Day seven of our trip began with a lay in. We cooked the usual breakfast of leftovers from last night’s dinner, which in this case, was a spectacular spaghetti bolognaise. All of our meals tend to be pasta based, as we need all the carbohydrates we can get. First time I’ve ever been on a high carb diet and I’m well happy about it. We fried some eggs and put them on top too for protein and some semblance of an English breakfast.
For lunch we indulged in a kebab (the only shop open at 14.00, as most places close in France for a siesta) and we also couldn’t resist buying some items from the patisserie. Everywhere we go there are patisseries and chocolatiers with exquisite arrangements of sweets, truffles and cream cakes calling to me and my convenient high carb diet. Today it got the better of us and purely under Adi’s bad influence; we bought four naughty looking treats. I spent the afternoon riding in a sugar induced delirium and with the sun as strong as ever, every scene was a little fuzzy and undulating in the heat.
That was also the day we said goodbye to the budget. We’re not very good with money, but we’re great with cakes.
We cycled some more and found this forest with rows of white spindly trees stretching all the way across it. We knew that these would be our lodgings for the night.At night, as it has been such hot weather in the day, we have been using just the inner tent (the mesh) to camp in and not the outer tent. The bad side of this is that in the morning, when the trees and grass are covered in dew, so is our tent and sometimes the sleeping bags are a bit damp on the outside. The plus side is that when we’re exhausted from a days’ cycling and we’ve finally cozied up in our sleeping bags, we get to look up at the stars until we fall into our slumber.
There’s nothing like an unachievable goal to get things moving and this morning we thought we’d step things up and make one (fully intending not to achieve it of course). We planned to stop less often, take a shorter lunch break and complete 70 miles of cycling. So off we went. The morning started off chilly, but we knew it would soon heat up.
We were trying to do 35 miles before lunch break, but of course we needed some snacks on the way. Then a little while after, we had to fill up our water bottles and sometimes the only way to do that is to go into a pub and buy a drink. This took another little slice out of our 70 mile day. We soldiered on though, and managed to do 33 miles before lunch.
Just before we started eating, we realised to our horror, that the maps we were using to get from Orleans to Switzerland were actually DOUBLE SIDED. This means we had twice the amount of ground to cover as we thought and wouldn’t be getting to Switzerland any time soon. Quite depressing, as you can imagine.
After battling the will to have a post lunch nap, we got on the bikes and carried on eating the miles.
We cycled to a town called La Charite-sur-Loire, which had some interesting medieval buildings and cobbled streets. We needed to get some dinner, so just made it to a Spar before it closed, where they sold us mouldy mushrooms. However, I’m sure the town has many redeeming qualities that we didn’t have time to explore. Here is what it looks like from the other side of the river on our way out. We did not yet know the mushrooms were mouldy.
We found yet another forest just below our bike path and decided to camp on the outer side of it where there were some nice patches of grass. We cooked a delicious meal (minus mushrooms) and fell asleep under the stars again.
We had done 67 miles.
The next morning we overslept until about seven, and because it takes us so long to cook breakfast, get dressed, wash up, pack up the tents/mats/sleeping bags and load the bikes, we didn’t actually leave till about nine. We also discovered that Adi had been bitten by a big fat tick in the night, so I had to pull it out with some tweezers. Due to its stubbornness and my lack of technique, some of it was still left in his skin. A friend of ours recently contracted limes disease TWICE from ticks, so we were a little paranoid and decided to go to a pharmacy in the next village…
They pointed us in the direction of a doctor a few doors down and we waited to be seen. Not long after, Adi came out with a slip of paper. The doctor had removed the rest of the tick and given a prescription of antibiotics for two weeks and some antiseptic lotion. Unfortunately, the bite was in Adi’s armpit and he told me that the doctor had his face there with some tweezers and a magnifying glass for a really long time trying to remove it. After a few days of cycling, Adi’s armpit isn’t a good place for anyone to be for long periods of time, medically trained or not. Anyway, this scenario slowed us down for the whole day as the pharmacy also didn’t have the prescription, so we had to cycle to a big town to another pharmacy and get some shopping. We took ages to find the Eurovelo too, as it was quite badly sign posted and we ended up going all over the place. Eventually we found what we thought was the right path and by this point it was getting dark, so we set up camp just below the path.
The next day, we discovered that we weren’t on the right path at all and were going completely in the wrong direction, so after some manoeuvring in circles we got ourselves back on the right route.
The weather was so hot for the next couple of days that I found it really hard to get a good rhythm going and would run out of energy very quickly. My bike felt heavy and I pedalled slowly along the long roads, almost falling asleep on my bike, but cycling on autopilot. We had to make a lot of stops and it was quite frustrating for Adi who was eager to get further. At the pace we were going, it was going to take much longer to get to Switzerland than anticipated. We had been cycling all day, from first thing in the morning to just before it gets dark at night, but depending on how many stops we made, for how long, how many hills, and how slowly we cycled, there could be a huge difference in how much we’d get done. These few days we did about 45-60 miles a day. Looking at the map, there was still so much work to do and it was disheartening at times. We never realised when we set out on the trip how far away it actually was! Working through it mile by mile, road by road, map by map, you suddenly realise the scale of the task. My legs, arms, back, neck, wrists and even fingers were aching from the intensity imposed upon every muscle for the most part of twelve hours a day. But when we had a bit of breeze, a good pedalling rhythm through the most beautiful, natural settings, knowing we were one map closer to our goal, it was so worth it. Our laden machines would fly down the slightest declines and float round bends with our bodies so effortlessly sometimes that we forgot all the toil that came before.
We never worried about where we would sleep at night, because every day some unknown little patch in a perfect place would suddenly reveal itself just when we needed it. And even if it didn’t, we were so tired that we didn’t care where we slept, we were just grateful to sleep.
It was the beginning of October and though the mornings were a little fresh, the day soon heated up pretty fast. It was getting a tiny bit cooler though, and this made all the difference to my ability to cycle fast and for longer. Today we decided to get back on track and aimed for a 70 mile day again. We wanted to get to Switzerland in two days, enough time to visit Adi’s mum, get clean, then head to Bern to see Adi’s friends and go to a Psytrance party that was happening on the weekend. We were halfway through the first side of map five of the Eurovelo maps. On slow days, we were doing about half a side of a map a day. We needed to be doing a whole side to get there in time and today, if possible, a side and a half if we wanted to get to Switzerland tomorrow or at least near the border.
I went as fast as I could, and we only stopped for short breaks. We cycled through the Alsace, a beautiful region of France before you get to Switzerland. Everywhere was rolling hills and rivers and moody skies. We got some red bull down our necks too which helped things along and we cycled and cycled and cycled all the way into the night and halfway through map six. We realised that our bike lights weren’t very strong when it was pitch black and we could only see about a metre of ground ahead of us. The one who was in front had to bear the brunt of any holes or gravelly bits on the road and shout out a warning to the one behind… it was a bit like cycling with your eyes closed and just feeling your way over every bump and discrepancy, operating on a mixture of luck and reflex. When we were too exhausted to carry on, we found a huge bit of open land by the road. We walked our bikes as far away from the road as possible and headed towards the trees at the back. Smack-bang in the middle on some flat grass, we pitched our tent. Having run out of gas for our stove a couple of days ago, we were now mostly eating bread, cheese and other fillings for all meals. We grabbed a kebab earlier so weren’t crazy hungry, but still a bit peckish after the cycling, so quickly had some bread and olive oil to line our stomachs for the night. As we were practically gulping down the bread, we heard what sounded like wild beasts in the forest, running and screaming out some primal groan. Every now and then you hear these sounds in the night and can only wonder at what they could be. We’ve got used to them and the random things flying into our faces and the insects in our tents and the many movements of the night in the outdoors.
Today we were planning to get to Switzerland, or at least close. We started a bit slow and stopped for snacks and energy drinks in the morning. I managed to perform one of my artful manoeuvres of throwing my bike to the floor and injuring myself in some way again. This time the chainring scraped 5 little lines of flesh from my calve, leaving me with an impressive claw-like wound, adding a bit of drama to the bruising and black grease covering my legs. This isn’t just cycling, this is EXTREME cycling.
On the way, we met a couple called Isa and Simon from France who were also bike touring. They had the same bikes as us (one blue, one black) and the same saddles. We were very excited to see them and stopped to chat for a bit. They were cycling all the way to Istanbul for the winter and then going to Indonesia. We were a tad jealous that we were only going to Switzerland!
After lunch and some more cycling, Adi stopped to take a photo of a bridge. As he did so, the couple rode over it, so we stopped and said hello again.
We rode with them for a while and it was nice to be in a little group with our bikes full to the brim with stuff. We got a lot of funny looks from people. We parted ways at Montbeliard, where they were staying with friends and exchanged email addresses. When we said we were trying to get to Switzerland that night, I think they thought we were a bit mad and I started to feel it too.
Much cycling later, we decided to come off the Eurovelo early and take regular roads down to the border, as the Eurovelo made quite big detours before going to Basel. It was getting late again and we needed to camp somewhere, so we headed down towards Altkirch. Once again we got ourselves a kebab for dinner. It was getting cold at night, so it was really good to have something warm to eat. We were achy and tired and cold, but had to continue cycling to look for a camping spot. We saw on the map that there were some forests nearby, so we went in that direction. We ended up cycling up a small road and into a huge farm. A dog was barking at us, so we had to keep going. Not really sure of where it was heading, we went through long gravelly tracks towards some trees. For a while we both thought we might have to just camp somewhere at the end of the farm and get up early before we got told off as we’d come too far to go back. But just at the end, we found this space by a little lake! It looked amazing with the stars and the light shimmering over the water, so after pitching the tent, we took a photograph.
75 miles. We would get to Switzerland tomorrow.
Today we left as soon as we got up, so as to avoid any heated words with farmers. We cycled for about half an hour and stopped by a bench to have our breakfast; the usual bread, olive oil, Gruyere and Jam.
We went on some nasty main roads in the direction of Basel. Some of them were huge, like motorways, with lorry’s zooming past us and making the bikes wobble in their aftermath. Others had big mountainous climbs again and again. It was fair to say we were pretty flustered afterwards. After much upward struggle and skilful traffic avoidance, we enjoyed a very long, sweet descent, which took us all the way to a bike path leading to the border.
We finally whizzed through the border without being checked and into Switzerland. I could see Adi smiling in front of me and it made me smile.
A mere five minutes into Basel, Switzerland and we bought ourselves a map and sat in a pub to have a beer and cup of tea. I was yet again in a foreign land, but for Adi, it was nice to speak Swiss German again and be in familiar territory.
It took us a couple of hours to get out of the city and we cycled in the direction of where they lived so they wouldn’t have to come too far. It was getting dark and we found ourselves on the main road with bad lights.
Guess who had an accident.
In the half-light it’s not so easy to judge where the curb is while you’re in the flow. My front wheel skimmed the edge and flew sideways, throwing my bike underneath me. It was a busy road, at night and in mid fall, I was sure I was going to get knocked over. Adi heard the fall and shouted for me to get out of the road, so I heaved my bike up as quick as possible and over the curb. We were by some train tracks, so there was no pavement –just some gravel and stones. Luckily there weren’t any cars behind me in the short time that lapsed between my bike hitting the ground and me getting it over the curb, but it could’ve been bad.
At that point, we decided not to take any more chances. We got to the pavement on the other side and walked to a nearby restaurant. Adi used the phone to call the husband of his mum who would pick us up. We drank tea inside and waited as it started to rain outside. We couldn’t believe the good timing of our trip. In England it rained as we left, in the 16 days it took us to get to Switzerland we had glorious sunshine every single day and just as we arrived and were about to stay in a nice warm house, it started to rain again. What luck!
45 miles. We’d made it to Switzerland, yey!!!
Total miles: 794.5
Total days: 16
Total dead hedgehogs on roads: 16
Total accidents: 5 (all Amy’s)