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.