Montpellier Poem

The blasters have departed, the butts are all swept

now mongrels come to piss in the gullies

near the ring barked cypresses and the kitchen hand

wincing from cigarette smoke.

 

By noon all the boards are chalked

the first stoners sit on the church steps

the first cocktail is sipped, the ladies

aviators peered over and under and through.

 

The waitresses sore heels, her toes curl

when she speaks, bored

her meteorological mind is with the Mistral

the Cevennes, or Wolf Peak.

 

Humidity, hippy’s jamming and insomnia,

another sleepless night, open the window

close the window, cat curls in leg triangle,

thoughts with the love triangle.

 

You enter, like Ulysses knowing your head

and heart won’t handle the intensity,

so you divorce and timeshare the children,

sitting on stools, playing fools.

 

The square was quiet, now full

butts and black dots about our feet

he’s planning his irrational retreat

gold, myrrh, felspar.

 

A couple carrying their mattress

give way to a vespa, give or take,

hole or snake, his loneliness loaded like a syringe.

never going to be with anyone again, this week.

 

Her flingers flick specks of glitter

off her jeans onto polished travertine,

these vagabonds brandishing a partial map

of Montpellier, silently screaming over cake and cream.

 

A skulls worth of dandruff;

the erasure of our perceived mistakes

lying like a floor bound dart

or an island on the horizon.

 

You’ve read too much into her feet pointing your way

in bed reading Finnegan’s Wake

across the train views of a blue lake

that somewhere connects to the sea.

 

Almost all the men in my life are dead to me.

I have made these streets, and the streets have made me.

Col De Lussette and Mont Aigoul

“Would you ever take performance enhancing drugs?”

“Like most things, I’d try it. Just to see what difference they would make.”
“I’d try testosterone.”
“Apparently EPO doesn’t really do much unless you’re already fit.”
“Really?”
“I’d never take drugs in a race though.”
“Oh me neither.”
“Unless it was in the Tour.”
“Yeah, of course. Testosterone and EPO in the Tour.”
“Testosterone in Giro.”
“And the classics.”
“Well you want to win.”
“Probably in the local club race too, just to make sure.”
I want to go deeper. I want to go harder. I want to push myself. To see how hard the body can go. To see if I can push my body beyond the pain threshold. They say it’s mind over matter. Often it’s the opposite.
Today we have a big day of riding. Starting in Le Vegan we climb the Col De Lussette, then Mont Aguail. Then descend for about 30km back to Le Vegan. From a 75km ride back to Montpellier through rural France and two medium sized climbs. The distance would be no problem for me, but I’m still a baby in these mountains. Let’s face it, living in Perth, I’m a flatlander.
We depart Le Vegan slowly. Before too long, begin the first rise. The day before I’d been trying out a pedalling technique called ankling. This works, but my left leg is a little inflexible. Already I could feel it stiff. Also, I’m a big sissy. When you want to go hard, often the opposite happens. It’s difficult to visualise going hard or doing well in a place you’ve never been to before. These mountains demand respect. If you attack the mountain the mountain will attack you.
The scenery is stunning. Shane rides away. The switchbacks are regular. He disappears. I’m frustrated. Annoyed. I feel like a beginner. Like this was my first ride ever. I begin to blame the borrowed bike. Too heavy. Too big. I’m negative, but thankfully for the world, there’s no one to share it with. There’s little to do other than settle in as much as possible, wait for the summit to arrive.
At the top Shane is waiting. He’s happy. He has climbed faster than ever. Two days before we moved his seat back a little. Seems to have done the trick. His forehead has a line of dried salt. When I arrive I see he has dropped 20 euros on the ground. I stop over it and pick it up. Put it in my pocket without saying anything. We are surrounded by thin woods. We cannot see Mont Aigoul but that’s our destination.
The start of the climb to Mont Aigoul, two old ladies in team kit riding casually. We overtake them into a head wind. Shane rides off. Shortly afterward the ladies catch me again, see I’m struggling. ‘Grab my wheel’ she says, ‘don’t worry about taking a pull.’ Granny draft, nothing like it.
The final bend up to the summit of Mont Aigoul, the wind is gale force. A motorbike rider drops his machine in the carpark. His friend struggles and runs over to help. I am blasted up to 3 meters across the road. Forces me over to the shelter of the cars. There’s Shane. ‘The cafe is up there,’ he points. We walk into the wind holding our bikes. They fly horizontal next to us, whistling some alpine tune.
In the cafe an old friend of our’s doppleganger serves us chips and coke. We laugh, and laugh. Shane’s laughter ends when he empties his pockets and realises he’s lost 20 euro. This makes me laugh on the inside. He’s really annoyed with himself because he had lost another 20 euros a week before and this was his money decade. We’ve already ordered. ‘Got any money’ he asks? I pull out the sweaty blue note. ‘That’s mine’ he exclaims. ‘Sure is’ I say.
Shane explains his idea for a mountain with tunnels than turns small hills into high category climbs. ‘Perth needs a mountain’ I say. Luckily for me, Shane has the answer. We are good like this. We solve problems that don’t need solving. There are millions of problems out there already that do need solving, but we are unless in that regard. That’s our problem. Shane nearly buys some woollen socks made of polyester and cotton.
On the descent our good friend Richie returns. Every unsuspecting rider and pedestrian gets a blast of Richie as we pass. Even dogs. “RRIchchies.” “Alle Richie.” The sun is out and bees smack into your sunnies.

Day 8: Mont Ventoux.

Ventoux. Ventoux. The name wakes you up. Like an exam you’ve missed. A job interview that means something. Little need for an alarm. Shane stays in bed. I know he’s awake. We agreed to leave at 10am. I’m ready. He hasn’t left his room yet. He’s scared. He’s done the climb once before and the nerves are filling him with hesitation. I know the feeling. I half expect him to emerge from his room with some excuse for not riding.

Anticiptation. He’s still hiding in his room. I’m feeling antsy. That second coffee didn’t help. The mountain has been there for millions of years and now, since we’ve decided to ride up the slopes, apparently, there’s a possibility it will disappear.
We leave about 11am. We have breakfast on the way. We are nervous. Shane is more nervous because he knows what to expect. We pass a man on a bicycle on the highway. He has a backpack on.
We park, get dressed and assemble the bikes.
Halfway to Bedoin we pass the man with the backpack. Not until halfway through the descent, two and a half hours later, will we see him again. There are many other cyclists around. The ascent is about 20km from Bedoin at about 10% steepness average.

 

These kinds of rides fulfil my criteria for happiness: contained circuit, maximum unavoidable pain, maximum challenge, great scenery, interesting mix of people, long enough to empty your mind of clutter.

 

Shane and I ride together up until the last 5km where he starts to feel like shit. I was feeling great actually. Until that point, I focused on containing my efforts. Not tensing up, relaxing my shoulders, breathing steadily, keeping the cadence high and increasing cadence rather than changing gear if the road was shallower.

 

At the 5km to go mark there’s a cafe where the forest ends and the bald mountaintop begins. The gradient also declines for about 3km so you feel like 6% is easy. Before that I do not remember much. You’re on the cusp of pulling back and gaining your breath, or trying just a little bit harder and going over board. Treading, or pedalling that fine line keeps your consciousness full.

 

I do remember seeing an old man pulling over and slowly fanning some bushes then sitting next to his steed, we think he was delirious.

 

There’s a strong wind that is helpful in one direction and a hinderance in another. There are two riders up ahead. I’m gaining on them, I’m spinning away in the easiest gear, letting the blade do the work. An old tiling saying. When I pass the first rider he’s disappointed in himself and when I say Bonjour he yells ‘alle’ to himself. The higher you climb the colder you get the harder it gets the more you sweat the more you try the hotter you get. Everything evens out except the road.

 

White rocks and white snow. A family playing in the snow do not pause to look. By the time Shane reaches the top my toes are nearing frostbite, so I don’t hang around long.

 

On the descent I see Richie Porte the Australian rider for team Sky. He’s eating up the road with seeming ease. Not long after my rear wheel gets a flat. A bad time. It’s cold, we’re exposed. I need to gain composure to do this properly. Shane arrives. Did you see Richie Porte? Was that Richie Porte? Thought it was just some guy. Maybe we’ll see him on his descent. Probably won’t descend now though, to avoid a cold. In our post-Ventoux euphoria we lose sight of ourselves. You know you got a flat because you didn’t stop at the Simpson memorial. What? Fuck Simpson. When he passes yell out RICHIE! Go Richie. Richo! RRRoaoachie. This goes on for the time it takes to change a tube and pump the new one up. Once I’m good to go another final yell at the mountain: RRRRIIIICCCHHHIIEEE.

 

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Day 6 and 7: Riding with Shane Starling in Girona.

 

Day 6 was meant to be an easy stroll west out of Girona for 30km and then back as a sort of recovery ride from the previous two days. We rode about 5km up a road and then it turned to gravel. Riding further meant dealing with traffic and I couldn’t be bothered and threw in the towel. Shane tried to ride on but was back at the apartment not long after. Then it started raining and we were glad with our decision. 
 
 Day 7: Today we packed everything up and left Girona. We drove north to a little town called Roses and climbed up to a grand peak 20km from the town. We then cut through a valley and emerged at El Port de la Salva. A big bunch of riders caught up as we stood at an intersection and deliberated on a direction. These riders would catch and pass us on the way up a massive hill between us and Roses, where we would finish for the day. After the ride we found a bar that would put the cycling on for us and watched them ride up a mountain in snow eating steak, eggs and chips. 

Day 6: Cycling with Shane Starling, Girona

Today we were to ride with Bike Break Girona, with Dave Walsh and whoever else rocked up. After the previous days effort I was probably better off either staying in bed or simply cruising around, which what the ride was meant to be. However as is with all group rides, the fresh people get carried away and the slower and less fresh of us get dropped. 

 

I struggled up the first small hill. My leg muscles were still recovering and getting stronger. Apparently we were to cruise to a cafe and then decide if we wanted to go on. 

 

I chatted to Neil Martin for a while in the bunch and then he and Dave decided to do a 9km climb. I was dropped pretty quickly and rode a slow steady pace to the top. Once there we turned around quickly and the boys descended like demons and one of them coming a cropper. Much sand and small stones on the corners. 

 

Coffee at the cafe and chatting bikes was fun, and then the long slow grovel back to Girona. 90km ‘rest’ day.