A long bike ride, with camping, is always a default pleasure. It’s wonderful to have the adventures of far flung places to take my bicycle to but France is always a tonic: largely under populated, lots of empty roads, campsites everywhere, delicious food around every corner, the French largely indifferent to all and sundry with few rules and great weather.
I’d had a holiday pencilled in for early July after some tour guiding work, before a wedding and then a later holiday with Anna in the USA. However the sad passing of my father-in-law, Eric meant that the originally planned escape had to be cancelled. Eventually a ‘window’ appeared to allow me to get away for over a week. On July 24 I made it to Leeds Bradford with my cardboard box full of bike and luggage.
I was off at last but aware I had to be back in good time for Sophie’s wedding preparations. (There was never a truer observation as to ‘preparation’ as it transpired.)
Limoges Airport to La Souterraine – 51 miles & 1,025m climbing
Anna was kindly up very early to deposit me at Leeds Bradford airport. Flights now come with additional time demands over and above early check in. There’s the nightmare of clearing Security. However, with a fast path ticket I was into Departures in good time to find a Ryanair delay! We eventually took off 35 minutes late. Airports are a very brutal experience nowadays of considerable lugging of heavy items, many stairs, queuing and heaving crowds. It can be no surprise that those with mobility issues or considerable age avoid flying.
That being said the flight was a doddle and Limoges Airport was small and organised; in no time at all I was extracting my bike out of the box and on the road heading north to my campsite. If that was the good news then I found myself in 36°C heat for 5 hours on a hilly bike ride with a bike weighing over 35kg. After the flight I was slightly dehydrated and having not eaten enough. A really elementary set of mistakes. Actually bordering on potentially fatal.
The route was slow with lots of little roads and time was moving on. I found myself on the hard shoulder of a dual carriageway, which was a National route and, it transpires, a motorway. Progress was good but at least 11 cars hooted their horns before a police car parked up on the hard shoulder in front of me and two policemen emerged less than happy. I thought I was ‘for it’.
As I rode up to the back of the car one policemen with his finger pointing toward the temple of his head shouted “êtes-cous fou?” I knew well what he was saying but responded with “je suis anglais”. (Thank you O’Level French.) My bilingual copper continuing to point at his head and said “are you crazee?” The upshot was that my bike was loaded into the car and I was driven off the motorway to a safer B road. I continued to receive a lecture in the car but I did cough up a “je suis desole” and they seemed to believe I’d got the message. At my point of ejection I was fined €4! In fact as they couldn’t accept a credit card and had no change I gave them €5. For all this money there was much form filling, scrutiny of passports and information sought. It did cross my mind that illegally traversing the country and exiting dangerously in a dodgy dinghy would have involved a lot less interest from the French authorities… In truth I was hot and weary and for another few Euros I’d have been grateful to be dropped nearer my campsite. I thought it imprudent to ask. I waved goodbye to the gendarmes and continued my slow trundle well behind schedule.
The campsite Reception was shut when I got to La Souterraine at some time after 7pm. It was a very nice site and operating on the theory that it’s easier to seek forgiveness rather than get permission to pitch my tent (without paying in advance), I found a spot. However it meant pushing my bike up a short hill. An attack of cramp kicked in on my hamstrings, so painful, that I couldn’t move. This cramp meant bending my legs was impossible and, later, affected my sleep position. The heat had affected my appetite and I ate Anna’s specially prepared tuna pittas, I’d stupidly not eaten for lunch. The act of eating took ages as I hated every mouthful so that I chewed a gazillion times before swallowing. I also felt sick but kept drinking long and hard well after climbing off the bike. I knew that I had been on the brink of making myself very I’ll due to the heat. Despite a swelteringly hot tent with me lying naked on the blown up mattress, hold that thought in your head if you dare, I was asleep in no time.