Claud has been to France before, just not with me. Unlike myself he is a seasoned pro – having ridden London to Paris with his original owner, Kim. If you don’t know the story of how Claud ended up in my life then you can read it in this post from August last year.
I was very excited to take Claud on a little trip to the Vendee with me. My dad works in that part of France, and so I took the opportunity to stick my bike in the car and get a free lift over the channel, for 3 days of uninterrupted riding. I’d been looking forward to it for weeks: getting up early, having espresso and pastries for breakfast, riding all morning, stopping for a baguette, riding all afternoon, getting back to the mobile home for dinner and red wine. Then do it all again the next day.
Of course, this being me and my luck, the day that we set off to travel for France I woke up with a horrible cold. By the time we had made it to Portsmouth to catch the overnight ferry to Saint Marlo, I could barely breath. I hardly slept at all, and used up all of Brittany Ferries’ toilet roll to blow my nose. Lovely stuff.
As we arrived at our destination, and I brought Claud inside, I was worried that this would be where he was going to stay for the whole trip. Determined for that not to be the case I dosed up on every drug available, like all the pros do (sorry – just kidding), and ate a big bowl of pasta.
The act of putting on my cycling kit made me instantly feel a little better. I contemplated getting a cyclist’s tan by sunbathing in my kit rather than going for a ride, but my desire to pedal won, and I left the campsite for the pretty castle town of Apremont – armed only with two pages torn from a road atlas and a French vocabulary of around seven words. 15 minutes into the ride I realised I had failed to pack any tissues, and not feeling ambitious enough to attempt the ‘cover one nostril and blow your snot across the road into a bush’ tactic that I have seen some riders employ, I found myself looking around for an appropriately sized and textured leaf. The things we do…
Creative nose blowing tactics aside, the ride was very enjoyable. The roads from the village I was staying in to Apremont were smooth and offered some beautiful scenery. I remembered which side of the road to ride on (something I was a bit worried about) and got used to it very quickly. It was really warm and the vast fields that take up so much of the Vendee looked even greener than normal under the bright sunshine.
I stopped in Apremont to admire the castle and check the map. I can’t remember the last time I have ridden on such a hot day, and soon found myself with not much water left in my two bottles. After a little rest, Claud and I got back on the road and looped our way back to the campsite for a cold shower (just me, Claud wouldn’t fit.)
The following day I rode a 30 mile loop, partly on the huge network of cycle paths that the Vendee has to offer. They are well signposted and mostly well paved – the paths are only used by agricultural vehicles and cyclists, and I did not see a single vehicle. It was lovely to not have to worry about cars, and enjoy the scenery on some of the quietest paths I have ever ridden down. I met more cows than people that day.
At a certain point on the cycle path it began to get a lot less smooth, and whilst the terrain would have been fine for anyone on a CX or mountain bike, or even a hybrid, Claud’s skinny tyres were not at home. Not knowing the French for “excuse me, I’ve used up both my spare inner tubes by attempting to ride a road bike on a bumpy gravel path, could you please direct me to a bicycle shop”, I decided to find my way back onto the road for the remainder of the journey.
The final day of my trip was largely spent asleep. My cold had got worse – I felt like I might cough up a lung, and it decided to rain. It was a shame, but I made the most a bad situation by eating lots of pizza and drinking lots of red wine. It’s medicinal, you know.
Over the three days I was in France I rode less than 60 miles (rather than the 180 I had planned) but every mile was beautiful, and worth it’s weight in gold. I didn’t ride on a single busy road, the views were stunning, and I didn’t have any bad experiences with motorists. The only conflict I had was being wolf-whistled at by a bunch men outside a cafe. Obviously I responded graciously, as ever, with a two fingered salute (I was going downhill – a speedy getaway..)
Good food, good coffee, good wine and good roads: France really is a place for cyclists, and I’m sure that both Claud and I will be back there before long – next time in better health.