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I think I might have found it.
I've been riding for over twenty years but I never thought it existed. I never thought I would find the perfect cycling destination that had 80 degree weather all year around, a huge selection of roads ranging from hilly to flat (all perfectly smooth) and the respect from the people and cars that most cyclists only dream about. Add to that a respite for my wife and kids while I'm out riding. I'm talking about a remote place, one you've probably never even heard of. It's an island with its own identity but coming from a large cycling tradition. The island is Guadeloupe - an unknown place to many Americans but very well know to its ancestors the French. So well known that everyday there are direct flights from Paris to the resort island. It's almost easier to fly from Paris to the island than it is to get there from the states. Nonetheless, the flight from Miami only took four hours.
When we landed it was amazing how this Caribbean Island was a snapshot of France. I know the island is part of France but I thought that would be in name only. The stores were the same, the telephones the same, the money, the cars, and of course the language were all the same as in France. It was a mini France. Sure there were some differences - this is the Caribbean - but it was mostly agricultural. The natives have their own dialect called Creole that they speak with one another. They also don't know the color of earth tones since everything is painted in bright blues, pinks, reds, oranges, and greens. It's a neon nightmare. You can see rooftops from miles away. Everywhere you look there are so many animals grazing fields. All the animals (cows, chickens, goats, and pigs) have collars and are chained to stakes in the yards/fields. This way the owners don't have to build fences and they just move their livestock every once in awhile depending on what part of the yard they want cut. As much as they can keep track of their livestock I don't know how they keep track of their automobiles. The license plates are fill in the blank. They just put in their own letters and numbers where they're missing on the plate. Literally. Whatever the case may be the locals know how to drive around cyclists. This is because cycling is the number one sport on the island.
My family and I were on the island with Velo Sport Vacations Camp Carraibe trip. The tour group had a hotel that was right on the beach. After each ride I had the dilemma of cooling off in the ocean or in one of the pools. I'd say I split my time between one of the picturesque beaches where Betsy and the kids were digging sand and the kiddie/adult pool. What wasn't hard to figure out was where to ride. Each day we had a great loop planned ranging from 60-110kms with optional loops at the end for guys who wanted to ride more. I admit that the temptations of pina coladas and the lounging by the water in the hot sun kept me away from the extended loop plan. Everyday we would see the locals out training and it always seemed like different guys. There were a couple incidents where we had some roadside interaction. One time a kid on a mountain bike in tennis shoes came flying by us on a downhill. On the next uphill we overtook him and gave him some shouts of "Allez! Allez!" to try and get him to stay with us. After about an extra kilometer he was cooked. The other incident was when an old man wearing sponge thong beach sandals hopped in our pace line. I kind of freaked thinking this guy was going to lose control and take us down but before I could move up to say something he took off passing us and then turning off the road. I mean the guy had beach sandals on going twenty-three miles an hour.
Near the end of the week we took a forty-five minute boat ride with our bikes to the French Island of Marie Galante. We had a gorgeous seventy kilometer ride followed with a traditional Creole lunch right on the sands of the ocean. I went straight from bike to ocean to eating. In my eyes that's a perfect lineup. I figured this day they spoiled us because the next day was the ride to the top of the Volcano. Now, if someone would have told me I needed a 39x25 to do the climb I would have told them they were wrong. Well, they were wrong. Luckily the bike I was using had a triple chain ring and I found myself in a 32x21 trying to get up the nineteen percent grades. The coolest part was that the top of the Volcano is in a rain forest. We rode as far as the road would take us but if you hiked another two kilometers there was a small lake at the top of the Volcano that had water temperatures of 47 degrees Centigrade. That's hot enough to boil water. Again, the perfect lineup was laid out for us: ride, swim and eat. This time the swim was some minor cliff jumping into the ocean. One of the locals was there when we were there and he did some jumps that I can't even describe. I don't know how he made it into the water.
Guadeloupe offers some of the best cycling I've ever done. And I only visited one part of the island. Many times the vacationing suffers for the training or the training suffers for the vacationing. Now that problem has been solved. Guadeloupe provides training and vacationing in paradise. And what better place to do that than with your family right there with you.
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