Since leaving Nantes the view has mostly been one of water. Specifically the river Loire, the river Cher plus various canals in between the two. The terrain also has been amazingly flat. Who knew it was possible to cover so many miles and to deviate so little from sea level? Even the Canadian prairies (which everyone promised were pancake flat and weren’t don’t compare.) No, the Loire Valley definitely wins the prize for being flat as a…. crépe. Riding along the Loire is also one of the most popular Eurovelo routes (EV 6) with cycle tourists, in fact I’ve never seen so many people with panniers all in one place. Even withstanding an increase in popularity in recent years, seeing a cycle tourist is still fairly uncommon. Here though, by the Loire, it’s a veritable superhighway of tourers. Most sporting the same red or black Ortleib panniers and expressions ranging from serene contentment to utter exhaustion. The French custom of saying a cheery ‘Bonjour’ to every person you meet also gets quite frenetic when there are literally dozens of riders.
There are a rainbow of Nationalities out here as well, all sporting a unique set up. I absolutely love looking at the way people choose to bike travel, some with minimal back packs, others with tottering mountains of bags and bin liners and bits hanging from every available strap. Being 100% honest, I’m also judging the amount of gear they have against my own and feeling a tiny bit smug (famous last words). A pleasant surprise is that we seem to be travelling quite light in terms of luggage although my legs disagree with that when we do have to ride up hills.
The highlights have been, not in the gradients but the ever changing scenery on route. Riding through narrow, winding, rocky streets by the Troglodyte cave houses in Saumer, used by people and animals as housing, shelter and sanctuary for thousands of years they are still being excavated into the tuffeau limestone cliffs throughout the region by those looking to live a simpler existence (or for an extra wine cellar).
On an opposing scale we’ve also passed the grandest, most oppulent of buildings, towering castles and chateaus around nearly every corner, including the UNESCO world heritage site of Chenonceau where we stared enviously through the gates at the disney-esque palace. I bet it’s a nightmare for heating bills though!
The roads also cut, arrow straight, through fields of vines, corn, wild flowers and sunflowers, all craning their heads in the same direction, swaying and nodding like a giant crowd at a rock concert. There’s an abundance of wildlife too, including storks, red squirrels, big beaver-type animals (which M insists was a giant rat) and deer, as well as an abundance of insects, mostly in and around the tent at night!
We’re currently east of Bourges, after riding mostly along the river Cher and the parallel Canal de Berry, a stunning, disused waterway built at the turn of the 19th century to deliver coal and iron more easily to the Loire. The canal was built on the narrow side, due to a lack of water in the region, unfortunately however this meant that most barges wouldn’t fit down it. It was finally closed to water traffic in the 1950s and has been drained in places to produce amazing wetland-marshes with rivers of colourful wildflowers instead of water.
Three weeks in now and we are settling into life on the road. I now feel less of a rookie again as I can pretty much remember what I have stashed in each pannier…..unless I need it in a hurry and/or it is raining. Rule number 1 of packing your bike, never close up a pannier until you are ready to leave. Guaranteed that as soon as you have wrestled it shut you will absolutely need to take something out/put it in. Speaking of which I have already posted some surplus bits home with an idea of creating more space. The vacuum from which has been mysteriously and instantly filled by ever expanding kit.
The bikes have been behaving well too, yet we are both still tweaking the set up (and boring each other rigid with it) to try and eliminate numb fingers and saddle sores. For the former I’ve bought some new leather grips, an impulse buy at a cafe stop. I’m not sure they are helping especially, but they look smart, and I keep admiring them as I take my hands of to shake the blood back into circulation.
The other more critical change for me has been a new saddle. It was a risk taking my old mountain bike one and after the first week it was obviously a bad decision! After several long days of chafing a tearful riverside meltdown ensued followed by an emergency shopping session. The new saddle is a vast, if not 100% improvement, however I’m still wary about ditching the old one which is currently stashed on my rear rack (no pun intended) adding to the weight!
Other breakages and suspicious noises have been fixed in true professional style with gorilla tape (broken chain guard) and cable ties (a broken pedal cleat) or just sheer, wilful ignorance. Not bad for 2 second-hand bikes bought for the princely sum of £150 each.
A couple of rest and recharge days now before heading down to Lyon, saying farewell to the rivers where the temporary lack of hills may be about to change.
To date we have notched up 363 miles and a small, but perfectly formed 14,121 feet of climbing.
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It’s the story of a forty-something woman with no clue in life and no cycle touring experience. What she does have is a sense of adventure, a second hand bicycle and a skirt and the idea of riding across Canada….the wrong way.
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