Saturday, 28 May 2011

Bicycle Diaries from France

I knew I was going to enjoy cycling during our holiday in France but I really wasn’t prepared for what we got. As most of you know, I often grumble about the Cornish landscape. It is up and down, up and down and basically one draggy hill after another. And as for the ocean winds…. Well what can I say… 20mph is a non-windy day! So with all this in mind, all I really hoped for was less hills and less wind. I wasn’t disappointed.

On Sunday I got my first taste of riding on the French roads. WOW! They were awesome. Even the smallest of roads were beautifully smooth. Weeee! This was ace! There were actually some strong winds on that first ride… but it didn’t phase me as the sun was out (+30'c) and the winds weren’t icy ocean winds so they had very little affect on my lungs. The roads were undulating but there was very little “real” climbing - most of the climbs followed a smooth descent so by the time you had to start pedalling you were practically up the top of the next hill. I was truly in my element! At the top of one of the bigger climbs a couple were chatting in their garden, on seeing my Mum they called out “Allez”. Wow! Even the locals were friendly. I already loved riding in France.
RIDE TOTAL: 20.1miles. (8.4 with Mum) 1hour 45 Max 33.8mph.

(BTW every ride involved three separate stages. The 1st saw all three of us riding; my Mum, Michael and myself. For the 2nd stage we dropped my Mum off at the gite and continued without her. For the final stage, Michael carried on alone.)

On Monday there was less wind making our meander through the scenic countryside much more amazing. I seriously just couldn’t get over the condition of the roads. They were perfect! It took quite some time getting used to riding on the right-hand-side though, particularly when oncoming traffic passed - it just felt wrong! Thankfully, French roads appear to be much quieter than their British counterparts. It was astounding; despite riding on main roads, there was very little traffic around. Talking of traffic though, I was flabbergasted to find that when any cars did pass they would pretty much give us enough room for a car to fit through. … Wow! In France cyclists aren’t 2nd class citizens who are pushed into hedgerows and given no space at all. I felt so safe that I was even brave enough to venture onto a major bypass – which is something I will usually avoid, but even when cars whizzed by at 110kph, they gave us plenty of space. I was astounded.
RIDE TOTAL: 22.1miles (6.6 with Mum) 1hr 45 Max 34mph.

By Tuesday morning the wind had pretty much vanished as we took a leisurely pootle into the patisserie in St Aubin to buy our Pain au chocolate and croissants. Ahhhh, this was the life. After breakfast followed by a leisurely walk around a lake, Michael and I took another fantastic pootle on our bikes.
RIDE TOTAL: 21.3miles (6.3 with Mum) 1hr 45. Max 34.5mph.

Wednesday saw another scorcher of a day and another great ride. We rode through lots of open country side and through some woods. We even took a few detours onto unmade roads but even these dirt tracks seemed easier than British ones as there were no potholes - even Michael didn’t seem phased or worried about his Cervelo. On one of these smaller tracks we came across a local farmer. I was slightly anxious as he headed towards us and his mouth opened - it was obvious that he was about to shout at us...  oh crikey had we somehow ended up on private lane – “Chapeau!” His face turned into a board smile. I laughed, relieved and also very amused. These French folk do seem to love bicycles and cyclists!
RIDE TOTAL: 20.2miles (8.8 with Mum) 1hr 45. Max 28.6mph.

On Thursday we planned a longer ride that Mum could join us on - a 20 kilometre cycle path from Chateaubriant to Rouge. The route was nearly 10miles from the gite so we loaded the car and set off. After a failed attempt at finding somewhere to park at the start we joined the bike path half a mile from the beginning.

The path was a recent transformation from old train/tram lines so as you can imagine it was pan-flat. Those that know me though, know I don’t particularly enjoy flat rides, I used to think it was because I liked free-wheeling so much but now my legs are stronger and don’t mind spinning too much, I have realised it’s because I don’t find them challenging enough. My grumpy and stubborn personality likes to “whinge and whine” about the hard stuff, so without any hills to frustrate me, I get bored. ;-) It was a very scenic route though and there was lots of wildlife to keep me entertained. In fact we met a couple of friendly free-roaming goats on the path as well as a variety of free-range poultry. When we got to Rouge we found a bit of additional bridleway to continue down before returning back.

After a lovely, but very easy 19.2mile jaunt, (Blinkin’ eck, in Britain, when have I ever found doing 20miles easy? - Particularly, after four consecutive 20milers?) I decided I’d like to ride back to the gite. I checked that my Mum was happy driving back (Michael had done all the driving in France and like me, Mum has never driven abroad). She was happy so we loaded her up before setting off home.

Before we got to France I had set myself a little target of doing a 30miler, so after 20 easy miles this was a great opportunity. Unfortunately, as we got nearer I worked out that by the time we got back we’d only have 29miles on the clock. I needed an extra mile! We were practically back and I was tired now but knew I’d have been frustrated if I didn’t make my target after getting so close. So we took a slight detour. Eek! Bad move! By the time we hit 30miles we were on a road I didn’t recognise and it felt like we still had a few miles left. Mikey kept saying we would be home in less than a mile. He’s usually right about these things so I trusted him. Hmm… 31miles rolled past – again he said just another mile. 32… “Just one more!” … Every corner we turned and every time I was told “not far now”, I was yet to be disappointed. I was now broke. By 33miles I was fed up. Temper kept my legs spinning. Finally! At 34½ miles I recognised the road we’d just joined and I knew that we were only half a mile from our gite. Thankfully, the fact that I had done exactly 35 miles (One of my highest mileages to date) eliminated any frustrations and I arrived home a tired but happy bunny and thankful to Mikey, had pushed me just that bit out of my comfort zone.
RIDE TOTALS: 35miles (19.2 with Mum) 3hrs (approx) Max 35mph.

Due to Thursday’s longer ride, we decided to do a nice easy ride, just to keep my legs spinning. Mum wanted to do 10miles and I would have been happy doing 20 – just to keep up my momentum of doing over 20 everyday. So we went on a nice pootle with my Mum before going off to do a little more. Michael was desperate for me to ride on the “silkiest bit of road he had ever ridden” so we went to do that. He was right, it was very smooth and lovely, but after a week riding on such great roads, I didn’t think it was much smoother than every other road we had ridden. ;-) As we headed home, I again looked at my computer; my weekly ODO was at 140miles. In another moment of madness I suggested that we make it to 150. Another detour - more getting lost. I got home tired but ecstatically happy with 150.3miles on my weekly ODO. (Yay! That’s only 50miles less than my month’s target.)
RIDE TOTAL 31.5 (10 with Mum) 2hrs 35. 31mph Max.

So that was my bicycle diary. I truly loved every minute. On every ride I just couldn’t believe how truly magnificent the landscape was. Maybe I was looking through everything with holiday-shaped-rose-tinted spectacles, but it was just all so spectacular.

The wildlife we saw was superb; Lizards, Herons, Buzzards, a red squirrel. The fields were full of livestock; mainly cows, but also lots of sheep, goats, horses and donkeys. Oh, that reminds me of a very funny moment. Michael and me were heading back from a ride down a fast swoopy descent that led into quite a steep and long climb. On the descent I saw some cows in a field to the right. As usual I started chatting to them. (I just can’t pass an animal without saying Hello.) One of the cows turned to look at us. I jokingly told it to stop staring. We were now at the bottom of the valley and starting to climb. Oops… the cow was still staring and now so was half of its friends. Eeek! Had I offended them? I knew my French was rubbish but could I really have gone so wrong with “Bonjour”? The climb was getting slower as all momentum from the descent had been spent. Oh, no! Now all the cows were looking at us and had started moving in our direction. They started to trot. Nooo. They were getting faster as I was getting slower. It was all getting a bit freaky. Would there be a stampede? Phewph, as the cows reached the tiny hedge separating us and them, they turned direction and galloped alongside us up the hill. ROFL! They were following us. Even the French cows liked cyclists!

The scenery was inspirational but I have to say how amazing it was to be in a place that likes and respects cycling so much. It truly is the national sport. Francais de jeux!

So much so, that even the bicycle shops are extraordinary. One day we made a trip to “InterSport”- a huge hypermarch√© - to look at the Bike department. WOW! I was shocked. As it was within a chain-store type of place I kind of imagined it to be like Halfords - with little space and thought for the bikes – like an afterthought. Oh how wrong was I? The bike department was bigger than the football area, bigger than the trainer department. It was HUGE, well organised and very well stocked. In fact it was better than most bike shops I have ever been in. (I very nearly bought myself a SaxoBank bidon as a momento of our trip to France but I decided against it, because it’s not particularly the team I like, just the top man there and his domestiques!)

Monday, 23 May 2011

Tarte Magnifique

Our recent trip to France was full of trips to the patisserie. Here are some of the tasty delights....

Tarte fraises

Oeuf et vanille tarte

Du pain

Tarte de fruits

Tarte du pomme

Tarte du poire

Petit déjeuner
Mmmm... Twas just a good job I got lots of riding in or I would have been the size of a house.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

En vacances en France

Last Saturday after an overnight ferry crossing from Plymouth we arrived in Roscoff for our long anticipated French holiday.

The sun was out over Bretangne as we made our long drive to the Loire. Not that I noticed as I was asleep in the back after a sleepless night on the ferry, leaving my Mum navigating as Mikey drove. Sadly, Mum's navigation skills went slightly awry and what should have taken 4ish hours took us on a more scenic 7.

Shortly after lunch we arrived at our gite. It had looked pretty on the website, but the pics really didn't show just how pretty it was. The cottage itself was rustic whilst being extremely comfortable and traditional. With the addition of having a full size table tennis table and some boules in the garden, the gite couldn't have got much more French or perfect. (There was also a large swimming pool - but sadly it was in need of repair so out of use.)

Le maison

The surroundings were spectacular - situated in a rural hamlet of maybe 5 farm houses and surrounded by farmland! Despite living in a pretty rural area ourselves, I wasn't quite prepared for the wonderful French wildlife. Our garden was teaming with Lizards, brightly coloured bugs and enormous hornets. A couple of snakes were spotted, as well as a red squirrel and a giant Hare. 

One of the Visitors on the windowsill
The sky was alive too. In the evening the air was full of bats and by day it had all the usual fantastic suspects as well as swallows and buzzards. Cuckoos could be heard everywhere and we saw many herons and stalks in the fields keeping the local cows company.  Talking of which, the surrounding fields were full of all sorts of breeds of cows and other livestock - some sheep, goats, donkeys, ducks and geese. It was magnifique! As an animal and wildlife lover I was in my element.

The nearest shops were in the quaint village of Saint Aubin des Chateaux which was just over a 3 mile ride away, with an ace patisserie for our daily fresh bread and continental breakfast treats.

An early morning trip to get deux pain et croissants.
Just down the road in the other direction was the picturesque village of La Hunadaire which overlooked a beautiful undisturbed lake. Many a ride passed through this area and its undeniable tranquility lured us to sit and watch the world go by everytime, the dragonflies dancing and the kingfishers were mesmerising.

To add to the equation the weather was glorious - predominantly in its high 20's and low 30's. Oh it was all so perfect.... *sigh*... if only we hadn't have to come home so soon.

As for the cycling.... it was perfect, but that deserves its own post. ;-)

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Becoming a roadie. Pt II.

Last weekend saw a couple of exciting first times for me, making my transformation into roadie a little more closer.

To start with we finally fitted some proper road tyres (skinny 23's) on "The Padster". Eek! I've not ridden on road tyres since my sparkly pink racer in 1988. I was nervous! Unfortunately, the first ride with them was on a very wet May Day Bank Holiday. Argh! It was a tad scary. I've never been overly confident on tight corners but on the skinnys and in heavy rain I was petrified. Somehow and very cautiously, I made it round every corner safely and by the end of the ride (which despite being a bank holiday, was only a mere 12.5miles due to the now torrential rain and gale force winds) I was more confident and happy.... Blimey, if I could ride on skinny tyres in those conditions anything else would be a doddle. ;-) The next few rides were much easier. =D

I also made another debut by riding without my shorts. Oo-er-missus! Baggy shorts that is. ;-) After reading all your comments on the last post I decided I should finally ditch my "baggies" and bravely go without and subject the world to my lycra'd behind. ;-) Amazingly, it didn't take long to get over my self-consciousness and I soon forgot. The only real downside was the lack of pockets for my essentials, ie, inhaler and mobile. (My saddle pack is full of tools and a spare tube and some of my jerseys only have one pocket) Ah well, I am sure I will find a way around it.

On a non-roadie-related note, I also had another first, when I bravely bought my first expensive e-bay purchase! A spangley new pair of Oakleys! Some Radars. What could possibly go wrong? The seller had good feedback, there were loads of photo's of the sunglasses, they looked authentic. I won the auction for just under £100. Yippee. I've been desperate for some decent sunglasses for ages. They arrived 2 days later. I quickly unpacked the box. Dammit! They were counterfeit! Someone had gone to a lot of effort to make them look authentic and the seller was adament they weren't fake. Anyway, now I have to send them back before they will give me a refund, so I don't have the time or money to get a replacement pair before our holiday. Grr... That will be the first and last BIG purchase I make from e-bay!

Anyway, it's not long until our French holiday and I'm getting excited. I've got my fingers crossed for good weather.... but to be honest as long as the wind isn't as bad as here, I will be happy. I'm also hoping for flatter terrain... but surely anything is going to be flatter than the undulating roads of the Cornish Coast.