I’ve just woken up. It is dark, very dark still. Why is there no blue sky coming through the windows? That’s because the shutters are down. So, we’ve missed breakfast and the opportunity to take our wet clothes to the laundry. Today is a ‘rest’ day of 39 miles, which gives some a bit of extra time to make up for this loss.
The phone rings and it is madame asking if we would still like breakfast. Well, tickle my arse with a feather, if we are not being shown some authentic french hospitality. It clearly states on the reception wall that breakfast is between 0700 and 0900. Past tense. And yet a miracle has just happened. We skip joyously to the breakfast room. When I say ‘skip’ I don’t mean literally, holding hands as if in preparation for a musical cabaret.
The hotel sits high above the river, and so enjoys a great view across the town to the water below. The breakfast room has wall to ceiling windows and a panoramic outlook taking in the church spire opposite, the tiled roofs, and swallows dancing between it all. What is more, is that there is blue sky. No one else is there of course, as they duly noted the 0900 rule, and so all the tables were cleared. No worries, we helped ourselves to glasses and cups and the other odd tools for self victualing. Madame enters and shows us that there is in fact a table still laid for us complete with croissants, bread and coffee cups.
Madame is in fact receptionist, cleaner, breakfast maker…anything and everything it seems. I ask if she is the sole worker here. She is. I guess she is about mid thirties, quite pretty and wearing a low cut top (Sean tells me). I did not notice, due to being hungry.
We set off about at about 1045 ish. We do not leave anything behind. except Sean has left his sunglasses, probably back in Beauvoir. We still have wet cycling kit to get dried out. Perhaps tonight’s hotel will have a balcony in the sunshine so that we can hang out the wet gear.
I’ll not bore you with the empty roads, the courteous drivers, the wonderful road surfaces, cycle lanes, bucolic scenery, blue skies and fluffy white clouds. Just to say there was lots of all of that. Sunflowers turned up today, to join the fields of wheat, maize and cows.
We climb into a village called La Chappelle au Riboul on the D113. As I admire the huge ‘chapelle’ that dominates both skyline and village, I hear a dull ‘pling’. Now, bikes don’t make ‘pling’ noises for fun. One gets used to the noise of one’s bike and so anything like a ‘pling’ indicates something. Its a bit like an unsophisticated warning light. I think that I could just get off and check, but then we are far from any help. I therefore invoke the rule that says ‘ignore it, its nothing’. Unconvinced by the application of that rule, nonetheless I carry on, pass Sean, who then informs me that the rear wheel is wobbling. Jellies wobble, toddler’s lips wobble, a decent cleavage wobbles (I refer the reader to Madame in Mayenne), wheels on a bike don’t wobble. Just like ‘on the bus’ they should go round and round. I stop and flick each spoke for the tell tale dull plunk. I duly find it, a snapped spoke.
Our lunch stop is Villaine la Juhel about 6-7 miles further. The bike will have to make it. I hope there is a bike shop. If there is, it will of course be closed because everything closes between 1200 and 1400. No matter, we will have coffee and wait. The wheel keeps wobbling, I am making plans B and C to cover the eventuality of no bike shop. Villaine is about the size of Illogan (not very big) and is exactly like Illogan but without the pub, football team and incest. Does Illogan have a bike shop? What are the chances that Villaine has a bike shop? If it has no bike shop, do I wobble on to Alencon, take a taxi, burst into girly tears? Tomorrow is a long day to Chartres, over 80 miles. I’m not wobbling for 80 miles. Will Alencon have a bike shop, one that is open, and will they fix the bike today? I have insurance, will it pay for repairs and repatriation to the UK? I’m thinking all of this as we cycle to Villaine.
Villaine’s huge church looms, it seems they like big churches here. Right beside it, is a bar tabac where we get coffee and information that , that ‘oui’ there is a bike shop about 500 meters down the road. It is of course closed, as it is now 1230. The sun is out so we sit outside with our coffees while some french youth ‘treat’ us to hip hop playing from their nearby window. Nice. The only other people around is a couple of young men lounging about trying to think of something clever to do with a cigarette and a baseball cap, the cafe owner and what might pass as his wife? There are no dogs, cats or camels. All is quiet, except for the hip hop droning in the background.
At about 1330 we decide to locate the bike shop. Indeed it is about 500down the road, just where M’sieur said it would be. Is it closed for lunch? Of course it is, as we expected. Will it open later? The Sign says ‘Horaires” Mercredi (today) Closed. Thats it, mid week closing.
Cycle on to Alencon and hope there is a shop open. It is glorious cycling country, just a few hills and undulations. The rear brake makes odd noises due to wobbliness of wheel. I am aware of the weight pressing down on it and that, in my mind, it could collapse the wheel at any time. We enter another village called St Pierre de Nids, and there on the main street is a shop that sells fishing tackle, lawnmowers and chainsaws. There are also a couple of bikes parked outside. So, we stop we pop in. Madame behind the counter shouts to the chap in the workshop out back, along the lines of “Oi, Bill, we have a couple of english idiots who need a bike fixed, come and have a look will’ ee?” Bill appears, blue oil spattered overalls, dirty blue cap, white beard and a head full of knowledge. The answer is “yes we can”.
We push the bikes out to the back of the shop where ‘Bill’ will fix the spoke. The workshop has been around since engineering was invented, and there are bits everywhere in some semblance of order. He has rack upon rack of little wooden boxes with screws, nails, and jubilee clips. He has tool boards, compressors, workbenches, drums of oil and degreaser. The radio is playing some nasty french pop and Phil Collins. On the wall he has pictures of barely clad young ladies showing their chests, underwear and charm. One picture is dated 1994. They all look to be from that era. Don’t ask me how I know how old the pictures are, I just do. I don’t think this is allowed now in modern workshops. There really ought to be an old 2CV being repaired but sadly no, just bikes, lawnmowers and chainsaws. We watch a master craftsman do his thing, changing the spoke, trueing the wheel. Soon, and 21 euros later, we are ready. This is a bargain. No appointment, straight off the street, a skilled workman.
So. No need for plan B or C, and no panic. Alencon is only 12 miles away and the rest of the ride, as it has been all day, is in sunshine. The hotel is easily found, and it has a sunny balcony. We rig up a makeshift washing line and rinse and hang out the washing.
Tonight’s meal was a real find. Vietnamese. Some of the best food I’ve ever had. We had earlier gone into the ‘Office du Tourisme’ to ask if there was an Italian restaurant. This is akin to asking for free champagne, the way to the Brothel or sex in the car park. The look of incredulity was palpable, why on earth would there be an Italian restaurant in France when they have french restaurants? An answer was that of course we could have a pizza, but that was it. The Vietnamese restaurant, we found ourselves. If you are ever in Alencon, go there. In fact it is worth going to Alencon just for this restaurant.
Tomorrow is Chartes, home to one of the best Gothic Cathedrals in Europe. I remember a rather wine soaked evening there several years ago with Ann. Happy days.