I'm closely monitoring the route profile for the day on my Garmin GPS. A glance shows the red dot indicator virtually at the top of this Category One, 7 mile long climb. With some relief I round a hairpin bend and my spirit plummets. Ahead of me I see the road, clinging to the cliff, climbing further to a distant visible hairpin above. I can't believe it. I stop in some shade and recheck my calculations. I'm 13 miles into today's 30 odd mile route and I should be at the top. I mutter, grumble and curse before setting off again at a crawling pace in my lowest gear. And soon I realise that, hidden just out of sight, is the crest of the climb. From there it's ever so slightly downhill to that hairpin I could see.
This is one of many, short, soon to pass, low moments on a long, long journey through France. Thankfully such moments were balanced out by the highs generated by beautiful scenery, fine weather, friendly exchanges and the kindness of strangers along the way.
My blog posts, written as I journey, are concise, often missing some of my better pictures. Hence, there follows a collection of photos from the journey, in chronological order, along with a few reflective thoughts now I'm back home.
Beautiful Brittany is often overcast, cooler and green. On just the second night my Helinox Ground chair breaks. I've done hardly any cycle touring without this. I enjoy camping but can't sit comfortably on the floor. I email Helinox and the chair remains usable, with care.
Into the Pays de la Loire the weather becomes a touch warmer, the ground dryer, often hard for tent pegs. A proper lunch stop in a Saumur restaurant is just wonderful. I enjoy a beer with Trish and Andrew, caravanners from Suffolk.
Poitou-Charentes is steeped in history. Chateaux abound. In an urban campsite, someone steals my power pack from a toilet block. Luckily, I source two smaller ones in a nearby hypermarket. I meet up with my old pal Bernie who's travelling on his motorbike.
In the Dordogne region there are crops, cattle and heat...and thankfully, shady campsites. I hit a low point. Wonder what the hell I'm doing. But, with help from friends online, it passes...and I journey on.
I followed the Lot river for getting on for 150 miles or so. I find a book, in a telephone box library. The sun shines. Life is good. But my chair finally collapses. I try contacting Helinox again. No response from them in over two weeks. Two weeks in, my Thorn gets a service. At a campsite I meet a group of French touring cyclists on a pilgrimage route. we enjoy dinner together at the excellent campsite restaurant.
Now into the Massif Central, Cevennes-Ardeche is a region of high temperatures and harder climbs. I try to tackle most in the cool of the morning, but it doesn't always work. I meet Stuart and Julie though, from Cumbria. They're on the same journey as me but B&Bs so a little quicker. We spend a few days meeting for coffee, parting, then meeting again. Helinox UK contact me and promise to send a new chair to a campsite I'm headed for in a few days.
Into the Rhone region. Arriving at the appointed campsite there's no chair from Helinox. The landscape is dominated by vineyards...and road closures. Lunch in Chateauneuf du Pape is divine! And John and Sheena, Geordie caravanners, bring me wine, snacks and beer for with my dinner, apologising that they couldn't invite me for dinner because of a prior arrangement with friends.
And then there is Pays du Ventoux! A landmark as I ride my bike to the top of this 6273ft mountain, highest of the finish stages used on the Tour de France. It is a very tough ride. It's windy near the summit. I need to dig deep to get up the final slope.
And finally, the hardest climb of the route, up the Verdon Gorge and into the Alpes-Maritime towards the coast. At a quiet site I meet full time motorhomers Paul, Karen and their lovely dogs, Skye and Tia. They're really friendly people and adventurers. We swap tales into the night.
And after a long and alarming thunderstorm on my final night in the tent...it's Nice. A couple of relaxing days in a very pleasant Airbnb playing the tourist before my flight back home.
I cycled 1114 miles in 32 days and climbed 41827ft.
The bike suffered no breakdowns. I needed to adjust a limit screw on the front derailleur to stop the chain coming off (which happened twice) and tighten the tension on the rear derailleur cable to help with down changes.
I had no punctures. My Schwalbe Marathon Mondials still have plenty of life left in them. They've probably covered around 3000 miles.
I'm glad I did the trip. For me, it was a proper adventure, since I was often outside my comfort zone. The physical effort of the many significant climbs made it very challenging on a fully laden tourer. I saw few undertaking a similar journey in such a way ie camping.
I was taken by surprise at how long and tough some of the climbs were, particularly in the second half of the journey. I should have perhaps done more research. But maybe that would've put me off.
Travelling alone was challenging too. Solitude, even in a crowd. I put quite a bit of effort into talking to people, both French and English. My French isn't good but I get by.The tactic helped to stave off much of the loneliness.
I felt let down by the book, France en Velo. It was written by folk who lead guided tours where road cyclists have their luggage transported in a van from one hotel/B&B to the next. Fatuous comments about, "rewarding climbs" don't consider an old bloke on a touring bike with all his camping gear on board. Stuart, who I met along the way, complained that the quoted daily ascents were often wrong. I certainly remember a climb stated as being 2 kms long, which went on for 4 miles! It's a good route, but the technical descriptions leave something to be desired.
As I write my Justgiving page has raised over £1600 for Cancer Research UK. Thanks to all who've donated. There's still time if you feel like chucking something in the pot. See here.
If anyone needs any further details about the trip do contact me.
And a final thank you to all those who gave me much needed moral support on my low days. You know who you are. Thanks so much. You helped me to succeed.
Cheers, and thanks for visiting.