Saturday, 17 October 2009

Nous sommes arrivés dans le Puy en Velay

We finally arrived in Puy following a long but fairly pleasant and uneventful journey (provided 1 set of forfeited ferry tickets, 2 surplus train journeys, an unfortunate misunderstanding resulting from their being more than one train station in Calais and an extra 12 hours, counts as uneventful). Although ideally we would have shared the 8 hour drive across France, Ja had rather inopportunely picked this week to send his liscence off to have the address changed and as a result the driving was left to me. Every cloud has a silver lining, or so they say, and in this instance I was provided the opportunity to learn the appropriate way one ought to drive – as it transpires, after all these years, I have actually been doing it wrong. Having learnt, among other things, the correct way my hands ought to be positioned, the most appropriate road position, and when indication is required, we finally agreed I had learnt enough and decided to spend the majority of the next 7 hours in silence.

Puy is a pretty city, famed for it's lentils, lace and large quantity of religious iconography. Although it had rained heavily for the majority of the journey, the weather cleared when we arrived and we were able to take in the impressive, if somewhat bizarre, views of the Statue Notre-Dame de France, Cloitre de la Cathedrale and the Rocher St-Michel d'Aiguilhe (direct translation should be, although probably isn't, Church on a very high rock).

We spent the night in Puy in a campsite, resulting in us leaving typically late for what was to be a particularly difficult first days cycling. The particularly fine shot of Ja doing his best catalogue pose is on the steps of the Cathedral; the start of the route Chemin de St Jacques de Compostelle, that could potentially take us all the way to Santiago.


In trying to keep a record of many hours of repetitive exercise, and turn it into a blog that isn't just excruciatingly dull, I seem to have turned myself into some kind of twisted Bridget Jones type character....

Fri 9th October – Puy en Velay

Bike weight – 41kgs

Alcohol consumed: beers - 0, bottles of wine - 1 (between 2) (technically beers consumed = 1, but continental beers are so small as to not count. Unusual alcoholic temperance resulting from oversight in supermarche, and apparent lack of off-licences in France).

Rather alarmed to discover this morning that bike has actually managed to gain weight since Wessex Way trip. This in spite of radical wardrobe-ectomy prior to leaving. Must find way of subtly redistributing more weight into Ja's panniers.

Sat 10th October – Puy en Velay - Saugues

Bike weight – 42kgs

Distance cycled 50kms

Meters ascended – 1100

Alcohol consumed: beers - 0, bottles of wine - 1/2. (unusual alcoholic temperance resulting from exhaustion – not physically capable of staying awake long enough to drink any more).

Disappointed to discover that excess bike weight not resulting from secret clothes/make-up stash, but from re-distribution of communal weight by Ja. Still, probably a little churlish to complain as he is still carrying all the camping kit.

Had to complete an extra 2 hour 500m climb this eve after discovering that proposed campsite was closed for the winter. Arrived in Saugues in the dark, only to discover their campsite also closed. Ja appeared to take this as some kind of indication of national constitutional weakness on behalf of the French, reminiscing fondly about the number of sub-zero temperature winter nights he has spent in a tent in Wales. Managed to subtly rearrange face from relief at prospect of bed for night in to convincing disappointed face just in time. Arrived at Gite positively glowing...wont be long before we are fit, beautiful and positively irresistible (I'm sure cycling can do that for you).

Sun 11th Oct - Saugues - Aumont-Aubrac

Bike weight 42kg (careful guarding of panniers ensured no further redistribution)

Distance cycled 50km

Meters ascended – 600

Alcohol consumed: beers – 0 (calculated flawlessly as 3x the amount we had on Friday 3x0= 0) bottles of wine ½

Slightly easier cycling day today, weather cleared and ended day in sunshine meaning wouldn't have minded camping, although couldn't find open campsite (and no matter how much Ja tries to persuade me, I still object to staying anywhere that doesn't have running water – and no Ja, a river doesn't count).

Have become concerned though that as a result of aforementioned wardrobe-ectomy, healthy glow is rapidly turning into rather unpleasant odour. Also alarmed to discover that thighs are still growing at disconcertingly fast rate; whilst toned and athletic may be desirable I fear I am rapidly moving toward muscular (next stop shotputter?).

Mon 12th Oct Aubrac-Aumont - Espalion

Bike weight 43kg (extra weight resulting from litre of 'emergency' vin de table Ja decided we needed to be carrying)

Distance 66km

Alcohol consumed: very little (alcoholic temperance becoming alarmingly commonplace)

Awoke to howling wind and rain. Everyone else in Gite up and on their way by about 7am. Ja refused to get up. By time we finally managed to set off (having spent at least an hour adorning enough wet weather gear to fair any storm) the worst had passed, and by afternoon it was gloriously sunny again. We took more humour than was probably right in thinking about everyone who had set off early and got wet.

Found campsite that was open by River Lot.

Tue 13th Espalion – Conque

Distance – 53km

Meters ascent - alot

Alcohol consumed – very little (resulting from unplanned religious encounter) 

Arrived in Conque in early evening, feeling ambivalent about the amount of downhill – certain to mean that tomorrow will be entirely up. Odometer registered max speed of just over 50km/hr (I don't think my car will even go that fast). Conque is quite amazing place, where nothing seems to have changed since the 11th century. Apparently it has a population of 50, but with no shop and only 1 bar/restaurant (closed) it was hard to see how it even supports that many people. The campsite was (of course) closed, as was the Gite, which left us with only the option of staying in the church (who provide accommodation for those doing the route to Santiago as pilgrims). I was convinced we were going to be turned away for not being Catholic enough (or indeed at all), and very nearly fashioned myself a wedding ring out of a can-pull, just to be on the safe side, but it transpired our fears were unfounded, and we were given the most hospitable welcome; provided with cups of tea, an amazing evening meal, and a very comfy bed. We were even invited to make a reading at their evening service (to which Ja's face contorted with such horror that I think they assumed he was illiterate).

Wed 14th Oct – Conque-Figeac

Distance – 59km

Fears were realised this morning, with what felt like a kilometer of climb out of Conque, followed by mostly uphill all day. Discovered on arrival in Figeac that there was an open campsite 10k further on, so continued on without spending any time in the town. At the campsite Ja decided that the extra weight of the emergency wine was too much, and pretty much singlehandly polished it off, before falling unconscious for the best part of 12 hours, and waking with what he proclaimed to be the worst hangover he has ever had. I suspect this could have been predicted as in spite of Ja's belief to the contrary, even in France it can't be usual to pay only 1euro for a litre of wine, and he was probably lucky to wake up with his sight still intact.

Sat 17th October – Lauzerte

Am getting a bit bored of the Bridget style diary keeping. Although the more I think about it, the more parallels I'm noticing... I have been told more than once that Ja shares more than just a passing resemblance to a certain Mssr Grant (although no matter how hard I squint at him I've still yet to see this). Also, although Bridget's support pants would never have made it through the wardrobectomy, these cycling shorts are equally hideous (whilst ironically having the exact inverse effect). 

We are, today, having a rest day, having come a further 130km in the last 2 days (mostly flat, obviously) The highlights have been waking each morning to the condensation on the inside of the tent having frozen (I still maintain this must the point at which it is officially too cold to camp), and spending a memorable evening sharing a bottle of wine sitting on a washing machine in the launderette of a campsite (it wasn't even turned on, but seemed to be the only place in walking distance with a power supply and a door). Ja has promised to try and top this excitement this evening (I'm hoping he isn't just planning to do some washing), so will update the next time we are online.

Monday, 5 October 2009

Weston-Super-Mare to Eastbourne

So we began the planned epic cycle with a, potentially rather unglamorous, trip to test out the new bikes and all the kit in Weston Super Mare. Predicatably our 10 am start was foiled by the fact that Ja is the only person I have ever met who can faff more than me. After repacking his panniers for the 10th time, replacing the wheels that inexplicably needed removing at least twice, oiling anything that moved in a 5m radius and an hour cycling around central London in circles as we both (incorrectly as it transpired) assumed we knew how to get to Paddington, we finally managed to get on a train at about 6pm. Naturally this meant arriving in Weston long after dark, and led to us eazing into the financial expediency of camping more gradually than planned, instead spending the night in a B&B.

These are the bikes, looking rather overladen for a UK coast to coast, but it seemed sensible to try and find out if carrying that much weight was feasible somewhere slightly more accesible than the Patagonian Lake District.

Ja's is the white one; the one that as you probably already know, has reduced me to (at least) third place in his affections (and that's only if you aren't counting any of his other bikes), and left me with an unwelcome but alarmingly large knowledge about the relative merits of various bike dimensions. The construction of this bike has been a long and painful process for all involved, and Ja's preoccupation with it has, rather conveniently, meant that I have been tasked with ALL other non bike related planning tasks. My bike, the black one, was a lucky and much less painful purchase, complete with panniers, camping kit and everything one could ever need for a long distance touring trip, off Ebay.

The route we planned to test everything out with is known as the 'Wessex Way'. It is the longest off road coast to coast in the UK, pretty good for mountain biking, with a fair amount of semi technical up and down hill single track. All pretty cool for mountain bikes, but as we learned alarmingly quickly, not so good for a suspensionless touring bike loaded with well over two thirds of ones body weight (final weigh-ins when we left were mine at 39kg and Ja's at 42kg).

Determined not to let a few little hills get in our way (and acutely aware that failing to manage in the rolling foothills of the Mendips wouldn't bode well for our potential in the Andes), we adjusted the plan and timescale slightly (no way could we manage the proposed 80km per day), and were extremely lucky to find ourselves cycling over a week of glorious summer weather and beautiful English countryside. If it hadn't been for the Autumnal leaves falling from the trees it could've been mistaken for the end of July, not the end of Septemeber!

Our total distance ended up being about 420km, over 7 days, mostly camping, although we made a couple of detours along the way to visit Ja's family in Salisbury and thanks to Matt for the bed in Haselmere.

The bikes held up pretty much OK, although Ja has of course found a multitude of adjustments that need making anyway. The major issue, as it was alway going to be, is with weight. Whilst Ja is convinced that we can live quite happily taking
nothing more than some kind of mighty booche style zip off utility suit, and a sawn off tooth brush, my list of essentials is considerably larger. We have, since returning, been in careful discussion around the definition of the word essential, and the compromises reached must have saved all of a kilo. I don't imagine many people are required to whittle down their wardrobe by weighing it all!

Ja has had to go back into work for a few days, which has given me time to flesh out the plan for the next leg of the journey. We have decided to broadly follow the route known as the San Sebastian Way through France and Spain, of which there a number of routes, all traditionally ending in Santiago de Campostela. The route we have chosen mostly follows the GR65 in France, cuts through the Pyranees and we'll probably stop short of Santiago (in either Santander or Bilbao) in order to get a ferry back to the UK. The logistics of sorting this out as a round trip, with the bikes, has been significantly more complicated than I imagined (and slightly worrying, as no matter how long I leave it the South America bit still hasn't planned itself). The main aim for Europe has been avoiding needing to box the bikes, which rules out 90% of the usual transport options. However, it has convinced me that my choice not be a travel agent was a wise one.

We're still aiming to be out in South America by mid-November, having shaved a couple of weeks off the Europe bit to complete the Wessex way and for Ja to finish up at work.

I think that I have probably written enough now for my first attempt at 'blogging', but since it doesn't seem to be much more arduous than writing an extended postcard (with the absolute advantage that I know it isn't going to end up at the bottom of pannier without a stamp on and never get read anyway), I imagine I will try and keep it updated whilst we are away.

I shall finish with a little montage of photos from the rest of the Wessex Way - although I have a nasty feeling that the theme clearly developing of multiple shots of Ja's back against various scenic vista's is one that will become all too familiar. Hopefuly the scenic vista's will be varied enough to forgive this! Oh, and don't be decieved by how flat it looks - I think it must be some wierd trick of the camera.