Uphill Bicycle Journey Makes the View That Much Sweeter Atop the French Alps
An avid cyclist since high school, 60-year-old Kirk MacDonald of Portsmouth, Ohio, was able to cross something off of his bucket list this year. On August 22, MacDonald, who is a physical therapy assistant with Diversicare at the Wurtland Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Wurtland, Ky., completed a 350-mile bicycle trip in the French Alps.
“If you’re a serious bike rider, France is the bucket list thing,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to go over there and ride some of the mountains the Tour de France uses.”
His wife of 38 years, Jill, is especially proud of her husband’s accomplishment. “I think I was more excited than he was. I really encouraged him. It was something he has talked about for years and I just thought he needs to do this before he’s too old to do it,” she said. “I was really happy he was able to do this.”
MacDonald was not supposed to make the trip alone. His friend Joseph Giampapa of Columbus had agreed to do the ride with him. Sadly, Giampapa was struck by a car and killed on March 22 while taking part in a 200-mile bike ride with a bicycle club named the Ohio Randonneurs. MacDonald still gets choked up talking about his friend and the accident.
“The evening before he was hit, he told me he was going to go with me. He rode the next morning and got hit by a car and was killed,” MacDonald said. “I could have backed out, but I decided to go ahead and do it to remember Joe.”
“What happened with Joe put such a damper on everything,” his wife added. “I just felt that it would be therapeutic for him to go over there, to overcome that hurdle.”
With the death of his friend still weighing heavily on his mind and heart, MacDonald flew to France in August. Although he traveled to France alone, he would not be alone on the cycling trip. He made arrangements to participate in the Classic Climbs of the Alps trip through an agency named Trek Travel.
“Trek Travel is the bicycle company that Lance Armstrong put on the map. They are a USA bicycle manufacturer based in Wisconsin,” MacDonald said. “It was a very well organized, fantastic trip.
As part of the trip, MacDonald and five other cyclists each were equipped with a top-of-the line bicycle designed by Trek Travel and equipped with a Garmin™ bike computer to track their times and route information. In addition, two guides and van support followed the cyclists through each leg of their journey and three professional massages were included in the trip package.
The trip was broken down into three stages. Stage 1 was called The Annecy Challenge and featured the Col de la Forclaz, Col de Leschaux and Mont Semmoz mountain areas. Stage 2 included The Télégraphe and Galibier Challenge and Stage 3 included The Alpe d’ Huez Double ascent and Queen or King of the Mountains Challenge.
“I was nervous. I was nervous about the climbs. The climbs around here in central Ohio are short and steep, but over there they were long. The longest climb was about 18 kilometers which took an hour and 20 minutes of steady climbing,” he said. The highest elevation they traveled was the Col du Galibier at 8,678 feet.
The participating cyclists began each morning with a huge breakfast consisting of meat and cheeses. Fueled up and ready to go, they would start their day off at about 8 a.m. and would ride for four to six hours before calling it a day. The trip was not easy, and the steep climbs MacDonald feared were as difficult as he anticipated.
“The climbs were hard, but after you got to the top the descents were unbelievable. You’d have 15 miles of nothing but switchbacks, nice pavement and just gorgeous views. That was the reward once you got to the top,” MacDonald said.
While cycling, MacDonald was able to view some spectacular scenery that included waterfalls, steep mountains and running streams. He said they rode through old villages with narrow streets and were able to see a number of old churches along the way.
“It’s not like we really stopped and took in the culture. We wondered what the people did in some of the places which were very isolated and way back in the mountains,” MacDonald said.
Would he love to go back? Definitely!
“It was everything I wanted, that’s for sure. I had my doubts that I could do it,” he said. “I ride with a group from Columbus and they’ve all been there. They assured me that I wouldn’t have any problems and I really didn’t have any problems, but it wasn’t easy.”
For those who are thinking about taking a similar trip, MacDonald has some advice.
“Start training months in advance; try to lose a few pounds without sacrificing your strength; and ride as much as your schedule allows, including a steady diet of hills.”
Photos Compliments Kirk MacDonald and Trek Travel