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!!
Steve Pullan (Tavistock, Devon, UK)