Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Tour de France - Heading North.

So we'd ridden to France, diagonally across France, all that was left, was to ride North up the Atlantic coast to get a ferry home. A mere 1000 kilometres.

A mate had told me that there was a traffic free route called La Vélodyssée that went North along the Atlantic, so we set off following that.


In the trees, there was lots of riding in the trees.

In the evening, Tom loved playing on the beach.

The massive dunes near Arcachon.

Now what you can't see in any of the pictures above are people. Be assured though August on the Atlantic in France is heaving with holidaymakers. This was a bit of a shock after the quiet villages we'd visited earlier in our trip.

The signposts we followed.

Below is how sweaty my hands were in the late afternoon.

We took the ferry across the mouth of the Garonne river.

Below, Tom taking a mid morning shower in La Rochelle.

 Tom putting more air in the rear tyre to minimise rolling resistance.

Whilst mentioning tyres, the tread had all but gone on both by now.

After La Rochelle we abandoned the Vélodyssée route, and took a more direct line towards the ferry, as we had the promise of a lift home if we made Portsmouth on Monday.

This also meant that our days would have to have more riding. Essentially in the last 3 days we squeezed in 4 days riding. There was still plenty of time for pictures though.

We sat on the wheels of these guys for a while.

 A really pretty canal that we followed towards St Malo.

More cake.

 Tom laughing at my beard.

Turning the bike round after one of many wrong turns.

 Then 3,226 kilometres after leaving Bromsgrove, we arrived in St Malo.

....and then next day the ferry home.

Tour de France - Heading South West

So once we decided on leaving the French Divide route we headed South West. We aimed to avoid big hills, big cities and busy roads.

Tom aimed to eat every type of cake he could find along the way.

Now we weren't quite so tight for time, we took to stopping for a mid morning coffee too.

We'd had a bit of a mechanical with the eccentric bottom bracket slipping in the Morvan, but now, just before we entered the Dordogne region, one of our spokes went ping.

We happened upon a bike shop quickly who found a replacement spoke.

Their mechanic wasn't there to fit it. Thankfully we had our own.

Tom being irrigated.

Nice views along the way.

Did I mention the heat?

There aren't many of these painted adverts on buildings left now.

On the 19th I get a message from the French Divide guys to ask if we were coming to their party at Mendionde on the 20th. I check the distance and we are around 100 kilometres away and sort of on our way to the coast, so we head there to see some of the other people who have ridden part, or all of the course.

Here's Tom and Céline.

We had a great evening hearing about the other riders exploits.

Then next morning, we continued our journey towards the sea.

One of the few rain showers we encountered on the whole trip.

In the afternoon we arrived at St Jean de Luz on the Atlantic coast and the usual hot sunshine had returned.

French Divide - The Auvergne.

We'd been told that after the Morvan, there was some easier terrain before the route went upwards again into the Massif Centrale.

The heat didn't abate though.

One good thing about the sun, was that our suntans were coming along nicely.

The route was getting hillier, and as it got hillier, we got slower. The heat was a real hindrance, and I could see that heatstroke was a possibility. Tom didn't complain, but I wasn't having "fun", and I'm sure he wasn't either.

We stopped under the shade of a tree for a drink of water.

I explained to Tom that whilst we certainly could complete the French Divide route, that our speed would mean that it would take a lot longer than we had envisaged. This would mean we'd not have time to ride back up the Atlantic coast.

It did not take us long to decide that we'd leave the French Divide route, and take the easier roads instead towards the Atlantic coast.

Below, Tom celebrating our "Plan B" moment.

We had covered around 1000 kilometres of the French Divide route.

Tom smiling as we head into Puy de Dome on the road.

French Divide - To Toulon sur Arroux

The French Divide to Reims had been reasonably flat. Onwards it became a bit hillier, then it entered the Morvan national park which is definitely lumpy. The next checkpoint was the other side of the Morvan at Toulon sur Arroux.

First we visit the Champagne region.

The weather over the first few days had been warm. From here on in the afternoons were HOT.

We were either drinking water, or looking out for more water.

In the UK, we'd manage with one bottle between us. On this trip we carried 3, and that was only just enough.

A top tip is that cemeteries usually have taps.

The route towards the Morvan was agricultural.There were lots of tracks that skirted between fields.

The cross reminds us that this part of the route follows an old pilgrim's trail.

This is the first time we'd seen this particular plant (below) growing in a field. ;)

After the fields and big skies, we entered the Morvan which is mainly a forested area.

You know what trees look like, so there aren't lots of pictures of those.

The afternoons continued to get warmer, and by the end of most days, we were fried and could not wait to have a lie down in the shade.

12 days after leaving Bromsgrove we arrived in Toulon sur Arroux.

We'd missed the French Divide checkpoint time limit by a few hours, but it didn't matter, we were just glad to have made it.

That evening we ate pizza, and were interviewed by a local journalist who'd heard what we were doing.

French Divide - To Reims

The first checkpoint on the Divide was at Reims, and the day after leaving Bray Dunes, we put a big effort in to make some progress in that direction.

A misty start as the sun rises.

The route in the first part meandered between Belgium and France. The picture below is taken at the top of the Kemmelberg cobbles.

Whilst speaking of cobbles, there were plenty more to come that day, with many sections from the classic Paris Roubaix race.

As well as the obvious obstacle below, beyond, there were lots of brambles and nettles to negotiate also.

Plus an unavoidable section of paddling.

There was time to stop in the afternoon at a cafe for a drink as the weather started to warm up.

3 days after leaving Bray Dunes, we arrived in Reims. We were greeted by Céline and Samuel, two of the French Divide's organisers.

Oh, and we ate some lunch.

Time for a quick bit of sight seeing.

Then it was time to head South towards the Morvan.