Monday, 15 February 2010

Down the Medoc and the going gets tough.

So after a bowl of coffee and some homemade crunchy oat cereal with cocoa and almond milk (yum) I left the Baudot's. It was yet another bitterly cold day and I headed west from Saintes on a mixture of GPS and Jerome's directions to try and find la route Royan ancienne, or D150. The old road kept merging into the new dual carriageway N150 and so I wiggled north and south on some very minor and roads and dirt tracks, some of which were full of frozen muddy ruts.

By the time I had reached Royan, the old back wheel was wobbling about quite a bit, due to a broken spoke. I was pretty close to the centre of this deserted tourist town, so I limped to the port to check the ferry times across the Gironde, then went and got a pizza and coffee. Before the ferry arrived, I tried to true the wheel by tightening the adjacent spokes but another one snapped. This made the wobble so bad the bike was barely rideable, the tyre wasn't going to last long rubbing on the frame. I phoned James, my Bordeaux host and he suggested I get on the boat and try a bike shop in Soulac, 6km from the port. If all else failed there were trains from there to Bordeaux. The crossing was about 15 mins across the enormous estuary, and I
hopped onto the cycle path to Soulac, immediately taking in the pleasant woodland trails.

It was a long 6km, but eventually I got into Soulac and found Ericycles. They took the wheel with a big smile and hurried off to operate on it. After aking where I'd come from/going to they seemed to erupt into a wonderful cacophony of joy and happiness to meet such a nutter (nous adorons les gens fou!). I was touched when they did not charge me, 'c'est pour l'humanité' after hearing the trip was for Médecins sans Frontieres.

So it felt like a speed machine after the mechanical and mental big up, but wasn't long before the light was fading.
Jerome had talked about wild camping in freezing conditions, and he advised I should christen the tent when I wanted to, not when I had no other option. I'd been against the idea for a while, but since getting on the Medoc I was up for it. So I got into Montalivet les Bains and found a restaurant where I got the squid, steak and chips and ice cream, relaxed while watching France win against Ireland at rugby, watched the foreca
st warn of -3° and then went out into the wilderness. Finding a spot was pretty easy, so many deserted spots to choose from. I popped the tent up and got snug, and despite being sub zero I was more than cosy.
So I woke up having had a good night's sleep, but by the time I was on the bike I felt the cold. I went back to Montalivet to get some breakfast but the place was dead. I found a young guy outside a cafe waiting for his boss to arrive to open up, but after 15 mins gave up and found somewhere else. This cafe felt like the centre of the world, bustling with locals. So by 10 I was back on the road, heading for James and Stephanie in Bordeaux, 55 miles away. The long straight empty cycle track vanished into the foggy bleak horizon, and the surrounding pine woods seemed to repeat like the backdrop of a Flintstones cartoon. The tarmac eventually ended but the GPS lead me straight on down a sandy track. I had come 5 miles down the tarmac, so I was reluctant to turn back, instead I continued down the sand track, pushing the bike with the optimism that the junction 1 mile away displayed on the
GPS would be tarmac again. It was not, and the track became more and more sandy, making even pushing the bike a real effort. I headed inland, assuming I would evenually get to the road parallel to the coast. By the end of it, 3 miles of pushing had challenged my patience no end,
and I had lost at least an hour of valuable riding. The road was yet more endless cold horizon, in some ways satisfying to go in a straight flat line but psychologically very arduous, especially as I had a cold headwind to battle against. About 20km from Bordeaux I got off the bike to text my hosts to tell them I'd be late. As I got back on the bike I heard a snap and to my dismay another one of the old back wheel's spokes had gone. I wonder if the cold affected the brittleness of the spokes, but whatever my spirits were quite down by now. Still, the first van I stuck my thumb out to picked me up, and the kind couple who had been to maintain their holiday house took me all the way to James and Steph's door, way out of their way.
I was greeted by a James at the big door of their beautiful riverfront apartment. His radiant smile lifted my spirits in no time, and after a cup of tea, shower, glasses of wine and spaghetti carbonara and delightful company talking english I was happy as Larry.
I woke to this beautiful sunrise, and after a coffee and a spell planning the next few nights on Couchsurfing I went out with the tired old wheel to find a bike shop. It was pleasant strolling through the spleandour of Bordeaux's grand streets, and eventually I came across a bike shop. A rebuild was going to cost the same as a cheap new wheel and tyre, and I took the shop's recommendation to keep the quality old wheel, as I've been told hand built wheels are better than factory built ones. I found a knee support and Ibuprofen (yes I've kept quiet about that, it's not just the old bike that's been suffering) and wandered around the old market, picking up a few provisions. Afternoon was spent reading, shaving, washing up and watching the Office on DVD. I went to pick up the wheel and got back, but was frustrated to see that it was a shoddy job as the hub wasn't centre. So annoyingly I won't be leaving Bordeaux early tomorrow.


  1. Henry you trooper! You're doing amazingly well! The hard part's nearly out of the way now!! Mild spanish weather, beaches and sangria await!!!

    Big respect


  2. joseph

    nice stuff henry wow amazing you done a good job. the pictures that is collected is explained in good way,any way i like this article.keep it up

  3. Anytime I read a travel piece I am ready to book a ticket. I'm such a sucker for any cultural experience. Sounds amazing! I've done Europe, much of Asia, and North Africa. Hands down my favorite trip was a food and wine tour to Tuscany. Really had the time of my life and it's like every local is there to help you enjoy. Next trip you should check it out.

  4. Hi Henry,

    Just found your blog and read through your entries. Wow, what a fantastic adventure. I am supremely jealous!

    All the very best of luck for the remainder. Great blog by the way, I'll enjoy following the rest of your trip.