Five Roads to L’Alpe d’Huez

I want to celebrate turning 60 by watching the Tour de France

NBC News

There are three things I want to do in 2017: turn sixty, get a tattoo, and see L’Alpe d’Huez. If the first one doesn’t occur, the other two are moot, but I’m hoping that good fortune continues to stay with me as I prepare to enter my sexagenarian decade. The second one shouldn’t be too hard to fulfill, as long as I find a good portrait artist. That brings me to the third one, the stuff of fantasies: watching the Tour de France riders conquer the 21 hairpin turns that is L’Alpe d’Huez.

For two decades, that stage of the Tour has enthralled me. Watching it on television, even if it meant getting up at 3:00 AM, has become one of my Tour rituals. For someone with a fear of heights, the 6,100 feet of winding wonderment could be an Alpine barf-a-rama with a side of vertigo. But I’m willing to take that risk.

The website for the area says that everyone should ride the route at least once before they die. Since I haven’t been on a bike in years, that one ride would be enough to finish me off. So I dream of seeing it from a motorized vehicle, even if I don’t get any further than the 2,351 foot base. And since the climb is not part of the 2016 Tour route, I am hoping that it will return for next year’s race.

But how am I going to get to this “mystical ascent” (their words, not mine)? Here are five ways — some serious, some less so — that I can get to the “Mecca of Cycling” in twelve months time.

Save up

Of course, this is the most practical and obtainable way to get to the Tour de France. For more information, I turned to the Trek Travel website. Figures weren’t up for 2017 yet, but the 2016 price for the VIP eight-day, seven night avid rider race experience from the Alps to Paris was $7,999. That included riding with a former Tour participant, staying in a fancy chalet, and cycling the famous ascent of L’Alpe d’Huez even though it isn’t included in this year’s Tour. Six of the days included at least 5,000 feet of climbing each day — perfect for Death by Alp, unless you were a really experienced rider.

There is a non-rider trip for $7,499, but it doesn’t include a famous former professional as your guide and it didn’t go to L’Alpe. Still, even if I bought a bike tomorrow and rode every day for the next year, I wouldn’t be able to do that first trip.

And there’s the price. I could imagine doing France on $100 a day, but France on close to $1,000 a day is too extravagant. Think of how many purses I could buy in Paris for that kind of fromage.

Maybe next year’s non-rider trip will include L’Alpe D’Huez. But the routes alternate every year. Next year the Alps will come closer to the beginning of the race, instead of right before the Parisian finale. Since I can’t take three weeks off from work, I couldn’t experience both the mountain and Paris. Also, $7,499 divided by twelve means that I would need to save $625 a month for the next twelve months. That ain’t gonna happen, especially since I want to move to an apartment with central heat and air before the end of the year.

Win a contest

That might sound as improbable as saving $625 a month, but I’m pretty lucky at contests. Twenty years ago, I won two round trip British Airways tickets to London by entering a radio contest. Three years ago, I won a Los Angeles vacation, including round trip airfare, six nights at the Westin Bonaventure, a $500 VISA gift card, six $50 restaurant gift cards, front of the line passes for Universal Studios, and passes to five museums, among other things. And that was just from posting a comment on Facebook.

So far, I have entered one contest for a trip to next year’s Tour, and I am sure that there will be others once the Tour commences. The best trips are free!

Pitch a story

Is there a market for the saga of a crazy African-American woman who wants to see the 21 hairpin turns of L’Alpe d’Huez during her sixtieth year? There are markets for stranger things. If I pitch the story as some sort of spiritual journey, maybe even more magazines and journals would be interested in an essay. I could write a book. My journey could become another Eat, Pray, Love. It would be more likely to consist of Walk, Stare, Rest, but it could still be a transformational experience. If I could get part of the trip financed by a publisher, I’m sure that I could find accommodations that were cheaper than fancy chalets. Is there public transportation up L’Alpe? Or a nearby hostel?

Find a French friend

How much would it cost to find a French person who would accompany me along the Tour route? Maybe he or she could drive. Surely some French national would love to show off their country’s biggest cycling race to an awestruck American.

Once, I went to a meeting of a local French club, accompanying a friend of French descent who enjoyed practicing the language. Does that club still exist? Or, I have friends who live in Paris — maybe they could introduce me to someone. I would still have to pay my way to France, but once I got there, things could be cheaper with a French cycling fanatic as a navigator.

Move to France

That would save me the airfare during Tour time, though I’m not sure that I want to move to France just so I can see a bike race. I’m sure it is very nice, but my plans for next year do not include becoming an expatriate. If they did, though, I could get a job as a writing teacher, learn to ride a bike, and be able to ride up L’Alpe d’Huez any time I please. Instead of fighting the crowds on the Champs Elysees at the Tour’s end, I could hang out with my new French friends at a nearby café. Even though I always thought that I would end up in Devonshire, I could spend part of my sixties hanging out in France. I could conduct tours of France for other crazy American sexagenarian women — not for $1,000 a day, but for enough to keep me solvent. Magnifique!

Right now, it looks like the closest that I will get to L’Alpe d’Huez next year will be to press my nose against my television during the 2017 race. But life, like finances, is full of surprises. Many people have started out with a negative bank balance and a dream, only to find enrichment and fulfillment in the most unlikely of places. I better renew my passport just in case.

Beatrice M. Hogg is a coal-miner’s daughter and freelance writer who was raised in Western Pennsylvania and has lived in Northern California for twenty-five years, where she wrote her novel, Three Chords One Song, and continues to write about music and life in general.

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