A different surprise shows up on our second day of riding.
We pedal away from Amboise heartened by the prospect of a short ride-day. Yesterday’s 59 km mis-adventure has our sporty ten year old complaining of a sore butt. Four days of cycling stand between us and the destination he cares about, the parcours adventure park. Taking it easy today seems like the smart thing to do.
Big city traffic awaits us in Tours. But that worry recedes while we cruise through what seem like endless vineyards. We take a break in the medieval hilltop town of Montlouis-sur-Loire, famed for its white Pineau wine – not to be mistaken for the similar varietal grown on the north side of the river known as Vouvray. Wine tasting? Sure, why not, Daiga agrees, though it is still morning. Dain is not so sanguine about this prospect. What will I do? Lucky for him, we cannot find a single tasting room. We opt for buying stinky cheese and a baguette and ham slices at an outdoor market, then drop off the hill and follow a path that hugs the Loire. Tours looms. We haven’t dealt with heavy traffic yet. To consult our map and grab a quick lunch, we push our bikes down a sandy path into a thicket of trees, disturbing the birds that have claimed these woods on a broad stretch of the floodplain.
No sooner have we straddled a log – and swatted at mosquitoes – when three men amble by, surprised to see us. It’s hot, muggy. Two are dressed casually in tee-shirts, shorts, and flip-flops and carrying towels. The third is stripped to his underwear. “Yuk, gross,” Dain says. They politely excuse themselves. We get the picture. We pack up and leave. Is Dain upset? No big deal. So far so good.
Finishing a 30.2 km ride on the quieter backstreets of the old gallo-roman part of the city, we check into Hotel de Manoir (2 Rue Traversiere, 02 47 05 37 37) and gladly park our bikes. Much of the afternoon ahead of us, we embark on an orienteering adventure designed by Discover France with seventeen points of interest that include a botanical garden, a stop at a former brothel known as L’Etoile Bleue, and near the end, a gothic cathedral. ”Do we really have to do this?” Dain asks three stops into the tour. We share the sentiment: this “adventure” is bo-ring. Rain gives us the excuse we need to cancel the adventure and retreat to the room to read and relax. That evening, though, we will discover that it is not history per se that Dain was avoiding.
Walking the old city in search of “Au Lapin qui Fume,” (90 Rue Colbert) a small bistro reputed to have good food at fair prices, we pass one of the stops listed on the tour, Saint Gatien Cathedral on Rue Jules Simon. The 13th century gothic structure has the usual twin towers and flying buttresses and soaring heights. It even still has some original stained glass windows. But we’re too crabby from being hungry to care about that. When we try to convince Dain to leave, he says, “Give me a break. I’ve never seen a cathedral before.” He scampers off into the gloomy recesses. We search past lugubrious oil paintings of a suffering Jesus, pause to admire a mammoth, carved wooden pipe organ, and finally find our off-spring in a side chapel. Kneeling on a kneeler, hands folded as though deep in prayer (he’s never in his life been in a church service), Dain is staring up at a marble statue of a male saint mounted above the altar.
“That guy looks like a humorless scold,” I joke, a measure of how cranky I’m feeling. Dain shushes me. “I’m serious,” he says. About what? He doesn’t say. His lips move as though in silent supplication. We leave him alone, wait out front.
At dinner, as we enjoy smoky rabbit with a carafe of vin rouge (Dain drinks Orangina), Dain admits, “Okay, that dude in the cathedral was a little creepy.” Daiga and I look at each other perplexed. A potential coming of age moment by the river left very little impression (we are from Seattle after all), but this? What is this?
After dinner, we take a ride on a giant, neon-lit Ferris wheel at the top of Rue Nationale near the river. The seat backs are designed for small people. I am tall enough to feel uncomfortable. At the apogee of our rotation, the broad boulevards of Tours fanning out below, the park and the trees and the river cutting like a ribbon across a land that stretches to the Atlantic, which I swear I could almost see if I weren’t cowering, I drop to my knees in our cab. Dain thinks I’m just being weird, until Daiga explains that I am terrified of falling out. Dain grows triumphantly smug. He’s not scared, not a bit. He has one up on Dad. This gives him confidence.
The next morning he puts that confidence to work. Thunderstorms are threatening. We have a long ride ahead of us. Dain announces that he doesn’t care if he has to ride all night, he is not pedaling out of Tours without revisiting that saint in that chapel in Saint Gatien Cathedral. Why does that guy matter to you? I ask. He still won’t, or can’t, say. But his determination will not be gainsaid. He’s tapping into something here, something deeper than his routine of soccer practice and homework and riding familiar streets in Seattle. What is it? What is he tapping into?
Only late that night, swatting at bats flitting before an eerily lit chateau, do I arrive at an inkling of what this might be.