Friday, October 23, 2009


Day one:
With service of Expedia and the Star Alliance Trudy and I set off for the Pyrenees. I have to admit this was my dream, but Trudy had done a lot of the logistics work from this end. I wanted to ride with Jean Philipe in the Pyrenees, where he was born and bred and served in a mountain rescue unit. We start off already tired for different reasons, and though I dislike long flights I appreciate the opportunity for sleep in the cramped up position.
Like Jung I believe in synchronicity, well next, maybe determinism. So here lies the cascade of events. I had been to France before, Paris, No not PBP but as a fugitive family from the defeated Biafra. As a child of war the tensions I felt were incredible. My Dad had been serving for a little more than a year in the African, then called the Portuguese Island of Sao Tome as Biafran envoy. Even at that very young age I realized how lucky we were to escape all the death and starvation in Biafra.
When Biafra was defeated I can only Imagine the stress my Parents went through. Six children and a pregnant mother, No Country! But we had the Catholics. Both strong Catholics, I believe my parents knew every Catholic Priest in that part of Africa. CARITAS saved many a life in the blockaded Biafra and the food that they flew into Biafra was often via Sao Tome.
Somehow they got us (my Dad and the five older children) to Dublin through Paris. I have a very less than romantic memory of Paris, the donated and ill fitting winter coats we were wearing. My Dad whom I had the pressure of trying to be everything his humble beginnings denied him was everything that I am not. With little or no money he still hired transportation to show us the Champs D' elysee and the Eiffel tower. What did I care? I had just parted from two Gems in my life, my Mother and my only brother who, was not yet of school age, they had flown to Libreville in Gabon where my last sister Lota (Remember) was born. They would stay there till my Father figured out his next move. The rest of us were enrolled in school in the Catholic and English speaking (actually bilingual) Republic of Ireland.

The Muoneke Children before departing Sao Tome.

A Catholic Family The O'Malley's in Dublin Volunteered to shelter me. My Dad dropped me off with Mrs O' Malley. She had six children of her own, Chris was same age, so I would share his room and a bunk bed. I hit that bed and slept for almost 24 hours. Looking back I have known depression as a child, I am positively glad the diagnosis was not made as it is frequently made now in this part of the world, so no therapy.
I adapted to my new life and my next bout of depression would come with the news more than a year later that my father had returned to Nigeria and we were to follow. I had come to completely love my new life, Yes! I am fickle, selfish and was growing independent.
The O'Malley's now including me had 8 children, I am including Sophie their Pyrenees Mountain Dog(Patou). She was the friendliest sentient being in the world. I hardly ever saw Dr O'Malley who was out early and back late. He would always be present in his tweed jacket and tie at recitals/barbeque that his wife would hold at their home for the parish choir in which she sang.
He would also join us in our frequent idyllic forays into the outdoors of their beloved Ireland, the land of Lochs and Glens. I always sat with Chris and Sophie at the very back of their Peugeot station wagon. Chris adored Sophie but having come from a different culture, still remember the somewhat unpleasant experience of her strong breath and friendly drool especially in the summer days.
In the Pyrenees, they highly treasure their sheep and the Brebir Cheese they make from its milk. So they are particularly fond of 3 breeds. The Border Collie which is very intelligent unlike the sheep they herd, but with intelligence comes some fear especially with the storms in the mountains. The Labri is a small and fearless herd dog. The Patou while usually docile and friendly will face down a bear to protect the sheep and often work with a nail studded collar to protect them from the wolves that go for the throat.
We arrive in Toulouse, via Frankfurt without our luggage but I have my wool, shoes, pedals , gloves, helmet, eye-ware and electronics in my hand luggage. I am ready to ride. Our luggage will arrive in Toulouse on the next plane from Frankfurt 4-5 hours away and they can deliver it to the Pyrenees Midi the next day. We squash all riding plans for Day One and hang out for a while in Toulouse. We call Alain to inform him of our late arrival.

In Toulouse it is cool and sunny, great weather if you ask me. most of Europe is in a cold front.
The French call it the Pink City on account of the bricks favored for building in this area.

After walking around the city for a bit we settle on L'Entrecote for lunch. We are a little early (the French are very rigid about their meal times) but this proves to our advantage as a line quickly forms behind us. "Must be good" I thought.

They serve only one thing, beef steak and French fries and the only choice is rare, medium rare, medium etc. both items are cooked I believe with duck fat which is loved in this region.

An of course French bread and red wine.
We pick up our luggage after lunch and drive an hour and a half to Bagnere, Jean Phi picks up his bike and we head to the Laurent Fignon Centre for ours.

There the Geant of the Pyrenees sits looking up at the Tourmalet were he will be taken amidst fanfare for the 2010 Tour de France.

Where the winner next year will probably be decided in a mountain summit finish.

There is History all over but this is a very modern training center with its own hotel.
Alain the manager of the centre is very warm and sets us up with a couple of Time machines.
My Orange Fizik Alliante sticks out like a sore thumb.

Next: Argeles-Gazost and more sleep glorious sleep.

Forever Grateful To Trudy, Jean-Phi and Yumi


JohnnybGoode said...

marvelous story and loved reading all of it. I lived with a Biafran in the mid seventies and it broadened my experience. I also stayed in the marvelous town of Argeles Gazost at "Le Beau Site". It lay not far from Hautacaum and a decent ride away from Tourmalet and La Mongie. In 02 when I rode it I saw Heras leading Armstrong with Beloki following. A good place, and a wonderful read.

glen campbell said...

Incredible story Vin, I love it. I am so luck i have a friend like you.

CurioRando said...

Beautifully written. You took me to many places in this piece, and though I have no personal connections to those places I feel connected to the universal truths. Many extraordinary journeys. Thanks much for sharing.

Joe P said...

Vincent! I love the picture of you guys all sitting on the bench.

Wild story.

Rando Rider said...

You constantly amaze me ....

Lyn said...

Although I have heard bits and pieces of your childhood this story really puts it into perspective. I really enjoyed the reflection of it all. Knowing we all are a part of our past makes me appreciate your character even more. Good writings Vinnie!

La Retro Boutique said...

Beautiful writing Vincent. The story of you as a child living with the Irish family was touching. Gorgeous photos!

Anonymous said...

I will tell you again, I really think that you would make a great author and if you have not yet you should write a book.The way you choose your wording always paints a pretty clear picture in my head. You have come a long way, definitely an inspiration for anyone who thinks they have it rough and does not feel like they have the opportunity to go anywhere in life. God Bless.