Sunday 27 May 2012

Orientation Daze on La Loire

 You can smell the rain in the air, fresh and sharp and cleansing. For hours, thunder has been growling out of the north east, then all around us, growing closer and closer but still no deluge.
The cycle way along the Loire
is part of a much longer route -
the Eurovelo 6 - which stretches
almost 4,000 km from the
Atlantic seaboard to the Black Sea
When the deluge arrives, it will fall on modern day pilgrims – not of the religious kind, but pleasure seeking 21st century cyclists all making their own personal journeys along the Loire, one of Europe’s great waterways.

Already we feel we are participants on that journey, adding to the current folklore. This morning we were addressed by one of two aging cyclists as we paused at a rest spot at Chalonnes-sur-Loire,”Hello, you are from New Zealand, you were at St Malo and you are on your way to Constanta" (actually, we have Istanbul in mind).

Early morning glimpse of the Loire
When we looked surprised that a total stranger knew so much about us, he said he’d been told to look out for the Kiwis on a tandem by some friends of his – ten of them – that we’d met along the way. The fact that we couldn’t recall this group of ten says something about the volume of cyclists on the Loire, and the number of encounters we are having.

A little later – when we stopped for coffee – another French cyclist, a young man this time, addressed us. “You had a bad night – lots of mosquitoes at your campsite.” Word travels fast on the Loire.
The mozzies were so bad at one campsite we fled to this sanctuary for
dinner and breakfast the next day.

As for our own pilgrimage, it is everything we expected only better.  The rain and cold and fields of crops and cows of Brittany have given way to sunshine and grape vines, row after row, and quaint villages that seem permanently asleep. Wild flowers burst from stone walls and carefully cultivated roses, lavender and rosemary are in every garden. Everywhere is the Loire - from cycle path panorama to snatched glimpse from a village square.
 And just when we think we’ll never find our morning café crème, a tiny café/bar/restaurant comes into view and we sit outside in the sun. Afterwards, we leave the bike where it is, safe in the knowledge that no-one is going to rifle through our panniers while we visit a mediaeval church a few paces away – this morning’s example in Savennieres was cool and dark and had a quietening effect on us and a small group who entered with us.

Crossing the Loire for the first time. The
cycle route switches from side to side.

If it all sounds idyllic, it is – except for one thing: navigation. It is primarily Judy’s task as I seem to have my hands full simply keeping El Beastie on the road. But her view from the Stoker’s (rear) seat is partially obstructed by my back and sometimes directions come too late for me to act. We have a communication breakdown. It is something familiar to most couples travelling by car in unfamiliar territory, and it is something we figure that together we can improve.

Right now though, we are snug inside our tent and that thunder is still rumbling. Rain on a corrugated iron roof touches some primal instinct –shelter from the storm. It sounds even better in a tent, and we are waiting expectantly.
Post script: Apart from a couple of showers overnight, the rain never arrived.
Judy the Stoker says … the cycling near the Loire is so different compared to moving along the small roads of Dorset and Brittany. So much is set up for cyclists here - tiny paths a couple of metres wide with stone houses built on the verge, turnstiles providing access to cyclists and walkers only, cobblepath paths. The route is so well marked, directing us through small villages and occasional, quiet back roads along the Loire. 
Whilst we can pick up speed in places, mostly it is an obligatry amble, stopping often to see the sights.
Bridge at la Possonniere and (right)boats on  the newly rebuilt quay.

The many spanned old stone bridge and new quay area at la Possonniere, the church at Savennieres, a Mediterranean garden set beside the Loire - but most of all the stunning roses growing igh over the rock wall fences in the villages, old rambling roses dripping from hedges along the tiny roads and other, colourful flowers lining the route. We've slowed down to a potter.

I have been disconbobulated  though by shearing off a quarter of my molar crown and now am hunting a dentist!

Quotable Quotes

Judy: “ I’m going to lose some weight. But first I’m going to have this beer.”

Friday 25 May 2012

NZ - French Relations Strike Surprise Low


Current Location: Ancenis, Loire Valley, France

Total Distance: 463 kilometres

Longest Day: 84 Kilometres

Flat Tyres : One

Bottoms’ Status (perfect = 10):  Judy 6.5, Mike 5
Thank you everyone for the comments and well wishes. We are still struggling to master this blog site, and haven't yet found a way for your comments to appear automatically under each blog. We're working on it. In the meantime ...

 As kiwis, we’re used to noseying down roads where we probably have no business, but try it near Riaille at la Poiteviniere and you soon hear about.
We’d glimpsed the lake through the trees a couple of times, and encouraged by a welcome sign in four languages we set off down a narrow, muddy track that didn’t feel very public.  We stopped at the lake’s edge where another sign said something in French about fishing and tickets and had photos of large fish being clutched by small, fat men.

Barely had we stopped than a vehicle could be heard approaching at speed, and moments later a battered white Renault staggered to a halt, its driver with an elbow out a window and a cigarette dangling from his lips.

Cafe culture. We've settled into a routine - 
 cycle an hour or two, then have a coffee stop.
Sensing what was coming, I decided to get in first with my impeccable French, “Bonjour Monsieur”, and got a torrent of heated French back at me. Whoops, apparently the he was a she and she wasn’t impressed. Well, b…. me, she had me fooled. Let’s face it,  everyone wears studs all over their bodies these days.

Judy returned at this stage from a short walk to the  jetty, and we made a hasty retreat. The lesson –  in France, signs don’t always mean what they say.

Rialle, France
Just down the road at Rialle we were back on familiar ground. We swept into town, Judy’s All Black flag billowing in the breeze and the residents descending on us – one of them extolling the virtues of Manuka honey for helping ease his congestion.

And on the way out of town, the politeness was embarrassing.

As we came to a four-way intersection I was confronted by the classic who-gives-way-to-who problem, and tried to apply the old NZ rule about left turning traffic giving way to those turning right. Then updated it to take account of the recent law change back home,  then tried to factor in that we were on the right side of the road and what were the French rules anyway? We screeched to a halt (the brakes haven’t finished bedding in yet and make enough noise to wake the dead).  I lost my balance, the bike started to fall and Judy just managed to catch it.
Country Colours

The driver waiting to turn into our path smiled kindly. I indicated she might like to go first while we untangled ourselves. “Non, non”, she smiled back.” I’ll wait. I have all day and it may be the siesta but my lover won’t mind being kept waiting.” 

I tried to persuade her again, knowing Judy still had to get back onto the bike and co-ordinating our starts under pressure can be tricky. “Non, non,” she insisted. ”It is highly entertaining, and how are your private parts - you seem to be doubled over in pain?” 
Oh well, this is France and politeness is a virtue.

Acts of Kindness

We’ve had our first puncture – after just 360 kilometres. And we’ve been on the receiving end of two small acts of kindness that cheered us on an otherwise cold, bleak and wet day here in Brittany.

Judy was the first to voice the concerns I’d been keeping to myself for a couple of minutes. “Have we got a flat tyre,” she asked just a few kilometres into our riding day. We pulled over and could see the rear tyre deflating under the weight of the load on the rear carrier.

It was time to show my basic bike skills. We removed the panniers, lifted the rear of the tandem off the ground and I eased the wheel out (an easy job with the Rohloff hub instead of the sprockets and cog wheels of a derailleur). We found the hole in the inner tube, and while I applied a patch Judy discovered three thorns in the tyre and a tiny piece of glass – the culprit.

As we prepared to fit the inner tube and tyre back onto the wheel, a car came off the nearby roundabout and the driver pulled up on the other side of the road.  Ignoring a cold shower of rain, he insisted on taking over, and I was happy to let him. It was obvious he was practised at bike repairs. Within what seemed like seconds he had the tube and tyre back in place and even insisted on pumping up the tyre.

His name was Philippe Marquis – which immediately prompted Judy to ask, “as in Marquis de Sade?” He laughed and said that whenever he explained his name like that, people knew how to spell it.
Friendly neighbour alongside our campsite at a rural gite near Liffre

It turned out he too, had a Rohloff equipped bike and loved the benefits of its in-hub gear system.

Despite the rain and our protestations, he stood around until we had the wheel safely back in the frame. He tweaked the gear change cables and took a photo of us on his cellphone (“so I can tell my wife why I’m late,” he said) and was gone.  Phillipe, thank you. And for your advice about tyres – we have our doubts about whether the current ones are tough enough for the job. If they’re not, we’ll be hunting for those Schwalbe Marathons.

We set off again and by now the rain had really set in – it was dancing off the cobblestones as we rode up the hill into the town of Chateaugiron.  It was early Friday afternoon, but the place was almost deserted as people stayed indoors to avoid the weather. Eventually we spotted a small but rather smart restaurant and Judy in her dripping wet cycle jacket pushed open the door to ask if they would serve us simply coffee – not a meal.

And friendly restaurant in Chateaugiron
Usually not, came the reply. But in this case it was cold and wet and we were cyclists. Come in. Our jackets were taken from us to be shaken dry and we were shown a small table and two barstools. The staff were delightful, correcting our attempts at French and fussing over us as though we were a couple of lost waifs. The café de crème was delicious and came with so many sweet nibbles we left filled and cheerful.

Outside it was still raining, and we gave up on the idea of more cycling even though we had only travelled 25 kilometres. The campground was pretty but with no sign of life, cold and wet underfoot. We set up camp, and settled in warmed by what had been a couple of lovely encounters.  
We holed up at this lovely - but wet - campsite at Cheteaugiron for the best part of three days.

Quotable Quotes

“The thing about the French is that they seem to have evolved more than us.” Judy

Mike: “This wine has an earthy taste.”

Judy: “Yes, you can taste it on the end of your tongue”.

Mike: “Which end?”

Mike puts his trust in Judy and her nail scissors.

Friday 18 May 2012

On the Road at Last

Distance so far: 267 kilometres
Longest Day: 84 Kilometres

Punctures: None
Falls/minor accidents: None

The past few days have seen us ride from Somerset, into Dorset to Poole where we crossed by ferry to St Malo in France. As we write this we are staying in a 3 Star camp ground in a small town (Pontorson) from which we travelled this morning to visit the famous pilgrimage site of Mont St Michel.

According to one source, 3.5 million tourists visit the abbey of Mont St Michel each year – that’s getting on for the total population of New Zealand. The day we visited was cold, windy and damp –nothing like the postcard images we’ve seen, nor the way it appeared on TV when the Tour de France paid a fleeting visit.

We are pleased to be able to report that our relationship with the Beast is improving. A combination of factors may be at play here: we’re getting used to him, we’ve jettisoned a few more items to lighten the load and we’ve redistributed the weight a bit – placing heavier items lower (including Two Ton Tess, our 2+ kilo heavy duty D lock which we use to secure the bike).  It’s still not good, but it’s better.

We’re also adjusting to camping. After the comforts provided by friends and family over the first couple of weeks, we were beginning to worry that the transition would be too hard and we’d dash for the first hotel we saw. But we’ve resisted any temptation here in France and are already feeling at home in our new life – fresh air, lots of exercise,  lots of fresh food and the pleasure of snuggling up in our not-so-small tent.

Judy the Stoker says …

The small lanes and B roads from Yeovill to Poole were a delight on a beautiful day. The piddles and puddles were particularly enchanting, eg Piddletrenthide, Puddletown, Tolepuddle (of Tolepuddle Martyrs fame) and Affpuddle.

Crossing the ford to Turnerspuddle

 Lunching on another beautiful day – in France – at Cancale, we were really taken with the fast moving tide sweeping over the mudflats and refloating boats before our eyes.

.We arrived early to try to avoid the crowds surging up the tiny, single street to the abbey. We weren’t early enough, and neither of us could face the prospect of paying 9 Euros to join a vast queue shuffling through the abbey. And this is May – the season has barely started


Collecting the Beast of Bridgwater

Public Announcement:
Judy and Mike are pleased to announce the arrival of a male twin. “The Beast of Bridgwater” arrived safely at SJS Cycles, one cold afternoon in May. Weight excessive but both mother and twin well, thanks to maternity staff. Father daunted.

He’s a he, not a she, nor some gender neutral kind of hermaphrodite. We know this because Steve, the cycle mechanic who brought our tandem into this world kept referring to him as a “he”. Who were we to argue?

Steve makes final adjustments as we take delivery
And after a few days the Beast is revealing he has a tough, almost brutish, maleness about him that we don’t like. He’s not for the faint hearted  as he fishtails his way along the road, threatening  to toss us both over the handlebars at a moment’s notice. These traits – apparently not unusual in heavily laden tandems – have come as a surprise to us. While we did our best to research tandems on the internet our actual experience is close to zip.

Disarray as we fled to a public park
 in Bridgwater to lighten our load and rearrange it.
Better but not great.
The worst moments are when starting off, or pedalling hard in a low gear – say up a hill. The steel frame of our bike flexes, causing us to wobble alarmingly. It quickly becomes a fight for control with us winning – so far.

Judy the Stoker says ….

The view from the back seat is surprisingly pleasant.  Shielded from the wind and with not a jot to do other than pedal and ease pressure when changing gear, surveying the surroundings has been fantastic. Arm stretching, calisthenics is all par for the course – so far, so good.

With Judy's nephew Richard and his fiancee Sarah in London

Sunday 13 May 2012

How to Change your Life in 45 Minutes

As the train hurtles into Somerset, our excitement increases. We're now just hours away from taking possession of our tandem. And we know one of two scenarios will come true - either we have made

a dreadful mistake or we are embarking on a
wonderful shared adventure.
Sam the Man in Sydney
The decision to change our lives - to buy a tandem and go adventuring - is based on the flimsiest of trials. We hired one in Devonport, Auckland, one sunny winter's afternoon and rode it backwards and forwards past the moored yachts on the waterfront. It wasn't an auspicious start. We couldn't even get moving without minor drama. As we attempted to push off, Judy on the back yanked at her handlebars with such force that she pulled them out of alignment. Oblivious on the front, I mounted the bike and attempted to slide onto my seat only to have a handlebar end attempt to slide its steel shaft into a certain part of my anatomy. We regrouped, twisted the handlebars back into place and tried again. Lesson one: the person on the back doesn't steer. Relax and leave it to the joker on the front.
The rest of the ride went better, until we became bored and retired to a cafe for coffee and cake - the hired tandem propped against a nearby post so we could admire it.
All that seems a long time ago now. We've quit our jobs, moved out of our house, said goodbye to family and friends and flown half way around the world to where our very own, brand new tandem awaits us.

For the past few days we've been enjoying stopoffs in Sydney and Abu Dhabi, and a stay with friends in London.

Merran at Mangawhai, Northland with Judy and friend Grace
Judy with Janice and Roger in London
Two of the Brockie brothers, Hokianga
Tarzan Tai at Leigh, Northlanf
Sam and Agi, Sydney
Judy astride the Meridian Line, Greenwich, London
Jack makes a spectacle of himself, Poole, England
Judy's favourite - Regents \park, London
Shirley in her garden, Umawera, Hokianga
Some of the clan at Leigh, before we left. Judy, brother Mark, sister Sarah, Tai and brother-in-law Ross
Night out in Sydney
Judy and friend Alison at the Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi
Sky scrapper reflections, Abu Dhabi
Judy pauses in an Abu Dhabi furniture store that specialises in the colourful.
Jet ski, Abu Dhabi. A place of contrasts.
Relaxing on a waterborne ride, Abu Dhabi high rises in the background
Wow, what an exhibition. Leonardo da Vinci, the Anatomist, at the Queen's Gallery, London.

Jack gets friendly with Lord Baden Powell - founder of the boy scout movement