Tour de endurance

Soldotna couple finds stamina, support during France cycling trip

Posted: Sunday, August 14, 2005

 

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  A parade containing more than 200 floats advertising Tour De France sponsors passes through the Plat-d'Adet. Women on the floats throw out everything from cheese and crackers and water to hats, Justin Moore said. Photo courtesy of Justin Moore

Tour de France racers pass through the Gorge de la Nesque. A Britishj champion died of exhaustion in the 1967 Tour near the summit.

Photo courtesy of Justin Moore

Your legs are numb. Your lungs fill with oxygen, but never enough. Your heart pounds and your head aches as sweat pours from your weary body. How do you go on? What keeps you pushing to the top? Can you make it? The questions haunt you. Is it really worth it?

For Lance Armstrong and the other athletes who compete in cycling's top event, the Tour de France, the answers to these questions can only be found by pushing the human body to its limits, peeking over the edge of exhaustion (and madness) and finding just a little more gas in the tank.

Soldotna orthodontist M. Justin Moore knows a little bit about what it takes to climb imposing European peaks on a bicycle and live to tell about it. Although no tour rider, Moore and his wife, Orie Pachelo-Moore, spent their summer vacation watching — and riding — the world's most infamous athletic challenge.

"I've never seen human suffering like these racers go through," Moore said. "It's insane."

Back in his Soldotna office two weeks after the completion of the Tour, Moore and his wife took the time to talk about their European adventure. The couple spent about three weeks on a bike tour that followed much of the race course through the mountains of France.

 

Orie Pachelo-Moore and Justin Moore pose for a photo at the Abby de Sananque, a 12th century monastary still inhabited by monks, during their own tour de France. They were in the country to watch and ride the course of the legendary bicycle race.

Photo courtesy of Justin Moore

Having seen the race firsthand — as well as experienced many of the grueling climbs along the route — the couple said they came away with a much greater appreciation for the sport of cycling and the French people.

"When I went I was a little afraid, because you hear all these stories about the French," Justin Moore said. "But the French people are just amazing."

Moore explained that during the Tour, the entire nation is consumed with cycling. On the day of a racing stage, parades and impromptu parties spring up along the winding mountain roads. The race route becomes lined with cheering spectators, many of them sitting outside drinking wine and enjoying the festivities.

For someone experiencing the country for the first time, Moore said being atop a bicycle is probably the best way to make instant friends with the cycling-mad French. Being from an exotic locale doesn't hurt, either.

"If you're on a bicycle, and from Alaska, you're just gold," he said.

 

Lavendar fields frame the Abby de Senanque, a 12th century monastary still inhabited by monks. The Moores attended church there during their stay in the area.

Photo courtesy of Justin Moore

The Moores traveled to France for part of a bicycle tour they read about in a cycling magazine. The tour group included about 40 cyclists from around the world, all of whom made the journey in order to experience the race from the ground level.

But before the tour could get going, the Moores had a big setback. Just before they were to embark on their adventure, their rental car was broken into and all their luggage stolen — including Justin's new bike.

"We spent the next three days learning about French police stations and French police," he said.

That first setback, however, turned into a positive experience, thanks to the kindness of strangers.

At a bicycle shop in Toulouse, Moore said one of the other members of the tour group helped him pick up a new set of wheels.

"A perfect stranger bought me a new bike and said, 'pay me back when you get back to Alaska,'" he said.

Then in Marseilles, one of the most crowded and confusing cities in Europe, the Moores met up with a young French college student who offered to help them find their way around the city. Four hours later, after guiding them through the process of obtaining a new passport and navigating the city, the young man showed the Moores the easiest way out of town. At the edge of the city, after helping them all day, the man simply hopped out of the vehicle and said goodbye.

 

Orie Pachelo-Moore rides through the Col du Solour looking at the Col d'Abisque. The stretch is a difficult climb.

Photo courtesy of Justin Moore

"He stays with us until we get out of town, then gets out and says, 'I'll find my own way back,'" Moore said.

Orie Moore said the man's kindness was one of the highlights of the trip.

"He was my angel," she said.

Make that one of her angels.

Orie said that, as a novice cyclist, she wasn't quite prepared for the rigorous climbs — many of them as much as 12 degrees in pitch — along the route. Each day began with the tour group heading up a mountain en masse, with riders going at their own speed. For her, that meant losing her husband early in the day and having to struggle along at the back of the pack.

But what could have been a disheartening experience turned into triumph, as spectators along the way were unfailing in their desire to lend help and encouragement to anyone riding a bike.

"They encourage you, they feed you, they even pushed me up a couple switchbacks to give me confidence," Orie said. "It was unbelievable."

On one particularly difficult climb, Orie said she nearly reached her breaking point. But with the encouraging words of locals along the way, she said she somehow made it to the top of one of the most difficult mountains.

 

Justin Moore enjoys a loaf of French bread in the Abbey de Font-froide-LaGrasse area in the Eastern Pyrenees. Moore said the bread ranged from "wonderful to fantastic."

Photo courtesy of Justin Moore

After reaching the top, she said a group of fellow cyclists gave her a special gift — a white and red checkered hat similar to the jersey worn by the best climber in the Tour de France.

"I was the winner for the day," she said.

The Moores said the passion the French people have for cycling was what made their trip so special.

"The bicycle is a huge part of their culture," Justin said.

"The love the people have for cyclists is what made the difference," Orie added.

After spending each morning riding the route, the Moores said they would stop for the day and watch with the rest of the world as the Tour racers made their way up the climbs. Watching world-class athletes push the limits of human endurance, they said, gave them a much greater appreciation for the sport of cycling and what it takes to be at the top.

"Not only are they going up these climbs, but the speed they were riding was incredible," Orie said. "You would think they would die."

 

Orie Pachelo-Moore assembles bikes in Toulouse, France, the gateway to the Pyranees, next to Moores' rental car. Their custom-built bikes were stolen from the car later in the trip.

Photo courtesy of Justin Moore

As for the amateur cyclists in their tour group, the Moores said they could not have found a better, more friendly and helpful group of people to share their trip with.

"We all had one thing in common: cycling," Justin said.

But having inspirational people to help push you up a hill can only take you so far. That's why pushing the limits of human endurance and finding they had just enough heart to get to the top was the ultimate thrill for the Moores.

"You suffer," Justin said. "But the flip side is the absolute elation you feel when you get to the top."

Making the trip more special for the couple was the fact that it was inspired by a recently departed legend in the local cycling world, Judge Charles Cranston.

Cranston, who led numerous bicycling adventures through Europe, was the person who inspired Justin to plan the trip. He remembers Cranston as a person who embodied the kind of strength and will needed to climb mountains.

"He was an amazing guy," Justin said.

He said the last time he saw Cranston was just before leaving for France. Moore said he was out at Skyview's Tsalteshi Trails one evening when he spotted a hunched-over figure out for a hike — pulling an oxygen tank behind him.

 

Moore, second from right, poses with cycling friends met during the race at the top of the 5,500-foot col du Soulor.

Photo courtesy of Justin Moore

"I asked him how he was doing. He said, 'pretty good, but the bugs are eating me up,'" Moore recalled.

"He was a strong inspiration for us," Orie Moore said.

Now that they've ridden some of the most challenging bicycle terrain in the world, the Moores said they hope to provide inspiration to others thinking about embarking on a similar adventure.

"People say to me, 'Orie, you did it? We're going to do it, too," she said.

Proving that reaching the top of the mountain really is enough motivation to keep climbing, the couple said they definitely plan on returning to France, hopefully with a couple more Alaskans in tow.

"It was the best trip I've ever taken," Orie said.

"I'll go back," Justin added. "It's definitely worth it."

 

A parade containing more than 200 floats advertising Tour De France sponsors passes through the Plat-d'Adet. Women on the floats throw out everything from cheese and crackers and water to hats, Justin Moore said.

Photo courtesy of Justin Moore



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