Complaining My Way Across France: Watch Me Suffer!

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I’m convinced Lycra has some effect on brain chemistry.

There’s something about putting on a cycling kit that makes people want to take a normally pleasurable activity, like riding a bike, and turn it into something completely awful, like riding a bike over mountains and pedaling so hard you keep throwing up a little in the back of your throat.

I don’t know why exactly this is, but cyclists (myself included) love to suffer.

Or maybe I’ve just got a screw loose somewhere.  I suppose I should consider that possibility.

With that bit of knowledge, now I can tell you about my upcoming “vacation”, which will be either horrible, or awesome, or both at the same time.  As part of my 50th birthday present, Stef is sending me to France, to ride all of those famous and agonizing climbs I’ve watched for years in the Tour.

Wisely, Stef herself wanted no part of this idiocy.  So she’s sending me to France with my riding buddy Steve.  Steve normally drops me before we’ve hit the end of the driveway, and he’s riding much better than normal lately.  He’s training for some really long and difficult events later this summer.  So, in addition to the suffering on the bike, I also get to be humiliated daily when Steve finishes in half the time that I do.


So what exactly are we doing?  We’re headed on a self-guided tour put together by Cyclomundo, who specializes in this kind of thing.  Basically, they arrange meals and lodging, and transport our luggage from hotel to hotel, while providing us with a cycling route and a mechanic.  We’re bringing our own bikes, and our job is simply to ride from A to B.

That sounds easy enough until you realize that we’ll be taking the most deliberately difficult routes possible between those points.  We’ll be going over these (and other) climbs:

  • Mont Ventoux (people have actually died of exhaustion climbing this one)
  • Col d’Izoard
  • Col du Galibier
  • Col du Lauteret
  • Col de la Madeleine
  • And Alpe d’Huez (like 6 times.  No, really)


The final day of our trip, we’ll actually be racing.  It’s an event called la Marmotte, and it’s like a really bad (or awesome) day in the Tour de France.  It’s about 108 miles with somewhere in the neighborhood of 15,000 feet of climbing.  Steve said “that might actually be a good practice ride”, so I know it’s going to be insanely difficult.


Since “Schadenfreude” is a real thing, I know you want to hear all about how miserable I am, so here’s what I’m going to do.  Each day, as I start riding, I’ll send out a link to a live map on our Twitter feed.  Yeah, it will be the middle of the night for most of our readers, but the insomniacs can watch me live, and the map will stay live for 24 hours at least.  The map data will look something like this:

Our Twitter feed is also where I’ll be doing most of my bitching.  If you tune in, you can expect complaining about how hard it is, complaining about how hot it is, complaining about how my legs hurt, complaining about how the air conditioning is (or isn’t), and any other complaining I can manage to tweet out.  See?  Complaining my way across France.  I’ll also take those tweets and use them to post up a couple summaries here on the blog.

The fun starts tomorrow when I jet off to Paris hoping the TSA doesn’t completely destroy my bike.  Be warned TSA, I’m taking lots of pictures showing that I packed my bike in one piece. I’m also bringing my pedals separately in case I open my bike case and find it full of carbon splinters, and then have to buy a new bike ASAP in France.  (Although “Emergency Bike Shopping in France” would be a good blog in its own right.)

Wish me luck!

Our pre-sufferfest faces… This is going to suck so bad. IT’S GOING TO BE AWESOME!

James is a former rocket scientist, a USA Cycling coach, and lifelong fitness buff. When he's not driving the RV, or modifying the RV (or - that one time - doing both at once), you can find him racing bicycles, or building furniture, or making music. In his spare time, he works for a large IT company.

    22 thoughts on “Complaining My Way Across France: Watch Me Suffer!

    1. JJ

      I’m pretty sure the compression factor of Lycra/spandex has something to do with it. Keeps blood flow from the brain.

      1. James - Post author

        OK. The promise of “closed roads” was intriguing.
        Too late to make it this year though. Sounds similar to La Marmotte!

    2. Dave C

      You are going to have an incredible time! I’ve ridden many of those same climbs. Go explore, learn to love the Michelin “white roads” (smallest roads on the map, bad for cars and great for cycling).

      Hmm, how are you going to eat enough in France to replenish all those calories burned, what a problem!!

      1. James - Post author

        “Eating my way across France” has probably already been taken as a blog post title… 😉

    3. Bruno VIALLET

      Bienvenu en FRANCE JAMES (Welcome in FRANCE)
      Take the time to recognize our beautiful FRANCE, we have more than 8000 areas for Motorhome!! Have a good time here! but this one will be made of suffering and sweat seen your agenda here !! I hope that these trips will make you want to come back with your charming wife STEFANY to make a trip to mothorhome. I will be happy to make you discover Alsace and more if you come 🙂 Good luck for the days to come!

      1. James - Post author

        Merci Bruno!
        Aujourd’hui, nous sommes a Embrun. Demain… le col de Izoard!
        There has been PLENTY of sweat this trip. It seems unusually hot and humid here. Today’s ride was not too difficult, but Mt. Ventoux was difficult.
        This trip would be much different in a morothome! I see them pass us on the road and am a bit jealous.
        Perhaps next year…

    4. Stoker

      Two years ago my with turned 50 and wanted to challenge herself and me. We road our mt. bikes from Costa Rica to Belize with TDA Global cycling. Each day was 60 miles and 4000ft. of climbing. A few rest days here and there and some really big days like 72 miles and 9600ft. of climbing. She completed the challenge and I went home with the flu half way thru. We say never again but we just did a single track Mt. bike ride 34 miles and 6000ft. of climbing. I feel your pain. Getting our van ready for two years traveling through North America

      1. James - Post author

        Well here’s hoping I don’t get sent home with the flu halfway through!!!
        (Sounds like an awesome challenge otherwise.)

    5. Alain Roy

      My 135k almost flat biking event with a good headwind a couple of weeks ago seemed like a challenge. That is until I read your blogs. Now I feel like a wuss…

      I could teach you a few good cuss words in french, to keep you motivated on the climbs…LOL

      Enjoy the french cuisine and the scenery, performance isn’t everything

      1. James - Post author

        Thus far, the scenery has been really epic.
        Sullied only by the sounds of my complaining. 😉

    6. Cameron

      As I’m in the UK the timing will be great for me.

      Have a great trip and die a little every day, you’ll come back stronger in the end.

      1. James - Post author

        The climbing and riding is one thing, but the HEAT and HUMIDITY has been the real foe on this trip.
        Living in the mountain west, I’m just not used to humidity anymore.
        (Glasses of ice water don’t even sweat where we live…)

    7. Ted

      How could you possibly complain?

      Gasping desperately for air, wheezing painfully, or laying out flat with foam bubbling from your mouth… sure…. but I don’t know where you’d find enough energy to complain other than a few incoherent grunts and moans .

      Since you enjoy this sort of thing, perhaps you’ll like watching this:

      I was there recently and was wondering what would possess folks to drive themselves up a mountain on a 90 degree day with 100% humidity…. now I know.

    8. Noel

      Thinking of you, James, with nothing but good Lycra vibes. Enjoy the torture! Experiences are the best collection of all


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