The Road to Riparbella

Although we enjoy the quark, potatoes, bread, and tomatoes so readily available during meals on the farm, Gabe and I decide we should consider venturing to the nearby town of Riparbella to supplement our diet with some more fruit and vegetables. We hear that we can make it to town via bicycle, so we naturally borrow bikes from the farm and start naively on our way. We wait until about 5pm to try to avoid the heat of the day, but unfortunately, we aren’t entirely successful. After crossing several undulating hills, we hit the main road and optimistically look up the hill and think that we’re almost there. We start climbing the hill, and as we round every corner we prepare ourselves to see this small town. Eventually after about 20 corners and much climbing, we see a sign welcoming us to Riparbella. Unfortunately, the sign appears to be more of a tease than a welcome because we still only see more climbing leading to another bend in the road. Nonetheless, we rejoice at the sight of the sign, take a short break, and attempt to remove some of the sweat from our faces.

Riparbella sign

While waiting at the Riparbella sign, we watch other professionally dressed bicyclists in much lighter and higher-tech bicycles struggle up this same hill. Although we are not maintaining their pace, we still feel better knowing that we are not the only ones suffering. Eventually, we convince ourselves that this next corner will in fact be the last corner, we mount our bikes, and we continue forward. The next corner was not the last, but after only several more turns, we find the town, and more importantly, we find a small market. First thing, we find water to start re-hydrating ourselves, but as soon as we feel the warm bottle, we are less excited. We grab the water for later, but at the moment, find a refrigerator with cold beers, and we share one of the most refreshing beers I’ve ever tasted. The taste isn’t even mind-blowing, but the circumstances are perfect.

We purchase a backpack full of vegetables, water, juice, and some drinks for later, and we then walk around town with our beer and water. Satisfied with our completed mission, we remount our bicycles and enjoy the downhill ride with wind in our faces. We get back to our room, immediately re-shower, get ready for dinner, and then rehash our adventure to Ursula. She claims that she had warned us about the hill and that no other WWOOF-ers have ever attempted that ride before. Gabe and I look at each other, smile, and change the conversation.

Figuring out France

Deciding where to go in France is not an easy task as France is about 80% the size of Texas, and Texas is a big state. Not only that, France also has enormous variety in its different regions and the only narrowing factor I began with was that I wanted to go somewhere that included wine. In France, this criteria is only slightly limiting. But then the challenge became to decide between the many regions that served such historied wine: Alsace, Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne, Cotes du Rhone, Languedoc-Roussillon, Loire Valley, Provence, and Corsica. Before deciding where, in my bad habit of being distractingly methodical, I needed to figure out how I was going to pick. Should I choose based on the type of wine? Was I more interested in the big Bordeaux reds or in the classic Pinot’s from Burgundy? Should I choose based on scenery, on ease of travel, on reputation? Maybe choose Burgundy because my favorite wine tasting fact is that they have long-necked bottles, and when I see them I immediately guess Chardonnay or Pinot Noir, depending on white or red. I’m kidding about this one, but figuring out where to go was initially a struggle.

Therefore, it felt natural to take a step back and instead of deciding where to go, I should decide what I wanted to do for my tour de France. And that’s when I realized what I had just said! It’s my tour de France, and it probably makes most sense to do something that involves being on top of a bicycle. Ever since the “extra bone” in my right foot got too much for me to run, I’ve gotten more and more into cycling. Also, having lived in the Bay Area for a while, it turns out that bicycling is the thing to do, so in the year before this journey, I got myself a pair of those attractive compression shorts, a bright cycling shirt, and a bike. Taking this passion to France made a lot of sense and I was going to try and see if I could make it work. My first step, as it has been for many areas of my life recently, was to consult I found Lonely Planet’s “Cycling France”, hit Add-To-Cart, and with my Amazon Prime account, the book showed up on my doorstep two days later not having to have paid tax or shipping. (Sorry for the Amazon endorsement, but I’m a bit of a fan.)

Back to the issue at hand, I figured out how my new book was organized, stared at the map on the front cover for way too long, and continued to narrow down my options. When all else fails, my practice with standardized testing has taught me that I should start with the process of elimination. Although Champagne will always be one of my go-to drinks, the region for which this sparkling wine is named did not offer the diversity in terrain that I was looking for. Maybe if Dom Perignon was having a sale, I might be able to be convinced otherwise. I could rule out Lorraine because why go visit the side kick when I could go to the main event, Alsace. Who chooses Robin when Batman is an option? The Bordeaux region was also eliminated early because although it probably offers my favorite varietals, it will probably also be the place where many wineries require reservations and no price tag looks anywhere near reasonable. Also, the climbs in the Pyrenees region were probably more than I was hoping to scale. This left the following possibilities still in the mix: The Loire Valley, Alsace, Burgundy, and Provence. Somehow, I was I able to condense the whole of France into four regions. Now for the hard part.

A couple days after narrowing my choices down, I was watching my favorite television show, Chuck, and it became obvious. My favorite C.I.A. Agent had his next assignment take place in the Loire Valley of France. Coincidence? Probably, but I went with it anyway because at that point I needed some arbitrary way to choose.