Scuppered…….by Coronavirus……

Hi Folks,

Well by now I should’ve been South of Nantes on day no.4 skirting around the mid-west coast of France en-route to Les Sables d’Olonne . The majority of the planet are on lockdown to one degree or another. I know in France, you’re only allowed out to exercise within 1km of your home. Thankfully, it’s not the same in England but nevermind, France will still be there next year. In the meantime, and with the recent good weather, there’s still much to be enjoyed turning the pedals on this side of the channel. The cyclepaths have been getting increasingly busy with folk escaping the lockdown to exercise so Dartmoor, together with the mountainbike, half a maltloaf and a bottle of water have been my sanctuary.

Stay safe all x

Day 11 – The Final Day: Roquemaure to the Mediterranean.

Click here for today’s and the last Routemap

Day 11 already!! Where did that time (and distance) go? It only seems like yesterday that I was rolling along the A20 in Kent, full of anticipation, a little dread and some crap sausage rolls!

The weather this morning as I wheeled my trusty alloy steed outside, was warm, bright and sunny. The winds had receded from the South as expected and with some relief, I followed the planned route to the Rhone river to resume the cycle path. But, as has been the theme all along the way, the so-called cycleway was once again, complete and utter pants! The Garmin then crashed again so off it went and I vowed to use tarmac from now on. I followed the D980, which followed the railway line, which followed the crappy towpath, which followed the river so I knew I was heading somewhere in the right direction. Progress appeared to be good initially and everything felt to be in place for the last day. The river and all that followed it, gradually turned south-westerly and yet again, Sainte Flatulentia, the french goddess of wind was there doing her level-best to make every mile that little bit harder.

As lunchtime came and went, the winds increased with each mile drew me nearer to the coast. This was the last day! I should’ve been loving this ride but this bloody headwind was set on spoiling it. Luckily, up until the last 20 miles, the surfaces had been good but with Sharon (the google maps navigation voice) in my left ear frequently telling me to turn off a perfectly good road and hit a farm track I began to wonder if my ad-hoc route had put me in a position where I had little choice but to take one of these so-called ‘side roads’. A few miles later, I was right and a quick glance at the map saw that I was going to have to drop down onto the marshlands and pick up the path beside the Rhone-Sette Canal. This waterway runs east-west across and I guess was built for a navigable link between the Rhone and the region south of Nimes all the way down to Sete.

Down I rolled to the canal and onto, yup, another horrendous path. The worst yet this one was. Other cyclists in the distance I saw weaving their way forward whilst others coming the other way had pained expressions from the stones, bumps, potholes and puddles. There was no alternative but to go with it. To the right was water and the left, marshlands. After what seemed like 20 miles (probably about 1!), there was a crossing point. I caught up with a dutch couple who were very tanned, clad in full branded lycra emblazoned with all the big cycling logos. They were both riding high quality Koga touring bikes and really looked………completely pissed off!!! I asked if he spoke English to which he replied with a firm “Yes!”. I then commented on the path and he went on to explain that since Holland, they had been using good old Google to navigate and were utterly sick of its determination and ability to keep them off the tarmac. I have to say his command of the English language was excellent. His old Anglo-Saxon was even better with each sentence steeped in adjectives that I only thought used amongst native Englanders.

They finally took the decision to divert across the bridge seeking a better route. Looking at my own Google, I decided to carry on and whilst navigating a thoroughfare that wouldn’t look out of place in 1916 Northern France, something caught my eye. I turned to my right to see a cyclist, on a road bike, tiny thin tyres, drop handlebars, cruising along at four times my speed! So here we have a canal, two paths, one beautifully surfaced, the other is beyond bad yet the one of the world’s best mapping services sees fit to put me on the latter one!! How? why?

I struggled for another mile before I could cross and then hit the good path and made better progress being back on the Via Rhona again at last. I made a few miles’ ground but once more that wind was fierce and tried to hold me up.

I actually saw the sea a good ten miles before the finish line so could’ve finished there and then but I was determined to end this ride at the intended spot. The last miles were hard-going and the enjoyment was ebbing away as the last hour ticked by. Progress by now was painful and at one point i was down to 1st gear battling to maintain 6mph.

At last, the seaside town of Palavas-les-Flots was within spitting distance although spitting in the direction I was rolling wasn’t to be advised. I found my way down to the little pier and found a small raised round platform. I could’ve ridden along the pier but it was very busy with tourists. I thought ‘sod it! that’ll do. Let’s press the stop button now’

11 days’ cycling, 843 miles from London, England to the Mediterranean Coast of France. It has been a fab trip. A few laughs, an irate french/arab foul-smelling yob, wicked tanlines, a new set of winter kit and some of the world’s best bread and cheese! Most importantly of all, I’ve raised a couple of thousand pounds for The Brain Tumour Charity.

I’d like to thank everyone who have supported me in preparation for this ride. Those who have offered words of encouragement and support and of course those who have donated to this great cause.

I won’t write anymore now I promise. I’m going to be too busy planning the next one!!

Cheers

Steve Pullan (Tavistock, Devon, UK)

Day 10 Valence – Roquemaure

Click here for today’s Routemap

This morning, my dwindling faith in the French weather was now as spartan as the blue sky above me as I reluctantly pushed the bike out into the street. The air felt thick with moisture as I immediately headed South into the same headwind that was hellbent on holding me up yesterday. Today is VE (Victory in Europe) Day and a national holiday so it might be a gamble as to whether any bakeries are going to be open. I have to say that attitudes toward commerce and making a quick buck in France is markedly different to the UK. It seems any excuse to shut up shop will do here. Either that, or across the channel in England, we just have a bunch of greedy buggers running the retail trade!

Progress was steady for the first 20 miles and an open shop was found in the village of Le Pouzin where I seized the last of the manky sandwiches (probably yesterday’s) and a few other carb-heavy indulgences.

Once again, the Garmin GPS was playing up and after several restarts, I gave up and relied on my phone and Google Maps to bark directions at me via an earpiece. It worked ok but again, the cursed gravel paths kept appearing. So, I thought I’d keep to the tarmac’d surface and being a public holiday, the N7 was blissfully quiet. The town of Montelimar was a welcome site as it provided a little shelter from the headwind. Apparently it was once a major player in the manufacture of nougat for some years but since the A7 motorway was built, most tourists now by-pass the town completely and production has declined (can’t beat a bit of trivia eh??).

After Montelimar, I eyed a shortcut on the map and thought I’d be a bit of a smart arse and take it. This soon bit me in the saddle-sores as it involved a three-hundred foot climb where as you climbed, the wind strengthened. The novelty was wearing a bit thin today. I was getting fed up with being on the bike. I think if I’m honest, I’m a bit of an idealist. I always thought that this ride would be pleasurable, flat, easy-rolling surfaces with plenty of sunny warm weather, blue skies, lazy lunch breaks lain in the sun etc etc. In reality however, it has become a very different story. The weather was pants and had been for days now. And the so-called cyclepaths? But wait, I’m in the Rhone Valley here. Famous for it’s canal and riverside cycle routes.

Just after the town of Donzere, here I was at the Canal du Rhone. The path there as bold as brass on the Map. Flat easy riding….. Nah, I got this!……..

The headwinds had increased as the canal and its high levees only served to funnel the now 30+ knot southerly wind straight at me. I was reduced to walking as the surface was doing the bike (or me) no favours at all. Crossing over at the next bridge, I found a road which sat below the levee and managed to gain a slight shelter which enabled me to make some progress. This took me past plenty of industry and a nuclear power station. Not the most scenic part of the valley I must say. Small roads and crummy canal paths were then the flavour of the day for the remainder of the ride until about 15 miles before, there, as if by magic, was brand new tarmac and signs once again for the Via Rhona. With renewed gusto, I pushed on and made it to Roquemaure where this evening, there wasn’t an open restaurant to be seen. Luckily, Madame offered me a place at the table. She ran a little Chambre d’Hotes (B&B) and cooked for myself, two other couples and another gentleman. I, of course was the only Englishman at dinner however, it was amusing just to observe each and everyone of them and how they interacted…….

Now, couple number 1: These were in their 50s – Madame reminded me quite a lot of Olive from On the Buses with that retro-style of thick-rimmed glasses and short haircut. She didn’t so much talk to you but talk at you. As opposed to a string of sentences from her, it was more like a volley of machine gun fire where she would occasionally stop to reload/draw breath and quickly resume before you (or the other frenchies) could even have chance to tender any sort of response. Her Husband, he was a sort of unwashed, Shane McGowan type. Dental hygiene was clearly not his forté. Like the German Carthorse yesterday, Monsieur McGowan bore all the scars of 40+ years of cigarette smoking. He seemed to be in a constant state of agitation which only seemed to fade when he was eating. As soon as a course was finished he was up and outside sparking up – I sometimes wonder if he only took up smoking to get away from Madame Olive as she was still banging on about something.

Further round the table sat Monsieur. A lone traveller in the area visiting relatives but choosing not to stay with them. I would say he was in his mid 50s, in good shape with the sort of refinements of a youngish Rex Harrison. Clearly a man of education and breeding. I’d hazard a guess at him being a bachelor. Children most definitely out of the question. He had arrived just after me in an Alfa Romeo coupé which, was in pristine condition and probably about 35-40 years old. With regards to Madame Olive’s conversation, he had long switched off and would occasionally mutter something under his breath at a volume where it is just audible. Every so often, she’d stop jabbering and ask him if he’d said something. This continued throughout the hors d’oeuvre and main course. I think we all wished we smoked at this point so we could escape.

Then there were our final couple of to make up the party. Both in their late 40s and of modest wealth. He was the grafter in the relationship and she looked to be along tfor the ride. She was impeccably dressed with beautiful hair and make up. He was in designer shirt and jeans but his eyes were somewhat reminiscent to Droopy Dog’s. It was almost like he had a well advanced case of narcolepsy. Any minute, I was waiting for him to face-plant his soup! He also appeared to be…….how would you say?……. ‘not in the room.’ Not absolutely aware of what was happening in his immediate surroundings. In hindsight I think it was just as well as Madame was blatantly flirting with our young Rex Harrison but he was having none of it. She was far from deterred however and continued this act throughout the cheese course. Rex by now, had had a belly-full of both her and the Brie, bade everyone a ‘Bonne Nuit’ and retired to his room (ensuring the door was firmly bolted too I’m sure!).

So that was Day 10. Tomorrow, I’m pleased to say is the last day. 70 something miles to the Mediterranean Sea. Weather is set to be fine but with increasing westerly winds (oh Marvellous!). But that’s tomorrow and bed beckons.

Night All. Many thanks to all those who donated today and for messages of support.

Day 9. Fontaines sur Saone – Valence

Click here for today’s Routemap

Sorry that this is a little late. I’m back home in sunny England now and trying to catch up with everything.

Day 9 already!….. Time’s passing by. After another gut-busting breakfast, I hauled myself onto the bike and freewheeled down to the Saone river North of Lyon with the first job being to negotiate the city via its many cycle ways. it looked pretty simple on the map when I plotted the route. What the online map failed to tell me about was the vast myriad of roadworks that were going to be happening once I’d crossed via the Pont Robert Schumann (It’s a bridge). It appeared that this entire area was being dug up for major sewer renewal works. Temporary traffic lights every 50 yds or so, no lane segregation and several thousand Lyonnaise trying to get to their work. This commotion of car horns, japanese scooters and buses continued down the East bank of the river until I could at last divert east away from the Saone for the last time. The idea was to take the tunnel (cyclists have their own one!) across to meet the Rhone river just before these two waterways merge. However, due to a moment of confusion, the whole tunnel thing didn’t register with my then-addled brain (probably due to the large breakfast). I instead continued and weaved my way through the traffic and streets, at last finding the Rhone – and probably a little quicker than the original plan.

Continuing southbound, I then came away from the river and pedalled along through some of the less picturesque areas that will never appear in the guide books. It’s also nice to see that the city of Lyon boasts a pretty impressive selection of fly-tipping sites on its outskirts. Some very impressive ‘exhibits’ were to be viewed in various lay-bys en route featuring a vast array of white goods, building rubble and old carpet.

At Serezin-du-Rhone, I nipped off-piste into the village to find a bakery (a daily feature on this ride) and also a pharmacist for some factor 50 lipbalm as my bottom lip was feeling as dry and ragged as a Tunisian’s sandal. Another few miles alongside the A7 motorway (not on it, but a road beside it) and then I crossed west to a more peaceful road where I caught up with a German couple who were cycle touring. Their bikes were well laden and it looked as if they were overnight camping. When I say their bikes, I actually mean more like his and not so much hers. Herr Carthorse was pedalling what looked to be a low-end of the market mountain bike that was a size too small for him. It was fitted with racks and attachments for carrying various bags, panniers and rolls and all lashed down with trusty bungee-cords. Frau, wife of Carthorse, conversely was on a super-cool lightweight hybrid (top of the range) with a small bag up front and one behind the seat and held a massive advantage in terms of power-to-weight ratio. Also, they never seemed to be together unless it was when he caught her up at a red traffic light. As soon as it turned to green she was off like a mustard-daubed greyhound whilst he wheezed and puffed barely getting above 2nd gear. I also noticed at times that in some cases, Frau would dodge the red lights by mounting pavements and continuing unhindered. The poor man really had no chance. She clearly wore the lycra trousers in this relationship and you couldn’t help but feel sorry for the man. On one occasion where Frau had jumped the lights and buggered off, I sat at the red light and along beside me rolled Herr Carthorse, his face had the ruddiest of complexions caused no doubt by sunburn and blood pressure. He immediately proffered the question,
<wheeze> Spik English?…….<splutter> Verr are yu go-eng? <wheeze, cough>
I offered a positive reply with something like,
” Good Morning, yes. I’m cycling to the Mediterranean. I’ve cycled from London for…….. are you ok?”
The poor man was exhausted. I shudder to think what weight he was carrying both on the bike and himself. Whilst his wife was by now, 200yds further up the road having a lovely relaxed spin in the sunshine. He replied,
< wheeze> yah…… <rasp> yah! Alles ist……<cough> gut!” in his own language this time with blood flow to the brain being at such a rate thus rendering a simple translation impossible. If ever you wanted a cycling analogy for oppression within a marriage, this had to be it!! He went on to explain they were also going to the ‘Zee’ also and had been cycling everyday from Hamburg averaging over 100km a day!

At last, I found the Via Rhona, a cycle route that I think meanders its way from Geneva in Switzerland to Sette on France’s south coast (right near my destination). The surface was excellent as it skirted the River Rhone for miles affording the user some of the most beautiful scenery. However, a little unwelcome visitor was also in the Rhone Valley today and this was Monsieur Le Vent du Sud (the southerly wind)! For a few days, his cold-hearted cousin had been howling down from Scandanavia pushing me along nicely with good daily average speeds. Now, as they say in America, it was ‘payback time’. The wind was increasing into the afternoon with more effort needed to maintain any sort of respectable average. This continued and made for an arduous second half of the day and then just after 65 miles had ticked by, I had that heart-sinking feeling as the back wheel felt very spongy. Getting off the bike and checking, confirmed my worst of fears…. a puncture!

Still with 17 miles to go on an 82 mile day. After much swearing I set about affecting a repair. Off came the tyre with ease and I quickly found a shard of glass that had found its way through. A new tube was sought but I then found that the tube (supplied by the local bike shop) was actually for a road bike with much narrower tyres. I had no choice but to use it so put it in and then attempted to put the tyre back on. When I first bought these tyres and fitted them, I had a devil’s own job getting the last 3 inches of beading on and almost broke my thumbs in the process. This time was no different and after filling the air with various profane mutterings, the job was done and I was off again. The tube seemed to be doing its job and the last headwind-steeped miles finally passed by. A long day in that wind with the forecast tomorrow being much the same with a few hours’ rain being thrown into the mix for good measure! But, that’s tomorrow. Time for food and sleep now!

Many thanks to those who have donated today. Much Appreciated.

Bye for now.

Day 8. Tournus – Fontaines sur Saone

Click here for today’s Routemap

Monday. Hardly seems possible that a week ago I was freewheeling down through Hyde Park at the very start of this ride.

The sun was out today! Still a tad chilly but with plenty of blue sky around, everything felt rosy as I bade Au Revoir to my hosts and rolled off down towards the ‘centre ville’ where I then promptly got lost. Tournus is a very old and pretty little town with a maze of streets and thoroughfares. All very lovely but a sinch to get lost in and a pig to get out of. Oh, have to say at this point that this morning my ageing GPS unit started to play up with the screen freezing on numerous occasions and taking an age to update as you proceed forward. A right pain in the arse when you’re in unfamiliar territory.

Anyway, once out of Tournus I quickly found the Voie Blue cycleway on the west bank of the River Saone. Excellent surfaces, signposts aplenty and the optimist in me thought this was going to be a great day!

After stopping off at Maçon to find a bakery, I resumed the Voie Bleu only to find that south of the town, they’d ran out of signs and the whole thing just reached an abrupt end. Looking at the Google-navigated route on the GPS, it then routed me over the river and down the east side. Once again, the ghost of Saint ‘Gravel-Rue’, French patron saint of shite cycle-paths thwarted my quest and handed me several miles of hand numbing, arse-hurting, crappy, awful, poor-quality roads (you can tell I’ve had enough can’t you?). If I had the time and money I’d make it my life’s work to pedal around France and document each and every one so that others that venture in my tracks dont have to suffer the same fate as I (and can avoid the bloody things!

Although very picturesque in places, you can actually have enough of river views and countryside and as the novelty dwindled to nothing, I diverted off to find tarmac and although much hillier, progress was far better and more enjoyable as I passed through the quaint little villages, all nestling along the River Saone.

Apart from the occasional crappy cycle path, the day was pretty uneventful until the penultimate mile in the suburbs of Lyon near Fontaines sur Saone. Traffic was heavy with it being around 4-430pm. As usual there was a good provision of cycle paths. The road was long and straight with a series of traffic-light controlled junctions every 100yds or so. On approaching a red light, a car overtook me, then veered into the cycle lane and braked suddenly to a stop. This caused me to brake hard and I stopped 12 inches from his bumper. I saw him eyeing me in his rear view mirror and I calmly gestured with both hands, why? On this he bolted from his car, and approached me with a look of thunder on his face as if I’d insulted his wife. He was about 5ft 4, late 50s and of Arab descent. Judging by his clothes it appeared that he’d been thrust naked into the rejected/unsold clothes room of a charity shop and told to get dressed…..in the dark! He walked up and stood 6 inches from me shouting something at the top of his lungs. His body odour and breath were no better than his dress sense. I got off the bike and being 6ft, had a little advantage in the height stakes. Trying to diffuse the confrontation with this malodorous little man, I quietly asked him to go, “Allez à voiture”. He continued to shout and then to my surprise, he raised his hand as about to hit me. On this I grabbed his scrawny wrist and squeezed it as hard as possible. Now it was my turn to bellow in his face and gee-gods didnt I just! His expression of rage immediately turned to one of complete submission. He then promptly took himself and his odours back to his car and departed the scene without another word. Thinking about it though, I’d just pedalled 60 miles in the warm afternoon sun so couldn’t have smelt that nice either. I was absolutely furious and a little bemused at what had just occurred. As kids say these days…”What the actual hell?” Onlookers in the surrounding cars I think, quite enjoyed the spectacle. A little something to brighten their afternoon.

15 minutes later I arrived at the Airbnb after the shortest day of the trip. Capitalising on the the time available, I gave the bike a mini service and cleaned the chain and gears. Tomorrow it’s a morning battle thru the middle of Lyon before heading on to Valence- another 75 or so miles closer to the sea.

Thanks to all of those who have donated and for messages of support. They’re much appreciated.

Cheers.

Day 7 Heuilley sur Saone – Tournus

Click here for the Routemap

Following yesterday’s trials and tribulations, I emerged from Chez B&B with fresh, clean and dry kit ready to do battle with what Sunday had to throw at me. Thankfully the rain has ceased and the sun was putting in an appearance. Temperatures were still way down below average though due to the northerly winds. However, these were still in my favour.

Soon after leaving I once again joined the Canal Entre Champagne et Bourgogne on somewhat ropey surfaces and prayed this wasn’t a pre-cursor of what day ahead. A bakery was then sought at Pontailler sur Saone and provisions taken onboard for the day.

Once again, canalside cycle paths dwindled from the good to the bad to the utterly ridiculous and a reroute was quickly taken at La Marche sur Saone. This took me a bit of a long way round into the city of Auxonne which by the looks of it is really well worth a visit. It appears to be brimming with history.

With the reroute happening I was frequently stopping to consult the Google (arrrrrgh no!) Map on my phone and in Auxonne, I was approached by a gentleman who pulled up in front of me in an old Peugeot He was a portly chap, looked to be in his 60s and smelt strongly of meths even when 3 feet away.

It transpired he was president of the local Auxonne cycling club. Although, judging by his shape, I did wonder if he was there just to do the admin and wash the kit rather than partake in any two-wheeled activity. When he spoke, he gave this big beaming smile after every sentence which I thought very strange. This was also made worse by the fact that he seemed to have twice the normal compliment of teeth when compared to anybody else. All angles and all shades of anything but white bore evidence of years of tobacco and booze. When he did smile, it was like opening the lid on an old piano!

The same question was asked of this man as was Madame and her dog way back up near Chalons en Champagne. That being, are the canalside cycle paths in good order. This one the ‘Voie Bleu’ was the one in question and wound its way south. His reply, just like Madame Chien, was a positive one and with much enthusiasm he enlightened me to the fact that the surfaces were good all the way. Question was, All the way to where? Well, It turns out that our rotund, meths-swilling non-cyclist is also a bloody liar because it was all the way down the river for about 5 miles before, without warning, becoming a grassy, rutted track.

I had no choice but to use it. I could’ve turned back but there’s something psychologically wrong with going in the opposite direction when you’re hellbent on pressing forward.

Once out of the grassy stuff, tarmac was once again underneath the wheels and signs for the Voie Bleu resumed. This time though, the surfaces were perfect. High on a levy above the Saone Canal on flat smooth cycle paths with a following wind, progress was good with the frequent beeps from my Garmin watch as the miles were steadily ticked off.

Time beside the canal seemed all too brief as I had to leave it for the conventional roads to cut due south. This involved the customary long straight undulating stuff that seems to be very popular in France.

Now, in England, most straight roads are said to have been built by the Romans. If it’s the same case in France, it’s no wonder the Empire fell. Picture the scene: Somwhere near the Franck-German border, Olaf Ingelsen, Commander in-Chief of the Scando-Germanic allied forces nobly stands there atop a horse in full battle dress. One hand on the reins and the other brandishing an 8lb battleaxe. Behind him, poised are 40,000 warriors ready to take on the might of Rome. A fight to the death. Catapults, archers, slingshots. Only, there’s a small problem – the opposition haven’t arrived. After a an hour or so, oug of the morning mist, a lone Roman messenger turns up on horseback and says, “I’m awfully sorry but Caesar sends his apologies and says there will be no battle today. His boys are busy in France laying tarmac and white lining!”

A reasonable theory methinks.

The remaining 20 or so miles were a gentle descent back to canal level into the pretty town of Tournus. An 80 miler all in all. Shouldn’t have been but due to crappy surfaces, there was little choice.

Tomorrow is a short 62 mile jaunt down to the northern outskirts of Lyon. Hopefully I’ll make good time as the bike needs a bit of TLC.

Bye for now.

Day 6 Chaumont – Heuilley sur Saone.

Click here for the Routemap

I would open this post with a picture but I cant remember taking one. The reason? The Weather!

Now, living in Devon, I’m quite used to the wet stuff dropping from the sky. It’s quite a regular thing down our way. It’s rarely a problem as we’re all geared up for it. I on the other hand, whilst in France was far from prepared. I didnt account for such eventualities as 2 degrees C, driving rain, sleet, and at one point, snow! Even the new gear I bought yesterday was struggling to cope with it.

I left Chaumont and immediately headed downhill towards the canal. The downhill bit made me wince with the cold in the air. Luckily for me (and this is the only piece of good fortune to fall my way today), the wind was from the north and although bitterly cold, it would give me a bit of a helping hand.

5 miles after setting off, spirits were quickly dampened (saturated actually) as rain started to fall. It fell downwards and at times horizontally. My new so-called weatherproof gloves were useless under such conditions as the circulation to my fingers retreated and numbness replaced it. The old feet weren’t fairing much better and after 25 miles or so on the canal, it was time to leave it due to there being a tunnel. This would mean going over the top but before departing the canal, I sought some shelter in a small shed that was provided for the very purpose.

Whilst sat in this shed, a local employee stepped out of his Renault. He was from the canal and waterways authority and approached me. He was of huge build with glasses that made his eyes look wider than they actually were. He reminded me of one of those filtered selfies you see on social media these days. It also gave him the appearance of someone that had just received some shocking news! In addition to this he was clearly very accomplished and adept at cigarette smoking. I watched as he took a long hard drag on a Gauloise before inhaling it deeply and continuing his conversation. I then stared in disbelief as this inhaled smoke was showing no signs of escaping. Between sentences he also had a terrific wheeze but then that’s no surprise! For the sake of reference we’ll call our smoke-swallowing friend Michele (all men in France called Michel drive Renaults and smoke Gauloises). Michele told me in pigeon english that I could proceed no further on the canal and needed to go over the top. I replied in pigeon French that I knew this was the case and then went on to enquire how steep ‘over the top’ actually was. After swallowing another litre of smoke, he gave a shrug and replied ‘pas mal’ – meaning ‘not too bad really’. At this point, I then had a brainwave to try and warm up my now-numb hands. I had a dry pair of fleece gloves which I then put on underneath a couple of polythene bags to keep the rain off. Actually, one was a Tesco’s carrier and the other had some stale brioche rolls in which I binned. It worked. Before long my hands were warm as I left the familiar and flat canal and headed for the hills. Michele had already stumbled into his Renault and departed the scene.

As it transpired, it turns out that Michele is also a bloody liar! The climb up to the town of Langres was brutal and with numb feet and now-warm hands I pushed the bike upwards with each summit concealing another. Langres seemed to be well appointed with plenty of bars and cafes (all closed of course). I was tempted to stop off and try and find somewhere for lunch and/or at least a hot drink but nothing was open (as usual!). On the way out of the town, I spied a restaurant that was open and almost turned tail and went in but then I thought, if I do go in and ‘de-robe’ so to speak, it would be even harder to get going again. The rain was still falling and turning to sleet. Utterly miserable it was too.

The southbound road out of the town then commenced with a 3 mile descent. I freewheeled down and with the tailwind, was soon cruising at over 30mph without even turning a pedal. Under blue skies and warm sunshine this would’ve been fab. Today tho, as the sleet then morphed into snow, the wind chill on my delicate face was now well below freezing. Also, after all the climbing, my hands were now hot, moisture had condensed in the plastic bags making the gloves wet and within an hour my hands were on their way to being numb once more.

With relief, I was back on the canal again. The tunnel was obviously the summit of the canal and after climbing gradually, it was now my turn to descend. A quick look at the Garmin told me I still had 42 bitter miles to cover. I’d given up on any ideas of lunch and just went for it. 42 miles pretty much without a stop apart from junctions where roads cross and you’ve no choice.

It was a quick 40+ miles (by my standards) and on arrival at Heuilley sur Saone, I found the accommodation quickly and was given a very warm welcome with hot tea and an offer to wash and dry all of my kit. Result! 70+ miles in total in dreadful conditions. If I’d been at home I wouldn’t have even entertained the thought of venturing out in it.

Anyway, all done! Tomorrow is Sunday and the forecast is changing for the better!

Ciao for now.

Just a little reminder……

Hi folks,

Whilst I pedal my merry way across this foreign land amusing the locals with my crap French, let’s not forget the reason this is happening.

The Brain Tumour Charity works tirelessly researching this dreadful thing and of course is funded by donations. If you do have a few quid to spare then please give something. Just a couple of pounds can make a difference.

The link is here to donate

Also, towards the end of the ride, I’ll be doing a Guess the Miles competition where you can guess what the total will be and make a £2 donation to the JustGiving page. I’ll post the total mileage on the penultimate night and give you a rough guide on the following day’s route. The winner will get a £20 John Lewis voucher. It’s only a couple of quid so worth a shot!

Also if you’d like to drop in and see my progress, you can by clicking here

Thanks for your time and Bonne Journée!

Day 5. Chalons en Champagne to Chaumont

Click here for today’s routemap

90+ French miles were in the offing today. After yesterday’s downpour, I’d spent a fun evening getting everything dried out for today. The route for the entire day was pretty straight forward and that was to pick up the cycle path on the Marne Canal and keep pedalling until my little GPS told me otherwise.

Today had been on mind for a good while. Why? I dont know. It’s only just 15 or so more than what I have been doing so it’s no big thing.

The canal appeared 100yds from the B&B. Freshly laid tarmac, smooth and quick. The morning was cold and damp after a night of rain. They do say that all good things must come to an end which is exactly what the tarmac did after 5km! Immediately it transformed into a rutted grassy track littered with potholes full of murky beige water. It’s as if the French road-surface team simply ran out of materials and said, “Sod it? That’ll do, its Friday, let’s have ‘arf day”

As there was no alternative, there was little choice but to proceed. After 15 mins of pedalling and swearing and asking myself ‘What on earth am I doing on a grassy, muddy lane in freezing cold France at 7am?’, I reached a village and walking in the opposite direction was a lady in her sixties walking her jack russell (who actually looked as pleased to be outdoors as I was!). For the sake of reference, we’ll call her Marie-Claire (all women called Marie-Claire in France walk Jack Russells). Anyway, in my best pigeon French I asked her if the surface improved from here on in. To which she replied “Oui, C’est bon!” Excellent! With renewed spirit I continued and after 200 yards it got worse, and worse and then to the point where it was unrideable (if there is such a word). It turns out that Marie-Claire is in fact a bloody liar. It’s most probably the case that the dog has had enough after 150yds and turns for home so she’s never been any further!

Now, inland waterways in France were built originally to transport goods back in the days of yore just like they were in England long ago when we used to actually export stuff! Canals were dug through valleys and countryside and if the lay of the land was too difficult, They’d dig tunnels. The canal I found myself on was in a valley and any diversions away from said waterway required a hill. With the towpath in the condition it was, I had no choice but to hit the tarmac and climb out of the valley. This I did and then thought I’d throw caution to the wind (which incidentally was turning nicely around to a northerly) a few miles later and drop down to the next village and try my luck on the canal once more. Straightaway it was bad but then suddenly, Bingo! Everything came good.

Who says water doesnt flow uphill? Well the elevation chart proves it does! Nah not really, every 800yds or do on this canal there’s a lock or écluse if you’re a Frenchy. Once upon a time, these were manned constantly and the lockeeper’s houses still exist. Now tho, everything is automated and the job, long gone.

It was still cold and I had concerns about the suitability of my kit as the forecast for the following day was horrendous. So, at the town of St. Dizier I bought some new gloves, long cycling trousers (thermal and waterproof), new over shoes and a buff scarf thing. After telling me the price and picking me up off the floor of the shop, the shop assistant then forced me, under much duress, to empty my wallet. I then reluctantly settled the bill and departed the shop in floods of tears wondering how next month’s mortgage arrears will be paid. 10 minutes later, the sun came out and I was down to short sleeves!

Back on the canal, back on good surfaces and progress was swift. There was even a bakery (and it was bloody open!) by the canal. Lunch was sought and at some point a fresh ham baguette was to be had.

The scenery around these parts is beautiful. It’s peaceful, plenty of wildlife, serene almost. Every now and then in the shallows you’d hear a little chorus of frogs/toads with just their heads above the surface. On hearing the bike approaching, heron-type bird take off from their nests on the shoreline, fly a wide circle and land where they took off from. Photographs simply cannot do justice to the beauty of this place.

Chaumont was the destination today. A town which, is built on a hill. A dirty-great steep one at that. I was expecting this and after the mileage ticked past 89, the GPS directed me off the canal and onto tarmac and immediately it went UP. It was steep but also short which was a relief. Then there was a long descent before reaching the town. Lulling me into a false sense of security, I thought that’s it! I’ve done it! But no, Mr GPS said there was 1.5 miles to go. Half of which was an even steeper hill.

After much huffing and puffing, I got to the B&B with a big grin. The longest day was done! In the bag! Finito! Must be neat half way now! Its not going to get any worse than that! Or is it? Hmmm, well stay tuned for Day 6 (when I’ve written it)!

Bye for now!

Day 4. Marle to Chalons en Champagne

Click here for today’s routemap

My host in Marle laid on a breakfast fit for a king this morning. Breads, pastries, cakes. An utter carb-fest! Afterwards, I was actually ready for a lie down and not spend half a day on a bike. After waving goodbye to Monsieur et Madame, I pedalled off only to stop after 25yds as my Garmin watch had crashed. A quick look on Google on how to reset it and I was away again. 2 miles later after a long climb out of the town I was at the bus stop in the little village, Autremencourt. This is where my knee finally refused to bend anymore back in September. It was a good psychological victory to get here this morning.

Again the rolling countryside afforded me some swift progress before dropping down into a wetland nature reserve which was, naturally flat but also devoid of any tarmac. Once again, Google maps had played a blinder during the planning stage. I was slowed down quite considerably weaving left and right to avoid the pot holes this lasted a couple of miles but at least the sun was shining and all of the wind turbines I saw in this area were stationary – always a relief for a cyclist!

Today’s ride was a proper smorgasbord of environments; quiet roads and country lanes, busy as hell ‘D’ roads, and then some ridiculous thoroughfares avoiding the motorways.

I wonder who, at Google’s mapping department selects such ‘roads’ and deems them suitable for cycling – a sadistic b@#$%&d! That’s who! After 50+ miles the last thing you want to do is push a bike up stuff like this.

It wasnt all bad though. After quick progress on a rolling D road with articulated lorries affording you the courtesy of passing as wide as they can, I entered the town of Reims and immediately picked up the canal cycle way which skirted around the place. Not very picturesque in places due to some heavy industry going on and a lot of abandoned buildings but it made a nice change after the previous 20+ miles.

Now, usually when rolling along a canal towpath, one would see a variety of wildlife – ducks, swans, geese etc. However, this one was a little different as there was none to be seen. What there was plenty of however, was piles of white-coloured metallic scrap objects every couple of hundred yards. These mounds are the discarded findings from those people that are into ‘magnet fishing’. What you do is go onto Ebay and pay a small sum for a neodynium magnet, attach it to a rope and then chuck it into the canal in the hope of finding a discarded safe or a biscuit tin full of gold bullion etc. In reality tho, and certainly in this canal it was more like an old ‘baccy tin and a rusty hub cap! Altho there was an exception which was lain on the bank in all its glory- a moped! Imagine the effort it took to extricate that from the water! He’d probably phoned his wife and told her to put a deposit down on that Mercedes as his luck had finally changed! And now there’s one disappointed magnet fisherman in Reims with a hernia and a bad back!

The latter part of the ride went a bit pear-shaped in all honesty. The route into Chalons en Champagne was to come off the main road and drop down onto the canal towpath for a flat end to the day. This wasn’t to be as after what seemed like 10 miles of crappy farm tracks, access to the canal was barriered off. So…..back I went muttering the odd profanity and back onto the main road. I was then routed onto these ridiculous rutted tracks around the perimeter of agricultural land right beside the motorway (much to the amusement of passing traffic I’m sure!)

Two minutes after leaving the tracks and hitting tarmac again, out of nowhere the heavens opened. Torrential rain. I was 2 miles from the finish. The Garmin lost its gps link so was useless and my phone kept reverting back to the homescreen as the rain was hitting the glass. After faffing about for 20 mins, I found a bus shelter and was able to route to the right address…..or so i thought…..

On arrival, there was a young lad (we’ll call him Jean-Claude) unloading groceries from his citroen (all men in France called Jean-Claude drive Citroens). He beckoned me over and invited me to bring my bike into the garage. Wanting to get out of the wet stuff, I obliged and Jesn-Claude then offered me a hot drink. Lovely! I thought. I then asked (in French of course!) if he was the son of Sylvie. He looked at me puzzled and replied (in French also) that Sylvie had been dead some seven years! I then looked at him in a way that said,

‘I’ve not got the right house here have I?’

He then simultaneously returned a glance that said something like,

‘No you prick! I invited you in to get out of the rain!’

If I’m honest I was relieved as I thought there was some sort of French Norman Bates thing going on!

Anyhow, 10 minutes later I was in the right house and then spent the evening drying out all of my kit. I couldn’t face going out again in the weather so asked the host if she would phone and order me a pizza. It was bloody lovely after all of that!

A real mixed day and glad it’s done. Hope everything improves tomorrow as it’s the longest day with over 90 miles to cover.

Bonjour!