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How Hard Can It Be?

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The Awards Judge Organization proudly announces the

Winners of the First Annual 2015-16

NEW BOOK AWARDS

Los Angeles, CA—The Awards Judge Organization has announced the Winners of the First Annual NEW BOOK AWARDS.   The New Book Awards were created to boost recognition for outstanding literary achievement filtered out of a wide spectrum of America’s diverse literary community.  One purpose of the awards is to bring attention to independent and self-published works that might otherwise go unnoticed.  The New Book Award winners range from well-known and established writers to aspiring authors and first works. There are no quotas for diversity; the winners list simply reflects the quality chosen through a natural selection process.

The Awards Judge Organization (AJO) is a national independent product review & ratings commission.

The full text of the press release announcing the list of award winners including "It's Only A Bike Race" can be found at www.newbookawards.com

Le Tour de France - A Vacation On Wheels?

Riding a bicycle around France during July sounds like an idyllic way to spend a few weeks during the summer. Visiting different regions of the country while on a leisurely ride through vineyards and sunflower fields seems like a fun pastime in which all French gentlemen should aspire to partake at least once during their lifetime. Just to add a little adventure and interest to the two-wheeled vacation, there would be a small prize for the first man to return to Paris. …. This was the ill-informed overall impression of the Tour de France that the author had gained during five years of studying French at high school on the other side of the world.

Some twenty years later when he was able to make his long-awaited first trip to France, he began to discover that his pre-conceived notions of the event were removed from reality by a large distance - over 3,000 kilometers to be exact. Having realized the extent of his original misperceptions about the Tour de France, the author was eager to discover whether it was still possible to enjoy the Tour de France in the way he had visualized it as a youngster. Substituting a campervan for a bicycle, he decided to follow the Tour de France for three weeks with the aim of enjoying the race while simultaneously taking in the sights, sounds and tastes of France. This book tells the story of his quest.

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Bastille Day and a Plague of Campers

July 16, 2014

Monday July 14th

Bastille Day

 July 14th is France’s national day, known as Bastille Day. It is thus the equivalent of July 4th in the US or January 26th in Australia, which reminds me of the comment I received from an American acquaintance a few years ago: “So your July the 4th is in January? How weird!” Which in turn reminds me of a comment from an Australian colleague some years ago when I told him I was about to move overseas with my work: “Australia is the best country in the world. Why would you want to go anywhere else?” It should be noted that this definitive pronouncement was delivered by someone who had never travelled outside the country.

Nevertheless the French national day began with a Frenchman in the yellow jersey for Le Tour de France and much speculation in the Press about whether he could keep it on Stage 10 with its total of 7 climbs that make it arguably the hardest day of the Tour. Having said that, the following details may help to put the demands of Stage 10 into perspective. During the space of 161 km (100 miles) the riders would face the following series of challenging climbs, powered only by their own legs: 8.3 km (5.2 miles) at an average gradient of 5.4%; 9.3 km (5.8 m) at 8.1%; 7.1 km (4.4 m) at 8.1%; 6.7 km (4.2 m) at 6.1%; 3.2 km (2 m) at 6.2%; 3.5 km (2.2 m) at 9.5%; and 5.9 km (3.7 m) at 9.5%.  Unlike some laws which seem to be applied flexibly between one country and the next, the Law of Gravity applies equally to all Tour de France contestants – and in this case the battles on the uphill side of the equation would be very difficult.

The newspapers also reported that the leading contenders Nibali and Contador had decided not to attack their competitors on yesterday’s Stage 9 because they wanted to save their energy for the difficult Stage 10 that was coming up. Full credit is due to Tony Gallopin for seizing this opportunity to jump into the lead by almost a minute and a half while the other leaders looked at one another and saved their ammunition. With all this anticipation the day’s racing promised to be very eventful, and being France’s national day the papers reported that fireworks were to be expected along the route.

But before we could join in all this excitement there was a staccato shower to be taken in 30-second intervals. Upon entering my chosen shower stall I found that someone had left their shampoo bottle behind. When I examined the bottle I found it was labelled with the intriguing title of “Wash for Body and Hair”, which made me wonder who the owner could possibly be. What type of person would need to use a shampoo for both their body and their hair?

Putting those thoughts aside we set off for the 80 minute drive to the mountain closest to us on the route, the Col d’Oderen. The papers had reported there had been more than 400 camper vans on one of the mountains in yesterday’s Stage 9, and when we arrived we estimated than many of the 400 had migrated to the Col d’Oderen. We set up our van at about 60 km (38 miles) before the end of the Stage, halfway up the climb. We had difficulty finding a spot because many campers had arrived the night before in order to secure a place, and also because we arrived at 10.15am instead of our targeted time of 9.00am. Eventually we created a place for ourselves on the side of the road on a slight slope, coincidentally two cars ahead of a car with an Australian flag on the windscreen. Making a mental note to go say hello to the occupants of that vehicle, we set up our advertising signs on the front and side of the Good Ship Giselle - who had incidentally acquired a distinct list to starboard.

We sat and made breakfast as has been our routine but fried eggs were removed from the menu by the chef due to the ambient slope of the cooking surface. I was uneasy about the slope and got out of the van several times to check on the situation. Although the front right wheel had sunk a bit into soft mud, both rear wheels were on solid ground and I reasoned with myself that all would be well when the time came to leave. While I was reading the local paper a couple walked by, read our signs and came back to ask a question. It turned out that Robert and Janice were from the car with the Aussie flag. They are from Sydney and are in the midst of an extended holiday in Europe with their son and his girlfriend who are living in Sweden.

During the course of conversation we learned that the family is staying in Mulhouse where yesterday’s stage finished. However they speak no French and did not know where to find the finish line and watch all the action of the finish line and presentation ceremonies. Describing the series of yesterday’s events, they told us they had met a man on the street in the afternoon just as he was exiting from an apartment building. They asked him in English about the Tour de France and he indicated with sign language that he did not know where to find it but that he would he call his wife on his cell phone. She speaks English and came to the window to tell the man where the finish of the Tour would take place. In a random act of kindness from a complete stranger, rather than simply giving them directions the man walked with Robert and family for almost 30 minutes to take them to the finish point and then simply said “au revoir” and walked away. This was an enormous gift to Robert who is a former champion cyclist and had always dreamed of seeing the Tour in person.

Later that night it was arranged that in order to secure place on the route of Stage 10, the whole family would get up at 3am to drive to the Col d’Oderen where we happened to meet them. They had driven in driving rain in the dark and had been parked since 4am. They mentioned they were dying for coffee, and after a while we took them each a cup of coffee made in our van and then a cup each for the younger couple. My wife later offered the ladies the use of our toilet and they gladly accepted, while Robert and his son Pete erected the Australian flag on the side of the road using cable ties and duct tape Robert had brought from Sydney for this very purpose. It struck me that this level of organization and attention to detail was quite a contrast to me who had not even remembered to bring an Australian or American flag with me from Fort Worth, Texas.

I explained the concept of the Publicity Caravan to Robert, which was about to arrive and of which he had never seen nor heard since it’s such a local event. It continued to rain on and off throughout the day, sometimes heavily, and it rained during part of the Caravan which contributed to the matron next to me falling over as she reached to grasp a prize thrown from a passing float. In the meantime Robert and his family embraced and enjoyed the event along with the local people.

I heard that there was a group of 4 young Aussies further up in the hill, so I walked up to find them in a large camper van with an awning displaying Australian flags on each side. The majestic location and arrangement of their encampment made it look like a traveling Australian Embassy. Even though the weather was cool and rainy, to their credit they were doing their best to maintain a constant intake of fluids to avoid dehydration. I walked over to say hello, and was greeted by a young man wearing a navy blue toga. Perhaps the toga had been created from an Australian flag, but I felt it prudent not to make further enquiries on the subject lest my interest be interpreted as other than academic in nature.

When the riders came through they had spread out more than we had seen on other days. Instead of one small group followed a few minutes later by one large group and 1 or 2 individuals, today we saw about 5 groups of 10 riders, one group of about 50, and about 3 groups of 2 or 3. Just before the final group of 2, there was one individual rider from Orica-GreenEdge. We cheered him on and he acknowledged our support while at the same time conveying the difficulty that he was feeling. These last few riders were clearly in pain yet they still had 60km and 4 more mountain peaks to reach before they could rest. The time gap from first rider to last was around 20 minutes and we wondered how long it would be before those riders who were not skilled at climbing would make it to the finish.

Meanwhile near the travelling Australian Embassy a 6-foot-tall gorilla wearing a Hawthorn Aussie Rules jumper and carrying an Australian flag was encouraging the riders, running alongside them for short distances and waving the flag. I was proud of his national spirit but I wish that I had walked over and told him that I know where he left his shampoo bottle. The toga man too was running alongside the riders and I applauded his willingness to sally forth despite the inevitable shrinkage issues that raise their heads (or not) in such cool and damp situations.

While talking with Robert and family after the riders had all passed, we realized that none of us had been able to spot Contador in any of the groups – even though we saw that one of the last groups contained a number of his team mates. As a former competitive rider Robert had loved every moment of the day and was emotionally moved by the spectacle. We later would find out that Contador had fallen and fractured his leg earlier in the Stage, thus eliminating him from the 2014 Tour de France. Most likely the team had stayed back with Contador after he fell, and then when it was decided that Contador could not continue they found themselves a long way behind the main group of riders.

After all the riders and cameras had passed, we removed our signs from the van and Robert offered to wait for us to leave in case we got stuck in the mud. He had looked at the rear wheels and concluded that all would be well but told us he would stay “just in case”. I had had uneasy feeling all day but had overcome it with the rational thought that we could simply drive out of our location driven by the rear wheels that would push us forward. I got in car to “simply drive out” and learned at this very inopportune moment that Giselle has front wheel drive and not rear wheel drive. In the process of trying to drive out we dug the front right wheel in even deeper and leaned closer to dropping down the adjacent embankment into the forest. Seeing our situation, Robert and Pete came to push but we were still stuck. By this time the previously crowded area was completely deserted except for our two vehicles. With rising concern in my mind, I dug mud away from beside and in front of the front right wheel and inserted some large sticks that Pete had found to in an attempt to improve the wheel’s traction. By now I realized that the constant rain during the day must have continued to soften the mud and caused us to slowly sink during the last few hours.

 In a final attempt to extract ourselves, all 3 ladies were added to the pushing team and this time we slowly moved forward and got out of the mess with much relief all around. We thanked Robert and his family and hope that we may meet again on the next stage. There was no need for them to have stayed, and I had even told them that we would probably be fine. Thank goodness for us that they decided to pay forward the random act of kindness that they had received the day before.

 

Sunday July 13th

A Plague of Campers

After watching the riders go by us out the route each day, we decided to take different approach to Stage 9 which would start in the pretty Lorraine town of Gerardmer and proceed to Mulhouse, in the province of Alsace. The traffic was very busy traffic as we got close to the town center but we were still able to see some picturesque view of the lake in the center of the town. During the last few kilometers of our drive into the town center we saw a plague of white camper vans lining the streets, parked in parking lots and wall-to-wall in the campground next to the lake. (We of course were not part of the plague, because Giselle is a stylish silver-grey.) I did not fancy the idea of parking on the footpath, even though I knew that other people would do so before the end of the day. As luck would have it, we found an available space in a parking lot two blocks from where the day’s Tour de France activities would all take place.

A stage had been set up for the purpose on the main street with a giant video screen nearby. A large crowd had gathered and we watched as the individual elements of the Publicity Caravan were introduced. Hats, key rings, sunshades, inflatable pillows and other goodies were thrown from the floats in the same manner that we had experienced along the roads, and the competition to gather up these prizes was fierce among the small children scurrying among the crowd like terriers chasing after a rat.

After the Caravan was safely on its way to Mulhouse we saw two couples carrying Australian flags and wearing matching headgear. I asked them if they were travelling in that white camper van that I saw on the edge of town. They replied that they have indeed rented two white camper vans, which when I thought about it made sense because I can’t imagine how two middle-aged couples could live together for an extended period in one camper van without resulting in court proceedings of one kind or another. In these circumstances I would imagine each individual would want to have the numbers of a divorce attorney and criminal defense attorney stored on speed dial in their mobile phone. However the couples added that their particular square white camper vans can be distinguished from all others around them by the way they have turned their rear-mounted bike racks into wine racks. After congratulating them for this wise adaptation on their part we headed back to our van to await the assembling of the riders for the start of Stage 10.

On the way we saw a small crowd clustered around the doorway of the Hotel de la Paix, which is wear where one of the teams had apparently stayed overnight. The team bus was waiting outside and the riders were emerging one by one, a few minutes apart, to get on the bus to take them to the start area. The way people were lined on each side of the front door reminded me of scenes from Holloywood where photographers and spectators are lined up waiting for some star or another to emerge from an upscale restaurant or other event. Consulting our program we came to realize that they were waiting for the Spanish rider Alberto Contador who was expected to make some bold moves during the day’s race and challenge for the lead. Contador had already won Le Tour twice and was reportedly in peak condition to try for a third title. After a few minutes he emerged from the hotel creating out much excitement among the crowd who pressed forward eagerly. He stopped to sign a few autographs and pose for a few selfie pictures with his fans. I thought this was quite gracious on his part because he didn’t look reluctant or stressed by the attention, nor did he look as if it was feeding his ego. The crowd seemed to think the same way because when he stepped on to the bus a couple of minutes later they applauded him appreciatively.

Later, on our way back to see the riders start the race, we saw a photographer relieving himself against the hedge next to the front fence of a local residence. He was wearing a vest that said on the back “Photo Pool” – perhaps the word “puddle” would have been more a propos at that moment. We moved on to the start point and saw the riders assembling for the start, with each of the current jersey holders being introduced to the crowd in turn. They took their place at the front of the line and were joined by the other 180 or so riders, creating a mass of color on the street, flanked by an eager crowd and elegant buildings on both sides. From what we could tell the four Australians we met earlier must have gone directly to a chosen vantage point after the Publicity Caravan left, because they were in an elevated position with a great view of the riders, waving their flags and enjoying the spectacle.  At the appointed time, and with the crowd eagerly counting down the last ten seconds, the mass of color that was the 22 teams of riders began its slow movement along the street and past our location.

After looking at the grey skies above, we decided to retire to a local café to watch the stage on TV rather than doing so on the large video screen near the stage. It turned out to be a wise decision because it rained on and off throughout the afternoon while we had a corner of a quaint 1930s-vintage dining room to ourselves. While enjoying a lunch of Quiche Lorraine and Veal with Mushrooms and Cream Sauce – not to mention some local wine – we watched the day’s race undisturbed by rain or traffic problems.

Surprisingly, the favored contenders Nibali, Contador and Porte remained with the main group of riders throughout the Stage instead of trying to gain some time on one another. As a result, the Frenchman Tony Gallopin was able to take over the yellow jersey on the eve of Bastille Day.

Geraldine the GPS navigated us safely home from Gerardmer and we slept well thanks to our newly found discovery of a shade that can be drawn over the skylight above our bed.

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Enjoyable recap. Laughed out loud about the gorilla forgetting his hair and body shampoo!

That story about getting stuck in the mud reminds me of a certain camping trip.
Keep up the good work Steve, Christi and Giselle.

I am enjoying this so much! Way more than I thought I would because the Tour just hadn't previously captured my imagination like it did yours...but you're selling me on it, Steve!



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