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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.