France Uphill 2017

Day 1   1st September

Alarm goes at 4am, leave house at 4.15, pick up Sonija and Victor and head for Dover with 7 bikes in the back, Fred Phil, Kath and Dave are following behind, we caught up with them just after Honiton, and after breakfast at the services near Ilminster we headed on for Dover. Spirits high and all thoughts of the adventure ahead.

Arrival at the port and the first test  where to leave the hire vehicles, and next where to get picked up by the Bike Bus, clues found and all was sorted, then of to the Pub for a well earned pint. 

The bus was about 40 minutes late but the small crowd that had gathered (in the rain) to be collected we were all in good spirits and plans of each others pending trips were shared. Soon we were loaded and found our allocated seats, then we were off, well to the holding pen then on to the ferry and back to another Bar.

To be honest the Bus was a bit of a disappointment not the double decker with posh seats that reclined all the way with ample leg room and power sockets, galley and other luxuries but was a basic standard type with a microwave hanging from the luggage rack and a sort of toilet! And seats that did not offer a nice place to be overnight. Still once in France and refueled we were off, Jason our hostess was a short dumpy chap who was able to walk up and down the aisle undetected by the French Police (not supposed to leave your seat) as he only just came up to the headrests, full of chatter and information never lost for a reply but I can tell you the Tea he made was not drinkable and the meal was only just hot enough. Onward down through France dropping Wheelers as we went right through to the early hours in the morning, Sleep was an option dozing was more realistic, every time one got to sleep Jason would cheerfully come over the telecom that we were stopping for a comfort break and not to wander to far!

Day 2  2nd September Montpelier to Bezier 52 miles

Montpelier drop off arrived around 0900hrs the sun was out as we pulled into a small industrial estate west of the city, all bikes unloaded with panniers and stuff the coached tooted its horn and was gone 7 intrepid wheelers left to fend for them selves, so we headed to the local Burger bar ordered Breakfast and changed into the Wheelers colours, after much cream application and trying to master the electronic ordering machine, we were ready, the second team photo, not sure whether the young waitress will ever get over the demand to take several photo devises and under stand our requests for only the good sides to be taken.

A quick look at the map  and we were off heading south, all had looked so simple on Google maps, soon lost but only for a short while, soon the Med came into view and the cycle path found, a strong NW was blowing as we rode towards Sete along past the sand dunes, Fred hinted about taking a quick dip but others were less interested and Kath defiantly did not want to suffer from salt chaffing, we stopped for lunch just before Adge and enjoyed a sandwich and drink before pressing on for Bezier 52 miles in the heat and wind was just enough and our first campsite found a nice spot right on the canal, enjoyed an evening meal In a canal side restaurant with Kopu   swimming in the canal eating tip bits that were thrown to them from all the customers, then back to our beds all tired,

Day 3 3rd September Bezier to Carcassonne 64miles

All packed and ready to go a quick cup of coffee and pastry and another team photo, a very friendly campsite owner wished us well on our mission (I think) and we were back in the saddle again, just a matter of following the towpath! Kath had awoken a little bit worse for wear (no not alcohol) just did not feel correct. the tow path worked well and as we cycled over the aqua duct to the Ecluse ladder of about 9 locks all in close succession, stopping for another coffee and enjoying the sunshine and activities of the boats pushing their way up the locks. Lunch was found in  a Canal side small town of Le Somail and Kath feeling a bit better tucked into a light lunch, the route was a mixture of tow path and back roads the paths were not that good and quite rough in places with pot holes and tree roots making the going slow and very uncomfortable,  the weather was hot and still the NW wind blew we eventually got to Carcassonne and found the campsite at the base of the old walled town, strange thing was that as we cycled along towards the La Cite we bumped into the Girls from NZ who we met on the Bus but had gone on to Narbonne  and had also just arrived, so we all went to the campsite and swapped stories of our adventure so far at the evening meal.

Day 4 4th September Carcassonne Montferrand 40 miles

Up early and a climb up to the walled city, breakfast in a bar and enjoyed the surroundings of old France, the sun was shining and a promise of yet another hot day in the saddle, again a mixture of tow path and roads the paths were rough and shaking everything and us about, two punctures for Sonija using up her supply of tubes, there some very impressive views along the way, and passing through Castlenauldry an old trading town on the Midi route,was rather picturesque  all was going well, the campsite at Les Touzets just north of Montfarrand which was a bit of hike but well worth the climb to what was the best site of the tour. A hot and sunny evening great facilities stunning views and a fantastic meal put on by the owners just for us and a games room for after.

Day 5 5th September Montferrant to Toulouse 72miles

The weather was fabulous a bright dry morning just a hint of a chill the sun was out as we made our way out of the campsite and retraced the route back to the Canal past a massive wind farm and onward to wards Toulouse, the path was still bumpy but the views were worth it, boats using the locks and far reaching French countryside. 32 degrees Bliss for the 7 wheelers as we chatted along the tow path. During this part of the journey we met up with Anton, a French chap who like us was on a cycling holiday he was infact cycling a round trip route from the East side to the West and then like us heading for Nante and then head back east to complete his trip, considerably longer than our route and with at least 50 kilos of gear! So until Nante we became 8. Another lunch stop with  beers and nibbles and onward to Toulouse, arriving at the campsite in the heat of the afternoon then of for an Indian,

Day 6 6th September Toulouse to Rauzon  74 miles

The morning was grey with a hint of rain but still warm, After a group meeting it was agreed that the possible visit to the Air Museum would not take place instead we would push on (just as well)  Fred and Admiral elected to visit the local Decathlon and replenish Sonijas spare tube supply and see if any other bits could be acquired for the continued journey, Sonija Kath, Phil, Victor and I continued towards Agen at a gentle pace to be caught up on route, the rains came and the head wind remained, slowly getting soaked right through, eventually we stopped in a small town Montech and found somewhere for Coffee and thingys, a local fruit market was perused and items bought for the onward ride, with no sign of Fred and Admiral we continued to the planned lunch stop at Moissac, crossing the Via duct where the canals and rivers meet, by now the sun was out and nearly everything was dry, Fred and Admiral were now only about 10 miles behind as in their efforts to catch up Admiral had sustained two visits from the P fairy! On arrival tales were exchanged and lunch ordered,

Onward towards Agen following the now improving cycle route along side the Canal, lots of activities to watch as the miles ticked by superb views and warm weather passing many like minded cyclists all heading South!

Day 7 7th September Agen to Rauzon  73 miles

Up and away now with a regimented method all stowed on bike quick look that nothing is left, re group and leave, some moaning (a little) some singing and others asking “how far today?” we left the canal at La Reole then headed north to pick up the cycle trail which heads towards Bourdeaux, the views of Farm land and Vine groves took over and made a pleasant change form the sometimes repetitive Canal edge, passing through sleepy villages changing from trail to quiet roads as progress was made. Stopping to ask directions for a campsite we were given two that were open, one to the right and one a little further straight on right next to the ruins of an old castle, deciding on going to the one off to the right we carried on only to do a big loop and enter the campsite (right next to the ruins) need to improve on my French!

This site was full of Brits all coming up to find out about our exploits, the one good thing was one nice chap was a keen cyclist and lent us his stuff so that our now tired bikes could enjoy some maintenance and clean as well as the use of a good stirrup pump. After the chores a walk back to the village for yet another Pizza but this time all named after 70,s rock bands with the same playing in the background, then sleep

Day 8 8th September Rauzon to Bourdeaux  38 miles

We awoke to a grey day but dry it was now starting to get a bit cooler and the further north the cooler it would get, back on the trail we soon arrived at Bordeaux a fantastic view across the Gironde, we crossed on Pont Pierre and navigated to the north of the city to the campsite which was huge, expensive and with no bar! The weather had closed in and drizzle persisted so the campsite restaurant was our refuge.

Day 9 9th September Bourdeaux to Soulac -su-Mer 72miles

We awoke to rain but packed up and stowed wet gear, wanting to get away to get warm was the first order of the day, today’s route was hopefully going to follow the Gironde up to the Port and ferry across to Royan mainly through Vine groves that would be flat with far reaching views, the first few miles it rained and the traffic which was all heading for its work was another item to watch out for, at Blanquefort we found a Patisserie and enjoyed our by now ritual breakfast of coffee and Pana raisen some even having two!! Onward we went Admiral got very excited at a train crossing and waved at the driver who tooted back, the rain eased and sun shine returned but still with a strong head wind, then we met with a diversion, and as told took it, only for the route to fissle out into a track then a path then a woodland!!! Must of gone wrong somewhere! Retracing our steps we continued to the cause of the diversion, it was the day of the great 26 Vine yards charity dress up Marathon, approx 10000 runners nearly all in fancy dress calling in at the Vinery’s and sampling the goods, this year was the 70’s theme and groups dressed as period music bands was the order, a great spectacle but we had to press on, some heavy showers had fallen and all including us were wet through and cold if you stood around. Over the few miles we crossed the marathons route about 5 times and even cycled amongst then for a couple eventually breaking free and continued heading north, all was going well the sunshine had returned but the head wind had got stronger thoughts about eating were being muted when for me disaster happened with a loud crack one of the rear Spokes failed, not to bad but half a mile later when the second one went that spelt disaster, how ever in true brit (Cornish) spirit the troops rallied around  and after a passing motorised stopped and advised that there was a cycle repair shop a few mile down the road, my wheel was removed stowed on Phil’s bike and with Victor of to find the repair man. At the same time the other Phil (Samuel’) who just happened to be on holiday a few miles up the road was also contacted so with the network of FW’s rescue was imminent! Whilst our time on the edge of the road next to the Vine groves we played I spy, ate grapes, dried the tents and gear, some had a sleep and even made coffee on the portable cooker!! 4 hrs later all returned with mended wheel Phil had met the others at the repair shop and returned to us (big thanks Phil) quickly we reassembled the bike and headed on waving a cheery good buy, the going was tough the wind had increased and now being 4 hours behind would only make the campsite at Soulac, arriving at dusk we put up the tents composed our selves after an extremely hard ride, tired but all showered we headed to the Bar and a welcome hot meal but the beer was 8 Euro a pint.

Day 10 10th September Soulac-sur-Mer to Rochefort 53 miles

A dry bright morning with still a stiff breeze from the North west, early start, short distance to the Port where Breakfast was found right next to the ferry port, the cycle trail from Soulac undulated through the pine trees and along the coast with the only concern being men with loaded shot guns pursuing their prey just as well we were in bright kit, oh and had the girls chatting away! Several shots were let off but I still counted 8 of us. Things changed on getting ashore at Royan, it was busy with cyclists every where unlike us most of them had no idea where they were going. Just when we were leaving the busy streets the second failure, this time for some reason the rear mec on my bike let go and wrapped its self around the cassette, this looked a problem, Phil and Victor surmised the situation and soon had the chain cut shortened and refitted on one gear at least I could continue albeit with spinning legs, we were directed to La Palmyre about 12 miles along our route where there was a cycle shop that would be open on a Sunday and they should be able to assist. and true to form there was  repairs were carried out whilst we used this down time to have a good lunch, then onwards, weather was warm and sunny and my spirits were lifted, due to the failure we opted for the shorter route rather than carry on with the coast path and soon got to La Tremblade and crossed the high bridge over the La Seudre, after a few wrong turns we made it to Soubise and had hoped to cross the river on the Transporter bridge but due to maintenance it was out of action, so the small ferry crossing at this town was taken, only a short distance across of extremely fast moving tide. with bikes and us we filled the ferry, this was the scene for my third , namely leaving my wallet on board with all my paper work !! (ask the others) the captain told us there was a camp site about 2 miles down the river which was open so of we headed, arriving finding the reception closed until later we opted to cycle into town and find a Bar that would be open on this Sunday evening, that’s when I realised my loss and returning to the ferry finding it on its mooring in the middle of the river empty, returning the next morning only to find out it only ran at week ends!

The camp site was fine, rain in the night and definitely another temperature drop.

Day 11 11th September Rochfort to Maran  50miles

A wet and cold depart as we headed to wards La Rochelle, interesting cycle path running along side the motorway, crossing under a couple of times still with the head wind which was really starting to annoy us all 27 miles to the city where a good lunch was had a short rest another photo then on, we followed yet another canal out of the town which made a change! Campsite found we were the only ones camping, most amenities were shut, so a walk back to the town and Ham and chips in a Betting shop was all we could find but at least it was full of locals!

Day 12 12th September Maran to Mache 61 miles

All up early and packed away, nice clean clothes from the washing done yesterday back up the road past Admirals favorite fruit and veg stall (what’s on Tour) and across to pick up the trail to Lucon, picking up the D10 which was extremely busy with large lorrys continually speeding past 7 wobbly cyclists so it was good to fine yet another cycle trail which appeared to be on top of a drainage bank and took us direct to Lucon, after the statuary coffee stop onward to Mache arriving at the campsite just outside of this small town, very pleasant with a helpful attendant who told us where everything was and gave us a number for the local take away pizza palace as as usual every thing would be shut later, the only thing lost in the translation was that the campsite had a special deal set up and all orders would come as a two person portion! so when 7 Pizzas turn up they were huge and it was only Phil that could eat all of his, the rest had to leave it.

Day13 13th September Mache to Blain 67 miles  13th Sept  av speed 12.1  temp ave 20

Away on time rain in the air and still blowing quite hard but it had veered a small amount so was on our left side and very occasionally just behind which did help on some of the hills, the route was mainly on back roads which were quiet and fine for the group through Machecoul  and on to La Pellerin where the only eatery appeared to be a Burger house, needs must! We were now on the banks of the Loire and crossed on a car ferry at no charge, at this point Anton gave his farewells’ cycled around the roundabout twice and disappeared heading East to follow the river across France towards his home presumed he made it, I don’t believe we have heard from him since!! we continued north towards Blain, arriving only to find the campsite shut boarded up and infact for sale! Fortunately there was a sign which implied that there was another 5 miles north which should be open, then it started to rain, so again wet tents to put up, we found a small shop and bought some vitals and sat in the rain shelter provided at the campsite and enjoyed the surroundings.

Day 14 14th September Blain to Redon

A wet night but dry in the morning packed up and back to Blain to pick up the Canal Nante to Brest and head for Redon, before hitting the trail a coffee stop was in order and true to form one was found, the happy owner was glad to serve us but when he witnessed us sorting out payment in all our loose change he became quite agitated and started to get annoyed he even went to check the loos after Sonija paid a visit, not sure why possibly to check we had not nicked the loo roll, any way Kath paid with a note and the Bar man seemed a bit happier!  the tow path was not to bad, a bit soft from all the rain, first Sonija had a visit then Phil the P fairy was working well. We carried on along the canal there was not a lot of others, we stopped at a restored Ecluse and waited for Phil and Victor to catch up after repairs, then the rains started again, we continued towards Redon and good time was being made then another spoke went on my wheel and then the replacement mec wrapped its self around the cassette again, fortunately I had kept the old chain so once again continued in single gear mode, Victor stayed with me as the others had continued to seek out an eatery, we were about 12 miles from Redon and new there was a Decathlon there so hoped they could effect a repair. After sorting the bike we all met in Redon and enjoyed that great French cuisine in the form of  the local Subway!!!! It was agreed that the others would continue and I would remain until the bike was repaired and then follow on but as happened some friends who live nearby offered to run me to the next campsite, which is what happened, I arrived early and pitch tent awaiting the group to appear along the canal path in bright sunshine, we were in a small village called Le Roc Saint-Andre right on the canal bank, we visited the local hotel for this evenings meal proper French few choices four courses with wine, cidre bottled water 12 euro a piece excellent possibly the best of the trip.

Day 15 15th September Le Roc to Carhaix  98 miles av speed 11.7  av temp 14.1

Thoughts were now of getting home so the decision was made to have a reasonable chance of getting to Roscoff for Saturdays ferry we needed to reach Carhaix so an early start, it was cold misty and extremely hard work getting going,and it was cold fingers ached ears burning and some how I had lost my helmet in all the foray of the day before, and to add to this a few miles out another spoke failed, Phil shot on ahead trying to keep his speed up to keep warm as it was extremely cold in the mist, but the sights were quite magical with it rising from the water. Arriving at Jossalin we were greeted with the sight of the chateau draped in the mist a fantastic sight, also finding a nice warm friendly coffee stop. A few miles from Pontivy we came upon a mobile bike repairer who quickly tackled my broken spoke and Victor and myself soon found the rest holed up in a small café awaiting our order of curried chicken, then onward still along way to go, following the canal mainly but also navigating on the roads to try and reduce the bends of the water ways through Rostrenen were the weather broke and rain fell. Then about 10 miles out yet another spoke broke is there no end to this ! eventually arriving in the dark and heavy rain pitching the tents and trying to have a shower to warm up as the campsite suffered from power cuts. Eventually the bar was opened and the only food on offer was tinned Mackerel!! But we had made it.

Day 16 16th September Cahaix to Roscoff  50 miles av speed 11.5  temp 11.4

Up early again still raining, wet gear loaded broken spoke secured, Dave left his tent as had no intention of using it again! First issue was to find the trail a disused train line which goes direct to Morlaix with only two climbs, now the only problem is that this trail runs across the forests and farm lands and not near towns or villages and if I had yet another issue I could be in for a long walk! Thinking it would be best to all stay together we set off and soon found the route a bit messy and slippery but as thought just two long gentle climbs, although this was not the best surface to ride on all went well a bit wobbly but Admiral and my self slowly pulled ahead, the second climb went well still boggy and hard going with rain all the way, we were just approaching the summit when it happened the second spoke failed and that was that about 20 miles to go, as planned I bid my farewells to the gang as the heavens opened, they continued as I pushed the bike back to what appears to be a road on the Garmin.

On arrival it turned out to be a track I pushed the bike for about 5 miles with 3 cars stopping to ask if they could help, in a village called Le Cloitre-saint-Thegonnec a retired farmer took me in his van to Roscoff (I like the French) whilst awaiting to be ferried to the port I found a fountain in the village so washed the bike of as well as my self, well did not want to get his van dirty, so for the second time I hitched a lift in a van but consider I did transverse the country well most of it on a bike. At the ferry port I was able to collect my wallet which had been couriered there as it contained my Pass port! Ticket bought changed into civvies  I sat in the sun awaiting the others, their plan was to get to Morlaix and have a coffee and slice of cake in the adopted patisserie shop but much to their annoyance it was not open! So onward they continued soon they all arrived completing the journey, hot and flustered now the sun was back out. Tickets bought we assembled with the crowds and boarded the Ferry for home.

A big thanks to all, the help, the camaraderie, the fun, the laughs and the Loans, not sure of the complete total distance but they did a few more miles than me! Not sure what the final score was but I think it was at least 5 spokes, two chains two rear mecs and 2 chain split links for me and I believe just punctures’ for the rest.

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