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.