Its been exactly four weeks since we rolled down Greystones main st and out into the world. And 3 weeks since we left Ireland. As is usually the case that seems like a really long time and only yesterday depending on the mood.
The last few days have been eventful, we´ve had the first puncture of the trip, crossed our first mountain range, land border, and accepted the fact that we won’t make it to Portugal as originally planned.
Crossing borders is always interesting, but in Europe, as there are often no border controls it is a little odd, with little to announce invisible line between on country and the next. Thus we’d crossed from France to Spain before we realised it, rolling down a hill in France and up the other side in Spain. That said, its still surprising how much everything seems to change, from facial expressions and features, countryside and landscape to signs and buildings, it istantly feels different just 100m down the road.
After crossing the “border” the road pointed upwards and we headed skyward over the Pyrenees. The legs were feeling fresh and hearts were strong so we made good time over the first of mountain pass at 650m, camping in the following valley. To date, we’ve had no real problems communicating, employing leaving cert French to ask for permission to camp and directions. We weren´t exactly at the level of discussing the current political situation in Mumbai with our French hosts but we could at least bumble along through simple conversations. Arriving in Spain though has reminded us that for most of the trip we’ll be mute. Asking for permission to camp on Friday night was interesting, as we barked out the 3 line translation we’d printed from Google Translate with DellBoy like panache. I can honestly say that I did feel like a bit of a plonker.
When I first thought of cycling through Bordeaux, I had images of lovely weather (despite it being winter), wine tastings and gorgeous chateaus peppered all over the idyllic countryside. The reality however was quite different. After getting the boat across the Gironde river from Royan, we picked a lovely camping spot in an oak forest, cooked a yummy pasta dish with some Toulouse sausage and prepared for what I figured would be a relaxed tour of the famous wine region.
We woke up to decent weather but as soon as we hit the road, the rain started and didn’t stop. As we turned the corner towards Bordeaux, the wind slapped us straight in the face, slowing our speed and delaying the ETA of our much needed showers. The road was straight, without turns or hills to keep it interesting and the monotonous plain through which we passed did little to inspire me. My eyes searched up the road for obstacles, my vision partially obscured by drips from my visor, but there was nothing to keep my mind occupied, and that’s when I went into what I call “the place”.
It was the first time of this expedition that I’ve got into this train of thought, when the body goes into autopilot, pedal, pedal, pedal, pedal…. I began reciting my maths tables, reliving fond memories, singing loudly (and badly) the words to Molly Malone; despite forgeting the middle verse. For some reason I started singing some terrible Bon Jovi tune (the name of which escapes me), even though I haven’t heard it for years. By switching the mind off in this way, it helps the miles roll by much faster, very useful when cycling through dull areas.
We’ve got about 4000km of monotonous terrain in Siberia and Kazakhstan, I’d better get the practice in!
You’ll need Flash 9 to play these Flickr videos. Don’t have it? Click here.
France seems to be full of long distance cyclists. On Monday we were the guests of Eric Chevalier, a friend of Bubble Brothers and now of Revolution Cycle, at Domaine de lAujardiere. We were grateful of the warm welcome, we had glasses of pink bubbles in our hands before we’d even changed out of our road soiled clothes, which set the tone for the evening. Once showered and semi presentable – traveling as light as we are means that our limited wardrobe doesn’t really stetch past roadside chique – Eric organised for us to meet Didier an Piere.
Didier and Pierre are intrepid cyclists who set off 27 years ago with a plan to go as far as their legs, lungs and hearts would take them.For me it was a poigniant meeting, looking into the eyes of two guys my dads age who left their homes on a similar odyssey, around about the time that I was born was stirring. As we spent the evening looking back, at their trip, I couldn’t help looking forward; to 27 years hence. Would we be sitting across a table imparting perils to globalistes of tender foot when I’m dad’s age?
Didier and Pierre boldy cycled into a different world 27 years ago. A world before Google Earth, Rock Shox and Blackberrys. They covered 40,000km over four years on Peugout bikes with dropped handlebars and dodgy brakes. They carried their stuff in canvas panniers and cycled in cotton t-shirts. As we spoke of equipment, they oo’d and ah’d as myself and Si spoke of aluminium, solar power and digital photography- and we poo’d and pah’d when they spoke of their canvas tent 60kg load and regular punctures, thankful that we were doing it in style in 2008.
As Eric our host grilled Merguez over the embers of old vine roots, and the wine flowed, the two worlds seperqted by 27years ceased to seem so different. When I asked Didier what lessons he learned from four years on the road he replied prosaicly that he learned that;”the world is not so big”. It might sound like a poor return to four years of education but thats quite a valuable lesson to learn. For, as he explained, if you can cycle your bike around the world then it cannot be so big.
Hopefully, he’s right, and the world is in fact so small that we can cycle around it, and maybe when I’m Dad’s age I’ll be able to say that I spent a year and a half in the saddle learning that “the world is not so big”.
click on the image below to see what the french press think of our expedition.
As we neared the town of Coutance, an Irish guy pulled up in a car to ask if we needed any help. He had passed us going the other direction, saw my flag and turned around to make sure we were okay (which we were).
Only 2 minutes up the road another car was stopped at a crossroads and the lady inside was beeping like mad. We stopped and she hurriedly came over to us, smiling and waving. Turns out the lady, Therese’s daughter had cycled all over the world in 2005-2006 (http://www.unmondeavelo.blogspot.com/). She asked us to stay with her and her family which we gratefully accepted after spending all day in the lashing rain. She dried our clothes over the log stove then we sat down to a big meal, wine, pate, steak, pasta, cheese…..It was a truly great experience to share a meal with a real French family and their two friends. We woke up to a continental breakfast and a packed lunch of bread and pate that Therese had prepard for us. She was teary eyed as we left and to our surprise, drove to the other side of town (10km up the road) to cheer us on. Her husband Serge, a driving instructor, took his trainee 30km up the road to make sure that we were okay, then waved us on our way.
After another rainy day in the saddle through auburn coloured tree lined roads, we set about finding a camping spot for the night. First of all we asked in an orchard where they made Normandy cider. After a quick tasting, we didn’t have a campsite, but instead, a lovely bottle of their fine cider. Eventually, we came across a deserted orchard, waited until nightfall, then snuck in. The whole place was covered in rotten apples, many of which are still smeared on our clothes and tent. Their pungent aroma combined with the dampness of our clothes makes for a pretty nasty whiff that lingered until we were miles up the road. Lets hope we can get our clothes cleaned soon before we start making people ill!
This is the first blog typed on a funky keyboard, admittedly the letters are still of the latin variety, no cyrillic or farsi just yet, but its still odd. I keep hitting q instead of a and forget semi colon s- I have no idea? So please forgive the spelling and grammatical mistakes.
It seems like we have been here in Cherbourg for ages as we are dying to give our new KTM bikes a proper test ride, mine has done a mere 10km. Yesterday was a public holiday, for Rembemberance Day so we had little to do but roam the streets looking for a cafe that was open, and wait until this morning to get the few bits and pieces for the bikes that we need to get on our way.
We are leaving now (3pm), and expect to camp somewhere 50km south. As we have not got a map yet we are not sure exactly where. It is suffice to say that as long as it is south west of here at least we are going in the right direction.
To view some of the photos qand videos from the first week on the road see our flickr set
It might sound odd, but yesterday’s stormy weather was a welcome change. We
spent 3 hours in a bitter storm on the road to Rosslare.
There was something about the driving rain that made the trip feel real
again, that helped wash away the residual stresses of all the planning and
preparations of the last few months.
Arching forward with a furrowed brow to stop the rain stinging my eyes,
bracing myself with smarting cheeks and shuddering as icy November rain
trickled down the small of my back, was just what the doctor ordered. A
reminder of what this trip is all about; getting outside the comfort zone
and testing one’s resolve. That is not to say that the conditions were
particularly challenging or testing rather that they provided a little
taster of the road ahead and it tasted good!
We’re currently waiting to board the ferry in Rosslare after a delivery of
two very very tasty “KTM Race Action” bikes. Expect photos of the bikes in
We’ll be talking a few days r&r in France to get our comms equipment dialled
so that we don’t have to post from awkward little kiosks like I am
presently, so if the map on the route page doesn’t move too much its all
part of the plan.