Lockdown has now been over for 3 weeks; shops are open, but cafes, bars and restaurants remain closed for the moment; we can travel up to 100km from home and we’re allowed to cycle again, though if in a group, at a distance of 10 metres from each other. It hardly seems worth going out in a group under those conditions, if indeed the rules are adhered to, and if they’re not, it’s not worth the risk, so we just go out on our own.

Kieran and Alice are both back at work, so we’re involved in babysitting duties and the garden needs a lot of attention right now, so life is, as usual, pretty busy. I’m glad to say that we finished grouting the terrace and it looks good.

We worked very hard throughout lockdown and are feeling the effects, so are trying to get away in the camper for a few days fairly regularly as this seems to be the only way of turning off and winding down a bit. The 100km limit gives us a good excuse to explore the local area and our first trip was to Roquefort in the Landes, a mostly pan flat area, covered in pine forests. We’d driven through Roquefort a few times, but never stopped there before. We set off late morning, ate lunch and went out for a bike ride; mostly the roads around are surrounded by forests, but we spent the first few miles riding past cleared areas, where the trees had been harvested. It was definitely not pretty, resembling a post holocaust landscape of rough, bare earth, baking under the unseasonally hot sun. Nick rode the following day, clocking up 105km, but I stayed at the campsite, partly because I’m not up to riding on consecutive days (I have a tendency to collapse on day 2 if I try) and partly to allow Nick to do a decent ride at a decent speed, instead of pottering along at my pace. We rode together on the third morning, coming home to water the parched garden in the afternoon. We went for a walk one evening, coming across a forestry nursery – lots of varieties of pine trees. I don’t know if it was due to lockdown, but there was a huge pile of discarded baby trees outside the gates; Nick cannot resist the chance to rescue neglected plants, so we came home with a washing up bowl stuffed full of about 4 different varieties of pine. He’s potted them all up, but if they all survive we haven’t got room for them all, so I think our neighbour, Mart, who loves to save/rescue/propogate plants as much as Nick does, will receive a donation.

Apart from gardening, Nick did no exercise during lockdown, whereas I did my best to stay fit, walking or running almost every day; so it seems unfair that it’ll take me months to recover my fitness, whereas Nick seems to be straight back on form. He claims to be finding the hills hard, but you’d never know it! We’d had a fortnight to get back to fitness, so he decided we’d have a trip to the hills.

Nick’s part of the 100 cols club, a group of people who’ve cycled at least 100 cols (mountain passes); they can be anywhere on earth and there’s an official list of the recognised ones. He’s done 225, including many of the big ones in the Alps and the Pyrenees and recently had the bright idea that I might like to join too, but I’ve only done 50-something. No problem, he announced, as I’ve done 3 of the required 5 over 2000 metres for each 100 cols; I can soon pick up another two biggies and for the rest we can do little cols. I can’t say I’m entirely convinced, but I went along with it as I didn’t want to be a wet blanket.

So we set off from the campsite in Oloron Ste Marie, on another scorching day; Nick had marked a dozen or so “little” cols on the map and we’d “just see how many we can bag”. We arrived at the bottom of the first one; it wasn’t even tarmacced; I don’t do off-roading, I’m too much of a wimp, so I waited at the bottom while Nick made the most of his new cyclo cross bike. The second one wasn’t as bad, a bit rough and gravelly, and with cattle grids at regular intervals, but I managed it. At the start of the third one, I was delighted to see proper tarmac and set off with a will; but at a farm a little way up, a woman working on a tractor looked at us askance; “are you going up there?” she asked. We replied that we were; “Bon courage! You’re going to need it, there’s a long way to go!” she remarked. She wasn’t wrong; it was only about 3km, but so steep, 19% at one point! Nick soared up, while I gritted my teeth and pushed with every fibre of my body. I made it in the end, but ready to drop. We descended and turned for home, but soon met another cyclist needing some help with a mechanical problem; once Nick had helped him to fix it, he suggested that we ride back together as he too was going to Oloron, so he and Nick set off down the hillside like greased lightning. I caught up with them when they waited for me at the bottom and we rode along for a while, then he announced that he just wanted to do a couple of little hills here, so why didn’t we come along. My heart sank; I was just about on my last legs as it was. But the hills really were little and he didn’t climb anywhere near as fast as he descended, so I was able to keep up without a problem. We stopped to look at a historic chateau and the French cyclist, whom I hesitate to call elderly as he probably wasn’t much older than us; but he was of another generation, and congratulated Nick on how well I ride. It would be so easy to take offence in situations like these; so many Frenchmen of a certain age simply don’t talk directly to women, but refer to us in the third person, almost as a posession. However, I didn’t take offence as I know none was intended; it’s just a cultural difference which used to shock me, but no longer does. We parted company as we got to Oloron and we went back to the camper for a well earned beer.

First col of the day
It was worth the climbs for the stunning views

Day 2 saw Nick attack several more of these little cols and I joined him again on day 3; though I still hadn’t fully recovered from the first day’s riding and felt unwell at the top of the second climb, so we came home.

Since then it’s been nearly non stop gardening; the weeds grow faster than I can remove them, but at least Nick’s new watering system is better than last year’s was, making that task a bit easier. We’ve been out for a few rides locally; it’s such a lovely time of year for it as the wild honeysuckle, which grows everywhere, is in flower, so that as you ride along you find yourself enveloped in wave after wave of its exquisite perfume.

The heat wave finally seems to have broken and it’s thundering and raining this evening, such a welcome sound. I hope we’ll have some more normal weather for a while now.