The cycling kit I’d washed the previous night was still damp in the morning but I used the hotel hairdryer to make it at least wearable – and it dried fairly quickly once I got moving. I had two pairs of shorts but only one jersey, one pair of gloves and one pair of cycling socks. The non cycling clothing had only been worn for a couple of hours so that was OK for the next evening (however crumpled it might be by then).
I was continually refining my packing. I had the big sausage shaped bag pointing out backwards from the saddle (which had a tendency to wobble and needed regular re-tightening), a frame bag (I should have got a bigger one) and a top tube bag. The saddlebag also tended to droop – I solved this by strapping my trainers on the outside of it with a bungee cord and they acted rather like ‘splints’ and kept it fairly rigid.
I’m sure there was a more logical way of distribution of my meagre luggage (something like 5kg – 11 lbs – of it) but beyond making sure my passport and wallet were accessible and safe and the bike lock, spares and tools could be reached quickly, I had no real clue what I was doing.
As it was, I was hardly ever parted from the bike during the day (only once was it out of sight for more than a moment) and I used the lock only three times (twice over night) during the whole trip.
I’d woken feeling really stiff, although that eased as I got moving. Leaving the hotel after breakfast at about 7.30 I feared a rush hour into Orleans – but it didn’t materialise and I rolled into the city without drama. Getting through it was another matter as there were road changes and closures. I guessed my way through the city, crossing the Loire for the first time and headed for Sully-sur-Loire, nearly 30 miles (48km) away, where I joined the Loire again.
Initially the bike path along the river was magnificent – smooth tarmac and great views with the river on one side and fields of sunflowers on the other (all the better as the song is by Stealer’s Wheel). I soon had confidence that the ride would be fairly easy and that doing it in 3 days was well within my grasp.
Sadly that didn’t last.
I’d used ‘Ride with GPS’ for my route but I soon realised that opting for ‘cycling’ as the routing option is taken to mean:
‘I love cycle paths so much that I really want to struggle along virtually impassible tracks in preference to riding along smooth and traffic-free roads that are just 50 metres away and heading in the same direction.’
I spent hours being directed off perfectly good roads onto terrible or sometimes non-existent tracks. I assume that they think that anyone opting for a cycle route is riding a hybrid (at least) or preferably a mountain bike. I rode on grass verges, farm tracks (and the occasional decent path) for the whole day. I wasted time and energy and found it all really frustrating. Credit to the bike for holding up to the abuse it suffered, and to the tyres for not puncturing.
At one point I was told by a lock keeper that the path was impassible between there and the next lock. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I’d just cycled along exactly the same sort of path for several miles – and had come to exactly the same conclusion.
I got to the point of zooming out the Garmin and trying to guess if a nearby road was a sensible alternative to the path I was being directed onto. The big problem was that, while some tracks were fine, there was no predicting what the next section of track would be like.
On the plus side, one of the highlights of the whole trip was sitting in the sun at a cafe on the bank of the Loire canal, drinking fruit juice and eating a bag of Haribo and a white chocolate Magnum ice cream. Simple but great pleasures!
I crossed the river to find a quick lunch of a cheese and ham baguette, with more coke (I rarely drink the stuff at home but drank two or three a day during the trip) and a refill of the bidon. It was very hot and shade was at a premium – I remembered to use the sun cream I’d taken but still got the best tan lines ever on my arms and legs.
The feeling of freedom from being on the road with nobody but myself to please or be responsible for was terrific. Life becomes very simple – eat, sleep, ride, repeat.
The struggles on bad tracks meant that I had worked disproportionately hard in clocking up about 240km (150miles) during the day. At least it was fairly flat with about 700m (2300 feet) of climbing.
I found a place that was advertising rooms in Gannay-sur-Loire – a small village which was otherwise entirely shut – and went for that. After 500km (310miles) without mishap I turned into the driveway for the last 20 metres and immediately hit deep gravel and fell off.
Of course, my immediate reactions were, in order:
- embarrassment – did anyone see me looking so stupid?
- pain, with grazes to my shoulder, elbow and knee and a bang to my right hip.
The bed and breakfast rooms were all taken but I was offered a bed in a room with four bunks, in an out building. I was the room’s only occupant, other than a plague of flying ants that, happily, seemed to go home for the night. I got the room, bed linen, a shower (I could have really done with a soak in a bath), a can of coke and a bottle of fruit juice with change from 20 Euros (about $23).
The French couple in the next room were charming and the owner was great too. He explained that he would frequently leave his car and his house unlocked but still perfectly safe – I put a chain on the bike in the cycle rack but it came to no harm. No supper to be found and I’d had nothing but two oat bars since lunch so I went to bed fairly early, listening for the rustle of flying ants, but slept like a log.