Monthly Archives: August 2018

Levis, Vodka & Large Spiders – Week 34 : 2018

August 29, 2018

So after having been away for six weeks holidaying then unsurprisingly it takes a while to get back into the swing of things and it’s only now that my mind turns to the chores that make up a lot of life. More happily a festival of sport marked my return.

Firstly we attended a Premiership football match – Leicester City versus Wolverhampton Wanderers and then the cricket Test Match between England and India in Nottingham the next day. The football was excellent and Wolves will do well in the league this season despite their loss 2-0 on the day. Leicester City has a splendid ground and reasonable prices for their fans. However, despite their pride and loyalty the atmosphere was limp. I can only imagine the buzz at the first home match of the season if Leeds were in the top flight.

The seats we had at Trent Bridge were fabulous and so we could assess the quality of the bowling and batting brilliantly behind the bowler’s arm. If that was brilliant then England’s performance was worthy of several sackings. Inept decisions from after winning the toss to their abject first innings batting. India are well are truly back in the Series and I expect they might win it. Despite all this it was a great day out.

On my bike ride then sartorial elegance was not a priority. I washed and wore three sets of clothes in rotation over a 25 day period. Back home then I can scrub up quite well with a suit but the schedule and activities I keep only necessitate jeans and a T shirt with some sort of fleece top. It does seem a long time ago since I spent considerable sums at quality Gents outfitters on suits, ties and shirts. However, that was a work situation and I suppose I cared!

So accompanying Mrs Ives in Leeds during the week I was wandering around half contemplating buying some shorts when I strolled into some clothes shops and was accosted by a fairly care worn figure staring back at me from full length mirrors. This chap was 60’ish wearing unforgivably baggy Levi 501’s that looked well past their best, a routine collared shirt and blue pullover. In fairness then compared to men of his age he was quite slim and had short hair. (The latter over coming that elderly man preference for having lots of grey hair on show nicely combed over the bald patches).

Anyway, despite my wife’s protestation that delights abounded at a discount at the Designer Outlet outside York I bought a jacket, jeans and shorts. Most of this at John Lewis. Even more wisely I did consult people less than half my age what might be jean alternatives and received good counsel.

By way of revenge Anna was quick on our return to select candidates from my wardrobe for eviction. Which reminds me… If and when I appear on the BBC’s Desert Island Discs and Kirsty asks what my luxury item is to take to the desert island I will take a 40 year old coat that I use to wash the car and garden in. My explanation will be that as soon as I am out of her sight entrapped on this Pacific idyll then she will be rummaging through the cloakroom to dispose of this coat. Such is her desire to dispose of it I have wondered whether I might offer this solution to her as a future Christmas present.

I finish with a heavy heart about what I saw in a supermarket. After shopping for various groceries I was proceeding down the aisles to the checkout when I saw, with others, a youngish, tall but slightly dishevelled man taking the contents of his shopping basket and pile them into a rucksack behind a pillar. It looked very suspicious and was. He just hauled the rucksack on his back and briskly walked toward the exit with £80 of booze on his back. Theft in broad daylight.

You’re left in the bat of an eye thinking what you could have done, safely, to prevent this. Then others questions arise – why didn’t the supermarket electronically tag the alcohol, recruit store detectives (especially around the alcohol), did the supermarket just accept this shrinkage as an overhead, how many times a week this happened and why was this wretch doing this – to support his own addictions by either selling or drinking it? Depressing and maybe just a regular occurrence I am lucky enough not to witness very often.

Lastly I can advise that Costco is already in the vanguard of preparing to lift your money with Halloween essentials.

Record Of The Week # 46

August 29, 2018

Courtney Marie Andrews – May Your Kindness Remain

About a year ago I bought and reviewed Andrews break through album Honest Life. I was genuinely blown away. Here was a Singer Songwriter in the truest sense of it’s 1970’s genre creation – terrific melodies, remarkable voice, staggering and memorable lyrics, beautiful and sympathetic arrangements. Such a find.

Her latest release May Your Kindness Remain attracted lots of critical acclaim on both sides of the Atlantic in March this year and you might say that she has arrived. That acclaim is well placed and hasn’t come quickly. Despite being of tender years at 27 years old this is her sixth release. That long hard road has meant that her lyrics dwell on real life: let’s be fair there is generally no money in the peripatetic life of a travelling musician. Her words talk of love and compromise in the most mundane of locations and rooms. She says – “A lot of people are poor in America—and because of those unattainable goals, they’re also mentally unstable, or sad, or depressed or unfulfilled. A lot of people — myself included at some point in my life — are loving somebody through this. That’s sort of the theme of the record: coming to terms with depression and the reality of the world we’re living in.”

One such lament is on “Two Cold Nights In Buffalo” where she’s marooned due to the weather in this large rust belt US town on the border of Canada and the Great Lakes. She talks of the city’s decline and the changing face with its declining middle classes, neighbourhoods and the community that was once nurtured by those who lived there. If you can relate to the song it will last longer in your memory. I cycled through it in July 2015 as I went south in search of America’s music in Nashville, Muscle Shoals, Memphis, Mississippi Delta and New Orleans. The Canadian border post takes you through the centre of the city. There are many streets of demolished and cleared space – the legacy of an industrial manufacturing past that eventually created the rust belt. I cycled through with little to see and whilst there are pockets of prosperity it is a ghost of a city as regards what once made it proud.

“Rough Around The Edges” sees a Carole King piano introduction and Andrews returns to a song of failed lives and love. Joni Mitchell introspection is found in the verse;

                              “You find beauty in simple things,

                                 In desert sunsets and in movie scenes

                                 I see the flaws in all the in-betweens,

                                 The past was cruel and caught up with me”

“KIndness Of Strangers” sees yet another arrangement to make you swoon. The producer, Mark Howard, has worked with Lucinda Williams, Emmylou Harris and Bob Dylan and creates a wonderful backing not least creating spaces in the songs to let her powerful angelic voice shine through like a ray of light. In this song where the soundscape parts she has a female chorus behind her that deliver a Soul/Gospel feel. “I’ve Hurt Worse” contains the key to the lock as regards the message of the song with the line “Mother says we love who we think we deserve” and it makes sense of the lyric where with accordion and ukelele backing she lists her lover’s indifference. Double tracking her voice for harmony is exquisite. 

If the album has the consistency needed to make it great then it also contains a complete timeless gem in the title track “May Your Kindness Remain”. She forgives a friend for all her indulgences because she has a good heart. The indulgences are listed with no little exasperation and maybe this is the reality she refers to in the above quote. The voice can soar and in this opener we get a tune to die for.

She’s playing locally in December. I visited the theatre to buy tickets. It felt like a moment when you find under priced treasure in a shop, how lucky are you? I shelled out the cash for two tickets before I feared that I would get a tap on the shoulder and the interloper chuckles and says “Oh you’re joking! You think we still have tickets available for this concert? We sold them decades ago. Do you how how great this artist is?”

Can’t wait.

You Might Need Somebody….

August 24, 2018

My Favourite Eldest Daughter worries about hereditary conditions that may be on her future Timeline. In her position I would be less worried as I’m convinced that by the time she reaches the age of her mother or myself there will be a pill or spray that will sort it. If I were alerting her about future concerns then her father, aunt and grandfather had or have a troubling gypsy heart. The thought of being peripatetic would lose me no sleep other than where would I store my record collection, bikes and Morgan. Wandering far and wide simply and cheaply is a pleasure I live for. Another condition is less disruptive but persistent.

I cannot hear any music whether in a supermarket, lift, mall, waiting room and not marvel and wonder how such a track makes it into this space. There are so many songs out there why do they pick historical relics? Are the songs of today so temporary or irritating that they cannot make a background soundtrack for shoppers or residents?

Shola Ama is now 39 years old but at the tender age of 18 years old she had a hit single in 1997. It reached No. 4 in the UK charts and No. 21 in Germany. “You Might Need Somebody” was a dead ringer cover of Randy Crawford’s earlier effort. However, such was the quality of the song it charted 16 years later. Shola Ama released this on an album, which must have shifted a few copies. When the next album flopped she disappeared off the scene. (Yes, I have both albums).

So explain how 21 years later this song is echoing around a supermarket in Mauterndorf? (Mauterndorf in Austria has a population of 1,700 people and exists as a tourist spot mainly for winter skiiers who throw themselves off nearby Alps). Although it charted in Germany I’m incredulous this obscurity is serenading me as I ask for a cheese and gherkin sandwich.

How does Betty Wright’s 1971 “Clean Up Woman” make it into the lobby of a luxury hotel in Strasbourg’s OKKO Hotel? It’s France for heaven’s sake! This Soul classic shifted over a million records when it charted in the USA but how does it appear in my ears here?

1982’s “Pass The Dutchie” was still being played in a Miami mall 36 years after its release. Granted London’s Musical Youth’s reggae song was a worldwide hit and rose on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart to No.10. However, why does this make it onto any playlist for a nation that can pick from Elvis, Bruce, Jacko, Madonna, Aretha, Marvin, Dolly, Buddy, Whitney… need I go on?

You may think copyright keeps some of these big artists off the playlists. Maybe? However give me the total selection available and then I wouldn’t think to use some of these songs.

I’m expecting on my, say, wait in a Southern European taxi office that it will either be Billy Ocean or Todd Rundgren that accosts me. I’ll keep you posted.

Croatia to England (by bike) – July & August 2018

August 14, 2018

Day 1 – Split to Pakoštane, Croatia – 61 miles & 968 metres climbed

So it felt like a pending examination. I had some butterflies about the upcoming distance, the hilly terrain, narrow roads (and impatient traffic), sweltering heat, weight on the bike (with luggage) and a slightly dodgy right knee. I’ve been here before but had some anxiety about the journey home before I started. 

This had a lot to do with a 6 mile 400 metre climb shortly after leaving the apartment on a narrow mountain pass and wondering whether Croatia losing the World Cup Final had a bearing on how they’d drive the next morning. After a wonderful time on holiday in Croatia (and too briefly in Herzegovina) I left Anna and Sophie (wife and youngest daughter) in Kaštel Lukšić to the west of Split to pedal home. The route is simply heading north. Up through Croatia and then into Slovenia. After this there is the small matter of the Austrian Alps to overcome before the relative flat of Southern Germany before I push onto France. I think it may be around 1,500 miles before I walk through my home front door.

Continue reading Croatia to England (by bike) – July & August 2018

Bruges, Belgium to York, UK – 60 miles & 329 metres climbed

It rained heavily in the night and I thought of the UK. Reports suggest that in all the weeks that I have been away then it has only rained twice there. It was a slow dismantling of the camp: what was the rush today? With no little irony then the day was relatively chilly. When the sun came out it was warm but when behind the clouds it was blustery and cool. Oh for some of this earlier in the trip!

I sauntered into Bruges. It really is a lovely tourist town. Sat on a series of canals and well preserved with architecture that you’ll find on a thousand jigsaw puzzle box lids. I found the town completely packed and I pushed my bike through crowds to, firstly, a record shop where I was tempted by some Average White Band on vinyl (how would I safely carry it?) and then on to buy some sandwiches and bits for tonight’s meal on the ferry. I don’t partake of the dining on the ferry. It seldom appeals and as it transpires then I might have been head down in the soup with weariness after entering the restaurant!

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Still smiling and sporting a loss of 8 lbs since setting off three weeks ago

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I found some out of town shopping and ate a hot meal at a restaurant. From here it was onwards to the docks (courtesy of more f&*king cycle paths).

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On arrival I was placed with the other two wheeled travellers. Needless to say they all had engines and had also been on long distance jaunts from the Czech Republic to Italy.

In my dreams I would love to be the archetypal Yorkshireman – bluff, independent minded, no nonsense and slightly detached. I met a man who was standing beside his motorbike. He was between 65 and 70 years old. Short, craggy and fit.

Tony:                    “So have you been far?”

Yorkshireman:   “Naples”

(In my mind Naples may have been glorious 200 years ago but today it has a reputation for being an industrial busy port with unsavoury elements of crime).

Tony:                     “So how was it?”

Yorkshireman:    “Not so good, first I got food poisoning that needed hospital treatment and then I nearly got mugged. I was approached by three teenagers and one of them stood in front of me and said ‘phone’. I punched him in the face and side swiped his girlfriend who was hovering. They ran off.”

(I found that a bit of a show stopper and I was left slightly speechless albeit it did seem brave and a fitting response. However, what if they had a knife?)

Tony:                      “Gosh, well that worked! However, I can see that losing your phone would have been terribly inconvenient.”

Yorkshireman:      “Oh no, that was back in the hotel.”

On the ferry I showered and put on long trousers and a fleece top, strange and new garments after so many weeks of heat. I mooched around Duty Free and had a £4.25 pint of Guinness expecting it wouldn’t be the last. However on briefly returning to the cabin I was drawn to lying down and did so. After an hour of Ricky Gervais on Netflix I fell asleep at a ridiculously early hour! I think the body was about to insist that it was time to recuperate.

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So the ferry poured us all into a busy Hull and I found my way home. Now, I have to be sensitive here because a good friend, Steve, has a deep heritage with Hull and complains at my slights. So firstly the good news is that out of all the Yorkshire towns that might have been visited by Aliens then Hull has that privilege. The folk who designed the cycle paths to move around and leave the city must have come from a different planet as they were neither co-ordinated or complete. Clearly on their planet they never have been to Hull or ridden a bicycle. Less fortunate was my discovery when completing a corner on one of these cycle paths. Facing me were two large Alsation dogs running at full pelt toward me. Slightly alarmed I noted quickly that they were both on a leash to a man who was astride his mobility scooter someway back. He understandably, to provide safety from head injuries, was wearing a cowboy hat. I give you Hull.

By the time I got back onto my street I had cycled 1,455 miles (or, for Greg Smith, 2,342 kilometres). Up until Bruges I averaged 7 hours a day on the bike and the distance averaged at just over 69 miles (112 kilometres) a day. To add to this I climbed 19,400 metres (Everest is 8,848 metres high) at 970 metres average per day. I have to add that the temperature was always over 30 degrees C sometime during the day and France, despite being further north seemed the hottest with most of the cycling time being above 33 degrees C (92 degrees F).

Any regrets? Well I am sorry that on the top of the first horrific hill out of Split (the worst of the whole ride within 5 miles of setting off!) when I met the German cyclists who were eating McVitie Digestive biscuits that I forgot to tell them that they were even more wonderful if dunked in a hot drink. To think that they proceeded to Greece not knowing this will always haunt me.

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I steered my bike onto my street thinking where I had started was unreal and that apart from the North Sea I had pedalled each and every mile. It was a blast. Thank you for your company and if you want to read up about more of my tours and or receive a free guide to what I call ‘Cycle Tour Craft’ on how to get set up to do this then please click tonyives.com

 

 

 

 

Villers-Sire-Nicole, France to Bruges, Belgium – 88 miles & 614 metres climbed

The surprising thing was that as a landmark I was expecting to see the Belgium border as my seventh country arrived. However, as I’m pedalling along it dawned on me that with all the Belgium car number plates, a Belgium postal services van and local buses that I was actually in Belgium. There was no marked border. Ah, you may be thinking; its down to all those happy Europeans tearing down borders (unlike us disagreeable Brits who seem to be intent on erecting them). Nah, as I cycled through France then the signage was regular for all the 96 internal Départements and the other administrative 12 Régions. Even in Belgium where the country is split into French and Flemish (Dutch) speaking when you leave Wallonia and enter Flanders there is signage. They are proud of their nationality yet I suspect someone in the Government isn’t and hence the absence of signage.

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From a rural setting I was now into an urban one. The traffic was a lot more intense and less well behaved as everyone seemed anxious to be on their way. Hence women drivers would appear out of side streets cutting you up or other drivers would drive way too close. So much for Belgium being flat. It was in the morning that I was still working my way through the gears to cope with the regular inclines.

Below is a fabulous depiction of the 1988 World Championship Road Race held in Ronse. Fondriest won it after sailing past Bauer and Criquelion. The latter two were well in front of Fondriest but clashed in the final sprint. Bauer was subsequently disqualified.

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Eventually Belgium behaved like Belgium and there were no hills in sight. I was steered toward cycle paths and with some good things (see below) and some less good by being blocked by vegetation or having rutted surfaces.

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The ferry to Yorkshire was tomorrow night. This meant that I would have the opportunity to make up any distance shortfall tomorrow, However, I simply wanted it done and tomorrow could be a short distance day with my arriving at the docks in good time with no worry about delays, mechanicals or some such.

With this in mind I pushed on for my longest day. A worrying aspect of long distance riding in high heat is that your appetite disappears yet your need for calories grows. Toward the end of the day I passed a few supermarkets not knowing what to buy as I really had no interest. Eventually I made a decision that I really must stop. Here I found some hummus, bread, a donut and fruit. It was a lucky stop because we were close on 7pm and everything was shutting.

The only campsite in miles was to the east of Bruges. It was a small and very busy site close to the centre. Not for the first time the signs were up saying full! I walked in and I think I got the last pitch in a busy tent area full of cycle tourers.

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One such was Jack who’d done a three month round trip to Sicily. Respect. He was now heading home after meeting up with his wife (Tiber) in Paris who was camping and cycling with him home to Holland. Inevitably our conversation turned to how he crossed Austria! Not easy with talk of enormous percentage gradients. Another German lady was ambling around Belgium and France. She was about my age and seemed to be a seasoned camper who was taking it easy and had routes that avoided hills. Other cycle tourers abounded and I think that the reality is that they fall into another type of tourer who do short distances. Maybe they actually do this stuff for pleasure?

(Hammer: British caravaners)

 

 

Attigny to Villers-Sire-Nicole, France – 82 miles & 1,115 metres climbed

The route continued to be rural and despite my fondest hopes the road continued to go up and down. The profile was like a piece of corrugated cardboard with endless relative minor ups and downs. The plan was now to get to the coast. The Zeebrugge (in Belgium) to Hull ferry was booked by Anna. This is a car ferry that takes you to the north of England overnight. I’d used it most years lately, either with a bicycle or my sports car. It was relatively expensive but dropped me less than 50 miles from home and was a fairly busy but easy run home. I got a cabin.

Today felt like the beginning of the end of the trip and thoughts were on home. As usual I found a boulangerie and bought croissants to set me up for the day. Intriguingly across the road from the bakers were a couple who led out two horses, mounted them and trundled off up the high street of this small town.

Amongst cyclists there is a debate about listening to music or radio through headphones. Some think it reduces the awareness of the rider and jeopardises their safety. I’m not sure but maybe listening to Megadeth at Volume 12 would impair your judgement! I was able to get, intermittently, the radio from a BBC App on my ride. It seems very incongruous to be proceeding through the French countryside listening to a cricket match. However, I did and it was engrossing and a great time killer.

Some of these days were very long in the saddle: today was 7 hours and 59 minutes. This was quite typical and not my longest day. Added to this were times when I’d stop to eat or shop.

With the size of France there is a considerable scattering of the population. So many/most rural/small town settlements have abandoned properties. It seems improbable that they will ever be refurbished and restored. These buildings are in sun bleached and quiet locations but nowhere you’d probably want to live unless you had some considerable roots. The buildings often look very grand I wonder at what time in the 20th Century the occupants fled to a city?

Lunch at Aubenton was a ‘plat de jour’ at a restaurant I found along the route. I asked what it was and was told it was a ‘brochette’. I had no idea what was coming until a large white sausage appeared on a skewer. Delicious and needless to say it didn’t hit the sides!

On the drink front I was so tired of drinking hot water that I bought these concentrates to add to my bottles. At least the hot water was flavoured and more satisfying now.

The plastic bag contains peaches. My ‘go to’ motivator

Maubeuge eventually came into sight and I cycled through the centre. It looked an attractive large town on the Sambre river. This looked navigable. However time was getting on and I was now aiming for the one campsite I’d identified.

Campsites are now very few and far between in Northern France. This is not a tourist area. I’d identified one at a small town to the North East of Maubeuge. In reality it was a static van site and didn’t cater to tourers. Folk had permanent homes here and either came on the weekend or for holiday breaks. It was up a steep hill in a wood and was an attractive setting. It took me a while to work out where Reception was. Now could I find someone to check me in? When I did locate someone it seemed straightforward, except for the showers.

The madame took my money, around €8, but advised a shower would cost extra – €1. What the hell I thought, let’s live a little and wash. However, she wanted some humungous deposit to hand across the dongle that activated the system in the washroom. This would be refunded tomorrow when I returned the device. However, the office re-opened at 9am the next day. I planned to be well up the road by then. So ’Plan B’ was to surrender my Passport for the duration of the shower. This would be returned tonight.

So I had a shower and returned to swap our relative treasures. The madame had my Passport in plain sight but couldn’t locate it to hand back. I watched slightly bemused (being my usual tolerant self). In exasperation she eventually concluded that this document in front of her must be mine. Sadly the problem arises in the fact that the photo taken in 2010 of yours truly shows an athletic younger man with more dark hair than the specimen in front of her! I absorbed the blow.

Bar-le-Duc to Attigny, France – 66 miles & 646 metres climbed

They say to foreigners, who visit Britain, that if you have to eat British food then have the breakfast three times a day. I can see the attraction for the French as they don’t have hot breakfasts! And if I’ve complained how drab McDonald’s food is then finding that their Gallic restaurants don’t do the Breakfast Menu reaffirms that they’ve even missed out the best bit. With this in mind I pedalled past the Bar-le-Duc one knowing it was a ‘Sausage Egg McMuffin’ free zone. Inconsolable.

The harvested corn fields I cycled through were scenes of great conflict a little over a century ago in WW1. The Germans attempted their invasion in this area from the East and due to the nature of wide opened spaces it appears indefensible. Along my ride were cemeteries and memorials to these conflicts and horrific losses. As in British towns then villages always have a memorial with countless names on the cenotaph. The scale of the remembrance to the fallen throughout France is enormous. It is quite stark in its scale to the few monuments of the war 20 years later. Here you’ll see an odd roadside headstone to a member of the Resistance or maybe a plaque on a bridge that the Resistance defended or blew up against the Nazis.

In Saints-Menehould I stopped off at a roadside bar for a couple of Cokes and enjoyed the ambience of a busy Sunday social scene.

I soldiered on in the heat and the traffic was literally non-existent on this Sunday. I eventually dived into a town, Vouziers, and found a cafe in the square. Here I joined three Belgian lads in the shade having a late lunch. I had a large chicken kebab and they had pizzas. They were riding their motorbikes back from a wedding to Belgium and had stopped off to recuperate. We talked about the World Cup and my trip. One motorcyclist was interested in my thoughts on Croatia. I was positive but not as much as he was. One of his friends rather ‘popped his balloon’ by commenting that his enthusiasm was heightened by some holiday romance in Zagreb!

So where tonight? I decided Attigny looked good. In fact it would be my third visit – once by bike and once previously in the Morgan. I shall never forget my first visit when a Dutchman suddenly appeared on my pitch with a cold can of beer. No such luck today. Being such a short day on the bike I was able to wash and dry laundry and pop into town for a beer at a bar. This nearly proved embarrassing as I didn’t have any cash to pay for it and had to pop out to find an ATM.

Being Sunday the restaurants were shut but I found a boulangerie for a grim sort of pasty. In fact I can advise that if the French combine pastry and meat it is not a happy event, ever. It was a quiet night and the sleep was needed.

Heaven Is A Place On Earth (Belinda Carlisle)

(Hammer: French lady)

Vittel to Bar-le-Duc – 71 miles & 739 metres climbed

It was a late start. A combination of being tired, needing to wait until 8.30am for Reception to open to pay my fees and a great site. I wobbled onto the road in a tardy fashion.

Vittel is a spa town with gardens near its centre. I discovered most of this by the Garmin being unable to find a way out. As a consequence I seemed to go round in circles for a little while before making an executive decision just to head north, predictably it was therefore up a steep incline. I must add that I’ve toured in some parlous weather on many expeditions but yet again it was a flawless blue sky with bright sunshine and that threat of afternoon high heat. I shouldn’t complain too much.

Bar-le-Duc was the objective/plan and the route was broadly North West with quite a decent elevation profile of not being too difficult. As always I peeked at the Google Maps and Komoot Apps on my phone and then trusted myself to the Garmin and Michelin maps. It looked like my usual trawl through minor towns better known for their farming than anything else.

Fellow cycle tourers are now long gone. I’m alone on this journey. This is mainly due to my route – a fairly featureless several hundred miles. However it does cross my mind that in all this distance a lone soul with their back bent will eventually appear over the brow of a hill.

A word or two for the bike. Before every tour I do a dry run and as I embark on this I never can believe the weight I’m loading on the rear and the way the bike twitches/trembles at the front end due to the imbalance. However, it holds up well. I mentioned that I had a knee injury that I feared had stopped this long distance riding. A lot of rehab and some adaptation of the riding position had solved in large part any issues. The typical day is always spent going up and down the gears and chain wheels. The load on the chain and gear cogs are immense and the smoothness of the gear changes soon goes as chain stretching or wear kicks in. It doesn’t get chronic, or if it does then I get it addressed but the reality is that the failing is mine with my set up rather than the bike’s. My leather saddle keeps me comfortable and wear on my hands is protected by the gloves. The gloves however do become a health hazard with all the sweat and even after a shower I can smell something unpleasant in the palm of my hands.

McDonald’s becomes a regular stop simply for an ice cold drink. I haul out my charging cables and devices and plug in to top up wherever possible. I joked earlier about the sin of using them but they are now common throughout all of Europe and especially in France. I usually have the chicken sandwiches but I am increasingly avoiding the food due to it being tasteless, tepid in temperature or dull in variety. However, with predictable locations, wi-fi, toilets and air con it does provide a respite in the middle of the day.

Neufchâteau was such a spot. I descended gradually into this large town (knowing that there would be payback for such a pleasure) and as I checked my Garmin for the location of McDonald’s I was presented with a spiteful suburb 15% gradient hill to reach it. Being Saturday, then to quote Fats Waller “the joint was jumping”. I found my usual corner, plugged in and tried to catch up on my blog. Fathers struggled with young children excited by their Happy Meals and I bided my time whilst I used the bike as a clothes line. I have to do this because I get to sites so late, last night was 8.25pm, that I can wash kit but not have enough heat or sun left in the day to dry it at the site.

I always lock the bike when I’m away from it but if someone were inclined then they could rifle through the panniers and take items. The items they might take would be worth nothing to them but their absence would be an inconvenience to me. There is always a risk of theft but in small towns then I tend to have faith that the worst of human nature is not common.

Re-energised I pushed on to Bar-le-Duc and the municipal campsite. Municipal means that they are run by the local town. They have good washrooms, basic pitches and few other facilities. One bonus is that they are in the towns and nearer to facilities. When I got there it looked spartan but had a few motorhomes sprinkled around it; mainly in one field. I chose one of the other three fields with one motor home in it thinking that this would be quiet. It transpired that a millennial man by himself was the other occupant and he’d called up a pal to join him. A chap subsequently arrived separately in a car.

The protocol used to be that silence should reign after 10pm on campsites and believe me I was certainly tucked up for the night by then. However my neighbour and pal were only just warming up. They had gentle background music on, a few drinks on the go and incessant chatter. The guy had picked this field to be alone and I had stumbled on his Saturday night party. At 10 minutes past midnight I jettisoned my ear plugs, grabbed my bright bike light and clambered out of the tent for a chat. They were surprised I was approaching them. With their faces lit up by my torch I was astonished to see that they’d just started their BBQ, and the sizzling noise was not French House music but sausages on a grill!

They said they didn’t speak English and so I attempted to advise them that I was tired and had ridden a long way in my French. The music was unacceptable. A few grunts ensued and the music was switched off as I returned to the tent. Their chatter continued and next to the campsite was a children’s playground. In here teenagers were shouting, chanting and being rowdy. That wasn’t a problem I could negotiate. You have to remember that for the majority of the campers had walls thicker than canvas and were not too inconvenienced by all this.

I think I dropped off to sleep at about 2.30am when my neighbours decided to get some sleep or to retreat inside the van as it was getting chilly and the playground kids went home. I awoke at 6.15am as rooks in the trees engaged in a spat. I decided to pack up and get on the road as I wasn’t going to get back to sleep.

My neighbours were also up and about and I wondered if they’d been to sleep and whether they’d been popping pills as well as taking a drink? You live and learn.

Belfort to Vittel, France – 84 miles & 1,211 metres climbed

I maybe should have known that pitching next to construction contractors on a Thursday night may mean an early start. Having worked in the industry then I know that many contractors stay away from home during the week and then return home on the Friday afternoon. I knew they were contractors by their company flat bed truck logo. They must have been working locally and camping during the week. I imagine this makes it very affordable for the contractor and in decent weather it isn’t a particular hardship. What was a hardship, to their neighbours, was that they started to ‘break camp’ at 5.15am on the Friday morning. There was a reasonably responsible attempt at minimising the noise but I was frustrated to get woken up. Sleep is a fuel.

So this clonking about went on for around an hour and I must have fallen asleep again because when I next looked at my watch it was 7.30am and they were gone. I needed to be up to get a few miles in before the inferno started and I wasn’t pleased.

I wrote about the rest day and if it had provided any recovery; obviously it was a help but I was not as fresh as I was when I started in Split. The thought of lots of climbing up seriously demanding inclines was abhorrent as I turned out of the campsite. So I decided to aim a little west to get past the mountain range to the north in the Vosges. In the heat I trundled along to Lure and then had a splendid lunch in Luxeuil-les-Bains of risotto and another Coke and ice with that delirious pleasure of the first mouthful cracking on the back of your parched throat.

Food wise I was struggling. I simply had little or no appetite yet if I failed to eat properly then I quickly faded. Often I might pass a supermarket thinking that I should get something in but I felt so uninspired as I plodded around the aisles. All this is in stark contrast to the lectures I put in my Touring Handbook on my personal site called Cycle Tour Craft. Take a look as this is a literal A to Z of touring based on my travels in Europe and North America.

With my water bottles replenished I had a vague plan to get as far north as I could and also to a campsite. In this part of France then campsites were thin on the ground and there wasn’t much to see. The landscape went up and down and arable farming was on either side of the road.

However, today the heat seemed at a new level. The thermometer read up to 36 degrees C or 97 degrees F but it seemed more intense than other days and the road heat came up at you like as if you were opening an oven door. I found myself with a dry mouth all the time and I went on to drink over 7 litres of fluid for the day. Inevitably I ran low on occasion and I surprised two ladies, sat outside their house, in some small village by pulling up in front of them and pleading “excuse moi, avez d’eau s’il vous plaît?” Of course they helped.

Ahh… another hill ahead

Which, brings me onto another subject: the sociability of the French. After the indifference of the Austrians and Germans I was now being regularly acknowledged by pedestrians I’d pass on my ride, tractor drivers, other cyclists and little old ladies urging me on as I reached the brow of another hill. In fact I often used too much French language when stationary and a torrent would come back that I had no idea about. It was simply heartening to have some interaction during 7 or 8 hours on the bike. Viva la France.

Yet, was it? The football team won the World Cup a couple of weeks earlier and there was the odd French Tricolour draped on a wall but little else. In England half the nation wouldn’t have sobered up yet had we won it!

So all a sudden despite feeling less than sparkling and still thirsty I decided to push on to Vittel (of the table water fame) and came across a blissful municipal campsite. I got there at 8.25pm and the sign at Reception suggested I should find a pitch and pay in the morning. Okey dokey.

This day got me to a total of 1,079 miles for the trip.

(Hammer: Dutch motorcyclists).