Friday 22 June 2012

Too Old to Cycle

Current Location: Chalon-sur-Saone, Burgundy, France
Total Distance: 1,449 km
Longest Day: 87 km (twice)
Flat Tyres: 8
Lock keeper's cottage - Canal du Central
Bottoms' Status (Perfect 10): Judy 6.5, Mike 6.5

Too Old To Cycle?

What did the doctor mean? I shouldn’t cycle for five days? I shouldn’t cycle more than five kilometres per day? Or maybe - I could cycle, but take it gently for five days. It was a lost in translation moment and Judy and I looked at each other in despair. All those cheerful “Bonjour Monsieur” greetings were all well and good, but when the chips were down our French was letting us down.

We waited five days for our Schwalbe Marathon Dureme
Tandem tyres to arrive - but we figure the wait's worth it.
In the end we decided the helpful doctor meant I should ride gently for the next five days – just don’t overdo it. At that point I didn’t really care much. I’d been hoping he would amputate my right leg leaving me to pedal like some sort of freak circus monkey with just one foot. Instead, he explained (we think) that I’ve pulled my right quad from over exercise – a painful but non-life threatening injury. He charged me E23 and sent me on my way with a prescription for E14 of anti-inflammatory and painkiller pills and a magic gel that I get to rub into my upper thigh.

That injury and the wait for new tyres to arrive in Nevers has slowed us down and we’ve missed one rendezvous with friends.

This stork and its family were nesting
on top of the church in Dijion - much
to the delight of passersby. (Church
on right)
But the upside has been the opportunity to slow down, at times to a standstill, and absorb the changing countryside. From grapevines we’ve moved into dairy country with herds of big milky Charolais and we’ve left the Loire Valley behind.

Pat and David came to our rescue with a pair of pliers -
then insisted we keep them even though they'd once
belonged to his father or possibly grandfather.

For the past few days we’ve been following canals and overtaking slow moving pleasure craft as they motor along at five knots. And then there are the locks – some automated and some with lock keepers in pretty cottages who assist those ascending or descending the canals. It is France as we anticipated it and the scenes imprint postcard images on our

Judy's Quotable Quotes:

Mike: What's in the rice for dinner?

Judy: It’s called Surf and Turf. The leftover sausage from lunch and a tin of tuna.

Canal du Central with the Eurovelo 6 stretching away in the distance.

Thursday 21 June 2012

Cycle Touring Costs in France

 “One bike for two people.  Are you poor?” came the smart alec comment from a Dutchman lounging in a café chair in the square in Chalon-sur-Saone, in Burgundy. 
Campground fees were averaging just over E12.00 per night.
Compared to the legions of Dutch pouring across France in their oversized mobile homes and caravans, I’m sure we are. But we enjoy the way we travel – the fresh air, the smells and the constant contact with people as we pass by on our tandem.  Even if we had more money, it’s doubtful whether we would want to travel any other way.
So what is it costing?
Here’s a list of our expenses over exactly four weeks (28 days) from mid May to mid June 2012.
Prices are in Euros and for a couple travelling together.  See link below to convert to the currency of your choice.
Food*                                                                      E 516.81
Evening meals out (4x2 people=8 meals)            181.50
Campground Fees**                                                340.77
Four gas (Primus) cylinders for stove***               25.40
Entrance Fees***                                                       61.00
Bike maintenance – inner tube & patches    8.90
Other****                                                                    64.39
Total                                                                         1,198.77
Daily Average                                                               42.82
Currency Converter
Entrance fees can chew up money, but fortunately we
both suffer from what we call "museum feet" and limit
our visits.
Bananas - the cyclists' staple - from exotic places like
Martinique and Cameroon. E1.19 per kilo.
*Excluding evening meals out, but includes coffee at bars/tabac on about two out of every three days,  and supermarket wine most nights.
**Campground fees averaged E12.17 per night, but survey period is outside the summer peak, so expect to pay more in late June, July and August.  Municipal campgrounds tend to have fewer facilities and are much cheaper than those run by private enterprise.  Sometimes we get discounts of E3.00 or more because we are cycling or have a Camping Carnet (from the Automobile Association in New Zealand).

*** Primus cylinders are expensive and difficult to find in France. Camping Gaz is much more popular.  

**** Even outside the summer peak, entrance fees for some of the chateaux on the Loire can top E13.00 per person.
**** Other includes washing powder and tokens in campgrounds, maps, postage, postcards, Voltarin, internet use etc. 
Other points to note:
No costs for air travel, medical/travel insurance etc.
Expect to pay considerably more in the big cities and tourist centres.
It’s usually cheaper halving costs with someone than travelling alone.

Wednesday 13 June 2012

Sex in the Saddle

 I’m having an extra marital affair, although I’m going to be the first to admit that the object of my desire has been slow to respond to my advances.

We’ve known each other just a matter of weeks – 34 days and four hours to be exact – and we pretty much ignored each other initially. But with the passing of time, I’ve become much more attached to her.

I call her Miss Brooks, first name B 17, and I’d describe her looks as those of a classic beauty. She has a kind of timelessness which comes from being around for a hundred years or so. She has a dark – dare I say it – leathery, tanned complexion and nine shiny highlights on her cheeks.

Using the sex toy to adjust B 17s Pleasure Extender
In her day she was a bit of a player – plenty of others have been before me and I’m learning about her flirtatious ways.
 The other day I met an English cycle tourer who showed me Miss Brooks secret Love Bolt or Pleasure Extender. Carefully manipulated with a special sex toy, the Pleasure Extender tightens Miss Brooks’ leathery skin and gives her a firmer touch to my caressing hand.

In case anyone’s wondering, I should perhaps point out here that Judy the Stoker is also having her own affair with a much more dashing and modern looking character called Mr Thorn.

Mr Thorn - Metrosexual - the type you can meet on any street corner
In contrast to Miss Brooks’ tanned complexion, Mr Thorn has a grey pallor and looks ill to me. He doesn’t stand out from the crowd, and I don’t fear the competition. However, Judy points out that they’ve got on well from the start – that he’s been kind up to a point on her bottom and in return demands no attention. The perfect partner for an illicit affair?

Judy and I have talked at length about our extra marital relationships with these two – there are no secrets between us except for one. I caught Judy using the moisturising cream out of her toilet bag to soften Miss Brooks’, and she seemed to take awfully long time to do it. Could it be the start of a ménage a trois, I wondered? But I put that thought aside, along with my feelings of jealousy,  after Judy assured me that she was quite comfortable in the saddle with Mr Thorn.  I suspect their relationship will never reach the dizzying heights – the ecstasy – that I think B 17 (yes, let’s be familiar) will provide over time.  We’ll see.

In the meantime, I’m just going outside to manipulate B 17’s Love Bolt with that special sex toy.  I may be some time.

Judy the Stoker says:

"Oh, honestly!" (and rolls eyes heavenwards)

Rainy Day Blues


Current Location: Nevers, France
Fixing a flat tyre 6.8 km into our day
Total Distance: 1,161 km

Longest Day: 87 km

Flat Tyres: 7

Bottoms’ Status (perfect = 10) Judy 7.0, Mike 6.5

On Canal Lateral a la Loire


Rain’s been drumming on the tent fly most of the day, we’ve run out of gas for the stove so can’t have a hot drink let alone a hot meal.  We’ve had to repair seven flat tyres so far – most of them in the last four days – and last night I had to get up at 3 am to chase off a stray dog which had discovered our rubbish bag and strewn the contents all around our campsite.

Cycle touring on the Loire is not all beer and skittles.

At Chateau at Sully-sur-Loire

And taking shelter from the rain a few
minutes later

To make matters worse, the damn dog evisited our campsite this morning and I half-heartedly threw an empty wine bottle at it. To my amazement, the bottle bounced off her skinny ribcage and she yelped and fled. I felt ashamed. The next time I saw her, she was lying flat on the ground trying to make herself invisible. From 50 metres away, I could see her large eyes following me as if to say, “how could you?”

Above the sound of the rain there is another noise – the Loire as it descends a under the bridge taking traffic into Nevers. The sound is of a waterfall, but from a distance it reminds me of the sea on a wide, wild New Zealand beach – a jumble of breaking water driven by a strong on-shore breeze.

We've passed several of these nuclear power stations
built on the edge of the Loire. A campervan in the
bottom left of the picture helps illustrate the size
of this one.
We’ve ventured across the bridge twice since arriving here yesterday – it has a well-marked cycleway – once to buy food and today to find hot coffee. The trip back yesterday was enough to deflate the rear tyre once again as we bounced over the cobblestones. We’ve had enough of these tyres, and tomorrow we begin the hunt for two new ones capable of handling the rough roads and the load we are carrying on the tandem. We won’t leave town without them.

Despite the above, we remain content. We’ve spent much of the day resting in the tent, eating bread and pate and ham and fresh fruit and yoghurt and oh yes, drinking a nice little Cotes du Rhone.
We’ve caught up on some of our emails, talked about the route ahead and planned what we would like to do tomorrow.

And now it’s stopped raining. There’s no sign of the dog, we’ve discovered the campground café sells coffee from an early hour and we know that if the worst comes to the worst we can always buy the tyres we want over the internet.

Life could be far worse.

Judy the Stoker says:

Whilst minding our bike outside a big supermarket in Bonny-sur-Loire, while Mike shopped, I became mesmerised by the agility and dexterity of the elderly French women whipping into the parking area on their bicycles, reaching down to lock them at ground level and strolling off to do their shopping.

They wore skirts but no helmets, they were late 70s and early 80s and had vim and vigour. Fabulous! I aspire to that physical competence at their age, should I be so lucky.
At campsite in Nevers after scoring the only available table

A Surprise Treat

Pont Canal at Briare
We cycled up a rise and suddenly we were crossing high above the Loire on the most wonderful canal bridge. Carrying water for boats to cross – and one did as we watched – a stunning structure and sight at the lovely village of Briare. We are now in “canal country” but crossing our second “Pont Canal” equally as impressive near Nevers, was again a real treat.
Pont Canal at Briare

Lock Gatekeeper's Office on Canal Lateral a la Loire

Canoeist at La Charite-sur-Loire

Wednesday 6 June 2012

A Sense of History

Judy’s Unquotable Quotes Revealed
“My bum only fell apart in the last 5 kilometres,” Judy at the end of an 87 kilometre ride.
And 30 minutes later while relaxing on a terrace bar, “Gosh I’m vain. Staring at myself in the mirror as I do my hair and enjoying the view.”
“I really like the Queen. She’s a good old stick. I really liked her when she was Helen Mirren.”

A Sense of History

Judy with Helen and Bob in their garden near Chinon, France. The New Zealand flag is raised in our honour.
“Do you know where the word spread-eagled comes from?” asked Bob as we waited for our entrée. We both looked at him blankly, and he produced that naughty schoolboy grin we were getting used to.  

Bridge over the River Vienne, at Chinon.
Cloister at Abbaye Royale de Fontevraud.
  A glimpse into the 12th century - 1,000 nuns
lived here in huge dormitories. A seperate area
housed a leper colony (now a hotel) and another
building was reserved for "fallen women".

It’s origins, he said, go back to Viking times when they were a warring lot terrifying the living daylights out of that corner of France where they saw an opportunity to plunder and pillage – what is now Normandy. A valiant opponent defeated in battle was given the opportunity to enter Valhalla, where an endless supply of virgins and alcohol awaited him.   
The only catch was that to reach Valhalla you had to be dead, and the Vikings had a particularly gruesome method to make sure you were – split open the opponent’s ribcage while they were still alive, tie back their arms to expose the internal organs and leave the rest of the work to the crows. A slow, horrible death, and you can bet on it that word soon spread that this was what the Vikings had in mind for anyone foolish enough to put up a determined fight. It was psychological warfare in its infancy – demoralising opponents and sending them fleeing.
Bob - model train enthusiast.

“Brilliant,” said Bob, relishing the details as the entrée was delivered to the centre of the table and we changed the subject.

We’ve been guests of Bob and his wife Helen at their tranquil, delightful home near Chinon, where they live with their dog, a donkey, a cat, a rooster and some chickens.
Eleanor of Aquitaine stepped in to ensure there
was a decent kitchen to provide food for the 100s
who lived at the abbey at Fontevraud. This picture
shows the chimneys above the fireplaces in the kitchen.
Fontevraud was turned into a prison,
and some of the inmates helped restore
the buildings. This wall identifies some of
those prisoners.

France's national heroine - Joan of Arc - the peasant girl credited with rallying
the French to kick out the English. They responded by burning her at the stake.
They’ve done what many people would consider is go one step too far - in their early 60s they left England to make a new life for themselves in France.  Their approach has been to become a part of the community they live in, rather than transplanting a tiny piece of England. And for them it works – they’ve gradually acquired French friends, they speak French fluently, Helen is involved in her choral music in the nearby town, Bob drives a Renault Kangoo – the French farmer’s basic utility vehicle – and they’ve become experts on French history and particularly that of their region.
Outside loo - pity the poor neighbours who
walked underneath at the wrong moment.

Hence Bob’s story about the word spread-eagle. He’s a master story teller, and that gruesome titbit at the dinner table was just one of many yarns we’ve heard over the past days.

With Bob and Helen, May 2012

One of the regrets of travel is that we pass in and out of people’s lives. On this occasion we met two people we immediately related to and know that under different circumstances we would want to become firm friends. But for now though, the road beckons and we are on our way again – to who knows where exactly.   
Lunchtime picnic spot
Heavy rain in the past few weeks has caused
the Loire to run high and there's been some
flooding. Here a boat on one of the Loire's
tributaries has sunk at its berth.