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Cevennes, France (2003)

Day 1: Florac > Le Rozier (67 km)

Yesterday I arrived in Florac after 1,070 km and one and a half hours driving. I leave the car at the nice camping and start cycling in the area of the river Tarn. From Florac I immediately have to climb a steep slope to the Causse Mejean: 5 hairpins, 450 m in altitude and an average of 8%. Up here I can see very far. There is a strong wind here, and I decide to return to the Tarn as soon as possible. After a magnificent descent - a narrow road with continuously hairpins and with a superior view on the Gorges du Tarn - I am in Castelbouc. The houses have been built next to the cliff. Thereafter I ride 43 km through the gorge. There is so much to see here that I hardly notice the distance.

In Sainte-Enimie I have lunch. I watch Dutch "camping cyclists" pass on a folding bike, silly in this hilly area. On the saddle again. Saint Chély is beautifully situated at the other side of the river. From there I cycle through several tunnels at a row. The gorge becomes narrower. Near Malène I can see a challenging road going up to the plateau. I hesitate, but no, one steep climb will do for today. So I just continue the road through the gorge between high cliffs and rocky peaks. There is hardly room for a road here. High up the wall I can hear two voices: two men are climbing 150 m above me. Another 12 km to the camping in Le Rozier. The French boss there is very unkind, as seems usual with French women. Bienvenue a France!

Day 2: Le Rozier > Dourbies (64 km)

I have breakfast in beautiful Peyreleau. Next I go south. To get on the Causse Noir I have to climb 400 m. After a while I turn right to visit a special rock formation: the Chaos de Montpeiller le Vieux. Having arrived there it appears there is an entrance fee of 8 euro. In my opinion this is inappropriate. This wonder of nature can go to hell. I return to the main road and descent on a narrow gravel road to La Roque Sainte Marguerite. Sometimes I think I can hear wolves cry, I did not know these are here. Down in the valley the road follows the meandering Dourbie to the south east. Saint Veran is a small village built some 150 m higher on a rock. Amazing. Cantobre, just a few miles further on, is also very special: also on a rock and hanging above the river. Next I turn left to the Gorges de Trevezel.

I cycle through one of the most beautiful valleys I have ever been. It is a real canyon with table mountains on both sides. Very green, very desolate. At the place municipal in Trèves I have my lunch with the 'village dog'. Then to the south. The Col de la Pierre Plantée is 250 m higher. Up the ridge I am surprised by the panoramic view on the gorges the Dourbie, which is narrower than where I cycled it this morning. In the distance, about 50m higher, I can see Dourbies' large church. Having arrives in the small town, I start searching for the camping. Eventually I find it but it appears to be closed. I can pitch my tent but there is no water. The small supermarket is closed as well, but the owner lets me in anyway. I cook something and eat it on the unstable bridge over the river, where I have a view of Bob Ross-like rapids. An excellent end of an impressive day.

Day 3: Dourbies > Le Vigan (66 km)

The épicherie is closed on Wednesdays but still they let me in. After me lots of people come and by bread, so I am not that special. Or am I, since the friendly owner invites me for a cup of coffee in the bar at the first floor. Very nice of him. He tells that currently only 25 people live in the village. I think that this means that there a more buildings than inhabitants, and such a large church! I get back on my bike and continue the climb through the valley of the Dourbie. Although I am deep down in France, the landscape, the dark clouds and the wind seem more typical for England.

Today my aim is to reach the summit of the Cévennes: the Mont Aigoual (1,567 m). According to the tourist brochures with 2,200 mm it is the so called 'water tower' of France, and it also known for the stormy winds. And this day I find out that this is true. The first few miles over the 10 m wide road, but suddenly the wind starts blowing. Bits of clouds are blowing at tremendous speed above the trees. What is this? A An oncoming driver toots. Further ahead only mist and still a lot of wind. Bizarre. Next a car stops in front of me. The driver explains: 'C’est tres dangereux pour le vélo. Vent forte. Le sommet est invisible.' Shit. At this moment it is hard not to fall of the bike, what will it be like up the summit? It seems sad to get blown of a mountain in the mist. If I ever end life early, please let it be somewhere with a nice view. With only 2 km left to the top I decide to return.

This means that I descent to the valley of Dourbie, next over the easy Col de Minier (1,264 m) and then through the rain to Le Vigan. This appears to be a typical French town, where oldies play jeux de boules and youth are hanging around looking bored. That is also where I find a nice and fairly empty camping site. The tourist season has yet to start. The guy at the reception asks where I came from today, and I answer 'Le Mont Aigoual'. 'Bad choice' is his reply. Need I say more? I pitch the tent, cook dinner and get into the sleeping back hoping to forget this miserable day.

Day 4: Le Vigan > Capou (80 km)

After the disappointment of yesterday I have not got the courage to try the Mont Aigoual today, so I decide to cycle around the mountain in a wide circle. First I head for the east and then up north. Goal of the day is the Corniche. The first part - the D999 and a local road to Sumène - is quite boring. My legs feel good however, and I am 200 m higher in no time. From Sumène the D20 meanders to the north along the Rieufort. Saint Martial is a beautiful little town amidst the forested hills. From there I go to the Col de la Triballe op (612 m), and next to an even higher pass in the distance. This is probably the best part of this vacation: relaxed cycling on my own in the sun, on a narrow road with spectacular views. The D152 which leads down from the Col de l’Asclier (905 m) is narrow and bad (or not?) maintained. At some spots grass is growing on the tarmac. Cool. It is a shame the descent is over so soon.

Down again I follow a wide road for a while, with cars and motors driving way to fast. After Saumane a nice ascent up the Corniche. This is the famous route leading from Saint Jean du Gard to Florac, constructed during the reign of Louis XIV. The road was made on top of the hills instead of down in the valley. This way his soldiers were able to move quickly without being attacked. It made it easier for them to kill all protestants in the region. I am very hungry. In Saint Roma the owner of the closed restaurant brings me bread with cold meat at the terrace.

Back on the saddle I have mixed feelings about the Corniche. I must admit that the views are magnificent (I can see, for example, the Mont Ventoux far away, and the Mont Aiguoal has also been visible all day). But, the road itself is very wide, almost flat and extremely boring. I am glad when I reach the highest point (840 m) near Pompidou and find a road going down. In the valley both camping sites near Saint André are closed, so I have to get back in the direction of to Saumare. Near Capou I find myself a cheap camping. Today I climbed almost 1,500 m.

Day 5: Capou > Florac (72 km)

I love getting up late, also when I am on cycling vacations. But today is different, because the Mont Aigoual is on the menu. I ascent easily in the direction of Saint Andre de Valborgne and eat a baguette there. Then I turn left up the hill. Beautiful road this D19, hard climb as well. Almost at the top I turn left again a very narrow road and head for the Col Salidés (1,014 m). Up here the view is great: I can see the whole of the north-east Cevennes. Next I descent for a km after which I have to climb again for 2.5 km against 8%. This valley is full of broom. After having arrived in Cabillac (1,194 m) I take the 'highway' to the Mont Aigoual. Today the weather is excellent. The summit I can see from here is not what you normally would expect of a summit, it is just a little bit higher than the rest. Only the first 4 km I have to climb 6 to 7%, the remaining distance is easier.

The top is full of coaches and other motorized vehicles. I am the only cyclist. The view is okay, and I believe the brochures stating that with a clear sky, one is able to see the Alps, the Pyrenees and Marseille, but to be honest I am not impressed at all. So I go down again. After Abrillac I turn right from the wide D18 and go through the Gorges du Tapoul. A beautiful valley, narrow road, cycling at high speed. After Rousses the road becomes wider again when I reach the river Tarnon – not to be confused with the Tarn in which it ends. After 10 km I reach Florac, the final destination of my 5 day cycling vacation. I am very satisfied: in these wonderful surroundings there is much possible with a bike, and I have seen just part of it yet. I will return for sure!