And so the journey continues. We have gotten into quite the routine with France since we have been cycling here for over a month together. The routine has included cheese, sausage, the occasional bottle of wine when we make new friends and feel so inclined and many an hour spent watching the world go by while drinking a cafe petit. The last being a great excuse to use the bathroom of a cafe and to ask for our water bottles to be filled, or we will go to a boulangerie depends on the cravings/needs. The wild camping has been much easier than we expected and we have only payed for one campground in the last month while sneaky camping for free or staying at a warm shower hosts house the rest of the time. This has helped us to loosen our budget a little towards the aforementioned coffees and pastries and means we can buy more tapas once we are in Spain! I seriously almost feel like I eat as a career only because it sustains me in so many ways, I don’t eat, I don’t go. I am usually thinking about eating or eating. Oh wait that sounds like my normal life anyways…
From Orleans the sickness began. Well it was rather self inflicted and only lasted one day, but it meant we didn’t cycle very far for our first day from the city. I ate a half of a nasty sausage that had been sitting in my sun baked bag for several days, so yes not the wisest choice. It didn’t even taste that good in the moment. With our first short day we did allot of bike maintenance . I was able to buff off some accruing rust from the moist and occasionally salty Scotland residue and then cover it up with some nice clear nail polish to try and protect the exposed areas. We were beginning upon the Loire velo cycle route and immediately found a great spot to camp down a dirt track leading right to the shore of the river. We camped behind some bushes looking out over the water and some high end homes across the water from us.
The following day we continued and set out to make it to Tours in three days leaving us plenty of time to go slow and relax. The riding was very beautiful and relaxing. Many beautiful villages were cycled through and since we researched almost nothing about the towns coming up we were always pleasantly surprised when a new old town area was visited or another castle popped up on the horizon. We noticed many Joan of Arc statues and memorials everywhere as this was a part of France she impacted with the French army during the 100 years war with Britain.
The cycling route was so well marked off that we didn’t need to use our gps or maps hardly at all. We could go a whole day just looking at the signs for directions. It was certainly not the most direct route but it was interesting for us since we are not used to the French countryside. We also passed through the town of Leonardo Da Vinci’s tomb and enjoyed a delicious chai tea as a treat to just sit there and chill for a bit.
Once arriving in Tours we scoped out some free wifi at the cathedral and then went to our warmshower hosts house. It was a great visit with them and have time to walk about the city exploring the Market, bars where we tried some of the micro brewery beers from the area and more tasty bread and cheese. Marie and Jeff were very gracious to let us stay and we had a good time getting to know their very spunky kid, Jean. We also met an old man from Marseille in front of the cathedral and despite our limited french we had a conversation (thank you google translate) and he even invited us to grab a beer with him at a bar near there. Tours was like a smaller version of Paris as Jeff aptly put it and we had a good time walking around and spent several hours just relaxing and reading in the park while Heidi attempted to make some more travel water color kit masterpieces.
leaving Tours the scenery was very similar to riding between Tours and Orleans and we enjoyed the quiet country roads once more. The wild camping was once more easy to find and other than being found out by a few fisherman roaming about ( who didn’t care at all and were very friendly) it was wonderful to camp by the river every night. One night we were trying to be quiet and use low lights, etc but then a car drove to the other side of the river and the people who got out proceeded to blast music and make a big bonfire for most of the night. At least if anyone was going to get busted it wasn’t going to be us.
The day we cycled into Nantes it was Heidi’s first 100 km day and she did it like a champ. Once in Nantes we made our way to our host’s house, Jean Paul. He had a passion for the city of Nantes and he gave us some fantastic recommendations on what to see and explore in our one day to walk around the city. He even took us out for a night walk to see the city from a different perspective at night. It was wonderful to stay with him, hear about his love of the city and his other bike trips as well!
Heidi and I liked the artsy side of Nantes and we enjoyed walking to the various art installations around the city. There was even a mechanical elephant that would walk around each day and people could ride it while it spouted water and trumpeted!
Upon leaving Nantes we decided to make a shortcut and skipped the last 50 km of the Loire Velo to get to the coast and begin cycling south more quickly. It was a fantastic route to start on and was a very easy way to ease us into cycling together and move us along in the direction of Spain while avoiding major roads. With arriving at the coast we decided to follow the EV 1 (Euro velo 1 route) south along the coast of France to cover ground quickly and leave us plenty of time to go slowly in Spain.
The first several days were good days to cover ground, the coastal region was very flat, lots of farmland and some more touristy towns on the coast. There were many forests along the coastline and very large dunes. The forests made great camping and the dunes made great barriers keeping us from seeing the ocean very much. Not many things are worse for bike touring than pushing a fully loaded bike through sand. There were also many hunters roaming about with bright jackets, horns and of course, guns. It was a little stressful the first few times we saw them since we were sneak camping in the same woods they were hunting in but they were all friendly when we went past them. One campsite we accidentally put our tent to close to a low point and some heavy rain hit. The rain filled up the lowpoint and even reached the foot of our tent despite the fact that it wasn’t even that close to the base of the low spot. We had to rush out and move everything to keep it from getting more soaked. After this rush we were exhausted and just ate snack food in the the tent to avoid cooking in the rain.
The coast wasn’t extremely picturesque so we didn’t feel the need to stop and explore anywhere and were doing great day by day making it south until we got stuck by a Ferry that was on strike! This ferry was going to take us across a large outlet and it would be two days minimum of extra riding to go around it at our pace. We wandered around the city of Royan we were spending purgatory in and found a park to hang out our damp clothes and tent to dry while waiting for to see if the ferry would be open tomorrow near the tourist office. When we headed to the office to ask them and get free wifi we ran into two other cycle tourers, Josh from Canada and Stephanie from France. We quickly hit it off and headed to a park on the edge of the town to find a wild camping spot for the night.
The next day the ferry was running and we were joined by many other cycle tourers who had been stuck from the previous day as well. We all headed across in rain and quickly found a cafe on the other side to wait out the weather. Josh and Stephanie cycled with us for two days and it was great to talk and explore with them. We have learned so much from everyone we have met, especially the other cycle tourers. Whether it is a new way to look at things or a new way to do things. My click stand for holding my bike up broke when my bike was blown over on a beach walkway in a strong wind. I spent the evening deconstructing a part of my small camping chair and using a combo of lock tight and duct tape to fix the stand with cannibalized parts from my chair. I am happy with how it turned out and It should last for a while. Josh said it was important so I could earn my McGyver credentials for bike touring.
We went our separate ways at another ferry to the city of Arcachon due to differing schedules and sadly Stephanie phone fell in the ocean so she had to go find a replacement in the city. Heidi and I grocery shopped and then decided to cycle on into the night to cover more ground. We were on a completely separate bike path from the road so we felt very comfortable biking with lights in the dark for several hours. We wanted to hurry south to have more time in Spain and the coastal bike route seemed like more of the same with flat land, forests here and there, beach towns and beaches hidden by large dunes.
Our last day of long riding in France to St Jean Pied de Port was a long one and we opted for more hilly terrain on quieter side roads on the way into the town and the beginning of the Camino de Santiago. We ended up on a 2 kilometer stretch of bike pushing through blackberry bushes under downed trees and up and over a steep hill on singletrack but had little time to go back and around, thank you komoot for the route….
On the upside entering the foothills of the Pyrenees and seeing Basque country was fantastic! It is beautiful everywhere with the white houses and red roofs with many hills and forests and mountains framing it all! The smell of basque food has been wonderful to be around too.
Once we arrived in St jean Pied de Port we were greeted by Claire and Denis for another warm shower host. Our time spent with them in St Jean Pied de Port included heading to a Basque festival, trying basque food, doing some history detective work with the family of Heidi’s brother in law John who is from a Basque family, and getting our pilgrim credentials for biking the Camino. Today we head up and over the pass to Spain and are just waiting for the fog to burn off a little before heading up.
France has been a great country to begin cycle touring in with Heidi. The bike paths have been consistent and the country roads quiet. The people have been very patient and wild camping easy to find. I will miss our daily lunch of cheap cheese, baguettes and dried sausage. Having spent a month and a half here I am so happy with what I have been able to see but definitely want to come back to see the French Alps, more of the Pyrenees and areas around the French Mediteranean, always for another time and another trip. For now the Camino Frances, and into Spain!