After a few weeks on the road now it’s evident that camping has become a big part of our day and, whilst no one who saw us pich up, would call it a professional operation, we are certainly improving.
Spending so much time in campgrounds you also develop a mental checklist of the areas of importance. Here are my top 5 tips so far.
1. Choose your surface
The best sites are completely flat and boast the velvety smoothe kind of grass that a championship golf course/Yorkshire gardener would be proud of. Sadly, these are few and far between and we are more likely to end up either camped on a slope, meaning a night of slip-sliding around the tent or on mud/stones/an ant’s nest, meaning a dirty, crunchy tent full of bitey things. M also has an obsession with choosing the perfect pitch and will spend ages inspecting the options much to my frustration. My approach is a little more spontaneous (i.e. I’m tired, so happy to sleep anywhere), and involves having the shortest walk to the toilet. This difference in approach has produced some colourful end of day discussions as you can imagine. To resolve it however, and to save camp-relations, we have decided on a system of leadership, taking it in turns to be ‘Camp-meister’ and choose the pitch for the day whilst the other person is not allowed to comment. Ever.
Seems to be working so far….
2. Laundry Options
Something that I love about France are the many opportunities to do your washing. Even the supermarkets have washers and tumble dryers outside so you can do your wash whilst you shop. Genius. We’ve found too that most campgrounds have a washing machine, ranging from free (top marks) to around €5. Whilst I’m not adverse to washing my smalls in a sink there’s nothing like the freshness of machine laundered clothes, especially sweaty cycling gear. Rather than tumble dry too I’ve developed an ingenious rope and bungee cord system that can be stretched around the camp and accommodate a fantastic amount of drying sundries. I’m most proud of my innovative sticks-as-clothes-pegs set up which, whilst producing some raised eyebrows works very nicely thank you. Fortunately the warm weather has meant an abundance of drying days too.
We discovered early on that a pitch with electricity meant that you can plug your motor home in for hook up but not a regular household charger. What do work well however are our battery packs which can be left discretely in the washrooms for an hour or two and much less tempting to a chance thief/easy to replace. We are also generating our own electricity too, for the first time in my touring experience. M has a dynamo-hub on his front wheel which charges the battery packs as he rides and I have a solar panel charger which is great in the sunny campgrounds. Both have done a splendid job so far of keeping us fully charged and self sufficient.
4. Tables and chairs
You never realise what a handy invention the table is until you’ve tried to balance a camping gas stove and a pot of boiling water in a bumpy field. The best campgrounds have picnic tables or, even better, recreation areas, where the discerning cycle tourist can balance their cooker perfectly on a bespoke surface. On the plus side, another happy addition to this tour, courtesy of M, have been 2 tiny, foldable (Helinox) chairs. I will admit I scoffed initially but after few weeks I am a compete convert. At less than 400 grams my chair weighs as much as a can of beans and is far more practical. Want to have lunch by the river? Whip out the chair. Waiting outside a supermarket, get the chair out. In campgrounds we smugly soak up the envious stares of other cycle tourists squatting on the ground tent-side. A camping win.
Finally, and where the camping experience has fallen down somewhat is on the toileting front. French campsites (and toilets in general here) seem not too keen on providing either toilet seats or loo paper. The latter has definitely caused a few moments of concern and we now have a slight obsession with collecting loo roll, or anything that can be used as such including tissues, paper napkins etc. A real low point came after finishing our last roll and the shops being shut for the day, at which point we may have had to resort to employing the disposable covid face masks for a purpose for which they may not have been intended. To be fair it was technically a life-saving situation.
So there we have it. 26 days in and 19 have been spent under canvas. M and I are still speaking which I take as a win and we’re even sleeping well in our little home.
Also covered are 509 miles and 17, 891 feet climbed. Next stop Morbier in the Jura region, hopefully to watch a stage of the Tour de France.
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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.
Available on Amazon in e-reader and paperback formats.