Last weekend, I participated in my first French protest. Being in France, the event involved passionate shouting, some gendarmerie (police), and—of course—bikes. It was the Chamonix valley’s annual “NON AUX CAMIONS!” bike ride from Passy le Fayet to Chamonix, an environmental protest against commercial trucking in the area. “Camions” are what the French call semis—and the people that live here in the valley are opposed to the pollution that the trucks bring while transporting goods through the Mont Blanc tunnel.
The police blocked off traffic along the 20-kilometer stretch of major highway while we cycled up the alpine pass, portions of it elevated high, as if it were propped up on stilts. Cars passing in the opposite direction honked their horns and blinked their lights. Protest banners had been draped on overpasses along the way.
Over 400 people—ranging in age from 4 to 84—gathered for the ride on all types of bikes—road, mountain, recumbent bikes, and cruisers. My favorite was an old brown cruiser with a workable front light (a good bike for riding home late at night in Chamonix, I thought). The guy who rode it wore a white haz-mat suit with the campaign’s characteristic logo on its back.
We whooped and hollered through the tunnels, and as we rode into town, a cheering group of fellow-protestors held up banners and began chanting “Non aux camions!” (it rhymes in French). Overall, the protest was tame for France. There were no fireworks or street fires—as I observed last summer during the World Cup finals. No one looted anything or toppled any cars—as has happened in recent protests near Paris. No heads got chopped off. But I could still feel it, that fiery French spirit, in the air.
For more photos and info about the campaign, see the ARSMB website: here.