Our tour of the Cevennes Mountains in France started on a Saturday afternoon. After a morning transfer from Montpellier to our first night’s hotel, we set up our rental bikes and went for a short spin along the Gorge du Tarn. The ride was about 20 miles and featured one 2 km climb that averaged in the 8-9% range.
I felt great. I had some jet lag, of course, but my legs were good and my appetite was good and I felt rested and ready to do the next 6 days of riding. The tour was going to be 350 miles over those 6 days, with around 29,000 feet of climbing. Not the hardest week I’ve ever done, but a significant amount of saddle time nonetheless. I had done the tour the previous year, and loved it so much I came back to do it again. So I knew what I was getting into.
We had a delightful dinner, and the ‘plat’ (main course) was salmon. I remember heading off to my room feeling excited and ready to ride.
When I woke up Sunday morning I did have a little discomfort in my stomach, but I put it off to nerves and jet lag. I ate breakfast and felt ok. We started off on our first ride around 9 am. This was going to be a spin along the Gorge, slightly uphill but no serious ascents. It was the easiest ride of the week, only 40 miles and a mere 2,100 feet of climbing.
I felt ok until around the last 7 miles. I started sweating a lot, even though the day was not especially hot. There was more humidity than I was used to. I felt like the water I was drinking was just sitting on the top of my stomach, and I had some digestive discomfort. I finished the ride and then experienced some REAL digestive distress. Decorum mandates I skip the details.
I also skipped the delightful picnic lunch our hotel provided in their shaded courtyard behind the stone walls. I felt well enough to sit with my fellow cyclists but not well enough to enjoy the food.
Thus began my 3 day struggle to deal with being far from home and attempting to do long and challenging bike rides with a dubious digestion.
Monday’s ride was a long one, 73 miles and over 6,000 feet of climbing. We approached Mont Aigoual from the steep and deserted ‘back door’ road. After a fantastic descent we stopped for a picnic lunch. A good indicator of how I was feeling was that I ate only half of the delicious tuna rice salad which was the main course. But I made it all the way to the finish, up the Causse Mejean climb, across the windy plateau, and then down to Florac before the final climb back to our hotel. A little climb that felt like Mont Ventoux at the end of a long day. I took a shower and ate the rest of my tuna salad and drank a Perrier and then took a nap. At dinner that evening everything stayed where it was supposed to, so I had hopes that the trouble was past me.
No such luck. On Tuesday morning my stomach felt even worse. I picked at breakfast but I had no appetite at all. That day’s ride started with a 16 mile gentle climb (1-3% max) along another gorge. Lyle and Lauren and our guide John started off and from the very beginning I struggled to match their pace, which was gentle enough. But I found it impossible to stay with them. I was sweating even though the day was quite cool. My stomach felt bloated and drinking the water I needed to replace the perspiration losses made the bloating sensation worse. When we regrouped at the top of the gorge I told our other guide Gerry that I had to quit and ride in the van. I guess I looked awful enough that the guides were relieved I was stopping; no one tried to talk me into continuing the ride.
One reason I had to climb off is that the next 34 miles of the route was possibly the hardest part of the entire week. There is the 20 km climb of Mont Lozere to contend with. And then after a long descent there is another climb, easier and much shorter, up to the hotel, which is actually a castle dating back to the 13th century. Doing those miles when healthy is a challenge, and the way I felt it would have been impossible.
I watched Lauren and Lyle and John do the climb from the side of the road and from inside the van as Gerry moved it along to offer water and gels as needed. I was completely discouraged. I felt like I had failed. I felt like I had wasted a lot of effort and money to make a long journey and then have to abandon a ride I am certainly able to do because I feel awful. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to ride the rest of the tour or do any tandem riding with Diane. It was looking like it was going to be a miserable two weeks.
That evening’s dinner was the worst. I still felt awful, perhaps even worse than when I got off of the bike. I picked at my duck confit, and ate almost none of the excellent roasted potatoes that accompanied it. I left the table before dessert, asking John to explain to the hotel owner (who served dinner) why I didn’t eat his excellent food, and then went to my room. Diane was in Paris doing a tour before coming to join me for a week of tandem riding when my Cevennes Tour ended. I hadn’t told her anything about my problem but that night I needed someone to tell me everything was ok even though I wasn’t. I couldn’t call her because there was no cell service in the isolated castle we were staying at. But there was WIFI, so we exchanged texts and that made me feel a little better. It was a bit selfish of me to worry her when she couldn’t do anything to help, but her support was about the only thing good about that day.
The story has a happy ending, as you know if you have seen the posts about our tandem week together. On Wednesday I got on my bike for the ‘recovery’ day (47 miles and 4,100 feet, some recovery) and I did fine, feeling better as the ride went on. I even matched Lauren on the climb back to the hotel, and I know she was trying to drop me even though she might not admit it. That night I actually enjoyed dinner for the first time since the salmon. I did all the rest of the rides on the Cevennes Tour and followed that up with 5 days of fantastic tandem riding with Diane. And during that entire time I ate everything in sight and drank red wine (in moderation) and felt wonderful.
So it was a stomach bug, or mild food poisoning, or some bad fish, or who knows what? I’m certainly not the first person to suffer digestive trouble while travelling. And if I hadn’t been doing something as difficult as trying to ride a bike up some major mountains I probably wouldn’t have been so severely affected. But next time (and Diane and I are already thinking about ‘next time’) I think I might avoid the salmon.