(Day 7) I had a great breakfast at the B&B begore hitting the road at 9am. The mapping led me back to the canal Champagne de Bougogne and south a little way until I picked up the route Voiu Bleu which is a track running alongside the river Isele. The river was wide and the sun shinning. It was a great day to be cycling. The bike felt lighter and easier to pedal. Before I knew it there were people
boating and jet skiing on the river. I stopped at a small town and used my improving French to buy a french stick sandwhich and some cake. Next I got myself a can of coke and then sat on the river bank with several hungry ducks enjoying every second.
I wasted quite a bit of time just enjoying the moment before getting back to the task of heading south. The mapping gave me a few headaches but nothing too much to worry about and I was growing in confidence that I may actuallly make it to Italy. Going back to day 2, I had concluded the bravado I had shown in my “I’m cycling to Italy” was perhaps a little optimistic. I had subsequently changed the terms of the trip to “I’m attempting to cycle to Italy”. Despite it being a wonderful journey and havjng been exceptionaly lucky with the weather, I am only to well aware that this plan was hastilly thrown together and badly executed. My maps are whoefully out of scale and having purchased two Itallian maps I packed the wrong one. My fitness has not been tested like this in a long time and my legs had certainly had never cycled this much everyday. The day continued on cycle paths of varying grades but none so bad as to require me to walk, although I did as I felt that different movement in my legs would help. As day moved to evening I booked a cheap motel in Beaurepaire-en-Bressen called the Europe Hotel. It was cheap and I guess being located on an industrial site with shutters on every window, was an indication of the type of area. The first thing the member of staff told me was how to lock and secure the door.
To me it looked like a truckers overnight stop and Im sure the rooms had tales to tell. But the fact was it was a clean room with a shower and bed. I needed nothing more. Having secured my door I started to unload the bike and check it over. I had wondered if perhaps the tent on the handle bars was in fact pressing too hard on the cables causing the front chain ring not to accept the third gear. Once unloaded and upside down the gears clicked happily from one to another. Problem solved, I reloaded the bike with everything packed on the rear. I also noticed the panniers had been chaffing, they werent alone, but I’ll spare you those pics.
(day 8) The next morning I was up early and into the ‘all in breakfast’ which was a little disappointing but hey it was cheap right. I set off and within seconds found that the gears had not improved at all. I had managed without the outer ring for a few days so one more wasnt going to hurt. What did hurt were my legs, as I set off it felt very much like the bike was being held back. Sometimes its just my legs not up to speed other times it can be that the road is uphill and doesnt look it, but this was bad. I got off and checked the bike over, there was nothing obvious and the brakes were not binding, so carry on I did. Along wonderful country lanes in the chill of the morning sun. Despite the conditions being perfect I was struggling hard to make progress, the bike even felt sluggish to push. I was concerned that perhaps the lower bracket bearings were seizing, despite having only been replaced 8 years ago!! Then as I turned a sharp left hand corner coming out of the trees into a clearing it was obvious that I had indeed been climbing a hill for most of the morning, but being unsited I had no idea. I was on top of the hill with a stunning view.
I chuckled as for the last few days, whenever I told people of my journey they would do a wavey hand signal to demonstrate that the roads would get steeper, mostly ending in a steep upwards movement of the hand and accompanied with something like “ohh la la”. Maybe this was the start of the increasing wavey bit. The good news is that I then had the downhill bit to regain some of the time lost getting up the there. Its incredible how your mood can change from a sluggish painfully slow incline the the excitement of a fast flowing downhill. This is allied to the thrill of not knowing how much the tyres can take. There is a lot of weight over the back wheel and almost none on the front, exactly what you dont want when hammering downhill. The front was skittish and took every chance it could to slip and slide, when it did grip it sent a shock wave through the frame to the overloaded rear that wagged like a dogs tail. On long downhills I got cramp in my hands from fighting the bike. “Never ease off until its upside down and on fire!” Luckily it was neither upside down or on fire and eventually I rejoined the main road south. By lunchtime I was searching for somewhere to eat and that came in the form of Aldi.
They do some cracking good salads. So salad and yoghurt was the order of the day along with more water and for some unknown reason my body was now demanding Orangina. I will never complain about the weather on this trip I have been exceptionally lucky with sunshine every day and only ever the hint of rain, but the heat in the mid afternoon every day was most unpleasant for cycling and it was then that I did most walking. I will never know why but with a huge bottle of Orangina in the bag I would still stop at bars for another.
However this did mean the drink was laden with ice and I could take one cube out and just smooth it over my boiling head, letting it melt into my hair before putting my buff back on under the helmet. That afternoon was a fly fest.
I think it was hatching season for flying ants and cycling through them was a mouth clamped closed experience. Occasionally a few would hit me unexpectedly causing a coughing fit in order not to swallow the tiny winged beasts.
Soon it was time to select the desired residence of the night and for me it would be a motel with large double bed and shower room. The Premier Classe at Bou-en-Bresse was very pleasant and I could keep the bike in my room. Excellent for maintenance. I had purchased a can of WD40 and that alone would cure the bikes ills, but to be on the safe side I also adjusted the chain mechanism to make it give me that third chain ring. Then it was off the resteraunt across the road with a 10% off voucher from the hotel. What happened next is one of those one in a million chance meetings. I sat eating my pizza royal, which is a normal pizza with a raw egg yolk on it, not as bad as it sounds actually and a van pulls up outside.
The markings on the van say Solent Cycles, close to where I live and ironically where I brought my bike ten years ago. Several guys came in to dine so I went to say hello. I was surprised to get such a warm reception and some major credit for what I was doing. They had been in the alps riding for a few days, clearly hardened mountain bike riders. I explained my intended route and the main character suggested that getting across the alps was certainly more of a challenge than I had encountered so far, indicated by the increasingly wavey hand until near verticle, but they hoped I would visit them in the shop on my return. They were literally driving back and looking for somewhere to eat when they stopped in the exact same place as me. What I should have done was asked them to sort out my gears but as far as I was concerned they were now fixed and tomorrow would be the test. Back to my room having eaten pizza, drank two glasses of red wine and an Orangina (what is going on in my body?) I was asleep in no time.
(Day 10) Despite each day being long and containing nothing but cycling, walking and eating I was enjoying my journey through France. I wanted to slow down as on other trips I have berated myself for not seeing France as anything other than a necessity to get to more exciting destinations. Well I cant say I’d rushed this one and I’d seen every roadside obstacle, every sharp stone and broken bottle along the way. I also saw breath taking scenery and now on the horizon I could see larger hills, hand wavey hills. My destination was Grenoble and I hoped it would be as scenic as the previous day, but it wasn’t, it was far better, it was far better as the river widened and became faster flowing and those little hills became giants, or so I thought. It was a fabulous mix of rolling hills and rough mountenous terrain.
I was still on the flat but it was getting more exciting. The path along the river Isele was smooth and paved before giving way just before lunch to a gravel path. Nothing too challenging but it still drains your legs. I had picked up some grapes and a bottle of frozen water which, along with some trail mix of nuts and dried fruit, would be lunch on the banks of the river Iselle.
I was following the path headed for the D1071 to Grenoble. It was less than 100km away but I knew by early afternoon it was not going to be my destination that night. Google maps had been very good despite a few hiccups, this afternoon it would excell itself. The river path went from gravel to stones, to grass, to mud, to mud lined with glass and eventually to a single track path through some woods that involved some trials riding and a small river crossing. I got most of it on the GoPro. But then it ended at a barbed wire fence in dense wood. A little reshuffle and I was through the fence and on my way, no way was I turning back. The woods gave way to shrubland and a huge field occupied by me, 2 cows and a bull. Let me correct that, me wearing a bright red top, 2 cows and a bull. I couldnt see a way out and i wasnt going back. I skirted the field and eventually, before being noticed by the bull, found a six foot verticle wall off rock to an upper level of the field. I could see close by there was a road. My bike and luggage are not light and in the mid afternoon sun it was no laughing matter to be climbing and lifting the bike. It added a good hour to my day just to get out of the fields. Once back on the road I followed Sally satnav straight back down the next path before deciding I would rather take the longer road route all the way. As the afternoon wore on i got more and more tired, opting for a snooze in a bus stop type shelter.
It was time to find some lodgings. Tonight I would be staying at a chateau in Vizille. Vizille as it happens has a McDonalds and I was hanging out hungry and had to be at the chateau for 8pm as they didnt accept guests after that. McD’s it was then as I was getting close to cut off time. A salad and box of 6 chicken nuggets with an ice cream and a fizzy drink. Thats dinner done, now just a quick cycle the last 1.5km to the chateau. I kid you not the hill to the chateau was like a trials course. I stopped walking no less than 15 times to get my breath. It was so steep at one point I was 5 meters from a cat sat in the road and we were eye to eye.
I tried to zig zag up it, I tried push and brake push and brake, but nothing made it easier. Cursing loudly helped. I want to say it was worth it and I will because the chateau was exceptional. I had a bedroom, lounge and bathroom big enough for 6. There was a huge terrace to look out from and the guy running the place was an absolute star.
I didnt get his name but he was thrilled to have another Brit staying. The other guy I didnt meet until the following morning but he to was a cyclist, do you like the way I call myself a cyclist? He was on his two week holiday with his girlfriend although she had stayed behind at the last stop to be with friends. He would continue on to the south of France before shipping the bike back. We spoke about the bikes and he was on an old touring bike. My mountain bike looked new compared to it but I suspect his was a far better tourer than mine. The lady of the house made both of us a packed lunch to take with us and we set off in different directions.