500km To Go
Finally free to ride beyond the boundaries of his hometown after COVID-19 restrictions eased in France, Thomas set out to honor a deceased loved one with a 500-kilometer ride on a route in the shape of a heart. Here's his story.
Words and photos by TotoSuperTramp.
On May 11th, the COVID-19 lockdown came to an end in France. After eight weeks of restricted movement, "Les amoureux de la petite reine" (the French expression to designate people in love with cycling) were allowed to cycle again outdoors within a 100km radius of their home. Adventure can take form in many places - this is a story born on one’s doorstep.
Six hours ago I was still in the office trying to catch up on email before the weekend. Here I was all set up, wearing lycra, helmet on and ready to take off. Since then, I tried to sleep a little but the thrill was too high and I couldn’t get my eyes closed. Like a child ready to climb into the family car for a holiday trip, I was tuned up.
I’ve been thinking about this ride all day for almost a week. I’ve already ridden many miles in my life and I know what it takes to kick out 20-plus hours on the bike. But this one felt particularly special. Obviously, these days, things are a bit different.
These past weeks have seen a massive pandemic strike the world, and the clock seems to have slowed down. Most human beings, myself included, were asked to stay home until the security of health would reach a safer level for us to get out again. Lockdown has seen the rise of indoor trainers and Zwift rides re-posted on social media. I’m an old-fashioned guy - using a standard wheel trainer paired with a good playlist, figuring out what would be my next outdoor adventure or trying to remember more pleasant moments on the bike before the pandemic.
After countless hours spent on the balcony spinning against a magnetic wheel, this ride feels like a release. It was time to get away from the hard reality of life these days.
The air was warm, and even with the lack of sleep, I was feeling good - rejuvenated by the coffee and the banana I had for my 'Midnight brekky.' The first kilometres would take me through the popular inner suburbs of Lyon. It was 23 May - Ramandan’s end and many people were outside enjoying BBQs, celebrating the feast of Eid-al-Adha.
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I’ve been riding for almost 10 hours. The night was so nice. I love the feeling of being awake while everyone else sleeps comfortably. It is mid-May but it feels like summer time. Temperatures are comfy and some people are having parties in their backyards. The roads are quiet and I can enjoy the peace that night brings.
I already covered 270 km. I am a little past the halfway mark and it is time for a short break.
I originally drew this route in March 2018. Like every year at this time, I was trying to plan a ride in memory of a loved one who passed away. Since then, the route remained on my computer desktop, and I couldn't figure out why I haven’t done it before. The lockdown surely gave us enough time to think - and the idea of this ride came back to me.
I arrived at my mum’s place with a big smile. We hadn’t seen each other for two months due to COVID-19 and I am so happy to finally get to see her. I had called her two days before to let her know I would pop-by and ask if she could refill-me with some Snickers bars and cashew nuts. The homecoming wouldn’t be long. I had planned a 15-minute break - not longer. After a coffee, a banana and a quick hug, I was back on the road. I was still feeling awesome but I knew it wouldn’t last. Riding for such long hours always come with a succession of ups and downs. The hardest part was yet to come.
Not long after having left the Rhone Valley, the road would take me up to the higher ground of Ardeche. It was just after the 300km point, and it would be uphill for the next 60 kilometers.
My feelings turned out to be correct. Twenty kilometers into the uphill section, my first low would occur - my right knee started to pinch. I knew this time would come as I struggled to find the proper setup for my cleats. But shortly after I realized this, a huge thunderstorm decided to knock down and would make me forget the knee pain. For what seemed like an eternity, torrential rain poured from the sky. Within an hour, the temperatures dropped from 27°C to 6°C and the wind started to kick-in. I knew I wouldn't miss the rain - I checked the forecast the previous day. But I definitely didn’t expect temperatures to drop that much. With just a basic set of arm warmers paired with a rain jacket, I wasn’t prepared to face such weather. Quickly I ended up soaked. All I could do at this time was put my head down and keep rollin’.
We’ve seen many stories of adventurers who start their stories in remote destinations in an effort to take on personal challenges. The environmental impact of such decisions makes me think a little - while I enjoy travelling, maybe I could live an epic day just from my front door. So, I looked at the map, filled with my love for riding, the love I had in mind for the loved one I had lost and quickly the idea of a heart came to me.
I was freezing. For the last two hours I was riding in the pouring rain. The atmosphere was like and old Hitchcock movie - with the mist and the wind as a unique friend. I finally came to the highest point of the route, and was really looking forward to getting back down to the Loire Valley - hoping the temperatures would rise a bit. After a quick stop in a bakery and two slices of pizza later, I was on my way down.
It turned out that the weather didn’t get any better before the end of the day. My hopes to see the temperatures rise was unlikely at this time. Obviously, when you decide to do such thing you know at some point you will hit some very low moments. Once you're there, you have to be patient - remembering that after every storm, the sun would shine again.
I’d been on my bike for the last 18 hours. I’d seen some pretty gorgeous things along the way and I was feeling very lucky to have the ability to cover that many kilometres and to see that much within one day, just by the simple act of riding a bike.
During the lockdown I knew that once things would get back to normal I would have a long day on the bike. I was craving kilometres. With the news of my surgery planned for 26 May, I had a two-week window of opportunity to make this ride happen. Since the end of 2018, I was suffering from pubalgia, a chronic groin lesion caused by muscle imbalance between adductor and abdominal muscles. Luckily It didn’t stop me from riding. Fueled by the fact I wouldn’t be able to ride after that for a little while, I was enjoying every piece of this day.
With less than 60 kilometers to go, I was getting closer to the end. The sky finally decided to clear out the heavy clouds, and while most people were having diner I was standing still on the pedal ready to clock off this tour.
When I arrived in Lyon, the weather was rather mild. The last kilometres were finally the time to realize and enjoy the few last moment of this experience.
510 kilmeters, 21 hours and 36 minutes after I left my doorstep, I was back again.
It is very strange, because between the time a project like this takes form as an idea and when you clip in to start, you feel so impatient, thrilled, and exited. Then once you are doing it, you are kind of impatient, wanting the suffering to end at some point. Once it is over, you feel like it all happened too fast.
I guess it is for this reason, that the experience of every mixed possible feeling is what we like so much taking on such challenge.
Adventure doesn’t necessarily need to be far away. Sometimes you just have to step out the front door and go. Whether it's a 100km ride or 500 - just get out and go. Because at the end of the day, you’ll always learn a bit more about yourself.
Today I’ve learned a bit more about myself.