First stop after leaving Craig’s place was the market at Le Vigan, about a dozen km down the hill from Notre Dame. The Saturday market was in full swing, including the horse butcher who is only open on Saturdays. I was lucky enough to find him open and get the chance to see what all the fuss is about. I won’t keep you in suspense, it tastes exactly like beef. George has many more questions about the consumption of horse in France. He wants to know how many tonnes are consumed, why the horse butcher is separate to the normal butcher, what percentage of a horse the butcher would sell in a day, are horses bred specially for eating or do they just eat the old knackered ones? The list goes on. Despite reading many books on France, including ones that concentrate on food, he’s never seen any reference to horse eating. Perhaps there is some shame to it, or some consider it taboo or unseemly.
The ride today proved to be somewhat brutal but picturesque. A number of very steep and prolonged climbs saw us log 1800m of ascent for the day. The number might not mean much to you, but trust me, that’s a lot of uphill. And of course the wind was in our face again. Craig was King of the Mountain, leaping away from us whenever the road turned upward. His legs will no doubt pay for that later.
One stretch of road on our first climb was particularly traffic free as the road had been blocked and was largely missing for a stretch except for a narrow ledge that we were able to walk across with a deep canyon next to it.
We also passed a small hydro plant that looked like it was built some years prior to the ones run by my employer. And then another climb started…
We ended up camping in a quiet patch of forest well protected from the howling wind, where I was able to cook my horse in peace and enjoy the beef like flavour before collapsing in my tent to snore the night away.
A slow start to the day saw us cover about 40km by lunchtime pushing into a moderate headwind. The sight of a McDonalds M on the horizon had me pulling in for a “dooble latte” and “dooble cheese” burger, then grocery shopping in the adjacent Carrefour.
Our goal at this stage was to George’s friend Craig’s house up in the Cevennes. At a distance of 150km this wasn’t looking very likely at our lunch stop, particularly with a headwind pushing against us.
By 4 in the afternoon we had reached the 70km mark and decided to go for it and cover the remaining 80 before dark, rather than camp within a few dozen kilometres of Craig’s. The wind wasn’t too bad but steady so we plugged along grinding down the kilometres.
Approaching the Cevennes the scenery started to get more rugged and agricultural. George claims that this area is the French equivalent of the Appalachians. Hillbilly country in the south of France. Robert Crumb apparently lives in the area after escaping the horror of the US, and the tiny village that Craig lives in has a few English speakers. I can see why people escape to an area like this with its green and rugged scenery and lack of tourism.
The last 30km was hard going, with a gradual ascent all the way to Craig’s. we eventually rolled up to his front door at just after 10pm, where Craig welcomed us into his beautiful little 200 year old French terrace house.
The following day was a rest day, running some errands in Craig’s classic 2CV and meeting some locals. George is keen for me to try horse meat so when we visited the boucherie he had Craig enquiry as to whether he had any for sale. Apparently horse meat butchers are wholly separate to normal butchers to avoid confusion between beef and horse, and this butcher had none for sale. Perhaps tomorrow as we pass the market in Le Vigan I can pick some up for a campsite horse feast.
And George couldn’t resist pulling an ancient rusty mixte bike frame out of a dumpster at the local recycling centre.
The sun came out today and combined with the robust wind it allowed George and I to dry most of our soaking wet clothes. Though the wind did slow us down a bit.
We passed through the Tour de France ville etape of Aix. The tour starts from here on 4 July. It has a nice central square next to the tourist office that provided somewhere for me to spread out my wet and stinky possessions like a hobo.
A bit more rain after lunch but nothing like the drenching we got yesterday.
Just past the 100km mark we found another secluded and perfect camping spot.
The weather looked fine when we started climbing up the ridge from our perfect campsite just outside Grimaud. But as we crested the col at about 400m the moisture in the air appeared to be a bit wetter than the cloud that we thought we were in. As we descended the other side the rain started coming down properly and would do so on and off for the rest of the day.
Bob was kind enough to lend me his Lone Peak panniers for this off the cuff trip. And while they are a good size they definitely aren’t waterproof. After a navigational error in the pouring rain that saw us do a hilly loop of about 15km unnecessarily, we settled on a suboptimal campsite just off the road as we needed to get warm and fed quickly. Unfortunately the rain had seeped through the panniers into my sleeping bag and pillow, making for a damp and cold evening in my cramped Decathlon tent. I was so knackered that after stuffing food in my face I crashed out at about 8 o’clock.
A leisurely start to the day with the McDonalds breakfast of champions before we headed down along the Mediterranean. A reasonably busy road most of the day with people out enjoying the weather and blue ocean views along the coast. It must get pretty frustrating though when you can’t get your Aston Martin convertible over 50kmh. Loads of Lycra clad guys on racing bikes out riding as well, some of them quite advanced in years.
We were aiming for Grimaud, resting place of Henri Desgrange, founder of the Tour de France. By the time we reached the cemetery we were both pretty tired, though I did score a handful of rosemary that was growing wild in the cemetery grounds. That went well with the lamb chops I had for dinner.
I bid farewell to Bob in Bangkok as he prepares to ride in the south. Next stop for me is France to hook up with George again. He’s just finishing off his 12 day movie marathon in Cannes and ready to do some riding. I hopped on a Thai airways flight to Paris and managed to get three seats all to myself. I slept all the way to Paris…
During a few hours layover before a flight down to Nice I dashed into Paris to grab a SIM card and some camping gear. Decathlon had everything I needed.
One night in a ripoff hotel in Nice (be careful when you book online and are too lazy to check the details), then a nice ride down the coast to Cannes, where the film festival is in its final day. Lots of poseurs and hot women walking around. I counted three Lambos, two Ferraris and lots of Porsches idling along the seafront at 20kmh.
Tomorrow we head north west.
Hot riding in the baking Thai summer sun. We took the back way between Chiang Sian and Chiang Rai, which made for a quieter if hillier ride. I think we need to start getting up earlier.
After two weeks of having Chinese horns blasted in our ears and listening to the dulcet tones of the hacking of phlegm we decided to change cycling venues and head for Thailand. A Dragon Air flight from Wuhan to Bangkok gave me one last taste of Chinese culture as the gentleman next to me expurgated the contents of his upper respiratory tract into the change donation envelope that he found in the seat pocket. Ten times.
A couple of days shopping and eating in Bangkok preceded a flight up to Chiang Rai in the north. Other than the heat which reached about 39 today, there’s not much to complain about. Fish and somtum by the river, smiling faces, quiet back roads next to the border with Burma, cold drinks at the 7 Eleven….
Back onto proper roads today which made for better progress. We had covered about 60km by lunchtime so it was pretty easy to knock off the rest of the distance to Wuhan, another big capital city. The last 10km was a completely screwed up road churned to rubble and mud by the trucks, then typical crazy Chinese traffic once we reached the city. Time for a bit of a rest.
A rainy day riding along the dyke again. Two ferries required for river crossings which spiced things up a little, though one Chinese restaurant owner lied to us about one of the ferries being out of operation. He’ll be getting a negative review on Eatability.