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!

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