We’re in Pau and the bikes and everything went super smooth today. Air France should teach the joyful staff of United how to operate and treat their clientele. Fantastic service. We made it to the amazing hotel here, the l’Hotel Beaumont, and made a quick trek through the centre of town to find a bike shop. There was one sacrificial lamb at some point on the trip…a bottle cage. Luckily the shop here in Pau had the same brand, just a different color. On the way back we managed to meet a typesetter and printer that uses some CLASSIC printing presses. He didn’t speak a lick of English, but we were able to “talk” and he was such a delight. That’s an art and trade that hope doesn’t go the way of Zumbaz pants from back in the day. Then we tried to get lost amid the maze of buildings and walkways below the Château de Pau before finding the entrance. We didn’t go in, but walked around the outside and it was like something out of a horrible Kevin Costner movie. Where everything looks amazing, but we didn’t have to put up with the horrific acting. I have some photos to post, but it’s late and we need to get up a bit early to figure out the daily routine.
We just finished up with dinner with the group here at the hotel. We’re stuffed to the gills. Looks and sounds like we might actually gain weight on this trip rather than lose. That doesn’t make for easy climbing, so might have to cut back on the dinner breads. No way I’m giving up “half of dessert” like some said at the table. There are eight tandoms, mostly from the Seattle area. Then there are eight singles. Two are Aussies and then some others from the western US. The Aussies and us are the only newbies on the trip. All of the others have ridden with Erickson before. So should be interesting.
Tomorrow is our first ride. We’re off to Saint Savin and are doing 63 miles with over 6,500 feet of gain. Sounds fun, right? We’re going over the Aubisque to get to the next stop.
Well, that’s it for now. Off to get a real night’s sleep. I hope.
So we are on the first leg of our trip to go ride our SG steeds in the French Pyrenees. Mine is Spanish, her’s is Italian. France is compromise, right? This trip has been in the works for nearly two years, and clearly we didn’t do enough planning. It’s been such a rough 24 hours, that in many respects I don’t know that I will ever travel with a bike again – unless it’s a Ritchey Breakaway or I’m using it to get where I’m going from the start.
Let me back up a little….so after getting our bikes all torn apart and packed away into our Pika Packworks EEP bags we headed off to DIA. The EEP bags are pretty nice. Super light compared to a Trico or other hard-sider, but I was a little concerned about the soft-side giving way and generating carbon confetti adorned with SG stickers. We read a ton of reviews and forums on bike bags/cases and it seemed that many people were able to get their EEPs on-board planes as a regular checked bag because they are so light. We didn’t get so lucky as you will learn in a moment. I’ll note that our bike bags with lots of little goodies stashed inside were still sub-30 pound bags.
We had done some research on the United website and found that if they didn’t accept the EEP as a regular checked bag it would only cost $70 each way because of the size. The EEP is bigger than the 62 linear inch rule, so it’s an oversized piece of luggage, but it is under the 50 pound rule. We didn’t make a screen grab of that policy sadly. As our friend at the United counter proceeded to tell us it would be $200 additional per bike (yep, that’s four hundo for the pair). Each way. As we argued about the new information, Kristin and I scrambled to pull up the baggage info and found that the wording had changed slightly.
Despite the United website stating that there “is no additional fee for bicycles” there actually IS a fee if it’s simply bigger than the 62 linear inch rule. Weight be damed. I guess we should’ve packed the bike stand, anvil and anything else that would fit in there for 200 bucks. The agent simply asked, “Do you have a car that you can send the bikes back with and just rent for your trip?” Little did she know what has been involved in the creation of this wild adventure with bike fits, training, gear splurges and so on. To simply go hop on a rental for 700 miles in the mountainous southern range of France would be clinically insane, but you already know that if you’re reading this here. I digress…
We gulped down the $400 charge and the $70 for a third bag fee (remember, you only get one free checked bag on an international flight) and went off in search for strong Bloodies at 8am. We jumped on our flight from DIA to Newark to catch the next flight to Paris. At Newark our gate was changed four times. We were concerned that one, two or even all three checked bags would get lost in the continual chaos of an international airport. As we both watched nearly seven hours of cinema on the flight across the pond – we really couldn’t sleep – we made a friendly wager on what the outcome would be. I bet that our rolling duffel with all of Kristin’s clothes and some of my things would be MIA. Kristin said my bike wouldn’t make it, with a smirk. Not cool.
As we waited at the baggage carousel, for what seemed like hours, the first thing to arrive for us was Kristin’s bike. One out of three…then the rolling duffel flopped around the M-shaped baggage maze. Two out of three…then a long pause. No more bags were arriving. Lots of passengers were waiting for their things. Then more bags arrived and most of the travelers left. I was starting to get agitated. Sleepless, frustrated and ready for a real meal. Luckily my bike arrived at what seemed like the last minute. Now it was off to the hotel near Charles de Gaulle Airport.
On a side note, I think the bus driver that drove us from the terminal to our hotel for the night could make NASCAR drivers look like they’re Driving Ms. Daisy. That Mercedes bus was on rails as we careened the seemingly continuous sequence cloverleaf curves around the airport at 60+ km/h. Almost like going to the Kyle Petty experience but with luggage flying and the “sweet” smell of Parisan body odor instead of high octane fuel or burning rubber.
Now while we were waiting for our connection in Newark we did a bit of digging and found that Air Canada only charges $50 a bike, we think. But you have to register for space on the plane. Then we also found that Air France also charges bike fees. WTH? The land of le Tour and you have to pay for a bike on a flight? Anyways, it’s a 70 euro charge each way as long as it is below the typical 50 pound weight limit. Guess what though, if it’s bigger than the 62 linear inches, add on another 20 euro for oversized penalty. Ouch. When we were evaluating our travel plans in December when we were booking everything we decided that flying was going to be cheaper…might not be since you can get two train tickets to Pau from Paris for $415 for two and no mention of baggage fees. Our airfare to Pau from Paris is around $300, but add in the baggage fees and now we’re looking at about the same scratch. Do they have Lotto over here? I might need to play to get home at this rate. Oh yeah, and Air France also requires a reservation for space on the plane for your bike. Something we did not know. We’ll see how that goes in the morning.
As an added bonus, because you know how we’ve been loving them these last few hours, we found out that because we fly Air Canada from Paris to Toronto on our flight back we get to do customs TWICE! And you know what that means? Nope, not that. It means we get to pay for our bikes on Air Canada and then again with United from Toronto to Denver. The hits just keep on rolling….
All in all, it’s been a baptism by fire experience so far. I know that we haven’t done this type of thing before and it’s early to rush to judgement, but damn Sam! All of these surprises and other mini factors have me questioning traveling with a bike. Might have to go Ryan Van Duzer style on the next trip and just ride the bike to wherever we intend to go. Save all kinds of coin on that gig!
So we have a very early bus to catch in the morning so we can get things sorted out at the Air France desk. If there’s no room for our bikes, hopefully they can make it down on a later flight in the day. If not, I guess we’ll be seeing a lot more of France. We’ll have to hop a train down to Pau and get in about four hours later than we have planned.
How’s this for odd. We travel all the way to France, turn on the tele to watch the Tour and the only channel it’s on is in….wait for it, German!! Let’s hope those boys stop crashing so dang much. It’d be nice to see a few of them by the time they roll down the boulevard on the 22nd.
We’re off to find some dormir. More to come and it will be fun stuff!!
It was a bit of a challenge, but we’re all packed up and ready to roll to DIA and get this party started. It was a bit of a learning curve breaking down the bikes and putting them into the travel cases. After about four different trips to Lowe’s for tools and exchanging of tools, then a trip to Sports Garage to find a tool to remove my rear derailleur, we’re set and ready to pray to the luggage gods to 1) not lose our bikes and one checked bag, and 2) that nothing is missing or broken by the lovely folks with TSA.
We have two bikes in cases. One is 28 pounds and the other is 32 pounds. Guess who’s is heavier? Then we have one large rolling duffel with mostly Kristin’s clothes, a few things of mine and then lots of Skratch and protein shake mix. Next we have a carry-on sized bag that is filled with mostly my clothes, some camera gear and our travel docs. Lastly there’s the laptop bag with P&S cams and various multimedia goodies. I’ve never went out on a trip with out an SLR before. So this is feeling a bit weird to go with only the little Canon S100. But luckily I can shoot full manual and RAW files, plus it’s about the same resolution as my Nikon D700 that I took to Peru. Now, all the camera geeks out there, I know the sensor is smaller and thus the resolution isn’t as good, but you can lug that 3 pound beast of an SLR up the Col de Tourmalet and let me know how it goes. I’ll be at the top having a pastry.
Trooper is a basket case with all the bags and shuffling about in the house. So hopefully he’ll settle in quick as Ryan & Melora take over his care for the next three weeks.
Other than a few last minute “Oh crap!” thoughts of “I meant to do _____….” we’re all ready to go. That is, if Kristin can walk in the morning. Her back and SI joints are slightly pissed off. She’s in bed with horse-strength muscle relaxers to try and get it to calm down before sitting in a metal tube for almost 10 hours tomorrow. Well, until we land in France, take it easy.
As most of you know, we’re headed across the pond for a once-in-a-lifetime trip to southern France. We’ll be riding for 14 days through the Pyrenees Mountains along the border of Spain. The days will average 50-70 miles and 3,000-5,000 feet of gain with dozens of pastries between.
We still have lots of little things to do in the next week to get everything ready to go, but we have definitely been training hard the last couple months. Hopefully it will all payoff on some of the nastiest climbs in cycling.
For the trip we will each be armed with a still camera (that has video capability) and I am also taking along my helmet cam to put it in various angles on the bike and to shoot from the hip as we ride through the hills. We will have WiFi at every hotel, save for maybe one because I’m not sure I want to pay 6 euros an hour to use it. We’ll share photos of the amazing hotels, the awesome views, the spectacular food and wine, the pastry shops every 5k, and so on as often as we can bear it. As long as we don’t wear ourselves out too much on the rides each day.
Many have asked if we are going to follow the “real Tour” for this trip. Well, we will be able to follow it in the media while we are there, but we are not riding the exact stages or routes that they will be doing. We will be riding sections of this year’s le Tour and sections from other years. We never will see the real race come through while on our bike tour, but we will be heading back to Paris on the 19th. Once there we’ll do some things around town until Sunday when we will go down to the Champs–Elysées and watch the final circuits and sprint to the finish.
I’ll also be sending photos and hopefully video to the guys at Sports Garage for them to pimp as well. When I get those links I’ll post them here as well.