Sunflowers in Provence, for Barbara

I just had a very nice supper at my hotel near Vallon Pont D'Arc which is at the end of the Gorges de l'Ardeche which were my main routing point today. They are quite spectacular and the road is quite hilly, so I was tired and hungry when I reached this place. That was at 6:15, but the restaurant didn't start serving to 7. What could I do, except check into the hotel (52 Euros for a very large, and nice, room with a stunning view) and clean up before 7. Well, I could have ridden on, but I indulged and I'm pleased that I did.

Two views from my hotel room's balcony:
The top image is the cliff where D290 runs - an overlook is above the right end of the cliff face
The bottom image is the river that created the Gorges de l'Ardeche

Chames from the overlook on the cliff road
Vallon Pont D'Arc is along the river on the other side of that hill

It is a pretty spectacular place, at the end of pretty nice day of riding. Actually, I started this day from about 17 miles north west of Arles, but I'm including those 17 miles in this report since they weren't very exciting and I have no other place to put them. So lets pretend I started in Arles today.

Riding out of Arles on N113 is not exciting, except possibly for the strong winds

There are some pretty places, but mostly it is flat riding through agricultural fields
Approaching Nimes, it gets more commercial, but you are still riding on flat land with crops on it
This field of sunflowers is only a few miles from Nimes

Riding from Arles to Nimes is easy if the wind is not blowing hard from the north as it usually is in the summer. It is flat riding through fields with moderate traffic and, usually, a good shoulder. No big deal.

A back street in Nimes at 9 AM

Riding through Nimes isn't bad either, at least if you avoid the most congested streets. Once north of Nimes on D979, riding is very good indeed, but also quite hilly. There is a ridge just north of Nimes that means 500 feet or so of climbing in the first 10 miles. Then you get a great downhill as you come off that ridge. I really enjoyed riding D979 to Uzes.

Looking back at Nimes while climbing on D979

Heading back down on D979

At Uzes I stopped for 45 minutes to use an internet access place. It wasn't a Cyber Cafe, it just said Cyber and offered good internet access. I was thinking of stopping for a snack in Uzes, which is a neat medieval town, but there was simply too much traffic on those narrow streets so I rode on. I left Uzes on D982 and, a mile later, headed north on D5. D5 was quite rural and very pleasant, if hilly. Nice riding through beautiful countryside. The sunflower field at the top of this page is on D5.

Nice little road - D5

if a bit hilly - this is looking back on D5

At Bagnols, which is the biggest city, other than Nimes, on this route, I stopped for lunch. Bagnols,like many old towns in France, was hard to navigate through. If I hadn't checked my compass very regularly, I would have gotten throughly lost there. Riding out of Bagnols on N86 is not great fun. N86 is the busiest road on this route, often doesn't have much of a shoulder, has lots of big trucks and too many RVs on it, so I wanted to get off of it ASAP. To be fair, by US standards it is not a bad road for bicycling, but by French standards, it stinks.My first attempt to get off of it ended in failure - the local roads were not marked and didn't fit the roads displayed by Microsoft Autoroute 2002. I did get a nice picture of the valley from that side trip and I saw a neat old village. When I gave up and went back on N86, I found a hardware store, something I needed to get some substitute tools to replace the tools on my Leatherman which I recently lost, so it was good that the small road route didn't work for me.

Riding in Bagnols

The valley of the Rhone from near N86
those white spots are cooling towers for a nuclear power plant

I finally got off of N8 midway between Pont Saint Esprit and Pont Just. D901 heads west there and five miles later, gets you to D290, which is the road through the Gorges de l'Acheche. I stopped for a double expresso I needed my before attempting the gorges, and then got switched around so that I rode 290 the wrong way for about a mile. Man, do I need my compass!

D290 Starts innocently

Then quickly climbs up the wall of the gorge

Climbing several hundred meters above the river

I think I was expecting the road to follow the river, instead it followed the ridge line on the north side of the river. That meant lots of climbing and descending and then climbing again. It climbed, in stages, from 80 m to over 400 m, with , at a guess, about 2000 feet of climbing in 25 miles. The views were great, but there was too much tour bus and tourist traffic. When, after about 15 miles, I stopped for a break at an empty overlook, there were at least 20 people there before I finished my break. I also seemed to be an object for the tourists to look at. They seemed to be amazed that someone would be riding that road on a loaded bike. I saw one guy, near the start, on a road bike. I think he had ridden out and back since, when I saw him, he looked exhausted. I saw a second cyclist climbing the, quite steep, grade up from Vallon Pont D'Arc. He was working hard and having a good time. I also saw two women doing loaded touring ten miles north of Nimes on D979 and half a dozen recreational riders between Nimes and Uzes.

I also saw one mountain goat at the high point on D290. That was just before D290 dropped more than 100 meters, only to climb most of it back again before the steep descent into Vallon Pont D'Arc. I enjoyed the Mountain goat, but not the last section of climbing!
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