Wednesday, 5 October 2011

and then there were three

today we are having another rest day. we are in arcachon a nice town on the coast, not too swanky, my orangina cost 3 euros which isnt the most its been i think. its still hot here but apparently that will all end quite soon maybe tomorrow. this morning we did some bike maintenance - i cleaned my chain with the ghostly fairy liquid as we have gone through a fair bit of sand and gritty things recently, and relined my rims with electrical tape as some bits needed patching up, and checked my tyres for pokey bits of glass or stone that could injure them. i checked ultrapig, he is still smiling, i think he likes france.

we have a cycling companion now. he is called nick the belgian, he is from belgium. i used to know a nick the greek, he was from greece. we met nick just after the ferry we took in royan the last time i wrote a blog, monday. nick has cycled here from belgium, his first day he did 170km which is a lot compared to us but then his knee started hurting so he had to slow down a bit, to about 120km a day.

monday went strangely very well compared to some of the days we have had - internet was open, ferry was running, weather was good, bike paths were all marked and we found a really nice campsite that gave us a deal of 10euros for the three of us for one night which is pretty mega, especially as it was in a lovely pine forest, one of my favourite things (along with chocolate mousses of which i have consumed many). you could hear the sea just far enough away for it not to keep you awake or worrying about tsunamis. there were forest fires to worry about though so we were very careful with our gas stoves that night. if we had been in the states it would have been prime bear territory.

another thing that went temporarily well on that good monday was the grand fixing of my pannier rack. you may remember i said id bent it from sitting on it the other day. between our three brains we concocted a plan to fix it by bracing the broken part with one of my tent pegs and cable ties and electrical tape. generally you can do almost any bike repair with cable ties and electrical tape i think. so we sorted it all out and i would put a photo here but i dont have my camera cable with me. the next day i loaded up the pannier rack and remarkably it held the weight and we were well chuffed. about 10k down the road i stopped to repack my plastic bag of bread and cheese on my back pannier as it was about to fly off, and at the same time i checked the pannier and rack and noticed it had completely snapped off where we had done the splint. we gave thanks to the god of bread who was clearly looking over us and cycled back to the bike shop we d seen just 5k back. its strange that the 2 times we ve needed a bike shop we have been within 10 miles of one.

so after buying a new pannier rack in lacanau plage from THE moodiest bike shop man in france so far we fitted it and voila everything was tip top again. it is in fact much better and sturdier than the original rack i had so i m pretty happy with that all in all. its nice when things go wrong and then go right again, its all an interesting learning curve. my gears went squiffy recently and james managed to fix them for me by tightening the gear cable. my mudguard at the back keeps sticking, my back light keeps wobbling itself loose, my speedometer senser sometimes falls down to the bottom of the front fork, and ive had 2 punctures so far. james said that at the end of the blues brothers film the car they have been driving in completely falls apart after they get out and close the doors and that that is what is going to happen to my bike whenever this trip ends. we shall see.

so we are now about 2 or 3 days cycling from spain which is exciting. it will be interesting to see if i can remember any spanish from my time in latin america. we are wondering whether to go up and over some of the pyrennes instead of just straight down the coast. id like to tackle the pyrennes just because they are there really, but it may be a bit ridiculous with all that weight.

i ve just updated myself on what's been going on the last few weeks on the road by way of jameses blog and would like to pick him up on a few comments, namely about lists and cap ferret. it isn't that i m not picky enough when it comes to adding men to my list of nice men but perhaps that there have been more encounters with french men in general than with french women. the most recent addition to jameses french woman list was not enough a french woman - i think she was from tooting in fact. it made me giggle quite loudly as she told us to go set up camp and then sort out paying her for the night - as soon as we'd found a pitch james dissapeared like a shot saying i'll just go and sort out the payment then... he came back with a bag of ice which had no purpose other than that he obviously hadnt been able to say no to it as she was on his list.

secondly in my defence on the cap ferret decision which was yesterday - i never didnt want to go there i just was slightly concerned re campsites and that if there werent any then we were looking at another 20 miles or so back round the bay to find others unless there was a boat. this concern was poo pooed with jameses comment of - want to go to cap ferret and i dont care how difficult that makes things. what can i say, that certainly told me. it was in fact very nice and i swam in the sea and we watched a pretty exciting plane fly past and watched some fishermen fishing, and racked up a pretty fast average on the amazing cycling path en route - probably around 19mph for 30 to 45 mins. muscles definitely getting stronger.

incidentally not a single ferret was to be seen in cap ferret - i can only conclude it doesn't actually mean ferret. it's pronounced cap ferr-ay. i think it might have something to do with iron as railway is chemin de fer, meaning iron way.

other high / low / medium lights from recent days are

  • seeing the biggest sand dune in europe apparently here in arcachon - nick says it's 134 metres high - he's pretty clever he did a masters degree in something like paleo climatology and a degree in geology and geography so i believe him
  • having a photo of the 3 of us taken in lacanau plage outside the creperie l'europe - a perfect advert for ortlieb pannier bags as we all have them, red black yellow green altogether
  • me mangling one of my bungee ropes by not realising it was wrapping itself around my back wheel hub as i cycled off to find another closed hypermarché. it still works.
  • james got vaguely excited as there was a football match on tv - james doesnt get excited about anything ever in general
  • i get really puffy eyes from camping but only on grass not sand or pine forests etc. the other day on the farmers field in marennes my right eye took about 2 hours to open properly. must be a form of hayfever.
  • we have now taken 4 ferries - one to france; then 3 in france which have gone up in price the further south we ve gone - first was free, second was 4.70, third was 11 euros.
  • watching the leaves change colour over the last few weeks has been really enjoyable, i do love autumn, even though with this temperature it feels like the middle of july still. i wonder how the trees feel about the heat it must confuse them? the night we camped outside vannes we were bombarded by falling acorns all evening as we sat and cooked. we had a competition where we each left a pan out all night and the winner was whoever had the most acorns in the morning. i heard one hit mine in the night but it ricocheted off somewhere - i would have giggled but it was the middle of the night which is not the time for giggling. in the morning there was just a leaf in jameses pan so he won - his prize was he got to choose which flavour of cerreal to have from the mini cereals we had bought. he felt ill so i got to choose instead. yesss. i chose coco pops.
  • i ate the blandest pasta of my entire life in marennes, the place where we had made the series of wrong decisions and been eaten by mosquitoes and gone to the police station. its hard to believe you could make pasta taste that bland but it really was.
  • arriving at a campsite in bourgenais just below nantes, the owner said it was full and it so clearly wasn't as i could see uncamped on grass everywhere - i said mais nous ne pouvons pas continuer monsieur, s il vous plait pouvons nous rester ici? if i knew how to flutter my eyelashes now would have been the time but i dont so i kind of smiled / grimaced / looked tired etc ( we had cycled 60 odd miles by that point), and he brightened up and was really friendly and opened the closed showers for us and everything (we obviously smelt).
  • cycling down the canal path from rieux to bougenais was brilliant if a little rocky at times - got tons of mileage done on the flat and got to look at a canal for ages and see some little boats and cycle through lots of spider webs across the path.
some questions
  • why are they called earwigs? there was one in our hotel room in bouffere which i removed to outside room 247. james was all for killing him but i warned him that could be him in a future incarnation so he had better not.
  • can butter go off?
  • why so many rock-related place names halfway down france? la rochelle : rochefort : le rochers : la roche sur yon
and the daily stats since the last blog are:
  • day 9:vannes to rieux: 43miles (really lovely municipal campsite by a river with a restaurant which was - shock horror - open!)
  • day 10: rieux to bougenais: 58.5miles (just below nantes campsite)
  • day 11: bougenais to bouffere: 40.3miles (back on ourselves a little bit to bouffere to find the bike shop to fix the spokes)
  • day 12: bouffere to lucon: 50miles (met 3 other cyclists - see jameses blog for more info)
  • day 13: lucon to la rochelle: 41.7miles (camped in municipal campsite in almost centre of the city - a man snored louder than you have ever heard a human being snore before, and we were between 3 main roads so not the quietest of nights, thus prompting my it feels like we re camping in tooting comment. went out and i had a pizza which is a strange choice given that every day we eat doughy products (bread) with cheese on).
  • day 14: la rochelle to marennes: 65.56miles (including the miles spent in the evening looking for a campsite etc)
  • day 15: marennes to royan: 29.03miles (tired and sore feet but nice scenery)
  • day 16: royan: rest day: most needed rest day in the history of rest days: basked on beach
  • day 17: royan to cacauns plage via small ferry: 47.7miles (ferry was smaller than the plymouth to roscoff ferry but bigger than the one over the loire the previous week)
  • day 18: cacauns plage to arcachon: 48.5miles (via cap ferret of no ferrets)
  • day 19: today: arcachon
c'est tout pour maintenant - off to the hypermarché now and to hear about the mega high sand dune from nick who went to investigate it. adios amigos xx

Monday, 3 October 2011

c'est chouette

Hello tout le monde and happy monday morning from le francais

apologies for the capital letters and apologies if any letters have strayed into the wrong places, like zs or ws or qs or as. the french keyboard still insists on being different to the english one. instead of qwerty it is azerty.

Yesterday we had a much needed rest day, I spent 5 hours on the beach reading my book (ghostwritten, by david mitchell – he is a genius and I highly recommend it). I also sat and watched the local francaises enjoying the heatwave and generally being very french. royan is auite a swanky area, stark white houses with the endless blue sky and coffees that cost 3 euros instead of 1 euro 50. it’s not my kind of place in all honesty, but it was hard not to be happy as I basked like a beached whale on la plage and rested my very weary muscles.

james found an internet and did a blog update instead, I was emotionally defeated yet again by the total lack of internets to be had in francais. along with hypermarchés that close at 8pm on a weekday and 1230 on a sunday, it’s all a bit much sometimes. I know sunday is the holy day of rest, but even god must sometimes need to do some shopping on a sunday afternoon. I suppose that’s what you get in a socialist country like this, but it is too early on a monday morning to be trying to make political and societal comments so i’ll shut up.

james thinks I am good at French, in reality I am good at saying the following things in french.
  • It’s closed? What a surprise.
  • Where is the nearest internet/campsite/hypermarché that is open in this (goddam) town?
I feel like they should put a sign up as you get off the ferry in roscoff that says: francais est fermée pour septiembre.

I actually cracked and went into the police station in marennes on friday afternoon and said in my best French please can you help us find a campsite please? They directed us up a road we’d been to just 2 hours earlier. ah yes I said, you mean en face de la piscine, that one is fermee. ah no he said not opposite the piscine but straight on, you will find the municipal camping. you owe me 2 hours of my time I threatened james, as I had suggested we go straight on at the piscine rather than the other way. that day we had made so many wrong decisions after a really beautiful day of cycling – if we’d have been up everest then we’d be well dead after that kind of series of wrong turnings and bad decisions. question – why at altitude does it take longer to boil your cup of tea – is it due to the lack of oxygen in the air, or the air pressure, or are those 2 things the same anyway?

Anyway, I digress. we are in royan, going to get the 12noon ferry, unless it’s decided to close since we checked the timetable this morning. we will then be in Verdun, over the water. from here it looks sandy and beautiful, so I don’t imagine the coffees will be any cheaper. we will then tootle down a coastal path towards the end of france, with bordeaux to our left and the sea to our right. we may have another rest day on tuesday to enjoy the last of the heatwave if rumours are to be believed. cycling in 36 degrees, once you get used to it, is really lovely. I have got a bit of a tan. james has got some sunburn, which he refers to as a sun tan. he wants to buy some aftersun. I wondered why not just use before sun instead. 

Round these parts of france (the south), they don’t seem to like cyclists as much as in the north. I think they are too busy trying to look beautiful to be able to give you much space on the road, one even honked at me as he went past and it wasn’t to say hello. I cursed him in my best French. 

Here are some statistical updates
  • Croissants consumed so far – surprisingly few, probably only 3 or 4
  • Pain au chocolats consumed so far – 1 this morning - more than croissants, but less than baguettes all in all
  • Compliments on my French – 1 from the bike shop man in boufféré, I said thank you but it’s not true, and one from one of the campsite owners.
  • Complaints by me – countless – more than baguettes even – about various things, but mainly the lack of open shops, internets, and signs directing you to campsites. James has the patience of a saint whereas I have the patience of a piece of dead lettuce, ie none. interestingly we stayed at a hotel called saint james on the day his bike spokes broke in bouffere as there was no camping near enough to the bike shop. Funnily enough we haven’t yet seen anything called saint lucy.
  • mosquito bites – countless. all incurred in the 15 minutes of putting tents up in marennes (police station town) on Friday, the day we would have died if it was everest. the campsite was a farmers field of brown spikey grass, with rock hard ground and some long term campers in their little mobile homes with fences round them. there’s a lot of sites that seem to have people living there year round, perhaps because they like it or perhaps because times are hard? The farmer on this site was friendly, he had cows and a really cute cat who sat on a haystack in the barn and looked at me, and a giant spider in the sink I was going to brush my teeth at but then changed my mind.
  • Punctures – 2 – one on my front wheel, one on my back wheel. in the space of 30 minutes. it was a hot day, and i’d had both tyres pumped up the day before, thus forcing them into the bits of glass and stone that were lodged in my tyre, or in the case of the back tyre forcing the inner into the top of the spoke as the rim tape had broken somehow.
  • Broken spokes – 3, all on jameses bike resulting in the bike shop trip mentioned above.
  • Other things bike related to note at this point - my pannier rack has become bent due to me sitting on it one day as we had to leave jameses bike at the bike shop and both ride back on mine. Not the best idea.
Have to go for our ferry now, so I will leave you with this parting thought/question – how does fairy liquid manage to get through plastic ziploc bags? It’s like a ghost going through walls; it’s amazing. I wonder if you left some fairy liquid for long enough in a ziploc bag if the 2 would merge together and make some kind of fairy liquid ziploc bag composite. is it because they are both oil based? In that case wouldn’t everything oil based merge with everything else oil based; ie everything in the whole world? There are so many things I don’t understand.

Another final comment is – cycle touring is exhausting and it has taken me a long time to get used to my limitations in strength. it is also really good fun. so far its been as hilly emotionally as the hilly bits of brittany we had in the first 5 or so days.

A bientiot mes petits poulets rotis et j espere que tout le monde is enjoying la vague de chauffage (ha ha does that mean heatwave I hope so). xx