Thursday, June 15, 2006


Trip dist: 114 kms. Trip time: 8 hrs, 23 mins. Tot dist: 2567 kms.

Barge racing.!!!! This is it! This is THE best bike ride EVER in the whole, entire history of humanity! Oooooh, oh, oooh, man, how perfect could this get (not any "perfecter", I assure you). Let me tell you something very, very important, so pay some really careful attention here:

If you ever only do 1 bike ride in your life....THIS IS THE ONE.


Oh, man. Let me stop the gushing for a bit, and try to tell you why.

The Canal du Midi was built (er, designed by, that is) by Pierre Paul Riquet under the reign of Louis XIV. It is 240 kms long, 10 meters wide, and 2 meters deep, joining the Garonne River to the Mediterranean, and contains 63 locks end to end to handle the changes in terrain elevation levels (for a cool animation on how locks work take a look here, and for other neat info on, for instance, how the Canal was filled with water and other interesting facts and statistics, check out: For your very own informational videos--didactic commentary by yours truly included--on how the locks and sluice gates work try for instance here or here). It was placed in the UNESCO WHS list back in 1996.

Both of the Canal's banks are lined with trees (The pics and movies hardly do it justice, but will have to suffice short of you being there), which creates an almost uninterrupted canopy for most of its length, and which of course makes the bike ride quite pleasant in spite of the summer weather (the bike paths, as it turns out, were indeed quite obvious and hugging the banks throughout the ride, though I would not ride there on a road bike, as they are mostly dirt or pressed dirt roads and there were some rather "technical" stretches full of tree roots and large loose rocks). Additionally, every few kilometers it passes by lots of rather quaint towns, where you can of course stop by and eat some super-delicious food (or rather, as you know, some rather very carefully and attractively arranged dishes) or buy a pastry or two at the local bakery. In-between the towns, you can stop by the wineries for some free tastings, and drink in greetings to the people passing along on the barges, who come from almost everywhere in the world (though mostly Europe). It is kind of neat, too, how the sluice-gate operators personalize their stations at the locks (my guess is some of them even live there): some add flowers to the banks, others add modern sculptures, others include little improvised shops selling refreshments, etc.

Speaking of barges and locks, it is kind of neat to contemplate the careful and respectful barge traffic rules the Canal boat travellers observe, especially at the locks when you may have two or three barges going one way and two or three going the other way (which creates a conflicting sequence of lock gate operations, for sometimes only 1 barge fits in-between the gates). Since it takes about 20 minutes for the sluice gates to fill up and the barges only travel at about 10 kms/hr (and which, by the way, makes barge racing a rather uninteresting exercise), I have concluded that you need to really be a very, very patient kind of person to be able to do the barge/boat Canal thing. That, or just take it as a very leisurely vacation. But for this, the many wineries and stops along the way help. ;) I didn't see too many cyclists either (and which contributed to the enjoyment of the ride--narrow dirt roads can get unpleasant when you're behind a row of 10 stop-and-go cyclists), some, yes, but not many, and not for too long, which was great, and contributed to the pleasantness of the ride, but was surprising: considering how beautiful it was, I would've expected it to be more popular. Perhaps, it was simply that it was a weekday.

Heh, funny, upon arriving to Bèziers, the hotel manager asked me: "Oh, you just came from the Canal?" Doubtless, the quarter-centimeter of dust covering my panniers, shoes, and bike chain must've given me away. {grin}

Impatient as I am, though, I do think that later on, once time matters to me no longer, I may do the Canal over water, this time. One day....was not enough.

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