Since Mark died a year ago last March, there have been a succession of firsts in my life - the first time I did this without Mark, the first time I did that without Mark. Now, a week from today, I leave on my first bike trip without Mark. I have thought about him on every ride I have taken these past four months; but as my trip has drawn closer, memories and images of the European cycling trips we took in 2012 and 2014 have come more frequently and powerfully to mind. This was especially so today when I attended the last of a series of monthly noon wine classes, this one devoted to French rosé.
As I listened to the descriptions of the wines and to the banter around the room, images and memories of France came to my mind ...
One of the rosés we tasted today, new to me, was from the Chêne Bleu winery in the commune of Crestet in the Vaucluse. As our instructor told stories of some years ago visiting this winery, which sits on a hillside not terribly far from the base on Mont Ventoux, my mind was drawn back to when Mark and I cycled in this area in both 2014 and in 2012.
In 2012, we had started our first cycling trip in the Black Forest in Germany, in the areas where we both had ancestors.
|Mark in a vineyard near Sasbachwalden in the Black Forest|
We'd then gone to the French Alps where we cycled the iconic Alpe d'Huez and other routes before heading further south to Provence.
|My man. Love this picture.|
There, in the Luberon, we cycled around hilltop villages - including Gordes and Roussillon - as well as made our first ascent up Mont Ventoux.
|The town of Gordes in the background|
|The Abbey of Senanque (the lavender, alas, having already been harvested)|
|The last slog up Mont Ventoux after having started in the town of Bedoin|
We continued our cycling trip that year with a two-week tour of the island of Corsica. There were many memorable moments from that trip, but one of the funniest and sweetest in my memory is captured in this photograph:
We had been cycling all day and had pulled into the town of Solenzara, on Corsica's southeast coast, on a Sunday afternoon. After finding one cafe still open for lunch, we inquired after our meal whether there was somewhere we could buy a bottle of gin. The owner said no place was open, but he'd be willing to sell us a bottle. We were on our bikes, and there was no place to carry the bottle the few blocks to our hotel but down Mark's bibs. The Gordons was henceforth dubbed the "marsupial gin."
We returned to France in the late summer of 2014, almost a year and a half after Mark's diagnosis. After spending a few days in the French Alps again, we joined our two-week tour that began in Geneva and ended in Nice.
|Mark in the French Alps southeast of Grenoble|
Once again, we would have the opportunity to climb Mont Ventoux, this time starting in the town of Malaucène. But first, we would, from our base in Vaison-La-Romaine, do a loop ride around the Dentelles de Montmirail through some of the (unbeknownst to us at the time) most iconic vineyards in southern Rhone region: Seguret, Gigondas, Vaqueyras and Beaumes-de-Venise, passing through, toward the end of our ride that day, the commune of Crestet - the home of the wine we tasted today in our class.
|In the village of Segueret|
|The Dentelles de Montmirail|
The next day, we rode up Mont Ventoux -- one of the most exhilarating, most beautiful days I've ever experienced as a cyclist. The visibility was outstanding. A perfect day.
|On our way from Vaison to Malaucene, possibly in the commune of Crestet|
|The Alps in the distance|
|Me, near the top|
|At the top|
Another wine we tasted today - one of my favorites - reminded me of the tail end of that 2014 tour. The wine: Whispering Angel, a rosé from Cave D'Esclans that is produced about 60 kilometers from where Mark and I cycled on the last memorable day of the 2014 tour.
|Lunch at Gourdon on the last day|
|Our last descent on our last day - the last time Mark and I would ride in Europe|
It's been sweet to remember. I cherish these memories. I appreciate sharing them through this blog because there are so few people who were there, the most important of whom is now no longer here. I want my friends to know this part of me.
Now, I look forward to my upcoming trip. Sardinia. Corsica again. New friends. New experiences; but never forgetting the memories ....