Well, I think I just heard the last reverberation of the fat ladies dulcet tones, so I guess that means that the challenge is over, and it’s time to head off into the tunnel for the post-match interviews.
So Dave, were you pleased with your performance during the game?
Oh yes, I think it all worked out quite nicely. The legs held up well, although the sustained peddling day after day was certainly starting to take it’s toll. If I was doing another trip, I would want to build in a rest day once per week, or do lower daily mileages.
What did you think of the ‘rear defensive lineup’?
The old bottom was pretty happy after about day 4, and the comfort factor continued to improve throughout the trip. I can’t imagine the level of discomfort that people riding in ordinary walking/trekking trousers must experience. At least you should use padded undershorts. Remember the padding is not there to cushion the bones, but to wick moisture away before it causes fabric to crease and rub, and to prevent nasty germs from breeding. Embrace the Lycra is all I can say, unless you are doing very low daily mileages. I would certainly consider less cycle oriented clothing on other trips, but comfort has to come before style. Cycle clothing does wash and dry easily, which is important without a laundry service.
Overriding impressions from the trip?
For me it was a game of two halves. Brittany was the warm up for us, and a nice introduction to cycling in France. The route chosen took a large part of the effort out of what is a reasonably hilly area.
Once the main match was under way, the lower Loire, from St. Nazaire through to about Sancerre was all about the broader scenery. Big skies, great cloud formations, agriculture, wines and chateaux. Following the route alone meant that many of the interesting chateaux were bypassed, and so if that’s what you want to see, it’s necessary to take the time to wander away from the route, do a few hills and enjoy it.
The second half, Sancerre through to Basel, and the navigable nature of the waterways took over. The scenery got closer, restricted somewhat by the trees lining the canals and riverbanks, but helping to give a much greater sense of calm and serenity to the whole thing. I forgot that I was moving through the landscape, and felt more that I became part of it. Again, wandering away from the route would be necessary to see more of the French people and architecture.
One thing that surprised me is that the canals would once have been the major economic conduit for the country, yet there was very little in the way of industrialisation from that period left in evidence. Some would have been cleared away for later, larger scale industry such as power, but I was surprised that there were not more obvious communities whose lives had once been dependent on the waterway for trade, at least from the nineteenth century. What this meant was that the vast majority of the time was spent enjoying the quiet peace of the countryside, quite often in solitude apart from my travelling companion.
My objective for this trip was to get to see what long term touring would be like. We did it the easy way by staying in hotels, although that still presents it’s own challenges. I will definitely reduce the daily mileage for future trips. Partly because the physical effort becomes wearing over time, although that could be countered with rest days, but also because you rapidly become something that merely moves through the landscape, rather than experiencing it. I’m also keen to try camping as an alternative, both in regular campsites and wild camping. I think this would help to improve the sociability of the journey. Whilst Jones and I kept each other entertained, hotels and restaurants are impersonal, and they reduce the likelihood of interacting with locals and other travellers who would all add to the experience. There is only so much you gain by stopping to ask for directions, although this did lead us to some interesting encounters.
I have been very pleased with the performance of the bike, although I increasingly think it will be less suitable for future tours. I didn’t really give much thought to it’s suitability for carrying the load, although it’s held up very well. The lack of proper braze-ons for panniers is it’s main Achilles, the P-clips used on the back seemed to work, but not sure the front forks are robust enough. If I want to impose the same sort of gear load plus camping equipment, I think it would struggle, especially on less favourable surfaces (which must count just about anywhere in the world). But it will suffice in the short term and I can experiment with shorter term tours to see what I really do and don’t need.
In the last few days, every place, every journey that crosses my path is starting to look like a cycling opportunity. I must be craving the open road again. I wonder how much I will like the roads close to home compared with those on foreign shores. Let’s face it, on the Eurovelo trip, we hardly did any distance on roads. I’m going to struggle to find cycle paths in the UK that get anywhere close to the quality of those. Mind you, I’m also thinking that I need to test my resolve for touring when I am doing more road miles through hillier parts. I’m well acquainted with hills at home, living on the edge of Exmoor, and I always love to see the view from atop a hill, or with hills close by. It’s getting out of the mindset of measuring your progress though miles travelled. I would rather measure time spent in the saddle, as the speed of progress is not what motivates me, but the experiences gained along the route. I’ve just been reading a magazine about Audax rides – I must admit that I had got the wrong impression of them, i.e. as a race, when in fact they sound more like a mystery tour. But again, they are all measured by distance, and not by time or place. I’m content with wandering through the countryside at whatever pace feels right. Sometimes that is quick and other times it is slow, and I want to be able to take time to sit and ponder my surroundings, and perhaps enjoy a nice lunch taken at leisure with a beverage which is a taste experience rather than a quick energy fix.
But first things first. The bike is in need of a good clean and servicing after the last few weeks of stirling effort. I’m so pleased with how it has performed that it is the most befitting gift I can think of. Don’t worry dear bike, you will be free to spin your wheels again very shortly!