82km, 1311m climbing: Thuir – Arles-sur-Tech – Prats-de-Mollo-la-Preste – Arles-sur-Tech.
On the 26th, we left Thuir and Yann left his twenties. In plain English, it was Yann’s 30th birthday. I knew exactly what to do for his birthday: spend it with two Englishmen in Arles-sur-Tech.
Two years earlier, I had already been 30 for two years… which is irrelevant to what I’m getting at, but around then Yann started following a random cyclist/bike mechanic from London on Instagram.
Yann and I do a lot of things together but follow the same people on Instagram isn’t one of them; however, a few months ago Yann realized that this guy was deaf.
If I were to have a points system for people I’d consider befriending, being a cyclist will get you three points, a climber three, and having terrible hearing will give you at least ten.
I deduct points for evangelists, cat haters, and hearing people who write down “LOL” when they communicate with me in-person. (Did you really forget that I’m sitting right in front of you and can read the emotions on your face?)
Anyway, I started following Ed. Ed did not follow me back immediately. It, too, took Ed the realization that I was also a deaf cyclist/bike mechanic before he decided to reciprocate.
When Ed found out that Yann and I would be in the same region of France around the same time he’d be there, he asked if we’d like to join him in Arles-sur-Tech where he’d be vacationing for a few days with his friend, Chris.
Ed shared the address of the place where they’d be staying and instructions on how to get inside should they not be there at the time of our arrival. To make sure we wouldn’t try getting into the wrong building, Ed explained, “You’ll know which house it is as I put something out!”
Among the garbage we left in our bike boxes at the Toulouse airport on the 23rd was a tattered Renaud-Bray canvas tote and my equally tattered work t-shirt. When Ed and Chris arrived in Toulouse that evening, our garbage was still there. Ed rummaged through our discarded packed foam and ripped tape, and decided to save the tote, t-shirt, and a piece of cut-up camping mattress.
It was only 13H30 when Yann and I arrived in Arles-sur-Tech. Ed and Chris were somewhere in the mountains on their bicycles, so we let ourselves in to drop off our stuff and play make-believe home invaders. There was a fruit bowl on the dining table: I was tempted to make a bunch of bananas expressive but didn’t have a marker within reach.
Yann and I then decided to pass the time with some more cycling. Google maps showed that we were only 20km away from Col d’Ares, a 1513m mountain pass that divides France and Spain.
It was going to be a hard climb, but we had only done 39km that morning and had shed at least 21 pounds from our bikes. Our optimism caused us to forgot two critical things: eat a proper meal beforehand and bring warm clothes for the descent. If we had tried hard enough, we could have reached the top of d’Ares, but then maybe we wouldn’t have saved this dog’s life:
The road between Prats-de-Mollo-la-Preste and Arles-sur-Tech, the D-115, was narrow without a shoulder on either side and lots of blind curves. Traffic at the time of our return was heavy and at one point, partially obstructed by a panicked dog.
We got off our bikes and pulled the dog to the side. If my panniers had still been clipped to my rack, I’d have fit her into one of them. There was a phone number on her collar, but Yann either didn’t have cell service or couldn’t figure out how the European formatting of phone numbers worked. I suggested flagging down a car, but Yann pointed out there was nowhere for drivers to stop.
Moments later, a car stopped anyway. The two passengers had passed in the opposite direction moments earlier and saw what they initially believed to be two foolish cyclists in trouble until they noticed the dog. It was decided then that this couple would take over the rescue mission.
Thus, Yann and I didn’t have to introduce ourselves to Ed and Chris by starting with, “Hi! We brought a dog. Hope you guys don’t mind!”
When we returned to Arles-sur-Tech, Ed and Chris were on the second-storey balcony celebrating their successful ascension of Vallter 2000.
“Where did you guys go?” they asked us.
“Col d’Ares, which we did not finish. BUT WE SAVED A DOG.”
“Well, there are stray dogs all over the place.”
“IT WAS NOT A STRAY. I SAVED A DOG.” I insisted.
In truth, our initial meeting went much more smoothly even though Ed and I use different sign languages.
That’s right, hearing people, sign language is not a universal language. If you can understand why there’s not a universal spoken language, you should be able to understand why sign language hasn’t been standardized worldwide either.
Ed and I both work and play among hearing people, so to interact with one another in spite of the differences in our signing wasn’t hard. I had learned the British Manual Alphabet as a teenager for fun, so when I was unclear on what Ed was trying to say, he was able to fingerspell the word. (This is the ASL version, which I use.)
We went to a pizza restaurant and were presented with the English version of their menu. My French reading comprehension is good enough when it comes to ordering food, but I was robbed of the opportunity to show off. Compared to Ed (and Yann!) I’m a less-knowledgeable bike mechanic and compared to Chris whose Strava stats would blow your mind all over your face, I’m not a very good cyclist.
…but I had saved a dog and had another day to prove myself!