Calais to the Mediterranean (2015)

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Day 1 on route between Calais and Wimeraux

Another brilliant trip – presenting a personal challenge like no other – Puy Mary, a Tour de France 2016 climb, described by Australian SBS cycling host Henk Vogels as a “filthy climb”.  Sagan and Niboli both wiltered on the last 3 km climb, which averages 12.9%, and has a 21% pinch.  I felt their pain – and I was pleased that they hurt too as it was the hardest challenge I have faced on a bike!

I did a video presentation of my photos from this trip – You tube video link:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2BKx4cRZx8E  It is set to music, and I must admit I enjoy watching it as it brings back so many memories.

I also wrote a blog published on the Crazy Guy on a Bike site.  I have transferred the blog across onto this site – you can read a day by day blog below.

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Bill (Scotland), Tom (Scotland), Tony (Australia), Sharron (Australia), Helen (USA), Graeme (England), Paul (England), Sue (England) @ Peyriac de Mer on the final day.

Ground Hog Day: Here we go again

Friday May 29, 2015

Dear Velo Father,

It is 21 months since our last epic bike adventure, Lands End to John O Groat (LeJog) and I think we may have sinned but we are going to make amends and do something of cycling significance for two middle age velo farts by doing another end to end trip, and adding in an ever harder climb than Damn Dent – Puy St Mary.

We have trained long and hard – but have been challenged with some injuries that hopefully will not impede too much (except perhaps that Puy!!).

I am carrying a torn posterior horn on my lateral meniscus – fortunately does not overly bother me cycling, but I do need to be careful, particularly climbing. Since having met Jens Voight at the Tour Down Under, I subscribe to Jen’s famous words: “Shut Up Legs”!

We have toiled over the hills in our regional Tasmanian locale, and I regularly do over 300 km per week trying to maintain a degree of fitness with the rapidly approaching crispy Tasmanian winter. Tony rides on weekends and does the CAT torture training twice per week, with sparring partner Dan and the rest of the CAT crew.

Pre tour training we have cursed the headwinds, bitched about the rain hoping that it all comes together for our great Bike Adventure.

In desperation I have tolerated the windtrainer ever morning for the last couple of months, and describe it as terribly boring. Tony’s windtrainer is gathering dust in the garage still, as he does not do boredom.

Tonight we left lovely Tasmania…eventually. After standing around for ages at the airport in a queue an announcement was made. One of those dreaded ones when you have a connection to catch. The flight was delayed for a yet undetermined period of time and all international bound passengers would be transported via a taxi to Launceston Airport, some 115 km away.

But the best bit? ” We cannot guarantee your bikes will make it.” ” Yes madam, we realise that you are probably travelling with your bikes for a reason.”   Astute fellow!

So we waited for the promised taxi and I went into organisational overdrive, securing the only possible bike spots in the maxi cab before anyone realised what was going on. I then organised the physically challenged lady over the guttering, up the steps and into to her seat to speed up the process. Think it is called LEAN management. The lady thought I was very kind and thanked me profusely. If only she knew!!

Taxi driver to her passengers asks  “would you like to wait for the other taxis and we drive together”. Hell no way! Suggested to her that this had become an episode of The Great Race and that she needed together cracking and beat the others!

She did well and earned $280 plus for her efforts.

We are now chilling out in Qantas Club Melbourne overjoyed to be here knowing our bike is on board. Well theoretically it should be. Hopefully. Even more importantly we are desperate that it arrive intact with no carbon cracks.

Not keen on long haul flights as we both sleep badly in the upright position. We are scheduled to arrive at around midnight Sat night Aussie time.

What do we have to look forward to? 2 days riding in Kent, England followed by 14 days cycling in France. A French end to end all the way from the English Channel to the Meditteranean Sea, then heading inland to the medieval city of Carcassonne.

Stunning scenery, plains, hills, picture postcard villages and a Tour climb, so the brochure says. Whilst plagiarism has just commenced, let’s continue that theme.

The holiday starts with the ferry crossing from Dover to Calais, riding through the pretty farming countryside of northern France into Normandy with its lush green countryside and distinct framed houses.

After crossing the River Seine we cross the vast plains around Chartres and continue south through the magnificent Loire Valley. The scenery becomes increasingly dramatic as we head into the mountains of the Massif Central including the Category 2 col of Puy St Mary.

We then continue through some spectacular scenery with the landscape becoming drier and rockier, passing over the Black Mountains. We then drop down to the plains of southern France arriving at the Mediterranean Sea.

The cycling trip finishes inland at the stunning medieval city of Carcassonne.

However our first port of call is London where we will be collected ( hopefully) by our friend Ian Cristol. We met Ian on our LeJoG ride and have stayed in touch since. I really enjoy his humorous sarcasm and witty retorts. No one is safe in Ian’s presence. He seems to love his dog Rupert even more than his wife Fiona, as we hear a lot about old Rupert and little about Fiona! Rupert has even taken to sending our two dogs, Simba and Jack emails, complete with photos!

We will have 4 days with Ian in Northwood (London) and then will then head to Canterbury for a couple of days. I wants to check out the Cathedral and burial site of The Black Prince (knowing precisely where he fits into the royal lineage!). Who you say?  He was the eldest son of Edward III who died ‘before his time’ sending the inadequate Richard II to the throne! (I am sure you are glad you asked!!)

I have plotted a Tour of Kent prologue – around 125 km I think – so I will check back in post the prologue.

This trip will entail a bit over 1600 km of riding (including England) and a lot of climbing.

Our first holiday snap is our luggage!! This is the first airing of the new bike bags. The review will be done at the end of the trip.

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Devonport airport with the new bike bags

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Two Aussies get sunburned in England!: Murphy’s Law!!

Saturday May 30, 2015

Murphy’s Law dictates that if anything can go wrong it will!

 

We woke up starving today in our pygmy bedroom ( with bikes resting in the bathtub due to severe space limitations). It is near impossible to find breakfast food here before 8 am! In the end we went to a nice upmarket hotel ( don’t reckon bikes have to sit in the bath at this hotel!) and ordered a very nice breakfast. Then I lost Tony for 45 minutes whilst he went to the loo. I sat and waited patiently for 25 minutes but started to worry then. Given I was an point duty outside the loo I knew no other blokes had entered. So I did!! Tony was not to be found.

I walked back to the hotel. No Tony. I started to worry a bit but eventually found him sitting in an obscure spot in the hotel lobby!!

Anyway the point of telling you that was it meant we headed off later than planned.

We left Canterbury on the A road to Whitstable. 2 km up the hill we turned left and headed into the woods. Good gravel track. Rejoining the road towards Faversham Tony scored a flat tyre. Enforced stop and we were on our way following the sea wall around Faversham into Whitstable.

Only 10km after Tony’s flat, I also got a flat tyre. The first tube turned out to have a faulty valve so we were onto the third and final tube and the Co2 ran out! So the nice guy doing crazy paving over the road told Tony where the bike shop was in Whitstable ( Herbert’s Cycles were very accommodating)

I learned all about crazy paving in the meantime. He even offered me a cup of tea and told me about the guy over the road who has just bought a nice little F1 McLaren worth a serious amount of money. The car did have quite a sexy sounding roar to it as he tested the throttle.

Eventually Tony returned and we continued riding around the edge of the English Channel through Herne Bay, Reculver (nice castle ruins right on the coastal point), Westgate on Sea, Margate and on into Broadstairs.

An amazing number of people were enjoying the “beaches”. The earlier beaches were pebbles but gradually improved the further south we travelled. There are little shops set up on the beaches where you can hire gear or buy buckets etc. If that was not enough, they even have fairground attractions.

Loved riding around the lower sea walls and chalk cliffs. Boat sheds dotted the area and some were amazingly fitted out.

We stopped in Broadstairs for a greatly appreciated gelato. Pretty little town made more famous courtesy of Charles Dickens.

Onwards through busy Ramsgate.

Things went a bit pear shaped around Sandwich. We lost the cycle routing and the Garmin map function had died as we only had a demo UK map and the Garmin kept trying to find itself again and again chewing up battery power.

We eventually made it into Deal. Stopped at a farm shop on the A258 out of Deal buying nice full cream milk and a Dundee cake. Went down very nicely!

It had been recommended we head to the coast to ride to Dover but chose to live life dangerously and rode the A258. Not pleasant. Damn right scary in fact. Would not recommend it to anyone.

Eventually got into Dover circumnavigating the Castle and Port.

Interesting day. The bike paths were excellent and up until Sandwich well signposted. All up around 115 km. We opted to cheat and catch the train back to Canterbury as we had no maps available once the Garmin died.

The big shock are the red sunburn marks on our arms and legs. We slip, slop, slapped but the English sun got to our Tasmanian winter arms and legs.

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Reculver

 

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Some Garmin issues today

 

 

God of Thunder: Our BMC’s proved to be all terrain bikes.

Sunday May 31, 2015

We departed Canterbury this morning following the River Stour, past the Grey Friars site now run by the Franciscans. A lovely river track comprised of crushed gravel. It had been raining and thundering just prior to leaving so the track had many puddles making our once clean bikes filthy dirty.

 

We hopped off the bike trail track at Chartham and negotiated our way to Waltham. What needs to be pointed out at this stage is that we winged it. No map as our Garmin UK map did not have enough detail and chewed Garmin power so left it turned off. I had written some notes down on small bits of the hotel pad in pencil, and there was a lack of detail.

We were off route for some time having missed Mystole Lane and Penny Pot Lane. Instead we ended up going through little villages including Petham, Anvil Green and Waltham. Another storm hit and we took shelter in the adjacent woods with the tree canopy providing effective shelter.

At Waltham we turned up Church Lane and wow! Steep pinch of a climb on a track, of sorts, more suited to a mountain bike. It was wet and slippery and I was unable to climb out of the saddle as the back wheel kept spinning. The gradient hit 15% for sections of the climb.

From Stelling Minnis we went through SixMile and Rhode Minnis to Lyminge, Newbarn and Etchinghill. We were somewhat concerned at Newington as the M20 ( seriously busy motorway servicing port towns of Dover and the Channel Tunel) offered no bridge over it. So we chose to head west, knowing we needed to head south and then east.

Eventually an opportunity arose to cross the motorway and head to Sandling and Saltwood.

We got lost in Saltwood but asked for help and were pointed in the right direction for Hythe.

With great relief we glimpsed the coast and hopped back onto the bike track which went through Sandgate and onto Folkestone.

Then the thunder and rain hit so we took shelter along with 50 or so 6 year old kids on the edge of Folkestone.

Folkestone is a pain in the butt. We lost the bike path and ended up climbing a decent hill on an A route. The operator of a food van on the side of the road provided some salvation with the suggestion of a safer, alternative route through Alkham, heading into the rear of Dover.

Once ensconced into our Dover accommodation, we caught up with Helen and Joyce who both did LeJog with us, for a drink and tea.  Helen knew we “were home” as I had stuck our laundry out the window to dry – tell tale sign!!  Phil and John also arrived (our esteemed tour leaders, also from LeJog) so it was a great reunion… all on a very special day. My 53rd birthday. So happy birthday to me.

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Folkestone
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Dover Castle
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Kent farmland

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La Manche to Wimeraux (43.5 km, 750 m ): Proceed straight to Europe

Monday June 6, 2015

I am often asked if I know someone who lives in Tasmania. There are only half a million people that live there! Being in Dover it was with great delight that I did know the people in question. Anne Steele and her parents Bill and Shea Henderson. Anne was the first Tasmanian to swim the English Channel back in 2007 and I know her through my involvement in swimming, as well as her parents Bill and Shea. The world is really not that large after all. Turns out that Anne and her family stayed at Hubert House in Dover, hosted by Peter from Durban. Peter remembers them fondly.

Busy day today as 18 cyclists converged into the County Hotel to prepare to cross the Channel in a much easier fashion that Anne, on the ferry!

The port is like nothing I have ever experienced. French border control did not want to even see our passports and waved us on. English authorities also did not seem to care. So onwards we rode to Lane 184. There are around 250 lanes for vehicular movements onto ferries.

So the little cycling minnows mixed it with the massive trucks who were very considerate, or perhaps they simply questioned our sanity.

A very smooth crossing of La Manche (the Sleeve) saw us arrive in France. We had our first briefing on board and I took the opportunity to map out who sat where and to memorise their names! So in order from left to right: Bevis, Bill, Tom, Brian, David, Peter, Sue, Andy, Paul, Wendy, Liz, Derek, Graeme, Paul, Tony, myself and Helen. Jean-Marc was collected from the Eurostar station and we met him later in the day.

We did not zero the Garmin’s until a number of kilometers off the ferry. There was a common starting point to ensure our route descriptors were accurate regardless of which area of the port we arrived at. However, Tony’s Garmin spat out a message as we rode off the ship  “proceed straight to Europe”.  Sure thing!

First impressions of Calais were wonderfully long beaches. The town looks pretty crappy and scruffy, with a number of asylum seekers hanging around seeking to illegally stow themselves onto trucks bound for England. Gendarmes were frequent. Apparently the English welfare system is far more generous that the French welfare system.

The most striking point though was the damn French drive on the ”wrong'” side of the road. Multiple roundabouts (just a painted circle) felt incredibly wrong and challenging. You put your arms out to indicate you are turning left but you actually turn right in the first instance. Goes against all of my innate senses.

Moving out of Calais we initially rode as a group, but a couple of obvious Alpha males headed off trying to outdo each other. Tony, Helen and myself stuck together. We headed to Sangatte ( 10.1 km) passing through Parc Naturel Regional Nord-Pas-de-Calais. A solid but steady climb made harder by the gusty headwind which slowed us down. There were outstanding views across Cap Blanc-nez.

The alpha males were at the top with questions asked about who was KOM. I wonder how long Tony will permit that talk as they were within sight on the climbs. I battled climbing into the wind. I am pretty confident Tony could pass them if he wanted. But he will ride with his harem and take photos, which is great. I am thinking Day 11 may be the day he strikes out.

Meanwhile we took photos and enjoyed the surroundings. The descent was enjoyable despite the strong headwinds forcing you to pedal.

Escalles and Sombre were passed through before Hervelinghen (20.6 km). There the road climbed over the hill over a very poor surface.

The views in this area were of lush, green farmland growing wheat ( or rye) and distant sea views. The land is somewhat undulating with rolling hills.

We the rode through Audembert, now having even joined by young Tom ( 20 year old Scottish uni student from Biggar, near Edinburgh). I have decided to adopt him as he is such a likable young lad, who is doing this trip with his grandfather, Bill ( whom he has already ‘dumped’), but in the secure knowledge that Phil, the sweeper, will look after him.

6 km out of Audembert the road climbed for 3.1 km, with the last 600 metres a much steeper pinch. Tony and I were first up (in the non Alphas) and Tony waited for the tandems to arrive to take their photos.

Badzinghen and the wonderfully named La Slack were the final villages before arriving in Wimeraux on the Cote d’Opale.

That damn wind ensured the going was slower than normal, along with navigational discussions.

An enjoyable, yet challenging at times, short ride. Tomorrow we crack our first century and hoping the the head winds abate overnight.

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Wimeraux

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Cape Blanc-Nez
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Ready to leave the ferry at Calais

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Wimeraux to Abbeville ( 102 km, 1115 m): Peaceful battlegrounds

Tuesday June 7, 2015

We were first to breakfast today, very keen for a feed. The French breakfast offered ham and a wide range of French cheeses (soft and hard), toasted ham and cheese sandwiches, junkie cereals, fruit and yogurts. I chose the only protein on offer and plenty of cheese and coffee.

Today the former alpha male group decided to socialise more (or were they buggered from their testosterone charged efforts from the previous day?) and 3 decided to ride with us, along with Peter. This group of 7 (Tony, myself, Helen, Graeme, Peter, Derek and Brian) worked really well today, although Tony did put his foot down on the tougher hill climb to be at the top first. I knew that would come but thought he might wait a tad longer.

The weather looked very promising with clear blue skies and more importantly, no wind! Hooray!!

Leaving Wimeraux we followed the river of the same name for a short while before a series of undulations passing through Wimilie, Rupembert and L’Ermitage, arriving at La Capelle (9.2 km).

With more bumps we then rode through Questrecaues (20.8 km) and Samer (23.5 km), complete with cobbles. Around Dalles we were warned the road climbs steeply, which it did for a couple of km, maxing out at 16.5%.

We all wondered how the two tandem bike couples would fare on this forest climb, having been told that one of the bikes suffered a chain lock up the previous day, resulting in instant dismount.

We past through Parenty (31.4 km), Beaussant (37.5 km), Inxent (39.4), Recques-sur-course (40.6), Estree (43.3)and Neuvikle ( 46.7) and were over the worst of the days climbing. The areas were predominantly agriculture ( wheat, barley, corn, potatoes and linseed).

Montreuil was recommended as a lunch stop and it was fortunate that I still had teeth intact after the extended cobblestone section which included a climb. Thanks goodness for the roubaix style bikes. I noted some of the guys riding slightly out of the saddle! I wonder why?

Great little pub here, with an old fellow playing guitar. A most unlikely rock and roll player on acoustic, missing his lower teeth, but he belted out some great tunes. We enjoyed a great lunch with Graeme collecting his first scavenger hunt item!

As we were finishing up Bill, Tom and Paul (former alpha male member) rolled in to eat their lunch. We had no idea where the other 8 riders were.

A slight navigational issue followed (and I forgot to turn my Garmin on for a short period of around 400m), but we were back on track with only a few easier climbs.

From Boisjean (55.4 km) the road climbed gently for a few km again passing through farming fields.

At 63.2 km we crossed a river, with a mill wheel. Obligatory photos ensued.

Another decent climb and ride to Vironchaux (71.8 km) passing a Madonna statue ( very small).

Riding through La foret de Crecy was a definite highlight. We were able to pick the pace up a bit here as we rode through very green woods (oak and beech trees), made famous for the Battle of Crecy (part of the Hundred Year War), fought back in then 1346 between Edward III (England) and Philip (France).

Edwards’ son, Edward (The Black Prince, tomb visited a few days before in Canterbury Cathedral) fought valiantly and King Edward guided his lesser number troops to a decisive battle victory. Edward had inherited the region through his mother Isabella (a French princess) so was very familiar with the territory having spent many hours hunting there as a child.

Today it is very peaceful with numerous picnickers taking advantage of a beautiful Sunday afternoon. The forest is stocked with roe deer, boar and pheasants but we saw none.

Other towns we rode though included Forest De L’Abbaye (86.9), La Motte (88.7) Drucat (95.1) finally arriving in Abbeville.

Later Tony and I went for a walk around Abbeville, learning a bit about its past as we came across the bombed out remains of an old Abbey, (courtesy of the Germans).

Abbeville had been known as a peaceful town for over 700 years, until May of 1940. The town was the last important crossroad to reach the Channel. As a consequence the city became a target of the German plan.

Before they arrived the Germans had bombed Abbeville on 20th May, 1940, using around 5000 explosive and incendiary bombs which caused great panic and destroyed a number of century old heritage buildings.

Leading charge to drive them out was Colonel de Gaulle, who soon became President of France.

A brilliant day of riding. Tomorrow is longer again, around 116 km.

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Abbeville to Gisors ( 116 km, 1239m): Best lemon gelato ever!!

Wednesday June 8, 2015

Abbeville is to host a finishing stage of the Tour de France soon, second time in 3 years. The owner of our hotel was certainly interested in our cycling and bikes, and was out the front to wave us Au Revoir.

Leaving Abbeville we crossed Le Somme, following its path for a number of kms, popping into the Mareuil camping area so that Helen could have her bike attended to by Phil. The campers then joined us for a period of time, dropping off after the first of the hills.

So the group today was Tony, myself, Helen, Graeme, Bevis, Jean-Marc, Derek, Brian and Tony.

The roads were gentle and undulating with the first village at 19.3 km Frucourt, followed by Vaux (21.9 km), Marquennville (22.7 km), Oisemont and Aumatre (29.8 km). The land was still predominantly agricultural fields of mainly barley.

Andainville (33.0 km), Liomer (38.5 km), La Fresnoy (43.1 km) and Aumale (49.7 km) was where we stopped for an early lunch, buying a baguette with cheese and ham and taking it to the local brasserie to eat it. Certainly alien to an Aussie is the concept of buying your food and eating it in another establishment. Great coffee there though with whipped cream on top.

For the first time since Calais we caught up with Bike Adventure leader Kim, so that was nice.

Leaving Aumale we climbed gently past a lake where Derek had chosen to eat his food. I think we may have woken him up.

Dogs featured heavily today, passing breeders of huskies in one village and black labradors in another. At the top of a particular hill that we waited at for all the riders in our group to arrive we certainly raised the ire of a St Bernard, reminding me of my old St Bernard Oscar.

Frettencourt (59.1 km) and then Grumnsnil at 71.6 km was where some navigational debate occurred. Riding fast we arrived in Doudeauville (77.1 km) and Gancourt (80.8 km) we decided to stop at a shop in Gournay en Bray (88.4 km) so that we did not arrive in Gisors too early.

There I had the best ever citro gelato ever in a tub for only Eu 2.50. So nice in the warm weather.

Bike Adventures sag rider Phil turned up with the tandem riders and Liz, minus his front tooth/ crown. He intends to reattach it with Super Glu. Hope that goes ok and there is not a slip up.

We motivated ourselves to ride a bit harder through the next few villages (Neufmarche 95.8 km and Talmontiers 100.3 km). Then we turned to cross a river and railway to climb out of the valley, with the hill gradually becoming steeper.

Regrouping at the top we then rode a section of the London-Paris cycle route for about 4 km. The final village before Gisors was Thierceville (108.3 km).

As we arrived at our hotel there were about 20 European electric bike riders out the front. Very popular bikes over here.

Tony and I went for a walk after showering and doing our washing checking out Gisors. The highlights would appear to be the old Castle constructed by one of William the Conquerers sons, and the last prison for Jacques de Molay, the last of the Templars.

There is also a magnificent Gothic church with many statues and gargoyles missing their heads. I am not sure if that is ageing or a result of war conflict.

Tea tonight was a debacle with 12 of us rocking into a Meditterean styled restaurant. We were at the furtherest end from the waiter, who turned out to be the cook and owner, and were told we could not eat beef as the others had already ordered it. I said I preferred salad to chips.

Anyway, unfortunately there was consternation at the other end of the table. They had got what they wanted, and certainly the feeling was we should just accept whatever arrived. The meals that came out for the others looked pretty good and were main meal sized. Then for some reason we were given two entree salads, hardly ok after our physical exertions. Lucky if there was 30 grams of whatever the meat was. Could not figure that out. Tony was starving so I went to speak to the chef and noticed all the chicken sitting there on a spit so arranged some for Tony.

So I am hungry as I have not eaten enough (and about to rectify that with a protein bar hoping that will help refuel) and Tony is stating that there are a couple of riders who might regret their smart arse comments as he won’t be towing them tomorrow. A couple of them do just sit back on him and let him do the work.

Guess Tony will get a bigger rest at the top of the hills now!

Tomorrow we cross le Seine, the river that runs through Paris.33a

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Gisors to Epernon ( 110 km, 750 m) and Epernon to Beaugency ( 113 km, 475m): The bread basket of France

Thursday June 9, 2015

I am combining two days due to shocking internet coverage last night.Despite having woken at 2 am starving yesterday morning (due to lack of food), the day improved starting with a protein and cheese filled breakfast to replenish my hardworking body.

Leaving Gisors we rode up near the famed Castle and wove our way around the valley past where the campers were staying. The many villages and kilometres were knocked off with relative ease, supported by a tail wind. We did not go out riding too fast, knowing that would create pressure for our leaders with luggage etc.

The first larger village was Berthenonville ( 17.5 km) , quickly followed by Aveny ( 19.8) and Fourges (25.1).

After that first cruisy 32 km through wheat fields, we went through Gommecourt. Climbing the toughest climb of the day to reach the top with great views afforded of River Seine and its escarpment. The descent was steep with very tight corners, and sections of loose gravel.

We arrived in Bennecourt (37.2 km), stopping for coffee at a little brasserie.

Shortly after Bennecourt ( 37.2 km) we crossed the Seine, with gentle undulations to La Tuilarie (45.4 km) and St Illerie (48.3 km).

Phil (with his front tooth superglued into place), had joined us after lunch and the pace picked up and Tony magically appeared out the front of the pack enjoying a bit of speed fun with Phil. I need to own up that I did allow myself to get caught up in the boys fun chasing them hard on the undulations.

Phil was going to wait at Breval and hop into the van, but we suspect we may have been racing a bit too much as that was forgotten and besides, none of us saw the van (in hind sight)!

Phil continued with us for some distance until the van caught up and he hopped in to race ahead to prepare the campsite.

The villages in this region have all been so quaint, although many look somewhat rundown, needing the services of a renderer and painter. There are so many war memorials, and you do wonder what role these villages played during the war.

For the third solid day, we rode through field after field of wheat, interspersed with corn, spinach, peas, rapeseed and potatoes.

As Brian said, we are in the “breadbasket of France”. So very true given the number of baguettes we see people holding and being sold in the boulangeries.

At 92.2 km we rode through Nogent Le Roi, a pretty village. We then rode over River L’Eure here.

A highlight for Tony was a young deer that he must have startled that darted alongside the road next to him for a short stint before darting off into the forest for safety.

The campers were well short of our accomodation so we called into their campground for afternoon tea and were quite surprised at the spread that gets put on for them. Stopping 13 km short is a mistake sometimes as your body starts to think “rest time”. It was really hard to get going again and we just putted along to Epernon to our hotel.

I ended up totally crapped off as my Garmin mucked up and failed to save my days ride. It got worse, it also deleted all my other rides from France and England. Insert unpublishable words at this point!

Great dinner meal at the hotel for 21 Euro! Very enjoyable. Nice and spacious accommodation too.(L’Epi Hotel).

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Epernon to Beaugency:

So today began, just like the others, with John arriving to give us his briefing at 8.30 pm. We were warned to be careful at a particular railway crossing as one of their previous clients slipped on the protruding rails last year requiring surgery.

If I thought yesterday was easy, then today was a walk in the park. 113 of the easiest kilometers I have ever ridden. I did not change out of my large chain ring all day. However, again we had to take it easy and not ride too fast as we could not check in until 4 pm, so we took the opportunity to chill out in two of the villages,

Larger villages today included St Cheron(13.0),Cherville(17.7), Beville-Le-Compte(20.9), Voise( 25.4)and Moinville (27.7). Just before Prasville we took a recommended detour into a little village to have a break and visit their boulangeries. Too many choices!!

Today’s ride was very similar to yesterday: wheat fields and more wheat fields. However, poppies made an appearance today as did two flying pheasant.

One difference was that our ever present comedienne, Graeme, decided that he would do some detours and have some “me time”.  It was very quiet without him as he has this knack of being able to continue talking no matter what the terrain. Yes I realise that some might say that surely I have that ability too, but no I don’t when cycling.  Firstly, I need that extra lung air as I climb hills. Secondly, due my deafness in one ear it is hard when you ride competing with the wind noise, so I generally cannot be too bothered.

However, he must have been stalking us as he turned up for lunch, and later for afternoon tea. He does like his tucker, smuggling numerous snacks out of the breakfast area to continually graze on. We joke that he has the greatest nutritional input, and greatest verbal output.

Lutz (45.7 km), Viabon (47.8 km), Ohe (51.0 km), Fontenay S/Conie (54.1 km) and Orgeres en Beauce (57.1 km), Villeve (59.5 km), Gaubert (63.6 km), Pruneville (66.3 km), Peronville (69.8 km), Liconcy (74.0 km), Villamblain (76.8 km), Prenouvellon (82.2 km), Ouzouer ( 89.5 km), Villerman (95.3 km), Cravant ( 101.7 km), Villorceau (105.7 km).

So many villages! These are just the larger ones. There are often smaller ones in between. You do need to slow down heaps through these little villages that seem to very ghost like. They are deathly quiet, and you wonder where all the non school age children are. Dogs barking at us are the only noise distractions along with the occasional car.

We headed to the campers ground to find Kim getting afternoon tea ready. We did partake eagerly until in started raining and we did a mad rush back into town to ensure we did not get too wet.

Beaugency was our final destination and is a really interesting medieval town with an amazing history, positioned as the eastern gateway to the Loire Valley, located on the banks of the River Loire, which has an 11th century bridge.

An obvious target for enemy attack, it was captured 4 times by the English during the Hundred Year War before being retaken by Joan of Arc in 1429.

The town centre is dominated by a ruined 11th century watchtower, along with a 16th century bell tower and a statue of Joan of Arc. Period houses line the square.

Further down is the Chateau Dunois built on the site of the feudal castle by one of Joan of Arc’s compagnon d’armes.

Of particular interest to me was the Notre Dame Romanesque abbey church that witnessed the annulment of the marriage between my ancestor Eleanor of Aquitaine and Louis VII in 1152, leaving Eleanor free to marry the future Henry II of England.

A group of us (including Brian, Peter, Tom, Derek, Bill and Helen), went out for tea together and I ordered the largest steak on the menu at 250g, charalois, rare. French rare is extraordinarily rare, but it was a damn fine piece of meat.

Interesting night sounds. There is an owl close by too-whit-too-hooing. The two town clocks chime each quarter half hour (and not in synch – midnight should be good with 24 chimes).

All from France for tonight. Another 103.5 km on the menu tomorrow including a detour down the Loire Valley to Chambord, one of the famed chateaus.

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The climb out of Gommecourt
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La Seine

Beaugency famous 11th century bridge

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Beaugency to Vierzon (104 km, 428m): Hot and hotter

Friday June 10, 2015

The forecast stated 32 degrees today so we slip, slop and slapped, and generously smeared the lip balm onto our already swollen lower lips. Leaving the very picturesque Beaugency, we crossed the 11th century bridge over Le Loire, turning right to follow the river a short way before taking the road to Chambord.

At the 18 km mark you enter the Chambord Park, and I kept looking for the Chateau not realising that in fact it is set in 5440 hectares of forest and parkland.

Derek and Tom had shot off (strava section?) and Derek later recalled a large antlered deer that he spooked.

We sat on the side of the road for a considerable time (20 min.)as we had lost Helen and Tony. No one had seen them stop. I assumed that they had stopped to take a photo but they did not turn up. The guys were getting restless so we moved on trying to figure out where to wait. The cafe was the result.

When they finally turned up it was revealed they had gone off course to ride down towards the front of the chateau to check it out better. Photos look like an interesting aspect and would have been good to do as well.

After leaving Chambord, the day really started to get hot and we enjoyed the coolness of the forest.

The villages today were more widely spaced, and we finally ran out of wheat crops! The land is certainly drier with no visible agricultural crops.

Villages travelled through after Chambord included Thoury (30.4 km), Dhuizon (36.9 km), La Morelle en Sologne (47.6 km) and NeungnS/Beuvron. At the latter we saw Kim and Phil standing on the side of the road, so we stopped for a chat. Tom and Bill wandered off hoping to find food, and the rest of us continued on to Selles St Denis (73.1 km).

A little village with one boulangerie. However, no filled baguettes so we wandered down to the brasserie. The guy there seemed somewhat perplexed when we rolled in, soon followed by Tom and Bill who had not found food in the previous village.

The guy spoke no French but with Jean-Marc interpreting I think we pretty well cleaned him out of quiche and steak, and put a pretty good dent into his baguettes.

The pace after lunch picked up, passing through La Fert Im Bault. Shortly thereafter Tom needed a comfort stop so I waited with Bill and had managed to recall Tony, in my attempt to get the pack to wait. Annoyingly they did not wait which peeved me given I was always getting the pack to stop for others. There was no rush as we were ahead of schedule and it seemed sensible to me that we take it easy in the heat.

Anyway they thought differently. Bill told me that Tom was suffering in the heat and he was concerned. I assured him I would stay with them.

We then went through Theillay (86.7 km) and Orcay (93.5 km). The front group had stopped but took off again before Bill was ready. He needed a bigger break.

Bill does a great job at aged 75. A few years ago he had a heart attack and carries medication on him which he showed me how to use.

Tom picked up considerably having additional company and he and Tony shared the lead all the way to Vierzon, where we managed to get slightly lost.

Can’t say I think much if the town. However after some difficulty we did find a chocolatier who also had the word “glacier” on their window. We had tea in the hotel restaurant and I am now well and truly ready for bed.

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Chambord

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Vierzon to La Chatre (90.1 km, 820m): Just cruising along

Saturday June 11, 2015

Today’s planned ride was shorter giving us the opportunity to be really cruisy. The weather forecast was potential rain and thunderstorms so we were very pleased to leave in 18 degrees and no rain. Raincoats packed though!

Leaving Vierzon we crossed le Cher passing a weir. We planned a stop at Issoudin (39.6 km) and despite strong headwinds we got there for a very early lunch buying a baguette at a boulangerie and then heading to a brasserie to buy a coffee.

It is somewhat strange to me that you can buy food in one place and eat it at another. That would not be acceptable in Australia.

On route to Issoudin we passed a number of grape crops with Quincy signage. The plants were much smaller than home. Not sure if that is a maturation or variety reason.

Today we witnessed a very close hit and miss with one of our cyclists and a car. There is some conjecture as to who is at fault, but Jean-Marc and a car missed each other by a matter of inches at a roundabout. I think I might need clean knicks. It does not overly surprise me that it is Jean-Marc as he is right out there with the traffic and we are often shouting at him.

He seems to think that because of his experience in Paris traffic he will be fine, but none of us share his theory.

We travelled onto Pruniers (61.0 km) having just passed through a lovely forest en route from St Aubin (52.9 km) which undulated.

At Pruniers we found a brasserie and ordered our coffees. I was very intrigued with their antiques including an old bike for about 250 Euro. We spent a very pleasant hour or so there before turning the pedals over again.

Travelling on quiet roads we went through La Pouliniere(70.7 km), Verrneuil( 78.1 km), Nohant (83.5 km) and Montgivray (87.2) which was where the campground was located. Seems like a nice village with a river and very fancy chateau.

We turned off to follow the river Le Indre around to La Chatre which is where we are tonight.

Nice hotel (Hotel Lion D’Argent) with a very busy restaurant.

Looking at the map makes you realise just how far we have now travelled through France, having arrived in the central region. 7 days riding so far in France. Tomorrow we head to Aubusson where a “rest” day awaits us.11

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Antique shop at Pruniers

 

11b

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La Chatre to Aubusson (90.8 km, 1375 m): Hills are my friends

Sunday June 12, 2015

Hills are my friends, according to my daughter Hannah. I often think of her and that statement when I am climbing. Today we climbed the most so far on this journey to the Mediterranean. I guess the gentle wheat fields had to come to an end.

We started off at just below 200m above sea level, went up, went down, and this pattern kept on all day hitting just over the 600m above sea level mark before dropping into Aubusson. We are now in the northern foothills of the Central Massif which is unavoidable in our quest to reach the ocean.

Leaving La Chatre we headed towards Briantes (4.2 km) then Ste Severe S/Indre (13.7 km), Vijon (22.4 km) and Nouzerines (28.2 km). We crossed the river climbing through Les Forges and into Clugnat (37.3) which is where we stopped for a while at a bar, ordering coffee.

Poor Tony suffered another interpretation failure today. He thought he was getting a hot chocolate but instead got an espresso. He is not a coffee drinker but suffered it anyway.

From there we climbed more arriving at Blaudeix (47.2 km), Jarnages (53.4 km), Cressat ( 58.1 km) and our lunch stop Chenerailles (64.5 km).

A delightful little village with a wonderful bar and charcuterie run by a little old French woman who spoke no English. There were 7 of us and she was keen to feed us and went to the boulangerie to pick up the ubiquitous baguettes, filling them with jambon(ham) for us.

We sat under a large umberella surrounded by her colourful flowers, people watching the local French.

We could have sat there all afternoon but the day was heating up somewhat and we were mindful of the forecast for a thunderstorm at 3 pm. Grudgingly we hit the road.

We kept climbing up and down passing through Marzet(68.4 km), Le Treix(70.7 km) and then St Maixant( 83.2 km). At the latter there was the most gorgeous chateau now operated as a hotel. Obligatory photos.

St Amand was the final village before we descended into Aubusson which is a curious town with lots of funny little laneways and cobblestones,famous for its tapestries.

Most pleasing was a glacier right over the road from our hotel!

Tomorrow( Sunday) is our one and only scheduled rest day. Not sure if we will go riding at this stage. Will see what the day brings.

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Sharron and Graeme
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St Maixant
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St Maixant

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Aubusson to Neuvic (95.4 km, 1415m): Danger of death

Monday June 13, 2015

An interesting and more challenging ride today saw us head out of Aubusson and almost immediately commence a 13-14 km climb heading towards Fellatin. It was a gradual climb and I spun my legs in a lower gear as much as possible to warm them up, being a little concerned with my torn meniscus in the right knee which was reminding me of its existence today.

The weather was coolish and we were all pretty keen to keep moving onto the next climb of 5 km which was steeper than the first climb.

We arrived in Boucheresse (30.3 km) and rode into a French military zone that is used for armoured tank to play war games and fire shells. You cannot miss the warning signs of potential death should you veer from the road. The signs were about every 25 metres and on both sides of the road. I guess now was not a good time to go bush for a pee! Better hold on a bit longer!

You could easily see the tank tread marks on the edge of the forest. The military zone is around 10 km in length and we then descended into La Courtine (42.2 km) where we stopped for a coffee in a funny little brasserie full of military badges and memorabilia. The military garrison is based in this town so I guess so I guess the pub is frequented by its members.

After coffee there was more climbing arriving in Sornac (53.1 km), followed by another climb of a few km.

Alleyrat was at the 66.5 km mark and a number of the guys had their photo taken against the town signage.

We decided to continue further before eating lunch, so headed to Saint Angel (76.8km).

The brasserie here was run by a lady who spoke no English but certainly communicated to us in no uncertain terms. I think most of us failed her first test by putting our bike helmets on the table. Big mistake!

She prattled on in a continual French banter about the food available. There were 5 serves of guinea fowl and 2 of pork left. There were 7 of us so that worked out. Goodness knows what the rest would eat!

The town has a very impressive church high up on the hill so Tony and I decided to linger longer in the town to check it out.

The Priory of Saint-Michel-des-Anges was once operated by the benedictine monks, and still dominates the village despite the monks having left long ago – it was abandoned by the monks after the French Revolution.

It is said that the first monastery on the spot dated from the 8th century, although no written evidence exists to confirm a building until the 11th century. The Roman style church we saw attached to the priory dates from the 12th century, although partly rebuilt having been damaged by fires during the Hundred Years War and the Wars of Religion. The rebuilding is in the gothic style, rather than the roman style of the original church.

During the period called the ‘Reign of Terror’ (French revolution) when the monastery was empty it was used as a prison for the noble ladies of the region.

Today there were no ladies imprisoned in the church as I wandered through. It was eerily silent.

Alone now in the village we puttered off spinning the legs again determined to use this as a recovery ride in readiness for tomorrow’s torture trial up Puy St Mary.

I do have some reservations given my knee injury niggles and asthma but have determined that I will not be silly and push my knee too hard as I don’t want to damage it more that already is. The asthma will depend on the weather. I am hoping for dry and warmer air rather than cold and moist.

We are now lodged in a lovely hotel on to edge of a lake – Hotel du Lac! Fancy that!

The campers are only a few hundred metres away and are the closest to us all trip. We trotted over for afternoon tea which was very pleasant. I am glad to have all the creature comforts of a hotel though being soft!!13

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St Angel

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Neuvic to Aurillac (106 km, 1823 m): The ecstasy and the agony

Tuesday June 14, 2015

Today was judgement day! I was to attempt my first ever Tour de France climb to reach the top of Col du Pas Peyrol (Puy Mary, 1589m).

I was nervous carrying a knee injury in the form of a torn lateral meniscus and also being an exercise induced asthmatic. I needed to have my head in the right space and not get caught into doing someone else’s pace.

Four of us left the idyllic peace of the lake at our Neuvic hotel with the same dogged determination, knowing we each needed to do it ‘our way’.

The weather was not ideal for my asthma being cold and moist. I was not sure what to wear either and chopped and changed for most of the day.

We started climbing pretty well straight away with a gentle climb for around 13 km following the path and gorge of the Dordogne. It was really special with green lush forests around us and a massive drop on the left hand side to the river.

Descending to cross the bridge we rode through a tunnel and stopped on the bridge to take photos.

We then had to climb up and out of the gorge and this was steeper than our first climb. I was getting pretty hot by this stage.

At the 33 km mark the road descended again. Bugger. Seemed a shame knowing that we would be climbing from around the 40 km mark.

The valley that we were climbing was absolutely beautiful. The sounds were even more inspiring with lots of bells being rung, not by the local churches but from the bells hanging around the many cows necks. Even sheep had bells around their necks.

The village of St Vincent de Salers was reached at 46.0 km. A particularly pretty village, but the cafe was closed which was our suggested first stop.

I made the decision at this point not to stop until the top of the Col. Most of the others did, with the exception of Graeme who had shot off earlier, and Tony, who after taking some photos took off after me.

I passed through a number of villages clinging to the edge of the valley as I kept climbing. Le Vaulmier (49.8 km), Vedelon (54.6 km) and Le Falgoux (56.1 km). The road steadily climbed even more through more forests, with ever present waterfalls.

At the 61.6 km mark I took a left turn to head towards Mauriac, and within 3 km the road started to climb very steeply. I was out of the saddle by now and faced with a roadwork truck reversing towards me, in my lane!

The workers on the road spoke to me in French, but I was concentrating very hard as the road was wet and slippery, and besides, I could not understand them!

The last couple of km are known as being particularly nasty on this climb (there are three different roads you can take to arrive at the top of Puy Mary). The average climb is a tad under 14% and yes it hurt!

As I battled on I nearly lost hope as I was fatiguing fast and my back was killing me. I rounded the right hairpin bend which I knew was 19% (on the wrong side to decrease the camber) and it did seem a tad easier. Within a km I thought I saw Tony walking out of the mist and he was there. I was somewhat confused as my garmin told me I was still 1 km from the top.

Tony told me that I was in fact only a few hundred metres from the top. Boy that hurt and you can tell from the photo that I was stuffed. Pleased but stuffed!!

We had a decent recovery in the cafe congratulated by those tourists who had driven up and comaraderie from numerous cyclists from all over the world who had converged at a similar time.

The descent was a very cold but spectacular affair. It was around 5 degrees at the top and I was in my summer knicks! All clothes in my possession were now being worn for the descent – also trying to avoid the cut grass on the wet road.

We zipped through the various towns in the valley including Rodez (75.6 km), Mandailles (78.5 km), St Julien (80.3 km), St Cirgues de Jordanne ( 87.0 km), Velzic (91.4 km) and St Simon (97.3 km) before arriving in Aurillac.

Done and dusted. Nothing else to say.p1

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Dordogne

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Aurillac to Villefranche-de-Rouergue (97.3 km, 1352 m): Hot and in need of an ice cream.

Wednesday June 115, 2015

Leaving the more industrial section of Aurillac during peak hour required a considerable concentration to get out of town. At 2.9 km we turned left heading towards Montauban, with the first little village being Le Bex (7.7 km) involving a quite steep climb, before descending into the village.

There was a lot of climbing today, despite the fact that we ended up some 300m lower than Aurillac. It has been noted that these climbs are rarely mentioned in the route notes now so a couple took us ‘by surprise’ and the hills received appropriate titles!

Having said that, I did enjoy the morning ride as there were some great descents (despite Tony’s water bottle jumping out onto the road on one hairpin bend, just in front of me and Tom). There were also some great sections of rolling up and down where you could gain significant momentum to drive you up the next incline.

We went through Saint Mamet ( 17.1 km), Corbrette (20.0 km)stopping at the really pretty village of Boisset (29.8 km) for a coffee. As per normal, the poor old brasserie staff looked quite stunned/bemused as we all rolled in over a period of time to claim all the tables and chairs.

We descended out of the village and on to yet another climb arriving at St Etienne de Maurs (40.9 km), Maurs(42.2 km), Bagbac(49.4 km), and our lunch stop at Capdenac (64.4 km).

Capdenac is a great little town on the river, where we spotted one keen fly fisherman. It is in a valley with houses high up in the valley which apparently was the old walled village.

There is a Lot valley nature reserve that we rode through which was also really nice.

We crossed under a number of large railway bridges which Brian advised are no longer used by the railways due to being financially non viable. I imagine that they would have been very scenic to travel along.

We dropped down into St Igest (84.8 km) and were assaulted by the worst smells of the trip. Not sure how this farm managed it given how many we have been past but it sure stunk! We stopped to photograph the lovely church in the town.

By now it was really hot and our group had split at lunch so there were just 4 of us, with Bill and Jean- Marc choosing to have a breather in the shade for a while.

We rode past a wonderful old chateau promoting glaces. If we had been on our own I would have detoured to both check out the chateau and to enjoy an ice cream.

There was a couple of simple climbs to get into Villefranche but I was feeling quite hot and a bit dehydrated now so I was really glad to arrive at our funky Hotel. Some of our team report having round beds! We have a pebble shower.

It was good to have some time to check the town out. Very old with lots of narrow laneways and cobblestones. Checked out two delightful churches and the large village square and river. All in all, worth a visit.

Long day tomorrow with around 125 km riding and over 1400 metres climbing. Hope it is not too hot.

Did I get my ice cream? Certainly. I have mastered the basics of asking for “un citron glacier deux boules” (2 scoops of lemon gelato). Important to know the basics.1515a15b

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Villefranche de-Rouergue

10

Villefranche to Castres (121.2 km, 1697m): Busy roads and more hills

Thursday June 11, 2015

Today we seem to have run out of the really small French villages that have been such a fantastic feature of this ride. The main reason ( I think) is that today we were on busy roads following the D922 for over 60 km, then swapping onto other D roads. So speeding cars were frequent.

 

Leaving Villefranche we crossed the river and immediately started climbing. Not pleasant with cold legs and a full tummy. Perhaps I should not have had that second coffee? The climb continued until the 8.4 km mark, and at 9.4 km we rode through Sanvensa.

We then undulated passing through La Lande (18.0 km), St Endre De Najac (23.2 km) and Laguepie (32.5 km).

John had warned us that it was a nasty climb out of Laguepie and he was not wrong. There was a particularly steep section including a switchback and our group split up somewhat during this climb with only a few of the guys in front of me.

We stopped at Cordes (45.1 km). A nice looking town with a little train to take people around. At the boulangerie there were glaces so we had one, rather than solid food. It was stinking hot – I suspect high 30’s.

We did not stay long as I was keen to keep my warm knee moving so we left the others to do their thing, whilst we did ours. I actually really enjoyed just riding with Tony for the rest of the day.

There was a lot of climbing and decent descents in overbearing heat.

We went through Cahuzac (57.8 km) and Baillac (65.5 km) getting a bit confused with the route descriptors in the latter village. I think the notes need some adjustment as there were some signage issues. Road works provided further complications with a road closure that we chose to ignore.

We stopped at Graulhet for lunch (86.7 km) in a small restaurant before moving on to climb yet more hills.

We fully intended stopping at Lautrec (103.2 km) as it is apparently one of Frances prettiest villages. What we did not realise was that when we turned right at the roundabout we totally missed the village. Wish I could memorise everything John said better. Anyway we realised a few hundred metres downhill, and we were not climbing back up a hill that we did not have to, in the scorching heat.

We soldiered on into Castres choosing not to go into the campground as we had not seen the van since morning tea.

More roadwork created confusion in central Castres and w found our delightful hotel, Hotel Europe. We are in the London Suite, a very swanky room indeed.

Another tough day in the office as this was our longest day yet and we have to cross the Black Mountains tomorrow. More hills!

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Castres to Narbonne ( 108 km, 1393m): Questioning life

Friday June 12, 2015

I loved Castres. Could have spent longer there. Philippe the host was very kind and we had a wonderful breakfast.

As soon as we left the weather clouds looked ominous and it started to spit lightly but we ignored it for some 10 km or so when it was flat but once we started climbing it got a bit heavier so out came the rain jackets.

We passed through Valdurenque (7.6 km), Rigatou (14.5 km) and Pont De L’Arn ( 18.3) before crossing onto a gravel bike pathway. It would be a good path in fine weather but in the wet it spat up so much mud that it looked like I had a serious gastro problem. After putting up with this for a number of kilometres we decided to ignore the route instructions and ride on the road.

At the 31.7 km mark we turned off the main road to take the Montagne Noir route ( Black Mountain). This was to be a 12 km climb up to the mountain top in solid rain, with heavy forest dripping buckets of water down, variable driving wind and an eery mist meaning visibility was poor.

There were 4 guys ahead of me and 13 riders behind me, somewhere. For the majority of the climb I was on my own once young Tom pulled clear and I had plenty of thinking time.

I thought about some of my warmer cycling clothing I should have been wearing. I wondered about what my kids were up to. Were my dogs clean and dry as Joshua had told me there had been lots of rain at home. I wondered what motivated me to ride up a mountain in the rain.

Technically it was not that difficult a climb, but it was long and the weather made it far worse. We had been told there would be wonderful views and that the camera would get a workout. Not today unfortunately.

Once I got to the top the 4 guys were huddled around the van and were keen to keep moving. I agreed as I was damn cold and soaked through.

I needed to be careful on the descent as my brakes were affected by the rain and not as responsive. The further down the mountain we got we started to feel occasional warm air.

We rode through Ferrals Les Montagnes at 52.1 km and it was really starting to warm up. When we arrived at Minerve ( 69.4 km) we were blown away by the area. The vegetation was just so different.

Minerve is quite parched and arid, surrounded by vines and not much else. It appears quite defiant on its rocky outcrop, with two rivers merging ( Cesse and Briant). There is an imposing skinny medieval relic of a building that stands out. The locals call it Candela.

The town has a chequered history. In 1210 the town resisted Simon de Montfort who was the scourge of all Cathars. The siege lasted 7 weeks, culminating in the execution of 140 Cathars, burned at the stake.

To enter the village you cross a high bridge spanning the impressive gorge. Photo below.

From here we had a very fast, tail wind assisted to Narbonne, knocking the kilometres off very quickly. I did manage to take a 2.5 km detour by accident going downhill through a very scenic area only to realise the errors of my ways and have to turn around a climb back out! Bugger!!

Our accommodation in Narbonne is not central to the old city, or the canal, or the ocean, which has disappointed most given this is promoted as going to the Med!

I was keen to check our central Narbonne and see the canal.  Tony was not keen but I promised him no more than one hours walking!  So we walked into town (about 45 min to get to the good bits) and upon needing to head back to the hotel we were aided by two endearing gendarmes who walked us to a bus stop, waited with us for the bus to arrive, told the driver where we needed to go, and saw us off. Great service and I kept the walking to within the promised parameters!

Tomorrow is the last day. Pity the riding stops as I am feeling stronger each day and happy with my riding. Broke my speed record today setting it at over 67 km/hr. Have also broken my climbing records, and done with only two chain rings.

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Looking back towards the Black Mountains
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Minerve
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Minerve
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Narbonne

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Narbonne to Carcarsonne ( 81.8 km, 1010m): The final countdown

Saturday June 13, 2015

It was blowing a very strong wind when our group headed off on the last day to finish our epic adventure that had started at the northern port of Calais two weeks prior. I don’t think I realised then just how challenging this ride would prove to be.

 

I awoke in the final morning at 4 am with stomach pain and cramps and the ominous bowel gurgling had me sitting on the loo from 6 am. I was really crapped off!! Disappointed and concerned as I wanted to finish the ride on my bike, not in the van and a toilet!

I started throwing the Imodium in and by 830 with 4 tablets behind me and crossed fingers we set off, me armed with a roll of hotel toilet paper. I felt very washed out and not myself.

We encountered fairly heavy traffic leaving Narbonne and could not believe that the route had us on a goat track for some distance. It was very bad throwing our road bikes around in the pot holes. Most were suitably unimpressed.

We arrived at the town of Peyriac-de-Mer, taking obligatory photos as it was a Mediterranean ocean fed waterway. I was disappointed that our route did not take us to the actual beachfront.

A number of the group decided to deviate at this point to achieve the aim of dipping their wheels into the ocean. Had I been feeling stronger I too would have been keen. However I knew I was going to battle not feeling myself at all.

We also had the pressure of having to strip and clean our bikes to Australian border controls very squeaky clean bike policy of “no dirt”.

Our group had diminished to 4 (inc Helen and Jean-Marc),and I was delighted that on this final day we got to share it with Helen. That was special.

Despite feeling crap, three of us took turns sitting at the front to face the wind. Jean-Marc sat abreast of us seeking the ultimate wind protection. As the kilometres went on this annoyed the three of us as he was a good rider and it annoyed me that he would let  woman provide him protection without doing his bit.

So when he stopped to pee, again, we took off and he must have stared to feel guilt as he had to work hard, and on his own, to get back on our little train, and even took the lead a couple of times, much to our grateful surprise.

We stopped for a coffee at Thezan Des Corbieres(37.3 km) for a coffee and the best creme caramel.  There  we found Peter, who joined our train.

Through Feralls (45.1 km), Moux (52.8 km), Saibt Couat D’Aude ( 55.7 km), Marseillette ( 65.7 km) it was just bloody hard work. It was very not and the headwinds were particularly strong and gusty. We were sweating heavily through the undulations. It was so dry and arid with grapes only growing in shale.

We pulled in at the edge of the Midi Canal at Trebes. Some of us needed more fluid to get us though the remainder. Peter and Jean-Marc stayed for lunch but Helen, Tony and myself filled up with ice and water and plodded back out into the unrelenting heat and wind.

I felt like I was in Arizona, or perhaps my perception of what that would be like to ride.

I had been counting down the kilometres for most of the ride, comparing it with where I would be if home. 32 km = Crustys to home, but never had that particular ride been as difficult as this.

With only 2 km remaining, Carcassonne finally came I to view as we rounded a bend and hill. WOW!

Arriving at our hotel was extraordinarily anti climatic. It did not feel like the end of an epic adventure. This time there was no champagne, no signposts, no team photo waiting for us like at John O Groats. Just a garage beckoned where we were to strip down and clean our bikes. Reality check.

We had arrived by 1.40 pm, and by 4 pm bikes were cleaned and packed ready for export.

We were showered and trotted off with Helen to quietly explore and celebrate the wonders of Carcassone. Tomorrow we would say our farewells and head off .  For us, that was a stop in Toulouse for a night, before flying to Paris for 4 days.  I don’t like farewells – not very good at them.

This has been another brilliant trip!car1

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Cafe at Thezan Des Corbieres

 

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car4
Trebes
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Carcassonne
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