley and say ‘yes I do’ to being an investment banker for a firm wealthy enough to send me around the world in first class. The continual refill of Champagn, then Riesling, and finally Bailey’s were a fine trio of drinks. They perfectly accompanied our grilled jumbo shrimp with mango salsa, grilled salmon with fava and celeric root puree, raisin bread pudding, and cheese plate. The most difficult decision of the evening was which of the 50 movies to choose from the On Demand movies shown on my individual video screen. And finally, my ergometric seat reclined into a bed, with subtle adjustments for lumbar support while massaging my lower back. Eureka!

We are now in Frankfurt, awaiting our flight to Pairs. I have two favorite parts of this airport. First, there are these jail cells for smokers…enclosed, individual glass cages where you can be seen and gauked at by the passing tourists as you puff your heart out. And the bikes! This airport is enormous, larger than the state of Delaware, and the airport workers are all scurrying around on these folding bicycles. Give ‘em fixies and they’d be ready for the track in no time.

Friday, June 20, 2008

AVC < Honeymoon

I have been pretending I'm not sick for many days now. Honestly, I'm not sick. But I've also been pretending that I'm not sick. Ok, maybe I'm a little bit sick.

I have been looking forward to racing with the big girls at AVC for many weeks now. But I pulled the plug this morning as this chest, head cold thingy just won't quit. I'd be happy to race, even though I'm not quite 100%, but this honeymoon thing sure would be a lot more fun if I could get rid of this lingering "I'm not really sick even though I am sick" vibe.

Mike complemented me on my decision as I normally totally ignore symptoms when I am sick and push on, pretending that my body is feeling fine.

So, honeymoon comes first. I mean, you only get one of those (although Mike would beg to differ. But he's not getting any more; nor am I). I am staying home tonight to take good care of myself so come Sunday, my nose can get the full bouquet of the French wine and cheese which are coming our way.

But man oh man, am I disappointed.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

You been bikin in France lately?

Dear friendly neighborhood bikers:
For endless thanks and good karma, we'd like to offer you the opportunity to share your best French adventures with us. This Sunday we embark on our honeymoon. Yea for us. We're spending 10 days in France (2 nights near Dijon and 7 nights in Provence), followed by 3 nights in Spain, near Girona. I figure someone in our vast network of blog readers must have been to one of these places. If so, we'd love to hear some highlights. Also, if you've biked up Mt. Ventoux and have a favorite route, we're all ears.

We'll be eating a lot of this

and drinking even more of that

and spending any remaining time doing a whole lot of this

Prizes for the best suggestions...

Monday, June 16, 2008

Hey Girl...

Words were exchanged between me and some men both before and after the Masters 3/4 Cyclesports Crit this weekend.
**Critical knowledge for story: The only races for women were the junior state championships and the W 3/4 field.**
It went something like this:
SCENE 1: Outside Porta-Potty in Livermore parking lot
Twerpy guy: "It's great that you're racing twice today."
Ali: "Who me? No, I'm not a junior. I'm actually racing the Masters 3/4 race as it's the only one I can enter in here today."
TG: " You mean the women's 3/4?"
Ali: "No, the Men's 3/4."
TG: " Why aren't you racing the Women's 3/4 race?"
Ali: "Because I'm not a 3 and I'm not a 4."
TG: " So why are you racing the men's 3/4 instead of a women's race?"
Ali: (Thinking...because I came here specifically to kick your ass...) I mean... "Because I didn't want to drive my ass to Folsom when I could race right here at a local race."
TG: " Maybe you should downgrade."
Ali: Enters porta-potty without a response (at least not one he could hear)

SCENE 2: Warming up on road near race course.
Ali is doing a bit of tempo and passes twerpy guy and several of his teammates. As she passes them, she hears TG exclaim, "That girl thinks she's going to be able to race with us today."

As Ali has never done a men's 3 race before and isn't sure if she'll be dropped, she keeps her mouth shut. But she's pretty damn sure that if dropped, she'll be sure to be in front of TG and gap him off while slamming on her brakes.

SCENE 3: Race time
Ali is surprised at her technical prowess. She comes up with some rules of which wheels she shouldn't sit on: If you're not wearing a team kit, if you have a team jersey and black (non-team) shorts, if your number is flapping in the wind, if you have a saddle bag, if you're a skinny-ass climber type, or if you have unshaven legs...then you are NOT the wheel for me. Following these rules Ali is able to easily stay in the pack for the entire race. Ali likes big men's wheels, preferably when she is surrounded by them on all sides. Mmmmm good.

SCENE 4: Post race
Teammate of TG is on grass while Ali is riding, cooling down. He yells, "Hey girl, nice race." Ali has a lot of things she like to yell back, but she settles for, "My name is Allison," and keeps on riding.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

A new set of eyes

Yes, school is actually going to end. In the words of Beth (tracking her quads), "Thank you Jesus." As I was packing up my classroom this afternoon, our amazing custodian, Byron, gave me his impressions of the 8th grade dinner dance from last night. His take on growing older and watching a new generation of youth is that every generation has a new set of eyes watching them. So with our new eyes, we see how different that generation is from our own. Now that I have been an urban teacher for 9 years, my eyes (or at least my eyesight) is very different from what it was when I was in middle school. I wish I could peek back at my own middle school graduation with my better developed eyes. Oh well. At least I have my students to teach me a thing or two.

One highlight from 8th grade graduation this evening (and a stark contrast to my own back in the 80s in the Chicago suburbs) was the clothing choice.

This is a student of mine from last year. His custom, airblown, white suit jacket is complete with his portrait, including glitter to represent diamonds on his cheeks and teeth. Giddily, he busted out his cell phone to show me the photo of himself which the artist had used when creating this unique work of art.

On a somewhat related topic, an African-American student of mine gave me a lengthy explanation the other day about how he got his tight wave of tiny curls in his hair. It was told to me in that tone which adolescents use when they think you're really stupid. But despite his tone, he spent 10 minutes of his lunch break explaining this to me and I think he left proud that he could help a style-ignorant, white woman out.

These waves are made using a doo-rag, which is a type of hair net which has a pattern inside that creates the wave. You sleep in it for several months (and you'd wear it all day if strict Ms. Krasnow didn't make you take it off) and which results in this amazing wave. It's very subtle. I'd always assumed it was the result of a hair cut, not the patient use of a scarf. Tonight at graduation I noticed how many students had this wave and again felt ignorant for having never noticed it much before. The doo-rag looks a lot like this, with a scarf inside with the wave pattern . I find this amusing as us cyclists are such simpletons and use these things only to catch sweat.

So, as the class of 2008 heads off to high school, this teacher keeps her seat at the middle school table, eager for summer, but anticipating a new set of style lessons to be learned next fall. As Byron explain to me today while emptying the recycling, we're the same people, we just grow a new set of eyes every couple of years. I'll be sure to open mine wide.

Warning: May Be Habit Forming

After a month long hiatus from racing we're on a bit of a racing binge. After our crit-a-thon on Sunday, my beautiful new wife hit the track on Tuesday and then we both made a repeat visit last night.

In the coming week and a half we will likely squeeze in another 3 to 4 days of racing. While it's all great fun one can only wonder...(I'll let each of you finish that thought your own way).

At least we each seem to be recovering quickly which bodes well for our planned pilgrimage to SuperWeek.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Back in the saddle

We didn't get much saddle time the week before the wedding, more important things to do than ride. So we tried to make up for it this last week.

Sunday we headed up to Napa for a few days of R&R. Of course that means cycling, although I'm not sure which R cycling fits under. We found some wonderful roads to ride and only spent a few too many minutes on the bike. The Pope Valley on a Tuesday morning is pretty close to heaven on a bike. We'll be heading back sometime soon.

It was also time to end the race moratorium. This weekend was the 2 Wheel Criterium up in Santa Rosa. I decided to try the Jester special...a triple header. It was fun to get out racing again and although I didn't have any great results, I was pretty active in all three races.

A nice end to a 270 mile week

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Tra la la

Wedding stories to come, we promise. In the meantime, here's a teaser. Can you spot the two Mintie women in the photo?

I love my death grip on the chair. It's all fun and games to the grinning folks dancing around you, but I actually had to employ my mechanical bull riding balance skills to stay afloat. When I looked down and saw all my best biker girlfriends holding me up, I did get nervous...I mean we have NO arm muscles, if you know what I'm sayin. But if you can't fling your teammate into the air without dropping her, what kind of a teammate are you anyway?