After our glorious rest day in Carcassonne, we spent two cloudy days fighting the headwinds into Toulouse. At this time of year, there are often strong winds blowing from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean. So we woke up a few blocks from the train station and decided to flip the script and take a train to Royan and ride back to Toulouse- hopefully with a following wind.
We have figured out how to ride the train and it is a great way to travel with the bikes- except for when we have to schlep them up and down the platform stairs. We also get a great deal here being senior citizens.
Royan is at the northern end of the route where the Gironde Estuary empties into the sea. The mud colored Atlantic is a real contrast from the blue waters of the Med where we started. We don’t get much help from the following winds, but at least they die down.
From Royan we ride three days to the city of Bordeaux. The route zigzags along the coastline, through some lovely small towns, passing innumerable fishing shacks with nets poised over the sea. We also pass an incongruous nuclear power station, enjoy some great French meals and hospitality and check out the Citadel of Blaye. The last miles into Bordeaux treat us to stressful suburban France and finally a vibrant ped friendly downtown core stretched along the river.
A days ride out of Bordeaux on paved bike trails and we find an incredible place to stay. We decide that we are tired and need a rest day and spend a quiet day drinking rose and reading our books in the sun. At this point, we are alternating between eating three course French meals, late-night pizza and whatever we might have left from lunch in the hotel room. Our great lunches consist of fresh baguettes, cheese, saucisson, tomatoes and pesto. The baguettes taste different from every shop, and the ones we don’t like are fed to the ducks.
It’s not really right to whine when you are living the life of a pedaling pensioner, but after a couple weeks on the road, the day to day logistics are wearing us down. The actual riding is great but when we get to a place we immediately start trying to figure out where to go next and where we can stay. Finding a place with a bed long enough for me is difficult just by looking at pictures on line and sometimes poor choices have been made. (Not by Karen).
It takes time and effort to figure out the next days mileage, finding a place online to stay and then where we might get a cycling breakfast, rather than just a croissant. It is stressful sometimes just to figure out where to go to eat dinner. In the smaller towns there are no choices and in the cities there are too many. Sometimes it seems as if there aren’t enough hours in the day to relax and be ready for the next day, and we are getting worn down. We seem to need more recovery time than I remember from previous decades.
We are on our final bit of the Canal du Garonne into Toulouse and the trail is a paved track along the straight canal. This canal is more modern, the terrain is more industrial and after 200 or so kilometers it all looks the same-although the plane trees draped over us have put on their leaves in the last few days as spring has caught up with us. The clouds move in and we break out the raingear for the first time. We remember our first days on The Canal du Midi- there were more curves and gravel and we enjoyed it more.
We decide that we are done with the flat parts of France, bail out on the last 60 k to Toulouse and take a train to Avignon. To help with the stress level, we book three nights in a really nice apartment as we plan our ride back to Sisteron. We will be riding in the Luberon, perhaps the most bike friendly part of France. In 2013 we spent a few days riding here on our very first hotel bike tour. That was in a skinny tire bike phase when I was following the Tour de France. It will be great to discover and remember more of the area and ride some hills and dirt.