I’ve now completed over 1000km of my Mission to Morocco and I’m here in Biarritz, eating oysters and supping on a glass of rose whilst I contemplate the week gone by and gear up for the week ahead.
Since La Rochelle the ride has been colourful, emotional, scary, eye-opening and yes, it’s now well into week 3 and tears have been shed.
La Rochelle was a beautiful city to stop in for a day of exploration and rest and the generosity of Florence and Joelle, my impromptu hosts there, was incredible. I spent the day walking the streets, taking time out in the Eglise Saint Saveur, visiting the absolutely excellent Maritime Museum and buying a much needed antique compass from the local market.
I left this belle of a city Friday morning to head south east to Saint Jean d’Angeley to stay with a friend there. After the rainy, end of season coastlines of the atlantic coast I was happy to make this diversion into the countryside for a change of scene.
That evening we ate some delicious veggie fair, even more delicious cheese and drank a bottle of vin bio from the Dordogne, it was Friday night after all. I was pretty much ready for bed by this point but it wasn’t to be, we were off to a 40th birthday gathering at a friends house round the corner. Coincidentally, the group were all bike fanatics, straight from their Friday night BMX training and took a keen interest in my trip. There are 2 questions I’ve been asked by almost every person I’ve encountered so far, bike fanatic or otherwise;
‘How many kilometres do you do each day?’ and ‘Aren’t you scared?’
In answer to the first question, I can now, two and a half weeks in say between 80 and 100km, which is met with a mixture of nods, air forced out between lips and eyebrows raised or mutterings of ‘yes…thats good…with all those bags?..etc, etc.’
And in answer to the second question, I say ‘Yes, I am scared, sometimes very, irrationally scared, but I’m doing it anyway.’
When I left Saint Jean D’Angeley on Saturday, having said my goodbyes, it was a beautiful crisp morning and as I pedalled off to the south I felt full of the sense of freedom, gratitude and joy that come with setting off alone on the road for another day of discovery. My phone at this point had long since run out of data so I’d been navigating via the gps without the irritating voice of Trickster which had been a pelasant change. The day before this had worked fine and only occasionally would I check my position only to find I had veered off course and the little blue avatar was cruising down the wrong path but this was easily rectified and only caused an extra few kilometres to the over all journey at the end of the day. This day however, be it the slightly foggy head after the party or simply my lack of planning but I couldn’t seem to cycle more than a few hundred metres without going wrong. I was getting infuriated but instead of stopping, reassessing calmly and working out the logical way I stubbornly continued to waste copious ampounts of precious energy looping my way up, down and around Saint Jean d’Angeley without getting any further away! It was a moment I knew was going to end in tears but had no power to stop myself. So I took the road that seemed correct and I gleefully sped down a beautiful road marvelling at how quickly one’s mood can change when on the bike alone. I was also thinking to myself how tough it would be to climb this hill in the other direction. On arrival at the cross roads at the bottom of the hill I checked the map and ofcourse, I had once again been going in the wrong direction for the last 3km. So I reluctantly turned around and slowly pedalled the long climb back to the top of the hill. At this point I had decided I’d be better off without the satnav at all and then, as if by magic, my phone dropped onto the road and the screen smashed, unusable, gone. I was finally granted the freedom I secretly or subconciosuly coveted and out came my shiny compass to guide me south.
The rest of the day went rather swimmingly, keep the sun on your left arm in the morning and on our right arm in the afternoon and you know you’re heading south. As the sun started to set I pulled into a town called Archaic in the heart of Cognac land and straight into a campsite where a group of friendly, elderly locals were playing patonque whilst enjoying an aperitif. Easy, straight forward I thought to myself, who needs to plan, everything just works out.
The following day I felt strong and ready to hit the road early. It was blowing an absolute hooly in the wrong direction but what can you do? I packed up, paid up, convinced the concerned campsite manager I could handle the wind, not to worry and hit the road.
Half an hour later, having made what seemed like painfully little progress against this insane wind and I wasn’t feeling quite so fly. I decided to stop where possible to reassess. I stopped at the first town I came to and to my absolute delight they had an oyster market in the town square, ‘3 oysters please!’ that’ll give me the strength I need for this windy morning I thought. And so it did, by lunchtime I was feeling fly once again and convinced I could make it the 100km to St Emilion, find a nice little spot for my first, solo, wild camping experience and be sat, enjoying my supper and some delicious wine in a beautiful spot as the sun goes down. As it turns out, I was right, I could make it there, but the night didn’t go exactly as planned.
It was the hottest day yet and 100km was the fruthest I had cycled in one day so far on this trip. I arrived into St Emilion feeling fried, hot, hungry and frankly depleted. St Emilion I realised, with it’s beautiful chateuxs and ridiculously well kept grounds was not the landscape to find a wild camping spot. I headed to the campsite but it was closed for winter. I knocked on the door of the only normal looking house (I had been told by my hosts in La Rochelle that I must just knock on the door of houses and ask to put the tent in the garden, nearly always works, people are just people…) but all that I recieved was a growl from the kitchen, I kid you not, this sound was very far from welcoming and sent me running back to the campsite to reassess.
O .I’ve cured fears with beers whilst popping my wild camping cherry in St Emilion (there’s no time like the first time as they say, and frankly, unlikely to be a second time ever again!) I can now cycle 100km a day and still be a functioning human for the rest of the evening, I
Lq Rochelle it and at times I have to admit, I would say I have and start to plan the fuel me on my next leg down the coast of the Basque country and into Spain.
Last night I arrived into Biarritz having completed another 100 beautiful and mostly sunny km from Beylongue in Le Landais where I’d spent the night with yet another generous, warm and welcoming French family who hosted me despite not knowing me from Adam.