Cycling the French Countryside - Interview with Lorely

In 1979, Lorely and her sister cycled through Southern France on a whimsical, spontaneous adventure. At night they pitched their tent wherever they could: in a field, on a beach, and even in the midst of a nudist colony. 

Since the age of five, Lorely has been a daily cyclist. She now lives in Forest Grove, Oregon, where she can be seen commuting to and from Pacific University (she teaches German) in all kinds of weather. Lorely reports that her cycling commute leaves her feeling “very satisfied and earth-friendly.” Yes, she's that cute...

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"Sometimes I take 'the long way home' (singing the Nora Jones song as I ride)."

What role does your bicycle play in your life?

My bike is my friend, my freedom, my independence, my fitness guru, my recreation, my entertainment, my lifeblood, my commuting vehicle...

What excites you about bike culture where you live?

I have access to some really beautiful routes. Sometimes I take “the long way home” (singing the Nora Jones song with that title as I ride), which includes a 6-mile loop in the countryside. I love the scenery, and I often stop to collect bottles and cans to return for deposits; thus, I love the idea that I am actually making money when I ride my bike!

How did you fall in love with bicycling?

I grew up in a small town--Hyde Park, Vermont--with 500 people in the village, and I remember learning to ride a bike when I was 5. That’s what you did when you were a kid—you learned to ride a bike. Cycling was often the main way to get around: visiting friends or going to the “big town” of Morrisville, 3 miles away.

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"I grew up in Hyde Park, Vermont, and I remember learning to ride a bike when I was 5."

I also used to play games on my bike with my brothers and sisters, such as water tag. Everyone would ride their bikes while one person tried to ‘tag’ the bike riders with water from the squirting garden hose.

When I was in graduate school at UCLA in Los Angeles, I could not afford a car, so I rode my bike everywhere. Biking has always been so convenient for me and given me freedom, fun, and adventure.

Tell us about your bicycle adventure in France!

In the summer of 1979, my sister Selina and our friend Denise biked from Paris down through Provence in southern France. We went through the Camarque, a beautiful natural region between the Mediterranean Sea and the Rhone River delta with flamingoes, wild horses, and salt marshes.

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In retrospect, we were very spontaneous and naïve about the whole trip—we did not plan our places to stay ahead of time; we did not plan our exact route, but just had some ideas of places where we wanted to go; we did not take any pictures (regrettably!); we just did it!

My sister and I returned to the Camarque in summer 2016 to try and retrace our bike path there, but when we had crossed the Carmarque those many years ago, not many people had ridden bikes across it, and there was no real route. Today, there is a well-marked route, even paved in some places! We were totally surprised to see how developed the region had become. The capital of the Camarque is Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, where the so-called “Black Madonna” is located, the statue of Saint Sara, which has become a pilgrimage site for Roma. My research as an academic has been on Roma, and thus the whole region has a special mystical meaning for me.

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"My research has been on Roma, and thus the whole region has a special mystical meaning for me."

Where did you stay at night during your bike tour?

We mostly camped out. We sometimes pitched our tent in a campground, sometimes in a field, sometimes on the beach, one time in a nudist colony!  I remember camping on an unpopulated beach near a little food and drink stand that was all lit up in the middle of the night, still serving glasses of wine. I also have memories of the nudist colony, “Le Village Naturiste” at Cape d’Agde, mostly because I have never seen such a place. It was a whole village where people shopped, swam, ate in restaurants, and did laundry all in the nude! Riding bikes in the nude, however, was not that comfortable!

What was it like to ride in Europe vs the United States?

Of course, that trip to France was many years ago. Since then, I have biked in many other places in Europe. In these cities, it’s just so easy to get around on a bike—Berlin, Munich, Copenhagen, Vienna, Salzburg, Klagenfurt, Zurich, Lugano, Arles. Everyone is biking, and there are well developed bike paths everywhere.

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"In these [European] cities... Everyone is biking."

You don’t have to worry about what kind of bike you have or what kind of clothes you’re wearing. Bikers are wearing their nice work clothes—suits, nice shoes, etc. Bikes have baskets, panniers, bells, child seats, racks, and lights.  People ride in the sun, rain, and snow. They carry groceries, toys, backpacks, briefcases, computers, and infants. So many people are on bikes that one feels safe and secure en masse. In the Forest Grove/Cornelius/Hillsboro area, I am often the only one riding a bike, which can make me feel a bit strange sometimes. Some of the streets are not conducive to riding because they have no bike path and small shoulders.

In Europe, at least in Germany, Austria, and France, there are many rent-a-bike opportunities with apps that make just picking up a bike in one place and dropping it off at another place so easy. Portland now has a bike share program, too, and I want to try it sometime. Having the bike share program will make riding so much easier.

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What are some of your favorite travel memories from those trips?

I have so many favorite memories from the France trip. Right after we got off the plane, we unloaded our bikes and put them together and started riding in Paris. I was using toe clips for the first time, and we were riding around the roundabout in front of the opera in the middle of the city. At one point, we had to yield, and without thinking, I just went to put my foot on the ground, but my foot was in the toe clip, so I just fell over with the bike in the middle of the busy Paris street!

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"The food, and especially the bread, which we carried on our bikes, was extraordinary."

The landscape through places like Les Beaux-de-Provence, which is a city built into the rocks, and the vineyards full of grapes around Châteauneuf-du-Pape were extraordinary. The food, and especially the bread, which we carried on our bikes, and the Soupe de Poisson (fish soup) were extraordinary.

The Camarque was hot and difficult to cross, but breathtakingly beautiful in a space-age type of way.

Riding a bike is a more exposed, vulnerable form of transportation than driving a car. What are the pros and cons of this vulnerability?

The pro is that I feel so proud when I whiz by cars that are stopped in traffic. I also feel a sense of adventure when I hop on the bike, and a sense of accomplishment when another year goes by and I've ridden my bike to work almost every day.

The cons, of course, are the dangers. I am deathly afraid of car doors opening on me because I did have a car driver open his door in Los Angeles as I was riding past him. I toppled over, hurt my back, and had to lie flat in bed for a week.

There are also dangers riding on less-traveled roads, as I experienced in the hills of Brentwood near Los Angeles one day. I was riding alone when I noticed that a car was slowing down and following me. When the car pulled up alongside of me, I saw that the driver was naked and very interested in watching me. I just slowed down as another car came along, and the naked man was forced to move on. Beware, beware, beware of the Naked Man!

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"When the car pulled up alongside of me, I saw that the driver was naked..."

What other activities help you be a better cyclist?

I jog and lap swim every week, which keep me fit. I also downhill ski on the weekends in the winter, and the motion of downhill skiing is a lot like biking, lifting one leg and then the other. In fact, I often sing the lyrics “I want to ride my bicycle” to the Queen song “Bicycle Race” when I ski downhill.

Any exciting bike-tour plans for the future?

I have talked about doing a major trip along the Danube River or across country, but most of my overnight staying in nature has been backpacking or walking hut-to-hut in Europe instead of biking. More long-term biking is on my bucket list though!

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"I've talked about doing a major trip along the Danube River or across the country."

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