Poncin, France > Veyrier, Switzerland 88km and then a rest day

Ahhh.  Just woke up from a nice nap in a park overlooking Genéve (Geneva, Switzerland) and Lac Léman. 

A nap in the shade.
A nap in the shade.

I am a big fan of naps and unfortunately have not been working them into my schedule as much as I would like (or previously planned on).  The last three days have been soggy.  Each ride was through the drizzly rain and we reached our WS hosts in Cluny, Poncin and Veyrier sopping wet.  But today was different.  A day off the bike “resting” in Genéve.  And so for this reason I am lying in the grass in Park Mon Repos waking up from a nice nap.  I think my ability to take great naps comes from my father.  Any family trip growing up was not a Pratt family trip if it wasn’t frequently punctuated with my dad, finding a nice spot in the shade, lying down and dozing off for awhile.  We always knew that his nap was almost over when he started snoring so loud he would wake himself up.  And so on our walk through Geneva this morning the only thing that was a must for the day was an afternoon nap.  Today also marked the first time we’ve seen the sun in the past 4 days – so a nap in the shade was sure to happen.

Yesterday we finished our crossing of France and reached Geneva,  Switzerland.  (Only for a short return to Chamonix, France and a (hopeful) sighting of Mont Blanc before we are back into Switzerland. (Fun fact: the official name of this country is Confoederatio Helvetica – since they have four official languages here in Switzerland (German, French, Italian and Romansh) they couldn’t agree on one of their languages names of the country (Schweiz, Suisse, Svizerra and Svizra respectively) so they went with the original Latin name).

WarmShowers: I know I have talked about this before, but I just have to say how awesome this website is (and you should sign up – if not to use it as a touring cyclist – to at least let cool people come stay at your house and tell you stories of their travels).  Last night we arrived at our WS hosts in Veyrier, Switzerland (about a kilometer from the French border and 5 kilometers from Geneva).  Whenever we are getting close to a WS host Katy and I start paying really close attention to the type of neighborhood we are begin to speculate on what type of home we will be staying with, what our hosts will be like and etc.  For last night and tonight we hit the jackpot.  When we arrived we put our bike in the garage and then were shown to the basement apartment complete with bed, living room, kitchenette, washer and dryer and complete bathroom.  We were handed two towels, told that dinner would be at 7:15 and that they had left some milk, granola and eggs in the fridge for us.  (This is the type of traveling I can get used to.)  The same basement apartment is rented out by this family on airbnb.com for around $110 a night.  We got two nights for free.  (Which made me reflect on the time back in Ann Arbor when Katy and I had two people staying at our house one night – one of them arrived via airbnb and payed $45 for the night (no dinner or breakfast) and the other arrived via WarmShowers and so stayed for free (with dinner and breakfast).  It pays to arrive on bike.  During our last month our WS hosts have provided us with a warm, dry place to sleep, cooked us great dinners, breakfasts, desserts and an occasional lunch, took us on tours of their towns (via car, bike or foot), let us do laundry, given us bags of treats when we depart, helped us with route advice, cycled out to find us so they could personally escort us through their town to their home, watched the World Cup with us, watched the Grand Depart of the TDF, always have WiFi, let us use their mailing address, offer tools and assistance for bike maintenance, and the list goes on.  We just show up, smile, say thank you (merci pour tout), share tales of the road and then go our way.  Hopefully when we arrive back in Ann Arbor we can return some of this magic.

Last but not least, Chocolate.

Hmm, which will be the bar of the day?
Hmm, which will be the bar of the day?

When I started dating Katy (I guess our dating technically started when I arrived at her home on my bike – I was sopping wet and freezing cold because of a quick storm that picked up and hit me pretty hard on my descent down Big Cottonwood Canyon – we had a nice laugh about how Katy should have expected the wet weather the last three days because our relationship began in similar circumstances – on a bike in the rain) she had and still does have so many amazing qualities – enough in fact that I decided to marry her.  The one HUGE strike against her was she didn’t like chocolate.  A huge flaw in my opinion that I was somehow able to overlook.  But in the last 2 weeks something incredible has happened – she has seen the light.  Katy can now be regularly spotted on the back of the tandem stealing a square off of our most recent chocolate bar (we kind of eat a couple bars per day – one of them always between the hours of 11pm and midnight) or having just one last bite before we collapse to sleep.  It’s great.  She’s almost a full fledged choclaholic.

Obsess much?
Obsess much?

(Katy tells me that the average chocolate consumption in Switzerland is 11.3 kilos per person per year – and since we are average people but will only be in this beautiful land for a week or so we need to hit the chocolate pretty hard to keep the average up – to be exact, 11.3 kilos = 11,300 grams and the average chocolate bar is 100 grams, so that makes 113 bars – if we are here for ten days that means about 11 bars per day, and with only 16 waking hours per day – a bar every hour and a half or so.)

Expenses: €18 LiDl

Rest Day Expenses: €7 Food, 16CHF Bus, 12 CHF Grocery, 5CHF Patch, 22CHF Telepherique du Saleve

My wife, a lake and sunshine.
My wife, a lake and sunshine.
Listen as she speaks to you, Hear the voices flutter through, Through the water in the sky
Listen as she speaks to you, Hear the voices flutter through, Through the water in the sky

Cluny > Poncin 95km

Another day in the saddle (better than in the office – or the classroom – that is for sure).  Another day when that saddle was covered in a cheap plastic bag from the local InterMarché to prevent damage from the rain.  My saddle, a Brooks B-17 Honey colored leather saddle, is the one unifying piece of equipment most touring cyclists carry (I guess along with Schwalbe tires and Ortlieb panniers – kind of the industry standard).  Brooks has been making saddles since before the invention of the bicycle (originally horse saddles) and continues to make them the same way today.  The saddle is leather and very stiff.  So stiff in fact that you can knock on it with one of your knuckles and it won’t budge.  To the inexperienced cyclist the first question is – don’t you want something soft, if you’re going to be sitting on that thing for hours every day for the next 9 months.  And the answer is no.  Ideally all of your weight will rest upon your ischial tuberosities (or sit bones) and no weight will be placed on soft tissue (compression of soft tissue leads to poor blood supply, tingling, nerve compression and the speculation of decreased fertility).  A leather saddle also will “break in” similar to a baseball glove.  The only real problem with a leather saddle is excess rain exposure (the saddle becomes floppy – this happened to me only once on a 12 hour ride in Northern MI) and so a simple plastic bag does the trick.  Our ride today started out with hopes of sunshine.  In fact, during our second breakfast of bakery deliciousness (we seem to have adopted the meal schedule of the hobbits – breakfast, second breakfast, elevensies, luncheon, afternoon tea, dinner, and, later in the evening, supper) the sun managed to poke its beautiful face from behind the clouds.  But three hours into our ride someone unzipped one of the large clouds from above and splash – we were soaked.  More squishy socks.  At times it felt like the log ride at an amusement park when the water is just spraying up all over you.

But we reached Poncin, had our warm shower and are now discussing bike touring locations.  The hosts we are staying with, Germaine and Anne Julie, have toured in SE Asia, from San Francisco to Denver and from southern Patagonia to Peru.  They said the South American trip was their favorite – and so this fits in nicely with my jokes to Katy that I’m about ready to start considering extending (doubling) the length of our trip.  I guess in the ideal world.

Tomorrow we will leave France and enter Geneva, Switzerland (although we will return briefly to see Chamonix and Mont Blanc before our final exit into Switzerland and the Alps).  Very strange.  And somewhat sad.  And likely expensive (I remember three years ago being in Switzerland and trying to find dinner with my family – I think that a bratwurst was running around $12-15.  That along with the Alps leads to a deadly combination I call rapid weight loss).  But it marks a time to reflect and think about what we’ve enjoyed, what works well, what we would like to change and continue our ever present argument: are you pedaling?  France has been superb.  Top notch food (that is actually made by humans – think abut all the american food that likely never see human hands). Wonderful people (despite their reputation). Lots of interesting history.  Beautiful castles.  What has also been fun is working on my French.  I studied for two years in Junior High, and magically the other night was able to have a somewhat decent conversation over the dinner table with a couple that doesn’t speak English.  As I’ve tried to figure a little more French out one interesting part of their language has stood out.  Common greetings in English are hello (to greet someone) and goodbye (when you part ways).  In French, bonjour (literally: good day) is used to greet someone and au revoir (literally – till seeing again).  And it is the use of the word “good” that interests me.  In English it is “good” when someone is leaving but in French it is “good” when we greet someone. (or at least that is my take on it) Why do the French call meeting someone “good” but the English language calls leaving someone “good”?  I am not sure.  It is true, however, that the French don’t enjoy the reputation of being open or friendly.  Indeed, in public Katy and I rarely are approached for conversation.  But upon entering someone’s home to stay for the night (and specifically when we have dinner with them), Katy and I have always felt like we are reuniting with old friends.

Just had dinner with Germaine and Anne Julie.  It was as expected – a celebration of good people, stories from previous adventures and laughs about the peculiarities of our own countries.. Finished with the typical cheese and then fruit for dessert – I had two peaches (cause I’m cycling).  The highlight must have been our comparison of American and French cheeses.  Germaine was telling us he had tried some “shed dar” cheese in America, to which Katy responded, Huh?  After deciphering the pronunciation we told them about Grilled Cheese Sandwiches – served with ketchup and they just said, wow – laughed –  and then, I guess this is possible in America. 

And so tomorrow morning we are off to Switzerland – with more people to meet, roads to pedal, food to eat and and memories to make.  We are loving this trip.

Expenses: €19 Abbey of Cluny, €12 Boulangerie (Sandwiches, Beignet Framboise (these things are on point), some sort of Chorizo Calzone (mmm!)), €11 Store – the usual: fruit, chocolate, some sort of citrus beverage, Dijon Moutard

5 Servings Per Day
5 Servings Per Day
20 Rue de la Barre, Poncin, France, the home of Jean-Luc Marechal
20 Rue de la Barre, Poncin, France, the home of Jean-Luc Marechal
The Col du Bois Clair may not be on the pro-peloton circuit, but it was our first Col and we enjoyed it.
The Col du Bois Clair may not be on the pro-peloton circuit, but it was our first Col and we enjoyed it.
Finally found some spicy food (sauce) - about time.
Finally found some spicy food (sauce) – about time.
For some reason the French have an inclination towards complicated WiFi passwords.
For some reason the French have an inclination towards complicated WiFi passwords. (see center line)
Would you look at the butt on that?  Yeah, he must work out.
Would you look at the butt on that? Yeah, he must work out.

Marmagne > Cluny 70km

This evening Katy and I are mingling with history.  We are in the attic of the home of Jean-Luc Maréchal, on Rue de la Barre which extends up a steep narrow lane from the Centre Ville of Cluny.  In the year 909 William I founded the Cluny Abbey.  Construction continued for the next two hundred years until the final expansion and construction was completed in 1130.  At the time it was under the direct authority of the Pope and was the largest religious building in all of Europe – at 187 meters long (almost two football fields) and remained the largest building until the construction of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome in 1505.  Most of the Abbey was destroyed in the 1790s during the French Revolution (and then used as a stone quarry for peasants to build their new homes).  The home we are staying in dates back to the 12th century.  The basement contains a small museum run by Jean-Luc where hats, shoes, glassware and jewelry from the Middle Ages are on display.  One of the walls in the home contains drawings of pro-Revolution ideas from the 1700s.  Once in a while, I try and reflect on the lives of all the people and the circumstances in which they lived (surely they weren’t cruising around town on tandem bicycle). 

Our day’s journey was great – but wet.  It rained all day.  Five or so hours in the saddle and it never stopped raining.  Rain is an interesting thing.  So is getting wet.  For the most part, people don’t like getting wet.  They don’t necessarily mind being wet, but getting wet is entirely different.  As I’ve had a couple hours to ponder this topic today, let me expound.  This morning as Katy and I sat down to breakfast and looked out the window, all we could think of was – uggh, rain.  Cycling all day in the rain – this is gonna be real drab.  We lounged around for an hour or so just hoping the rain would lighten.  Not so.  Finally we hurried off to the barn where our bike spent the night, packed up and got on the road.  The first 15 minutes were awful.  Dry spandex turning damp, water slowly seeping into my shoes etc.  But then once we were thoroughly soaked it really wasn’t so bad – enjoyable even.  With each turn of the pedal the squishy sound coming from in between my toes became somewhat comical.  The initial transition from dry to drenched was a bit uneasy, but then being wet wasn’t so bad – as long as some future moment promises the opportunity to become dry.  And this is where Warmshowers kicks in.  It’s easy to spend an entire day absolutely soaking if you know a warm shower and dry towel are just a couple hours away.  On the other hand, the thought of camping in the rain is entirely unbearable because you just might never be able to dry out.

The only other mentionable item from today was lunch.  It was gargantuous.  Items consumed: 2 baguettes, a stick of salami, a round of Boursault cheese, 2 pain au chocolat, 2 framboisiers (think raspberry cheesecake), a tupperware full of Prune Crumble dessert leftovers, a peach and some yogurt.  As Katy and I inhaled the final bites we looked to each other and said, you know what – it might be a good idea to call some people back home and ask them how much they usually eat for lunch because this is getting out of control.

Only two more days in France – very sad.

Expenses: €7 – 2 baguettes, 2 pain au chocolat et 2 Framboisier

Us.
Us.
Cemetery, Cluny, France
Cemetery, Cluny, France
The Abbey of Cluny (what's left of it)
The Abbey of Cluny (what’s left of it)
Cow's don't like rain either.
Cow’s don’t like rain either.
Ringing out the socks - long day in the rain.
Ringing out the socks – long day in the rain.

Orleans > Chatillon sur Loire > Nevers > Marmagne (85km, 86km, 114km)

Three days behind, I know.  We’ve been trying to figure some route stuff out lately.  But here it goes.

Oh man.  Today was everything I ever imagined bike touring through France would be.  And I have our wonderful WS hosts to thank for it.  If I could do today over and over again for the rest of my life I would die a happy person.

Woke up on the pull out bed on #9 Place Guy Coquille in Nevers, France.  We stayed in the home of Sandrine and Ronan and their two children.  Slept great last night.  One of those nights where you lay down in one position and then wake up 9 hours later having not even ruffled the sheets.  Sandrine grew up part in Quebec and part on the 47 foot sailing vessel her father sailed all over the world.  Ronan grew up in Bretagne (where they put salt in their butter – they are very proud of this).

They returned home from a 14 month bike tour with their two sons, Edouan (sp.) and Yanell (sp.)  (Ronan pulled both kids in a trailer behind his bike and admitted it was rather difficult when the 45 kilos behind his bike would occasionally start shaking.)  It’s great to see families that don’t let children get in the way of getting out and doing.  Breakfast was oatmeal (very common for Canadians/Americans) but unheard of in France.  After the oatmeal was some yogurt, tea, jus d’orange and about five slices of bread with honey, butter and jam.  A lazy morning, chatting with Sandrine and Ronan.  It’s great to hear from people who have already been out and done.  The biggest thing they learned – go slow.  No hurry.  I am trying to adapt that mentality.  The American in me says – go, do, complete, conquer.  I guess every time I velcro my road shoes up and clip into my pedals I go into race mode.  Maybe slower is less and less is more.  I’m trying to adapt.

Got on the road at 11am – in search of a bakery.  Everything shuts down around noon on Sunday.  Don’t want to be caught out on the road without a baguette for lunch – that would be a real disaster.  The local boulangerie is still open and so I grab a baguette for €0.95 and after a quick, bonjour, un baguette gourmand s’il vous plait, c’est tout, merci – I am out the door and on the bike.  Katy and I have 115 km to go today with 980 meters of climbing.  The most hills we’ve seen in France – as today we depart from the Loire river and begin to head to the Jura mountains and then the Alps.  Leaving the flat Loire river valley was great.  As resting as the flat river was, it was great to start climbing again.  A sense of accomplishment pours over you as you crest a climb and see the beautiful landscape below you.  Fields of sunflowers, long stretches of farms with cattle and sheep and so many different colors of green throughout.

Before our final climb of the day we stop on the roadside for lunch.  I’ll list lunch in its entirety because Katy and I had a good laugh at the end of the day concerning our caloric consumption recently.  Lunch was 2 sandwiches (baguette, brie cheese, salami, tomato), a pain au chocolat, yogurt with granola, 2 peaches a 1 liter bottle of Schweppes Agrum and then half a bar of chocolate.  It was great and sent me into a deep slumber.  Which I managed to shake off as Katy and I climbed the hill.  So beautiful.  At the top was a creperie, so of course we stop.  A crepe avec Nutella for both of us.  So good.  Then the long winding beautiful descent to the valley.

Our WS host tonight was a bit different than prior ones.  Tonight we would stay with the parents of a bike tourer, not the tourer himself.  Edouard was out cycling but said we could stay with his parents – but warned that they spoke no English so we should “have fun and prepare and learn body language”.  Okay, I thought, we can do this.  I will make my 7th grade French teacher proud.

1.2 km north of the small village of Marmagne, and up a formidable hill, we turned right off the small road to Les Sauvageots.  Edouard’s parents live in a farmhouse that dates to 1712 that overlooks the valley.  We said our bonjours, exchanged the customary kisses on the cheek and then launched into all the French I could remember (which is actually quite a bit for some reason).  We talked about their children, what they do for work, the recipe for dinner and etc. We took our “warmshower” – spoken in decent English and then retired to our room to think about how unique our day was.  It’s great to reflect once in a while and think to ourselves – wow, this isn’t normal.  We don’t usually do this everyday – just ride through the countryside of France, meet great people, eat all the food we want and then wake up the next day and just do it again.  We are trying to not let what has become routine feel routine.

So, dinner.  Started with a blackcurrant spread on homemade bread. Then some grilled steak, a zucchini, egg, cheese dish and some potatoes. A side of Dijon moutard – from Dijon, the French Ville just northwest of here.  All great.  Then came the cheeses and more bread.  Then yogurt.  And then she brought out a huge prune crumble pie.  It looked divine.  (It was also somewhat apparent that the pie was made specifically for our arrival.)  I took the first bite.  Wow, knocked my socks off.  To explain, let me tell you about my Grandma Ann.  She makes the best strawberry rhubarb pie I’ve ever had.  So tart, packed full of flavor.  Delicious.  Well this prune crumble (prunes from the garden) was killer.  Katy quickly jumped into a second serving while I pondered how I would say I love the dessert because it is so tart.  I had already sputtered out, J’adore la gateau.  C’est the plus bon nouritture je mange en tout de France.  As I tried to get my thoughts across she responded, oui, le prune est tres acid.  Can’t wait for breakfast, cause I think it will be round three.

Other thoughts on France – while I have them.

Bon appetite.  Most days Katy and I find ourselves sitting on the side of the road enjoying lunch.  We’ve purchased some goods from the local grocery store and then just plop down and eat.  Without fail, every time someone passes us they say, bon appetite.  Which Katy and I find very strange, because besides this encounter the French people are very “to themselves” when in public settings.  Once inside their home, everyone has been more than wonderful, but out on the streets the only words ever spoken to us are bonjour or bon appetite.  The French do recognize the importance of a good meal.

Voila.  Another interesting word.  In English this word is typically reserved for use by magicians.  But in French its use is commonplace: looking for a town on a map and you finally find it – voila – a waitress brings out a nutella crepe – voila.  And maybe that’s it.  Turning chocolate, flour and eggs into a crepe with nutella just might be French magic.  Voila.

Expenses:

7/25: €11.50 two paninis for lunch,  €13 dinner  (25 apricots, yogurt cheese, bread, 2 bars of chocolate) €15 swimsuit (left mine wild camping) € 30 H&M (Katy’s two new athletic shirts) €15 handlebar tape, €9 camping

7/26: €23 food, €3.50 shampoo (they don’t use separate conditioner and shampoo)

7/27: €14.95 lunch (2 pain du chocolate, 4 yogurt, 5 peaches, salami, cheese, Schweppes  Zero Agrum Citrus Blend soda (so delicious), caramelized almond with salt chocolate bar, €5 crepes  — the hunger is kicking in…

Lunch avec Joan of Arc, Orleans
Lunch avec Joan of Arc, Orleans
Sunflowers.
Sunflowers.
Katy always thinks that we need more pictures of ourselves.  #thighgap
Katy always thinks that we need more pictures of ourselves. #thighgap
Oui, merci.
Oui, merci.
Maybe exchange for the velo.
Maybe exchange for the velo.
Bon Route.
Bon Route.
Dinner in Marmagne, heavenly.
Dinner in Marmagne, heavenly.
Prune crumble.  Oh so good. (best thing I've had)
Prune crumble. Oh so good. (best thing I’ve had)
Catching up with Ann Arbor friends. What would we do without the internet?
Catching up with Ann Arbor friends. What would we do without the internet?

Langeais > Blois 85 km et Blois > Orléans (the old one) 70km

I am 26. I think I will build a small hunting lodge west of Paris. Only 440 rooms, 282 fireplaces, and 84 staircases should suffice. And one grand double helix staircase made by Leonardo da Vinci will be good too.

You may think this is crazy but this is definitely the start of Château de Chambord and King François I which we saw today. It made us think about the mark we are leaving on the world. Have you left your mark on the world or what is your legacy?

The Loire river valley is dripping with castles. Yes, dripping. They are everywhere. Every nook and cranny–why not stuff a castle here. They are quite amazing but similar to the mindset in England…another bloody (fill in the blank).

Some or maybe most of you are sitting at the edge of your seat with angst and anticipation waiting for the news of the last blog post. (I am not sure this is true but why not make ourselves feel grand.) First, thank you to all who have responded. We love comments. They provide us with much enjoyment as we look at the “drab” scenery go by. Comment away.

Back to what is our legacy. We have been asked a few times why we are doing this trip. In all honesty, when I have been on the verge of tears or throwing helmets in frustration (only once), Clayton loves to tell me that hard things make the best memories. Those are the experiences you will remember the most. You don’t remember specific details about the days that go perfectly with no rain, no wind, no place to shower or camp. I concede, he is right about the memories.  However, I still enjoy the “easy” days, but challenging days are when you realize what you are made of. When you realize you can do hard things and you will be more than okay. So besides the fact that we normally love mountains, we have decided to head to the Alps. Clayton is currently looking into getting us an easier gear (thank you Howard for your help!! You have been beyond helpful!) And here I am publicly stating that I am willing to climb the Alps. I am actually quite excited to see the mountains from the back of our tandem. Everyone we meet jokes about me kicking up my feet and relaxing on the back so the Alps are as good of a time as any to do that. So here is to our legacy. We have left our safe and easy lives behind in Ann Arbor so why not see and climb one of the most majestic mountain ranges in the world.

(Note: I said I was willing to climb the Alps. I am still leaving the option of public or private transport open.)

A few of the more routine details…

The past few days we have been doing a bit more camping. Last night we stayed at a three star campground. Who knew they rated campgrounds? But regardless we enjoyed the pool before our showers. (Clayton left his suit at our wild campsite so he swam in his bike shorts. The lifeguard told him they were too long and he needed a real swim suit but get this “baggy” swim trunks aren’t allowed either. Short and tight, men. Short and tight.)

Tonight we arrived in Orleans to a Warm shower host. We were going to camp in their garden but 15 minutes after we got here it began to POUR! We are now nice and dry, sleeping in their garage. We also had another great meal complete with four new types of cheese. One extremely stinky cheese, Roquefort, a cousin to bleu cheese, graced our palates and was of course delicious. Other highlights from the evening: seeing their 1 month old baby, Axel. Eating homemade yogurt mixing in jams. I want to try this back home. And analyzing the topographical raised map of France. Route planning here we come!

Otherwise, besides castle after castle, Clayton and I have gotten into a bit of a rhythm. We are getting very good at pedaling and eating baguettes covered in either nutella or cheese. Besides the usual, the fruit here has been dynamite. We probably eat 4-6 peaches a day.  The “melon” which we call cantaloupe (which the French just laugh at the name) is also on par.

7/23 Expenses: €13 Villandry Gardens, €3.50 Beignets, €5.40 Lunch, €20 SIM Card, €14 Camping, €2 Peaches and Water, €2.90 Bakery, €7.85 Peaches, Cheese, Yogurt, €5 Kebab, €3.50 Pain

7/24 Expenses: €9 Lunch, €27 Chateau de Chambord, €6 Map of Europe (unfortunately not a topographical one, which would be nice)

Lunch, Boulangerie, Tours
Lunch, Boulangerie, Tours
Banks of the Loire, Blois, Otter-Pop Ginormous
Banks of the Loire, Blois, Otter-Pop Ginormous
Chateau de Chambord
Chateau de Chambord
The Gardens at Villandry Chateau
The Gardens at Villandry Chateau
The Double Spiral Staircase: Chateau de Chambord.
The Double Spiral Staircase: Chateau de Chambord.
Les Fleurs
Les Fleurs

 

 

Clayton and Katy need your HELP!

Updated Edit:  Well, after spending hours of scouring topographical maps (often on Cycling mode in Google Maps – although this feature isn’t available for Italy), heeding the advice of previous bike tourers (thank you Elodie and Maxime) and searching our souls, we have made a decent route change.  The Original Northern Route would have been great – but I get antsy when the roads are flat for too long – and having been on the bike for the last month or so, we thought slightly less daily mileage would be nice.  And I guess the mountains speak to me. We are setting off today to head towards Chamonix and the Alps.  Once there we will likely follow this route.  This leaves out Italy (which we may Ferry to from Dubrovnik at the end of September).  And Prague may be our little weekend getaway on the train (vacation from my problems!).

New (tentative) Route
New (tentative) Route

Personally, I’d like to climb the Furka Pass (10.5 miles at 6.5%), but that is still up for debate.

Furka Pass, Switzerland
Furka Pass, Switzerland

Dear Friends, Family and Others,

Katy and I are a bit in awe at the enthusiasm and energy many of you have shown to us over the last three weeks as we have set off on this journey.  It has been a bit of a whirlwind the past three weeks: three long days to arrive in Yorkshire from London, saddle sores that turned cheeks raw (we didn’t post these pictures), the lightning paced energy of the Tour de France peloton passing us by, the difficult and beautiful hills of the Yorkshire Dales and the Lake District, the wonderful Scottish people and Edinburgh, the french Boulangeries and Pain au Chocolat, the Loire River valley with its many Chateaus and all the many wonderful people we’ve met along the way (and the great hosts we’ve been able to stay with).  With this is mind, it is with great regret that Katy and I have decided to pull the plug on this bike tour.  Those who said that a nine month tandem ride would either cement or shatter your marriage were right (and so we opt to not go any further).

If you know a little about me you know that I love a nice joke.  Things are great and we are more than thrilled that this trip has 8+ months left (and I’ve started asking Katy how she fills about another year deferral).  With the last three weeks behind us we feel that we have finally caught this trip in stride and are now confronted with a huge decision (THIS IS WHERE WE WOULD LIKE YOUR INPUT).  We have to be in Dubrovnik, Croatia on 9/14 (to see Jessica and Charlie) but have no set route to get there.  Below are two routes.  Which one would you take?  Or would you take another route all together?  Seriously, tomorrow we will have to make a big decision: north to Copenhagen or east through the Alps to Italy.  You’ll notice that these routes differ in how we get to Budapest, Hungary – from then on they are identical.

Comments people, I’m the boss, need the info.  (Obviously a huge difference is the mountains – which I am excited about and Katy is nervous about.)

Original (Northern) Route:

The Northern Route
The Northern Route

Proposed (Eastern) Route:

The Eastern Route
The Eastern Route

 

Angers > Langeais 105km

Sitting on the ledge of a wall in the south west corner of the gardens at the Chateau de Villandry.  It’s 9:15am (which means this morning ties with our second earliest departure thus far) and the sun is coming through the clouds and above the vine covered path that surrounds the gardens.

As physically demanding as riding a bike cross-country might be, the most difficult part of this trip has not been the cycling (however the hills of Devon, England were no simple task) – but the necessary attention to details that exist apart from cycling.  Without a fridge or a bed, and never in the same city for longer than a day, the constant demands of where are we going, how will we get there, what will we eat (the answer to this is usually everything we stumble upon) and where will we sleep begin to be taxing.  Once these details are sorted out the cycling is very easy.  It is for this reason that Wild Camping goes hand-in-hand with bike touring.

The principles of Wild Camping are very simple and adopted by most long distance (it seems the threshold for almost exclusive wild camping is usually around 4-6 months) touring cyclists.  Principles are as follows: ride your bike until you are tired – look for a nice spot of ground – set up camp.  Assuming the cyclist carries food the only real provision to be looked for is water.  Water for drinking, washing and rinsing your toothbrush after you have brushed your teeth (although at times during my childhood it seems as though my father never rinsed his brush once it left his mouth and I suppose he has turned out okay.  I remember vividly seeing the crusty, gnarly remains of what I can only imagine to be last year’s toothpaste [no offense dad]).  Water has always been vital for survival – as we follow the EuroVelo 6 route along the Loire River valley from the Atlantic Ocean towards central France we visit the Chateaus de la Loire.  Seven hundred years ago dozens of kings built huge castles along this river.  Yesterday we passed a nuclear power plant, dependent upon the cooling ability of water to keep nuclear fission from going awry.  And so, yesterday as Katy and I searched for a nice place to shower (along the banks of the Loire) we were certainly not the first who were dependent upon this river.  (According to Michel, the other place you can always count on finding water is at cemeteries – they always have a spicket so flowers can be watered.  And, according to Michel, a liter of water is always enough for a wash).

We camped underneath a bridge that connects Langeais and La Chapelle-aux-Naux (because as much as we love and need water, we also fear it).  According to Jerry Seinfeld, people travel to the beach, sit around lakes, buy bottles of it, our bodies are made of it, we really can’t get enough of it.  We love water.  But, when it’s very small pieces of fast flying water – we fear it.  “Oh, I felt a drop.  It’s gonna rain.  Did you check the weather”?

The camping was great.  But nature is always quieter at 9pm then at 3am.  Last night Katy and I listened to a symphony of frogs that just would not quit.  Bugs and birds of every kind that were either singing or dying, sometimes it’s hard to tell which.  Only twice did a car come off the path to shine their lights on us, to which I just raised my hand (so they wouldn’t hit us) and shouted bon nuit (yeah, you blend!).  Other than that, a great sleep – and we saved the €17 that the local campground was trying to charge.  I think that as a fundamental human right I shouldn’t have to pay to sleep.  And there is no way I am paying €17 to wake up to noisy kids, wait in a line for a shower that can only be compared to a large animal spitting on you and waste half the evening if this dreadful WiFi will go any faster.

Expenses €3.60 Bakery €4.80 Soap €9 Food €13 McDs €9 Pizza

IMG_20140722_101334171
Angers
photo 5
Breakfast with Michel
photo 4
Michel, France > Hong Kong 1986 (somewhere in Pakistan)
A River Crossing: Pull Chain
A River Crossing: Pull Chain

Nantes > Angers 95km

I’m at the MacDonald’s (this is how they say it) in Saumur, France on the Loire River Valley.  Surely I should be able to find better food than McDonald’s in France, and you are correct.  But McDonalds (although maybe not healthy – or even at times not even tasty) has a business plan that is second to none (free WiFi, free bathrooms, air conditioning, and they don’t close from noon to 2pm like the rest of this country).  And so we are here.

The last two nights have been with WS hosts who have made Katy and I feel “average”.  Two nights ago was with Elodie, Maxime and their son Timeo.  Last year, when Timeo was 3 years old they completed a 7 month bike tour through all of Europe – with a trailer behind their tandem – really carrying a long load.  (So, as Katy and I set on this trip before we had kids, they decided that traveling with one would also be possible).  And last night we stayed with Michel.

When we entered the town of Angers we did not have Michel’s address easily available.  I had previously put it into Google Maps on my iPhone to get a general idea of what part of the city he lived in, but throughout the day the dropped Pin was lost.  As we sat in the city, wondering if anywhere was open (it seems the whole country is currently on holiday – either on the Atlantic or Mediterranean) I got out my phone and tried to guess where to go.  Google Maps has an amazing feature – while on WiFi the app will download map data of whatever area you look at – and then store this data as long as the app isn’t closed.  By doing this every night, Katy and I have access to detailed maps of where we are going.  All of this works without using data (cause we have yet to buy a SIM card for Europe).  The amazing feat on top of all of this – Google Maps is able to show you where you are with GPS without using any data.  How this works? I know not.  Anyways, in the midst of this state of “where does this dude live” I remembered the last thing I had “copied and pasted” was his address.  I quickly repasted his address into Google Maps and we were off.

Upon entering Michel’s small flat just north of the Centre Ville of Angers, you are quickly aware of his love for cycling and traveling.  Bicycle paraphernalia adorns the walls of the opening hallway, as well as the kitchen, dining room, bedroom and bathroom (it seems most people have two bathrooms – one with just a toilet and another with the shower and sink – making going to the bathroom and washing your hands (if you do this sort of thing) a two room operation).  Small blue circular placards of a Bicycle were carefully placed throughout his home – a souvenir he had picked up on a previous trip to the UK.  And then their were the maps.  The walls had maps on them, the dining room table was covered in a dozen maps, next to the kitchen sink another map and the drawers in the bedroom – all filled with maps.  It was readily apparent that Michel was a lover of new roads and new places.

As we sat on the back terrace, sun slowly setting (it is slow, it doesn’t get dark til late) and drinking our jus de pomme (beer and wine was of course offered, and again turned down) we discussed these travels.  Michel caught the travel bug at the age of 15 – covering most of France and neighboring countries on foot by “checking” (hitchhiking).  By the age of 22 he had visited all of Europe – with nothing more than a day pack and a sleeping bag.  At 23 he decided to see beyond Europe and traveled by freight and commercial sailing boats through the Mediterranean and Caribbean – only to catch a return boat sailing up to Halifax and across the North Atlantic.  He recounted in great detail the storms that threw 10 meter tall waves at the 18 meter sailboat he and 7 other men worked as they navigated their way home to France.  “This is the second best thing I have ever done” he said.  In 1986 his traveling first occurred on a bike.  He set off on a 17 month bike ride from his home in Brest, France and headed towards Hong Kong.  He crossed the Alps, then followed the Danube to Turkey and along the Black Sea, only to be turned around in Syria.  He returned to Athens and flew to Pakistan where we crossed into India and through Kathmandu up on to the Tibetan Plateau to Lhasa and then east through China.  In the city of Chengdu he became very sick and lost 15 kilos (33 pounds) and spent the better part of a month in a hospital with an IV.  The bad food and water of Tibet along with the extreme conditions and physical demands of crossing twelve 5400 meter passes.  Eventually he was flown to Hong Kong to recover because his insurance in Paris thought “he was crazy to be over there on a bike”.  “This is the best thing I have ever done” he finished.

Dinner occurred in typical French fashion.  Long, slow and delicious.  But, as Katy and I discussed, the manner in which the French eat is a little bit unnerving to us foreigners.  When we sit down to the table in America all the food is before your eyes, you see your options and can pace yourself accordingly.  The only question worth asking is, “is there dessert?” which whether answered yes or no doesn’t really matter (because we all know that for some reason the stomach knows about dessert – which often shows up unexpectedly – and so the stomach has a special reserve compartment for these delicious treats).  But in France food shows up in “courses”.  Which means first we sit on the terrace and have juice and bread and cheese.  And then when we move to the dining room we have melon (which is actually cantaloupe – but they’ve never heard of this).  Along with the melon is some bread and butter (which in Brittany contains salt – they tell us this at every meal (no salt in butter in the rest of France)).  It is at this point that our Americanness kicks in and Katy and I get nervous – oh damn, is this it?  Should we gorge ourselves on bread?  Without knowing how many courses remain we don’t whether to dig in or be patient.  After this we had delicious salmon (from Scotland – not Alaska) with zucchini, carrots, tomatoes, peppers.  Then our first dessert was pineapple followed by the local Brittany dessert – Patés de Prunes (Michel had made his mother’s recipe and it was delicious).  It is often served in the winter – but our presence was worthy of a celebration.  It was similar to Liz’s Eggs (which most people know as German Pancakes) but with large prunes cooked into it.  I think I had 3 pieces (a third of the cake).  It was at this point that fatigue shown through Katy’s face like the bright sun on that morning in 1820.  At the end of a long day in the saddle it takes all our energy to persist through these long and delicious French meals.  At 11:30 he pulled out his photo albums and invited us onto the terrace.  Katy pulled the plug and politely excused herself while I continued to hear tales from the road.  In the past 14 years he has been on a tour every year, usually between two weeks and a month or so – always with one of his daughters.  This is a man who loves to tour.

We had a great night sleep in the master bedroom (Michel slept on the couch).  This just gives you a hint at the generosity of this great guy.

Breakfast is France is served in a fashion more suited to us.  Everything is placed on the table at once – and you get the idea to “dig in”.  We awoke to a beautiful spread on the table.  After dinner, we tried to make a speedy departure because we had a fair amount of road to cover.  Michel got out the maps and showed us where he was planning his next trip.  He has his sights set on crossing Canada from Halifax to Vancouver and then heading south to the bottom of Patagonia.  I said, this is a long time to be on your bike.  “But why not,” was his response.

Michel then insisted we see his city.  For the next two hours we followed him through Angers to see the Castle, Cathedral, Centre Ville and the old Slate Mining area that was so fundamental to the development of the town.  Finally we reached the Loire where we parted ways.

The road was flat, the sun warm and the wind negligible.  We put in some Beatles and ventured off on our journey.

Expenses: €6.20 First Lunch, €8.50 Second Lunch, €4.10 Lunch

Rest Day In Le Pouliguen and Le Pouliguen > Nantes 95km

Ahh.  Rest Day #3 was divine.   Much needed.  In the last 19 days we have slept in 17 different places – so it was a real treat to make Le Pouliguen (the home of Sandrine and Pascal) our “home base” for the next 36 hours.  Our nomadic life is rather enjoyable, but it is also nice to be able to sit still (at least for just a moment).

Sandrine Montant is awesome.  She probably knows me better than I know her.  She was born in Casablance, Morocco so when we did not eat cheese at dinner she could easily pass it off as “but it’s okay, cause I’m not French”.  When I was 3 or 4 Sandrine came to Utah and lived with our family for a year (hence the part about she knowing me very well, but not necessarily the other way around).  Spending the last two days with her was great.  Time on the beach swimming and playing volleyball, dinner in the garden, and sharing memories of a long time ago.  She lives with Pascal (who I had previously not met) who works as an interior design/builder who is also great.  He spent the time behind the barbecue cooking our sardines, petite crevettes and steak.  It was all delicious.  He also has an interest in going fast (hence the time he spent each morning working on the motorcycle and the Porsche in the garage).  On the way home from the beach last night he said I’m going to make you remember what is a Porsche.  As we wound our way home along the beach, we took the long way off onto some rather small two lane (but not enough room for a white or yellow line) road that wound around ponds used for harvesting salt.  And then we had a ride we won’t forget.  He’d hit the gas, we’d stick to the back of our seats and we would go from 60 to 160 km/hr in a couple seconds – just to immediately slam on the brakes cause the road was never straight for more than 50 meters, all the time winding around tight corners, passing cars as if they were standing still.  Once we really got into amusement park mode Sandrine couldn’t take it much more “oh shit, oh shit, oh shit”.  (It’s more amusing to hear the French curse than Americans).  We continued our insane drive – instant acceleration, tight corners, swerving around cyclists until we flew past a lady on a bike motioning with her hand to slow down (we were probably doing 150 km/hr and were a foot or two away from her).  At this point Sandrine shouted “Merci Madame, Merci”.  It was a ride we will remember.

The comment of the day was when Sandrine (while telling us about the castles on the Loire) said, the thing that is not so good about this place is all the Chinese people here with their cameras and pictures, I hate this.  (And that is when I realized we had more in common than I thought).

At dinner we sat down to a lovely meal and Isabelle and Elizabeth (Sandrine’s cousin and aunt) joined us.  It was great talking to Isabelle.  An interesting thing happens when two people of different languages have a conversation with each other.  Typically people speak a foreign language better than they can understand it (at least this is the case for me, I was never taught how to hear French, only how to speak it).  The same was true for Isabelle.  She could speak English okay, but had a hard time understanding us when we spoke.  These circumstances set the stage for a nice long conversation where Katy and I would say something in English (but Isabelle would have a hard time understanding) so I would try and say it in French.  And then she would respond in French (at which point we wouldn’t understand) and so she would repeat herself in English.  i suppose this has been going on ever since the Tower of Babel.

This morning we woke up to a downpour, and thought we’d have to cancel our day’s ride.  But but by noon the sun had come out and we were on the road.  As we departed Sandrine had a tear or two – gonna miss staying with them.  Nice ride along the Atlantic in the towns of Le Pouliguen, La Baule, Pornichet and St. Nazaire with a tailwind the whole time.  Around 3pm large thick dark clouds began to appear behind us and threatened a return of the morning’s downpour.  Luck was not on our side and just 10km out of Nantes (our day’s destination) the rain hit us (and hard).  We were just about soaked when we found an overpass in a somewhat remote area to take refuge under.  To cheer up the moment I plugged my iPhone into our small GoalZero speaker and turned on The Beatles: Why Don’t We Do It In The Road (which I thought appropriate for our circumstance – no one will be watching us).  Katy thought it might be a little inappropriate, so instead I got out the remains of our food (a mostly finished jar of peanut butter) and went to town (we had not eaten in 7 hours because every shop in the last 3 or 4 towns was closed – I guess Sunday afternoon things really shut down in France).  Anyways, I enjoyed every bite of that peanut butter.  Then I got to the end, where that OCD personality trait kicks in and I try to get every last bite out of the jar.  The same is true when I eat Yoplait.  It’s great fun having yogurt (a delicious and nutritious snack all around) but what i really enjoy is the meticulous way in which I attempt to remove every last speck of deliciousness from that single serving container before I toss it into the recycle.

Cheese
Cheese
Sausage
Sausage
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Le Pouliguen
In the Office
In the Office
La Baule
La Baule
Sandrine and Pascal
Sandrine and Pascal
Nature Calls
Nature Calls
Peanut Butter
Peanut Butter

7/20 Expenses: €0 (it pays to know people as great as Sandrine and Pascal)

7/21 Expenses: €5.10 Noodles and Samosa from the only open store in Nantes

Mur de Bretagne > Vannes 80km and Vannes > Le Pouliguen 70km

I'm taking a vacation . . . . from my problems!
I’m taking a vacation . . . . from my problems!

Vacation from her problems!  Katy has just plopped down onto the sand at the public beach in Le Pouliguen (near La Baule).  I’ve always thought her (and many others I suppose) love for the beach is strange.  People will fly half way around the world, suffer the ails of airline travel, risk lost bags, pay an arm and a leg for 4 inches of extra leg room, battle the awkwardness of speaking another language, get stuck in traffic, get sand in and on every known and unknown crack or crevice of the human body just to get to the beach.  And when they get there?  They just lie down, close their eyes and bask in “the beach”.  

The last 48 hours have been very French.  So many great things about France and the French (besides the mustard).

First, they eat late.

8:30, getting closer.
8:30, getting closer.

Growing up dinner was typically around 5 or 6pm.  That always left a late night hunger that required attention somewhere between 10 and midnight.  This is one of America’s largest fears: transient hunger.  My mother says that for my dad, it was always a late night PB&J (although my mom has worked hard for him to kick the habit – and the waistline).  For my petite brother it was a bowl of cheerios (which he would, as he approached the last bite, fall face forward into his bowl and his night of sleep had begun).  These extra meals have created America’s new national past time: overeating and talking about dieting.  But the French have figured this conundrum out – just move dinner back.  At our first WS stay in Morlaix, we sat down to dinner at 8:30.  I thought this was just because that was when Clothilde arrived home from work.  But two days later as we discussed plans for the evening with Philippe, 8:30 was again suggested as dinner time.  Ok I thought, wondering what snacks I had in our bag.  Last night I was on the phone with Sandrine (more to come on her later) and she said, I want to have you for dinner, we are eating not too late.  Maybe 8:30 or 9. (not too late?, that’s almost my bedtime)  When we got to Sandrine’s home around 7 most of the food was out on the table and I thought, maybe an earlier dinner.  8pm rolled around and still nothing.  By 8:30 the other guests had arrived (Sandrine’s aunt and uncle, cousin, three nephews and some friends).  Finally, dinner is served (or so I thought).  At 8:37 we were invited for a ride across town to visit the home of Philippe and Elizabeth and to see the beach in La Baule.  We arrive back at Sandrine’s and dinner begins at 9:37.  Belly definitely rumbling at this point, the food was delicious.  Dinner was great.  So many great things about a French meal – but all of this compounded by two English speakers at the table.  The conversation was a mixture of french being shouted at others (I think other languages always sound like yelling), the occasional English said to us (always accompanied with hand gestures) and then our responses translated into French (again with hand gestures) to the non-English speakers present.  By the end of the meal you would have thought we were playing Charades.  At 11:02 the table broke out into a table pounding: gateau, gateau, gateau.  (This is one of the few french words I know, so I joined in. Cake. Cake. Cake.)  Dinner concluded at 11:40 or so, leaving no time for that awful fear of going to bed with the slightest thread of hunger.

Second: round-a-bouts.  Although not property of the French, I’ll mention them here.  The round-a-bout is superior to the four way stop in every way.  Of course it allows for a better flow of traffic, no need to stop at absurd red lights when no traffic is around, of course they make you feel like you are in one of the Grand Tours, but what I like the most about them is: the land of second chances.  When you approach a four way stop you damn well better know which way you are turning.  If you hit that red light and you are in the wrong lane: game over.  Now you are trying to cut across three lanes of traffic and you’re holding up the line.  But with a round-a-bout?  (Well, actually I prefer to call them the circle of opportunity).  You jump in there and then you have options.  With each road departing from the circle a light turns on in my head (do I want to go there?  I wonder what’s down that road?  Will a better option present itself later?)  Feel like you made a bad choice and should have exited?  Just stay in the circle and that option magically returns.  I prefer to make one full loop of the circle just to make sure I’m satisfied with my decision.

They believe in life, liberty and fresh bread.

Pain.
Pain.

The worst part of my childhood was when my mom decided we would start freezing our bread.  Frozen bread?  A travesty.  Such a thing would never happen over here.  Bread is key – baguettes are bought daily and always eaten fresh.  At dinner with Philippe and Alix we were asked if we eat baguettes at home.  After thinking about it for a moment I realized that we only eat “French bread” when we are having spaghetti.  I guess for us Americans we like to kill two birds with one stone and just combine the two countries when we are having our meals.  I have now asked multiple people here if they ever have their cheese with crackers.  The response has always been the same, NO! avec pain.  Even at the campsite where we stayed a sheet was taped to the front desk where people could put in their orders for baguettes, pain, pain au chocolate, croissants etc. to be delivered fresh in the morning and available for pick up by campers. I’ve done a lot of camping back home but never was “how many baguettes would you like in the morning?” an option.  We really are behind the times on this one.  Fresh baguettes or frozen white Wonder bread (Grandma Sycamore’s if you are lucky)?  That’s a no brainer.

In cycling related news, the last two days have been more what I expected our trip to be like.  About 50 miles per day, only on the bike for 4 hours, a crepe or other treat at the halfway mark.  Our stop in Vannes was great – dinner was delicious, Philippe and Alix were great, we got some laundry done, Katy sewed up the seams in my shorts, I hopefully adjusted the eccentric bottom bracket to tighten the timing chain so no more derailments happen.

7/17 Expenses €3 Baguettes et Pain au Chocolat

7/18 Expenses €6.50 Carrefour, €1.50 Crepe avec Caramel Beurre Salé, €3.80 Chocolate and Sucre

Le Gulf de Morbihan
Le Gulf de Morbihan
Seaweed.
Seaweed.
When in France.
When in France.