Hanoi to Ninh Binh

I was hoping that my rather unpleasant cold would have cleared by the time Bob and I left Hanoi on our bike ride but no such luck. I’ve been coughing and congested for 150km. It’s slowly improving but is a bit of a drag. 

The first days ride to Lang Yen was 20km of urban sprawl to get out of the city followed by another 50km on quiet farm roads. Quiet apart from the honking of horns every time a vehicle passed of course. 

We stopped for a drink and a snack in a small village. The peace and serenity of the shop we chose soon obliterated once all the local kids found the foreigners and the husband came home and turned on the music to entertain us and take photos. Time to leave. 

Lang Yen is a town that exists mostly because it’s the start of a boat ride that takes tourists up the river to gawk at the amazing karst cliffs and soak up the serenity. Neither of us felt like being captive on a row boat for hours do it was just a sleep stop for us. In any case I was spent and just wanted to eat and sleep. Eating was the usual pho. I was craving fruit too but not a single shop in the town had any. Chips and yoghurt it is then. 

The next day we headed out of Lang Yen and the scenery was really something. More karst mountains, rivers, misty lakes and forest and farmland. The only thing spoiling it was my incessant coughing and nose blowing. 

Ninh Binh is a decent sized city with nothing in particular to recommend it other than being a hub for a few surrounding tourist attractions. Caves and boats and so on. We found a particularly nice hotel via google maps reviews. Nice but still had a rock hard bed. Does communism forbid some give in the sleeping equipment?

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The star of Hanoi is without doubt the eating. So many different and delicious options and really not a great deal else to do means that eating food and drinking coffee become the main source of entertainment. The pho in Hanoi is a bit different to the stuff I’m used to eating in Marrickville. The Hanoi version does away with the extra basil and sprouts that come with it in Sydney. And the broth is a bit less in your face with less sugar and salt. Which means you can actually taste the spices a bit more. 
But something I’ve never had before is Chả Cá Thăng Long. Baked turmeric fish served on a hot saucepan with mountains of spring onions and dill, and eaten with cold vermicelli on the side. Washed down with a Hanoi Beer it was delicious. 
Bob and I plan to get on our bikes tomorrow and head west from here on highway 13. But Bob isn’t feeling too great today so let’s see how that pans out in the morning. 

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The Year of George

There’s an episode of Seinfeld where George Costanza is to get a payout from work at the start of summer. George then realises that he will have a fully funded summer of doing whatever he pleases. The “Summer of George!”  Thanks to Tony for pointing out the similarity to my predicament, only my summer of George is planned to be a year, and I didn’t get a payout, so I’ll call it the Year of George.

After two weeks of seaside idleness on the north coast of nsw I’m now back in Sydney. The first day back at work for many, but snorkelling with the blue groper at Clovelly for me.

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Villedoux to Nantes 120km

Last night’s camp site was a rest area at the edge of the village of Villedoux, and the two main advantages of this were the relative luxuries of a picnic table and a bin. You get pretty tired of squatting to cook, squatting to eat, squatting to shit when camping, and I can see why George lugs around the additional weight of a camp chair that allows him to sit in comfort.

After breakfast at our picnic table we headed north toward Nantes. The weather early on was blue skies and clear. I put sun screen on. But then it turned nasty after our morning tea break. We held this break just off the road at a factory that supplies components for graves. There were pallets of gravestones from India strewn all over the forecourt. George was quick to search the deserted premises for a power socket as he is now permanently on the lookout for power to charge his precious ipad to keep it alive. He’s been collecting mentions of tears in books for some time now but I think he may switch his obsession to finding places in France where he can surreptitiously charge his tablet for free in between wild camps. Charge number one today was in the old barn of a warehouse at the grave factory where we sheltered from the rain.

We left the grave factory just before noon, hoping to get to the next village about 10km down the road before the Intermarche closed. This is Sunday in France where most shops are closed all day and only a few supermarkets open in the morning. We rode through half an hour of pissing down rain to make it to the Intermarche before 1230. Unfortunately they shut at 12 so we were too late anyway. Even the dumpster was off limits to George, being locked behind a barrier to keep out the likes of him.

After a morning of being rained on we were keen to get out of the weather for lunch and also seek out free ipad charging for George so we tried a McDonald’s. it indeed had a power point so George was able to charge his ipad while I ate a Big Mac meal, followed by a second Big Mac. Did you know that a Big Mac contains 510 calories? And if you eat two of them and some fries at 2pm you’ll be able to ride a loaded touring bike until about 7pm covering about 60km or so, all while savouring the flavour of that delicacy as it repeats on you over and over?

Our third charging episode was just an examination and not an actual connection to power. George has discovered that all (well, both the ones he has checked) of the cathedrals in France are both always open to the public and have a power socket in there somewhere. George will be taking up prayers from now on in order to keep his fix charged up. But he may have to eat his pork liver pâté outside the church to avoid offending other pilgrims.

And apparently cows can detect the smell of one of their kin being fried up. At least that was what it looked like to me.











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Champagnelles to Villedoux 120km

After a night of tossing and turning I finally crawled out of my pint sized tent to make breakfast when rain brought a halt to play. So back in the tent to drink coffee while stooped over like the old lady I saw in the supermarche yesterday.

We are making our way north to Brittany where George wants to check out a ville etape north of Nantes. The terrain has flattened out and there isn’t too much wind so progress is good.

The highlight of the afternoon was an afternoon tea stop where I gorged on pastries. All manner of horrible deeds are forgiven when you still have another 40 km to cover.













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Montpon to Champagnelles 122km 800m ascent

We were both a bit tired today and the only thing of interest to report was that we found what is supposedly the only grass velodrome in all of Europe. It was bumpy as hell.








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Degagnac to Montpon 136km 1000m ascent

After some breakfast with Yvon and Collette we received the royal send off with Yvon escorting us on his bike for the first 10km of the ride. Conditions were perfect today with no wind, perfect Lot department scenery complete with toy town villages and sculpted countryside. Still plenty of climbing but nothing too draining.

We were covering ground quickly, having made it to the 50km mark by noon. We stopped for a leisurely lunch after which I felt pretty sluggish for a couple of hours. But the miles were still flying by.

I had only bought lunch ingredients at our morning supermarket stop and still needed to find some chunk of meat for dinner. At this point I would like to chide the Intermarche corporation for their useless signage, since one of them indicated a supermarket nearby, but which was almost 30km down the road in a completely different town. This contributed to our high mileage for the day and my feeling completely knackered.

Our campsite for the evening was in long grass and was mildly infested with ticks. I managed to drag several into the tent that must have hitched a ride on me or my gear, so I spent the rest of the evening hunting down the bastards and staying in my sealed cocoon. George thinks I should collect the ticks in a box and unleash them on people who deserve some kind of cruel punishment.




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Saint Antonin to Degagnac 93km

George and I awoke next to the fast flowing river at Saint Antonin and climbed out of the village toward Cahors. I actually ended a previous trip cycling trip with Yui in Cahors, and this was the start of seeing familiar towns in the Lot and Dordogne departments that I passed through about eight years ago.

We were making good time, and George was keen to push on today, as our host in Degagnac, Yvon, was heading out to see a professional table tennis match at about 6pm. In order to tag along we needed to cover the undulating 93km to Yvon’s house before then. As it turned out we had time to spare, and I was able to have the most glorious shower in the history of the universe when we arrived.

Yvon had a full schedule of activities for us that promised to fill our rest day there. He and his girlfriend Collette were amazing hosts and kept us fed and entertained throughout.

Yvon is a well known and respected ping pong champion who has refereed at the national level and still plays competitively. He also coaches a local team that he helped to start in his village. He’s certainly passionate about the sport and keen to introduce others to its nuances.

Our first ping pong exposure was getting into Collette’s car for a rocket ship ride through back roads to Villeneuve sur Lot, where a local team were taking on a team from Paris. Having never seen a match before it was certainly interesting, including the obsessive wiping of the table by the players with their hands and towel breaks etc. The local team won easily, despite the Paris team including a former national champion of France.

The next day we dabbled in little table tennis ourselves in Yvon’s shed and had an amazing home cooked meal with an American couple who live in the area.

A visit to Rocomador was also on the agenda, and Yvon’s F1 driving through the winding back roads made George so sick that he spent the next hour prone in the car. George prefers the bike.












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Castres to Saint Antonin 104km, 650m ascent

After a pleasant breakfast with our hosts Frank and Marie-Helene we headed off toward Albi. Albi and Castres are both Tour de France towns this year, with one of the stages finishing in Albi and the next one starting in Castres. George was of course keen to visit the tourist office in each town but is generally disappointed this far out from the Tour as most offices have little information to offer.

We parted ways with Craig who has to head home to Notre Dame de Rouviere. He’s headed back into the hills again but at least he should have a tail wind. It’s been a real treat travelling for a couple of days with someone who speaks the language as that opens up opportunities for interactions with the French that don’t normally present themselves. Hopefully we can repeat it again someday.

And then it was two again. George and I covered another 60km or so from Albi which started off with a few moderate climbs, then some rollers, then dead flat along a river. The last 20km was almost effortless compared to the last two days as we rolled beside the river.

We found a snug tent site hidden amongst a stand of bamboo next to the river and I cooked up some tasty duck fillets them fried my potatoes in the fat. Yum.








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Bedarieux to Castres 100km, 1650m ascent, more headwinds

Another day of climbing up and down the pretty hills of France into a headwind.

Craig was a bit slower today, having exerted himself the day before, and he spent more time grinding up hills at the pace of us mere mortals. There were times today when I wish I had just one more gear lower. My 26/32 was a struggle up some of the long and super steep grades that we were climbing.

We bumped into an extremely chirpy German fellow who had just retired last year and was enjoying his new freedom by touring everywhere. He didn’t tell us his name so I’m going to call him Gunter. Gunter had the typical German touring machine, with a big beefy frame that looked similar to a mountain bike, four bright red ortliebs, rohloff hub and super heavy duty Schalbe tyres. He had ridden in Canada, china and Vietnam in the last year. And he loved china and Vietnam. He also loves bike paths. So there were a few things that I would have disagreed with him on if I could be bothered talking. Fortunately I was too spent from climbing a hill and Craig did all the talking.

We left Gunter and continued climbing. Being a Sunday there is of course not a single shop open in France so we were getting a little concerned about food. A Casino brand supermarket presented itself in mid afternoon and allowed George to get in a little dumpster diving. It wasn’t a bad haul, we scavenged about a dozen yogurts, a few litres of fruit juice and some iced tea drinks. We could have scored some shellfish too but that stank.

The rest of the afternoon is all a bit of a blur now but I do remember that we had a couple of particularly sensational ten degree slope descents going down into Castres that put a grin on my face. I managed to hit 67kmh in a full tuck. I still felt a bit ripped off as I would have made it to 80 if it hadn’t been for the headwind and bulging panniers on the front of my bike.

Everyone in Castres were going nuts when we arrived since their team had just won the French national rugby championship. Every car in the town was honking and waving flags and somewhat impeding our progress towards the Office de Tourisme where George wanted to seek out Tour de France info. While trying to find it, we bumped into a French couple on the street who Craig asked for directions. The next thing we knew they were offering to take us in for the night. I was more than happy to accept a shower and a bed, but George seemed a little reluctant as he loves sleeping in his tent so much. Craig was no doubt a little worried that he would be the designated interpreter since he speaks fluent French.

Marie-Helene led us to their warehouse residence not far from the centre of town. She is apparently a retired ballet dancer and her partner Frank a painter and motorcycle enthusiast. The downstairs section of their warehouse was thus filled with motorbikes and large canvases in various stages.

It turned out to be a pleasant night. They fed us and Frank somewhat confused us with esoteric utterances. At first he said that we were all poets on the bike. But then later he said that Craig was a poet and that George and I were just voyagers. Or was it George who was the poet because he described a bike tour as a work of art? I can’t remember. Anyway it was nice to sleep in a bed.



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