What would bikevcar do on holiday? Drive a long distance with the bike in the boot of the car, and then spend the holiday trying to surpass this distance by bike. This wasn’t actually the plan but by Day 2 the seed had been sown.
A few days before I set off to the Loire Valley in France, Ms BikeVCar had flown to American to visit her family for a week. She would then be flying back to Paris giving us a week together in France. This gave me 4 days alone to “cycle myself silly” before the more balanced member of our marriage would arrive and ensure we adopted a more sensible approach to holidaying.
After finishing work on Tuesday I came home, packed up the car and then set off to catch an overnight ferry from Portsmouth. From Le Havre the next morning I headed South remembering to drive on the wrong side of the road, the only difficultly coming at the peages where I had to get out and walk around the car to feed my Euros into the machines.
Arriving into the campsite at 1pm I was conscious of the fact that I may have been slightly early for check in. The important thing to remember in provincial France is to never underestimate the locals’ reluctance to do anything in the afternoons. Thus when I was informed that my cabin wouldn’t be ready until 6pm I simply gave my most unsurprised and nonchalant shrug and asked in my best bad french if I could bring the car into the campsite and put my bike together. I then spent the next few hours exploring the roads along the banks of the Loire enjoying the sunshine and the especially generous drivers who would not overtake unless they could fully move across onto the opposite side of the road. A local farmer even slowed down to wave at me through his window and shout some encouragement.
After checking in and consuming a feast of barbecue and beer, I cracked open a bottle of local wine and starting plotting a big ride. What initially started as a sightseeing route along the Loire somehow turned into a quest to achieve 200km in a single day. Plus some sightseeing too. This would be further than I had ever ridden before, although I had ridden between 160 – 180km several times so I thought it was time I conquered the landmark.
The next morning I set off East along the Loire river from Montsoreau. I cycled along quiet D roads in the blazing sunshine passing farmers, cyclo-tourists and a staggering number of lawnmowers. At one point I was overtaken by another cyclist without a “bonjour” or even a friendly smile. He was wearing a helmet so almost certainly wasn’t a local. A few kilometres later I passed him in a small village as he was struggling against the wind to gain control of his fully opened map. I quickly withdrew my photocopied section of map from my jersey pocket and cockily sat up reading it with both hands as I called out the most pleasant “bonjour” I could muster.
I crossed the river at Langeais and headed into the town centre to have a quick snack in front of the Chateau de Langeais, a stunning 15th Century chateau along the tight streets of the old town. From here I headed away from the river in search of the remains of a Roman aquaduct dating back to the first or second century. The amazing thing with France is that such a beautiful and special piece of history can be tucked away so anonymously. I stopped for twenty minutes to take photos and rest in its shadows and didn’t see another soul the whole time I was there.
From here I continued East towards Tours where I intended to stop for lunch. However, upon arriving at Tours I was put off by all the roadworks, traffic and traffic lights so continued along the river towards Amboise. I had also only completed 80km by this point and wanted to take lunch at the halfway point. This was a bit of a mistake as I had forgotten my ‘rule’ about non-working afternoons. By the time I arrived into Amboise it was 1.50pm so I quickly found a restaurant. After waiting ten minutes while the waiter pretended not to notice me he came over and was proud to inform me that they stopped serving food at 2pm. Being a foreigner with limited local language I again resisted to urge to fight a losing battle and simply stuck out my bottom lip and pretended like I didn’t really care about eating. Clearly this worked as he then asked if I wanted something to drink which gave me the opportunity to reply that I didn’t drink after 2pm.
I got back on the bike and found a nearby crepe cafe and indulged myself in a ham and egg crepe for lunch, with a chocolate crepe for pudding. The waiter was very keen to talk about my bike and suitably impressed by the distance I intended to cycle. “Combien de kilometres?” was asked twice and he only really believed me when I pulled out my map to show the route I had taken so far.
From Amboise I headed South to Blere and worked my way towards the Indre river. There was a small amount of climbing in comparison to the pancake-flat route along the Loire, and also the terrifying proposition of a strong headwind. The flat parts were like climbing a gentle hill and I noticed my average speed slowly tumbling down as the suncream and sweat began to drip into my eyes.
Fortunately the strong headwind only lasted for about 20 kilometres until I descended to the Indre river and rode the flat and sheltered roads along its banks. I stopped at a boulangerie to refill my bidons and grab a couple of pastries before continuing. In the end I made it back to the campsite in 195 km and so continued 2.5km West before doing a U-turn and heading back. It was at this point that I realised the extent of the headwind I had been fighting for the last 4 hours as I flew home in the biggest gear with the seemingly smallest level of effort. After a long shower to scrub off the sweat and dead flies I lit the barbecue for a well-deserved feast and contemplated an unlikely attempt of total rest the next day.