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 hypermarché - 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!)


SS:Mtn Biker said...

I SOOOO envy your trip! AWESOME read about the time you had :)

Mullerton said...

ahhh le belle france!

Pedalling Polarcherry said...

Great write up. I wanna go there now!