This time last year I was taking part in my first ever race in France, under sunny skies and mild temperatures. This year, I’m not.
It’s been brutally cold (as always, climate adjectives should be taken as relative) in Le Sud recently; part of a deep freeze that has landed on all of Europe. Our woefully inadequate apartment is frosty and a water pipe has even frozen up. I couldn’t take the cold, so I joined John for our weekly Sunday ride.
John was early at our appointed meeting place and I found him riding in circles to keep warm while waiting for me.
John is from the mid-west, so not unaccustomed to the cold. He is particularly well geared up, too, and had some pretty cool ‘gumby gloves’ that had only two places for his 4 fingers, apparently keeping his digits warmer by keeping them together. If he cared to do it (he wouldn’t – he’s far too sensible), he could pretty handily whip out a Vulcan Salute or a Nanu Nanu with those things.
I didn’t have web gloves, but I was wearing, from top to bottom, a tuque (Canadian for wooly hat), a fleece headband, undershirt, poly base layer, wool cycling jersey, winter wind breaker, wool gloves, winter cycling gloves, winter cycling bib, long johns!, heavy ‘Norwegian’ socks, regular socks, winter booties.
There were others out there with much less on and they didn’t seemed fussed about the weather at all.
After our encounter with nature John led me to the Château de la Tuilerie, a big and impressive winery south of the city. This was as close as we could get without trespassing. The website as some nice photos, however.
In the morning I went down the street to the organic lady’s place and was apologized to for not having much to offer. She said that everything was frozen out there in the fields, mentioning the heads of ‘salade’ (French for lettuce) in particular. This got me wondering how these things were grown in winter. I even consulted John at the beginning of our ride I was so curious. We thus passed half our ride in ignorance till we came across this unfortunate field of completely frozen (and totally useless, I imagine) lettuce! It was pleasant to find the answer to my query on the very same day, but sad that whoever the farmer of this field was is not having his best year.
John, trying to hide from my camera by using lettuce as camouflage (and disproving my ‘sensible’ statement earlier!).
As we rode up this pretty, olive-lined road, John reminded me of the Great Frost of 1956 in France. The weather was so severe that virtually every olive tree in this region died (along with a whole bunch of vines). Only the oldest survived and it pretty much destroyed the industry for 30 years. It was a reminder that, although it was cold (-2C), it could get worse.
By the time I got back to Nîmes I was freezing, hungry and thirsty, so I stopped at what I have come to call My Salvation, the Ronde des Pains on Ave. Jean Jaures, a rare bakery that stays open all day Sunday AND sells beer.
I’m now back at home with that beer sitting in front of me, my core temperature slowly rising, and the knowledge – gained from experience – that February can’t last forever.