Why Do These Roads Only Go UP??!!??

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Being from Utah, I’ve got a somewhat jaded perspective when it comes to cycling climbs. Many of the climbs that are accessible right from Salt Lake City top out at nine or ten thousand feet. In France, that translates to around three thousand meters. So when I look at the profile of something like Alpe d’Huez, which tops out at 1860 meters, I kind of think…


But when you actually climb it, it feels more like this:

This is my Huez face…

So while I did promise that I would be complaining my way across France, the reality is that I’ve usually been too tired, or passed out, or close to vomiting to do as much complaining as I had hoped. I’ll catch you up in this post though, and – since I’m on a rest day – I’ll try to pack in some solid whining.

Stage 1 – Getting to Provence

Our trip over was fairly uneventful. Steve and I had a direct flight to Paris from Salt Lake City, so my biggest worry was having my bike destroyed on the way over. I was convinced the TSA would open my bike box, completely unpack everything, smash the carbon bike to splinters purely out of malice, and sweep the pile back into the box with one of those “While we took naked x-ray pictures of you to post in the break room, we also raped your luggage” pamphlets. Accordingly, I took about 624 pictures of my bike during the packing process. I’ll just show you this one:

It was in one piece when I left. I have proof.

But I needn’t have worried. In Salt Lake City at least, they can’t fit something so large through their X-ray machine, so they inspect the box in the public area of the airport near the ticket counters. I was there to watch the whole thing, so they had to behave. Other than having to pay $150 to have my bike fondled, it was a non-event.

Neither Steve nor I slept on the way over, and we were determined to make it through the rest of the day without a nap, so once we dropped our luggage at the hotel, we went on a walking tour of Paris. We saw all the things you might expect, and some you wouldn’t. Naturally, we saw the Eiffel Tower.

And the Arc de Triomphe:

By the way, the only way you could actually get close to this thing was by sprinting through the busiest traffic circle in all of Paris (see the runners?). There was no crosswalk…

And we also found ourselves in a random Pride festival on our way to the Place de la Concorde.

French language skills not required.

Paris was sweltering hot, and ridiculously humid. And in all, we walked about 6 miles, sweating every step of the way. I hadn’t had a change of clothes since leaving home, what seemed like days before, so you can bet there was plenty of complaining.  Steve can verify.

We did come up with a solid business idea though: French Air Conditioning Salesman.  It seems they don’t have them over here. At least not as far as we can tell.  You’d have the market to yourself!

The next day, we schlepped our insane amount of luggage onto the fastest train I’ve ever been on, and took the TGV from Paris down to Avignon.

This train really does travel at just about 300 km/h, which is somewhere north of 180 miles per hour. The whole trip went by pretty fast, and apart from having to deal with our luggage, it was pretty uneventful. Also, this train did not have air conditioning (and at 180 mph, they don’t exactly let you open a window).

For lunch that day, I had this. Salad on Pizza.

You thought I was kidding…

Stef has done this for a long time. It always weirded me out, and would have given my grandparents heart attacks. I used to just chalk it up to “Stef being Stef,” but I guess I have to acknowledge it’s an actual thing now. Can’t say I loved it, but I didn’t feel like I needed to check myself into an insane asylum either – which is what I always thought needed to happen when Stef would put salad on Pizza.

Stage 2 – Mt Ventoux

If you’re a cycling buff, you’ve likely heard about Mt. Ventoux. It’s an iconic climb that’s regularly featured in the Tour de France, and it’s pretty unique looking. There’s no vegetation at all at the top, and the mountain stands alone – it’s not part of a range. It makes for a unique experience.  At less than two thousand meters (6 thousand feet-ish), I thought this would be a piece of cake.

This is my Ventoux face…

So yeah, Climbing Ventoux is hard. It was also incredibly HOT, HOT, HOT that day, which made it all the more difficult. It’s also pretty steep, which adds to the misery. Here’s the details on the climb:

But hey!  They did have sort-of-cold Cokes at the top for a mere $2.50 Eurobucks a piece…

After summiting Ventoux, we still had about 45 miles to ride to our next hotel. Our route took us over the “Col de Hot”, and the “Col de Ridiculously Hot”.  While not major climbs, these did provide the greatest opportunity for bitching thus far. It was about 135 degrees Celsius, 124% humidity, and 100 kilometers from anything, including water in non-vapor form. It was so hot and hazy, my phone was struggling to take a decent picture.  I think the humidity had gotten inside.

This climb was actually called the “Col de l’Homme Mort”, which loosely translates to “Dead Man’s Hill.” I’m guessing he died of heat stroke.

But like all awful, awful climbs that make you want to burn your bicycle, these minor cols eventually came to an end, and we rolled into our next hotel where our luggage was waiting for us.  From there, we had three more days of climbing (and bitching) ahead of us to make it to Alpe d’Huez.

But this post is getting a bit long, so I’ll close up for now, and leave you with this one last picture. Until next time!


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.

    20 thoughts on “Why Do These Roads Only Go UP??!!??

    1. Tracy

      Wow! All the that bitching, complaining and fun sound like a vacation I would love to take with a group of girlfriends. We love doing this!
      Entertaining read and glad you’re back safely.

      1. James - Post author

        Thanks, but you haven’t heard the worst of it yet!
        I still intend to write at least one more post about “La Marmotte” – mainly because I’ve got some awesome pictures of me gasping up the Galibier!

    2. johnlegresley

      I too was one of those foreign idiots that managed to cross the 6 roads of death. Once there however, I noticed the underground walkway! Dohhhh! Looks like some great hill climbs, get you in shape for your trip to the Gaspe, n’est pas?…

    3. John R Adams

      Fun story! FYI, to get to the L’Arc de Triomphe, you cross the very busy and large roundabout via the UNDERGROUND WALKWAYS. Only goofballs (mostly from the USA?) actually try and sprint across the roundabout! The views from the top are spectacular.

      1. James - Post author

        Well THAT would have been useful information to have posted somewhere! LOL.
        Happy to report that we did not sprint across traffic. So we may not have gotten there, but at least people didn’t think we were too big of idiots…

    4. John Johnston

      James, you are a devil-may-care-glutton-for-anaerobic-punishment-loving-occasional-salad-on-pizza-eating champ. You rock! Never change, man.

    5. Noel

      Congratulations, James! Not only did you fulfill a (grueling) personal dream, you still managed to remember to smile!

      1. James - Post author

        Steve says he always knows I’m having a good time if I’m complaining.
        So it’s safe to say I had a blast on this trip!

    6. David

      Sounds like a brutal experience. Stay hydrated and certainly pace yourself. You are lucky to be there so enjoy 🙂

    7. Tall Man

      Old Joke:
      “Why don’t you jog for exercise?”
      “Have you ever seen a jogger smiling?”

      I think you can substitute alpine cycling after reading this post.


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