Saturday, 20 February 2010

1000 km in!

I am in Toulouse, and I'm burning up in an internet cafe. Having come in from the cold, I'd like to take my fleece off but I fear the stench may offend my neighbors (having not washed for 2 days).
So where was I last? Oh yes, Bordeaux, feeling a bit down because of the knee and the slow progress. So I went and saw a doctor about it, who said it was an inflamed tendon due to RSI and prescribed some voltasomething and some anti-inflammatory gel bandage. I also picked up the wheel, which was a bit better but confirmed my theories about these trendy fancy bike shops as it still wasn't perfect. Still, it'll do and I was past complaining again. Besides, I just want to go. That evening I made a quiche and bought an earthenware flan to bake it in as a little thankyou gesture. It really wasn't enough for the superb hospitality I've been treated to.
On Thursday morning I packed up and left, happy to have some very clement weather to enjoy. I rolled down the riverside and crossed the almighty Garonne on the Pont de Pierre. I carried on upstream on Bordeaux's less classy side, which gradually became industrial and then rural. I was looking for la Piste Roger Lambert which was a disused railway line cutting a windy section off the Garonne. I wasn't exactly sure how to find it (as it wasn't on the GPS) so when I eventually passed a cyclist going that tiny bit slower I asked him. He was out doing a spot of exercise, so he decided to change his course and take me there. I spent 20km chatting away with Charles about life and bikes so I didn' really take in the scenery. I was astonished when he told me he was 58, he could have passed for 40. We went our separate ways (I think he'd gone well out of his way) and I took his advice to have an early lunch at this restaurant. I had a delicious seafood salad, boudin noir (huge black puddings) and chips and some kind of meringue and custard all for 10 euros. I could have also had a carafe of wine with that too but opted for water. I seemed to be the centre of attention again, and talked with an old postal worker who looked like David Attenborough about france, country living and Burma, but had to excuse myself when the conversation got a bit heated about politics with an homme droit (David was gauche). I was back on the saddle, and the old railway weaved through some stunning countryside. I'd passed some old boys who'd stopped so I asked them if they were 'en panne' -I was determined to make use of my heavy tool bag some point. There had been so many opportunities to chat away
but I had to continue, as I had decided my knee was good and I wan't going to take the 40km lodging option.
I was quite surprised about the gradients for a railway, going was occasionally quite tough as the old line got up to some high ground with a bit of a headwind. Here the old boys in their lycra were gone, and it didn't take long for the feeling of solitude to kick in. 60km in and the railway route stopped, I had to rely on the sketchy directions of the GPS. The hills got harder and the way became wigglier, and I switched to an arrow waypoint and got onto some tiny tracks. I was getting a tiny bit concerned about the time, but there was little I could do but to press on. Eventually I lost a lot of the gradient, and had my first near miss as an old lady decided to cross the road without looking. I am so glad I had replaced the old 70's brakes on the bike! On to the flat and I decided to ditch the GPS directions and take the busy D road as it was straight and flat, and daylight was running out. As I got into Marmande, I phoned Edwige from the station, and she came and met me instantly. I heaved the bike up the stairs and realised how exhausted I was, I had ridden a pretty hilly 120km.
Edwige gave me tea, I had a shower and she cooked me soup, pork and pasta and Normandy perry. Edwige is a young sage femme (midwife), who works in Marmande and is quite adorable! We went out to the local bar, had a drink and then crashed.
I had a leisurely start with a great petit dejeuner and went out for a quick coffee with her midwife friend. I left not long before noon, heading south to find the Canal Lateral. I got on the towpath which would be my route to Toulouse, about 150km of virtual solitude. The going was good, dead flat, pretty straight and some fairly interesting relics of industrial heritage. But it was solitary, and yet again it really set my solitary feeling which is quite deep and at times daunting. It was times like this that the mp3 player is a godsend. I kept a good pace with little rest for 5 hours, passing my goal of Agen, where the canal crossed the still enormous Garonne on an impressive aquaduct, one to make Dundas or Avonmouth look piddly. The canal swept round past a town of hills on one side, plain on the other, and I was happy to keep going, knowing that tonight would be another night under canvas. Evening came and I looked for something larger than a hamlet on the GPS, finding a big village. The nature of it's welcome gave me an incling of the bored kid factor, loads of really noisy mopeds ragging about, and sure enough while waiting for my pizza by the riverside I was surrounded my some intimidating kids, smoking and spitting. When they asked what I was up to and I told them, their hostile nature changed to one of surprise and disbelief, and dare I say it, smiles and respect.
I stuffed my face with pizza and left the town with dusk falling quickly, getting back onto the canal to scope for a hidden camping spot. I had plenty of energy and was happy to be fussy, so when I found my spot I was a good 10km away and in the pitch dark. I popped the tent up, spoke to parents on the phone and went to sleep very quickly. Another 100km day.
The night' sleep was ok, but there was a lot of condensation in the tent and I was slightly damp. It was colder again, and I got the tent away quickly as it started to rain. I got 10km along before finding a pleasant market town with a thriving market and about 10 hairdressers. I got some breakfast, lunch and a coffee and chatted to a woman interested in the bike.
Back on the towpath and the weather wasn't great, but I handled the solitude easily today. It was yet more industry, massive power station cooling towers and railway line running parallel with the silver streak of the TGV flashing by. I wondered if the canal's summit would be Toulouse as each set of locks indicated about 5-10m incline and there were a hell of a lot of them. A flight of locks was bypassed with this set up, I can only guess is a boat lift, one of the strangest vehicles I've ever seen. After lunch, with yet more hostile weather, monotonous canal increasing headwind and general tiredness, I was pleased to see the landscape fade back into what I'd seen as I left Bordeaux, except this time Toulouse changed into city over what seemed like a much larger distance. So here I am, in the centre and it's about time I check if my host is free (wasn't sure by the email and I'm a day earlier than expected).

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