Category: CYCLING

Day 8 Pithiviers to Blois

43.

No, not my age, my waist in inches or the number of beers we drank in the hotel in Blois. This was the temperature today as recorded in green numbers beside the flashing green cross of a Pharmacy.

We thought that the day was going to be warm as we sat outside enjoying breakfast. At 0830 the air was already very ‘comfortable’, even in the shade. A fly walked across the breakfast table fanning itself and a pigeon could not be bothered to ‘coo’. Instead, it sat on branch sighing to itself. I overheard a few swallows discussing whether to migrate further north.

There is a fantastic bike shop right opposite the hotel. Sean could do with a new chain and I could have my rear brakes checked. It looks quite a big place and advertises several types of bike, including Bianchi. They also do repairs. Except that it is closed on Mondays. Today is of course Monday. I don’t like Mondays. Neither do French bike shop owners, they prefer to be at home or to shoot the whole day down.

So we set off for Blois, as it turns out is 73 miles away. We have minor issues with brakes on my bike resulting in a ride that feels like wading through treacle. The French have a saying, ‘au buerre’, or ‘in butter’. Butter in these temperatures would be as runny as water and as likely to stick to a tyre as grease in a codpiece. Add in a head wind, which was with us for all of those miles, and bike felt like it was made of lead. We had stopped at a garage and borrowed some tools, but later we had to stop at a “bricolage’ ( B and Q) for tools of our own. Only after 10 minutes fiddling with the bike outside the B and Q, were we informed of a bike shop just around the corner. Of course we arrived as it closed for lunch. A vey nice lady told us that all small bike shops would be closed “lundi”. I really don’t like Mondays. Undaunted we affect a running repair to the brakes and then off at a rate of knots across very very flat country. For all you Strava freaks the stats are: 73 miles and 2500 feet of ‘climbing’.

The route south of Orleans takes us alongside the Loire all the way to Blois, much of it on a cycle path. Generally the drivers, as noted, are great. Two days ago, I did have one chap open his car door and stepped out in front of me so closely I could see his dandruff, smell his diffidence while nearly having a ‘touch the cloth’ moment. Today a white van man clearly did not see us, first I knew was the sound of a horn and the van cutting me up at speed. Sean says the wing mirror and my head were close to touching. We also had fun with gravel and a dirt track as the usually tarmacced bike path gave way in places. We both hit one patch at over 12 miles an hour only to experience front wheel tucking and severe bike wobble. I might have said a naughty word out loud, and clearly the oncoming cyclist heard something judging by the huge grin on his face. ‘Fuck’ is universally understood if not universally practiced.

The heat was relentless and learning from my Proven├žal experience, we drank litres. I’m not sure it was enough, but we got through the day. The water tasted like warm gnats piss tea, but without the tea or the gnat. So, really it tasted of warm piss. With only a mile to go we both nearly ‘bonked’, i.e. ran completely out of energy. In the UK, this route would be easy. but with panniers and over 40 degrees of heat, and a constant head wind, it had the makings of an ‘epic’. We have similar to do tomorrow as we again follow the Loire to Saumer, another 70 miles away.

Tonights dinner was a fantastic Italian, accompanied by a pichet of the local sauvignon blanc. Sean’s french pronunciation is ‘improving”. As much as double incontinence is an improvement on piles.

A bientot!

Day 7 Paris to Pithiviers

Because the hotel is being renovated, meaning that the ‘salle de petit dejeuner’ is not available, the hotel manager at the Kyriad Hotel Bercy Gare de Lyon, has provided breakfast free of charge. Just as well because there is no butter for the bread, no ‘confiture’ for the croissants, no milk for the coffee, no plates, no cutlery save plastic knives which could not make a cutting remark let alone cut butter (if there was any). Suitably unvictualled, we set the bikes up outside the hotel. My bike requires back brake adjustment but we discover the multi tools don’t have the required spanners. Never mind, I’ll ride with even more care and stopping distance in mind. The good news is that the rear wheel goes round and round without a ‘plunk’ to be heard. Just as I’m about to leave the hotel, Sean asks if I’m going to take my panniers with me, as I’ve left them at the hotel entrance. I thought the bike was light.

We make good progress out of Paris helped by Sunday traffic and cycle lanes. Another glorious blue sky accompanied with heat. We head south towards Pithiviers, about 62 miles away. We are now turning around to come back to Roscoff via the Loire valley.

All is going sweetly until we reach a small town called Bellainvilliers about 20 miles out. This time there is no ‘plunk’. The garmin directs us up a short 200 metre dirt track slope, complete with gravel, dust and dog turd. At this point the stresses on Sean’s chain take their toll, resulting in a broken link. This means a full stop and bike repair roadside. The chain has to come off, sean’s bike is upside down and the heat must be high twenties to low thirties. The chain link tool is struggling to do the job and plan B ( taxi to Pithiviers) might be invoked. Sean is covered in sweat and grease trying to affect a repair. After about 10 minutes a helpful lady comes out of her house to us with a hammer and pincers. This is a grand gesture but is as useful as a fart in a bottle.

After another 5 minutes a car pulls up and out skips a chap in his late fifties or early sixties dressed in cycle club gear. He is wearing black cycling shorts and a yellow and red top with ‘T’PU Billianvilliers’ on it. This is the local club. He assesses the situation and goes back to his car to fetch an ‘attach rapide’ – a spare link and tool. However, after another 10 minutes it becomes clear that the broken link is just not going to be fixed. M’sieur then gets on the phone, calls his friend who then turns up in his car and in the same cycling gear but with more tools and links. There are now three people standing around an upturned bike beside the road in the middle of the village trying to fix the chain.

I’m learning new french words for things like ‘chain’ , ‘link’ and ‘bollocks it won’t f*cking fit’. Marcel, the second chap, in a previous life has ridden the Paris- Brest- Paris so knows a thing or two about bikes. At last the thing is done. We offer some euros in thanks but they are having none of it, “amici” is the word uttered. I guess this is the cyclists equivalent of the masons but without the funny handshake and dodgy connections. They wave us off cheerily and not for the first time we have heard ‘Bonne Route” and “Bon Courage”. The assistance given today is beyond praise, they both gave up best part of an hour, at lunch time, to lend a hand and get us going again. I could cry with joy.

Soon we are running out of water in the heat and also require food. Again the scenery is stunning. At one point I’m riding on smooth black tarmac along a flat road lined on one side by plane trees through fields of sunflower, maize or corn, poppies dotting the verge. I look ahead and see the hedgeless road twisting and turning, a sparrowhawk swoops above and a tractor kicks up dust in a distant field. There is no sound except tyre on tarmac and the occasional grunt of slight exertion as the heat builds. If this was on the telly, you’d be singing the praises of the cameraman and director, and ‘wishing you were here’. It is a classic high production values BBC travel programme right in front of one’s face. All you need is a Michael Palin to make some pithy comment about France.

The wind picks up and is in our faces for about 40 miles, we are drinking and drinking. I think we may not be drinking enough, so we stop at a tiny village called Auvers St George for two ice cold cokes and a plate of chips and chicken nuggets. It is not gourmet, it is carbs. As we sit outside the bar overlooked by willow trees and the church, 4 men in their 70’s methinks, come outside to talk to the two mad Englishmen on bikes. They are very interested in both the journey and the fact of cycling. One tells me that he has been to England on a motorbike from Dover to Lancaster to Fort William and beyond. Chapeau! With yet another “bonne route” we are off.

Pithiviers finally comes into view down a long 6 mile straight road. This countryside is flat, very flat. has been perhaps since we left the suburbs of Paris. Pithiviers high steeple is like a needle pointing skywards beckoning us on towards a shower and a cold beer.

Tomorrow is Blois 71 miles away via Orleans and following the Loire for about 50 miles. Right now, sleep is the priority.

Bon Courage!

Day 6 Chartres to Paris

The plan for the morning is to find a bike shop and get the wheel done. Here it gets a bit technical as it seems it is easier to knit with kittens than it is to change the wheel. I’m not confident that merely changing spokes is going to be suffice. M’sieur is ‘helpful’ in explaining in technical french why it will not be easy and the bike will not be ready until 1700. This sort of help is as useful a barrel full of monkeys at a garden party. We have to be in Paris 67 miles away.

The plan is to strike for the capital and charge across the northern french plains like a panzer division on a mission. Except a head wind has other ideas. Not to mention the chalfonts. The countryside here is acre upon acre of open corn fields, stripped of hedges interspersed with the odd wood. We keep going hoping not to hear another ‘plunk’ of spoke. Every little bump in the road brings metal fatigue just that bit more inevitable, resulting in both bike and my arse skidding along the road probably in front of a large tractor. Putting such thoughts aside I keep turning the crank. the wheel has a slight wobble but keeps going.

After about 40 miles we stop for food at Ramboulliet. This is where it starts getting more urban as Paris looms closer still. A charming couple at the next table informs us that the car drivers here are faster and more dangerous than they are in the rest of France. Well, we are from the UK and are made of stern stuff. How bad can it be?

As the way becomes very urban and industrial, we are helped enormously by cycle paths and painted cycle lanes and priority at lights. This makes it feel fare more safe than at home. I don’t have to shout ‘tosser’ once. Well, only once about 2 kms from the hotel in central Paris when a taxi cuts in from my left and and the car in front just stops. Im faced with a choice: hit the car or try to run around the back of it. The taxi driver clearly thinks that it is his space, so panniers brushed the side of the taxi and ‘tosser’ was shouted. He stops. I go. He probably though I shouted ‘touche’ , saille. which would be about right. That aside Paris was hot and slow going. I think we had to stop at 100 red lights. On the way in we passed the palace of Versaille.

This was the place for French Royalty to show off. Buckingham Palace looks like a garden shed in comparison. Versailles defines granduer, majesty, largesse and ‘let them eat cake’ two fingers to ‘ordinary people’. No wonder french peasants scraping a living on peas, pork and piss took umbrage and cut their heads off. Perhaps that is the secret of the British Monarchy, they hid their wealth rather than parading it around like a tart in a titty bar.

We cycle right up the Eiffel tower to take in the scene. The Seine shimmers in the early evening light, the sky is cloudless blue and Paris hums contentedly like a cat in the lap of the fat lady who feeds her. As I stop I am aware that the rear wheel is wobblier than jelly in an earthquake. We have been hitting some bumps and lumps and kerbs, each one condemning the wheel to an early demise. The brakes contact the rim with every revolution. With only 8kms to go to the hotel, I have to negotiate the left bank, the Boulevard St Germaine and the Bridge over to the Gare de Bercy.

Thankfully the Hotel Kyriad Bercy appears, unthankfully there is no record of a reservation in my name. It turn out that there are two Hotel Kyriads in this area and ours is a mere 5 mins away.

Relief.

We shower, find a great place for a beer before bedtime. This part of Paris is tourist free and feels very very relaxed.

The plan is to find a bike shop and: fix spoke or buy a bike. we have been told that because the bike is old, new wheels will not fit (to do with the width of the cassette, thats the gear rings on the rear). It now gets complicated, as this morning run around bike shops to find the solution. long story short we find a really fantastic place and M’suer says “no problem”. What, ‘no problem?’ So I choose the buy a whole new wheel and tyre, all that has to be done is to put the cassette on the axle. Tiz done in a flash and so back to the hotel where the rest of the bike is to fit new wheel.

I’m so excited I leave the wheel in another bike shop on the way to the metro, thankfully we did not get far and so go back. This comes on the back of losing the iPhone in a taxi this morning (minor detail). Back at the hotel we could not get the wheel to fit. Perhaps M’sieur in Chartres was correct, perhaps it is not that easy? So,bike and wheel and growing angst go back onto the metro. Plan B is that if this all goes pear shape, I will hire a car and become support vehicle.

The mechanic takes the wheel and frame and tries to fit it together. He fails. I wonder where the nearest Hertz or Europcar rental is. I wonder how far away the Siene is and if it takes old bicycles. But then with a bit of wizardy, it all fits. Just takes know how, and sure enough it is ‘no problem’. I have not yet tested the rear brakes in anger.

The rest of the evening was spent enjoying the sunshine in Paris, just avoid the busy bits, the rest of the city is chilled heaven. The queues for the Tower were far too long, so we just stood underneath and gazed upwards. We’ve also been riding the metro all day like citizens. Magic.

Tomorrow is Sunday. We might starve as France closes for the day.

At least the wheel is fixed, now for the chalfonts. All I need is branding iron and a suturing kit.

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