Margaret and Dick   


September '07: Welcome to the half-century club

This week our cycling club hosted a national gathering of the demi-siècles (half-century) recreational cyclists of the French Federation of Cyclotourism.  The Midi Libre newspaper promised a week of “cycling plus friendship, conviviality, and gastronomy.  We from Limoux are the ambassadors of our terroir and its signature sparkling wine, the Blanquette de Limoux”.  The week’s routes (some of our favorites) formed the petals of a rose with Limoux at its center.  The routes ranged from 24 to 55 miles, with varying degrees of difficulty and different terrain and scenery each day.    

It appears that demi-siècle is measured in bicycle years:  most members are well into their 70s.  Local organizer Georges boasts that he has been in the demi-siècle club for a quarter century.  He just completed his third trip around the world in bicycle miles.  “Cycling is my drug,” he says. 

For several years, I’ve tried riding with various Limoux groups.  At 68, I’m really too young for the demi-siècles.  At the regular Wednesday club ride, after all the hand-shaking is done, we discuss possible routes.  The cyclists fall into two groups.  The fast (50+) guys lead out first, followed by the slower (70+) guys.  I’m caught in the middle, slower than the fast guys but too fast for the demi-siècles.  On the other hand, it’s nice to know that I have a fallback position for the future.

But this year I do notice a difference.  I’m not as fast as in previous years, and certainly not fast on the hills.  Is this a medical issue?  Lack of training?  Just lack of motivation? Or (gulp) age?  No matter which, I feel I have peaked.  “Go ahead without me, I know the route,” I say to the fast guys as they pull ahead.  Then I continue solo, slow enough so I can still talk, but with nobody to talk with!  Since I only started cycling in my 50s, it’s tough to admit that yearly improvements may not continue.  Cycling through the fields of sunflowers turning from brilliant yellow to seed-laden black is a reminder that, in life, everything has its cycles.  Runners turn to cycling when their knees give out.  Fast cyclists slow down.  But as long as they can stay vertical, they continue.  Limoux folks run errands by bike well into their 80’s.

So I’ve recently hung back to ride with the old guys – old guys with great thighs.  Since they all look alike, especially under their helmets, I associate a name with a characteristic:  Lucien the Leader (78), François the Friendly (72), Raymond the Reticent (78).  François rides very difficult routes from his mountain cabin.  But, he says, he stops to rest on the steep climbs, sometimes more than once.  Voila la demi-siècle difference:  a younger cyclist wouldn't stop (or admit to stopping) on a long climb.  Another difference:  the demi-siècles love a coffee break at the midpoint of the ride.  Am I ready for this leisurely pace?

Margaret and I volunteered to guide the demi-siècle visitors’ foray into the desolate Corbières mountains.  We were surprised to see the Limoux organizers set off at

I set off with the medium-distance group.  Two hours into the middle of nowhere, I encountered visitor Helène, who looks like your grandmother but rides a bike as well as anyone.  “Any place to buy a snack around here?”  She looked around the deserted region of vineyards and scattered farms.  I had to repeat the organizers’ warning: there was nothing, really nothing, in the Corbières.  I offered to share an energy bar.  “No, I don’t need it.  I have my vitamins.  It’s the same thing,” she said, chomping on a vitamin-C lozenge.  The lozenges do have some sugar, but they would not get her up the next mountain.  We parted company as she headed to Lagrasse, a sure source of food but well off the route.

It will be no surprise to readers of these Limoux stories that there was a reception for the demi-siècles at city hall.  Mayor Dupré never misses a chance to promote Limoux – and get his photo in the newspapers.  The mayor welcomed the visitors, praised the organizers, and then offered a toast of local wine.  (Juice was offered; there were no takers.)  The municipal police poured the wine.  In Limoux, police do not carry guns, but they do they carry corkscrews.  The mayor disappeared to his next meeting as we happily finished off the Chardonnay.

The week ended with a banquet, of course.  We feasted on foie-gras salad, duck breast with potatoes, a cheese tray, and finally baked Alaska.  As the meal proceeded, the noise level rose.  Margaret’s new friends fiddled with their hearing aids to compensate for the din. 

As Margaret drove home, slowly and with great care, we reflected on the demi-siècles.  Old, yes, but some tough as nails.  More fit than you could hope for at that age.  Sort of set in their ways.  But they’re having fun together on a bike or at dinner, not such a bad way to get old.  We’re looking forward to partying with our new ‘old’ friends as we try next year’s demi-siècle outings around France.

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