Tournon sur Rhône to Bollène

The last real tester, a 67 mile jaunt with a real big sting in the tale at 50 miles, rising with a 300 ft climb at Montelimar. The heat will be the main issue given today’s 38.4 degree max in the afternoon. Once done the last few days will be ‘simple’ barring accidents or silly mistakes.

So, an early-ish morning under a blue sky. Apologies if I keep saying that, but it is still a novelty. We are so used to living under a poly tunnel sky in the UK that blue mornings need to be celebrated. Guess what we had for breakfast?

There were no eggs on display, but Grant asked Msr if he could have some. “Oui, of course” and to aid Msr’s decision making regarding the cooking of said ovarian victuals, Grant suggested 6 minutes to which an affirmative reply was forthcoming. In less than six minutes the eggs arrived at the table.

At this point you would think that ‘gruntles’ would be exceedingly ‘dis’, in that having instructed 6 minutes for the eggs then 6 minutes it should be. Not 3 minutes or 8 minutes but 6. But these were no ordinary boiled eggs.

They were fried. We can only conclude that Msr always fries eggs in less than 6 minutes and so to be set a target by an Englishman was an easy win. He may well have stated, “You want it in 6 minutes? Well, I will do it in half the time to show you English that we French are your betters in the oeuf frying department. You may have Agincourt but we have Escoffier and Raymond Blanc”. He did not say this, however, God only knows what he thought of being set a target to fry (not boil) eggs in under 6 minutes.

Who says breakfast time is routine?

When preparing to leave and after being oiled and rubbed up, we met two chaps from the former colonies of the United States who were also on a cycling holiday of their own. They were from Vermont (I don’t know where that is either) and had flown direct from Montreal to Lyon. There were both 6 feet tall racing split pins and well into their 50’s if not older. They had all the gear, including the Lycra which I think they carried off better than we do, and agreed that France was perfect cycling country unlike their own home. We bade them adieu, well I would have liked to, but they might mistake me for a nonce or thought I was speaking French, so we said cheerio instead.

So we all set off in the sunshine. They for ‘je ne sais pas’, we for the metropolis of Bollène. It was going to be another hot day.

We continue down the Rhône valley and since we left Lyon it is has been river, road and railway. The trains have never been very far away and we have seen many long freight trains. Joy of joys, we even got stopped at a level crossing just as a train came by. Some of the wagons look a bit dangerous, Grant suggested one train was carrying hydrogen peroxide, I think another was carrying nuclear waste (we had earlier passed what looked like a nuclear power station smack bang in the middle of the countryside). We had stopped by the tracks to watch it. The driver, dressed in white T shirt and shorts, had his door open and I would like to say he had a Gauloise nonchalantly hanging from his mouth, but rather unsportingly he did not. Damn the French when they resist stereotyping!

As the temperature climbed and we were on our way for the first rendezvous Grant had a puncture. This was the first of the trip and we are prepared for such eventualities. Thankfully there was a bus shelter for shade so that the tube could be changed without either of us melting in the heat. This delayed getting to Kirsten for a short while, but we made it without too much bother. However we were very hungry and thirsty, so pain au chocolat it was!

Our neighbours at the table outside the cafe had obviously been there a while. Kirsten had counted four glasses of wine and I swear I saw a pastis. It was only 1130. The imbibation had so loosened inhibitions that one of the chaps would frequently whistle at passing girls and shout the French equivalent of ‘ello darling’.

Suitably victualled, we set off for our lunch time meeting in a town called Cuaras which is book ended by a cement works on entry and a power station on exit. In between is a medieval town with a very old church and a castle overlooking the main rue. We sat in the shade of a tree beside the old church and devoured pain, fromage, charcuterie, tomatoes and pâte. Kirsten had also bought apricots and peaches straight from the producers. We are eating like Royalty.

We are so far south now that many houses have ruddy coloured pantile roofing, small shuttered windows and are built of a very light almost white yellow stone. One could be forgiven for thinking one was in Spain. For the whole day we heard the zizzing, the chitterings and the tinklings of various grasshopper type insects. The noise at times vied with traffic for intensity, and then for no reason would just stop. Peace. Then, they would be off again. I will probably hear them in my sleep. I would like to say they were cicadas, Grant keeps calling them chinchilladas which it think is a cross between an insect and Mexican food. We passed more fields of sunflowers whose heads were now drooping as if in silent prayer. I think they have had enough of the sun.

“I don’t believe in fate” spoke mon frère the other day about omens and stuff about punctures, then not one but two come along within the hour. Now it might be due to the temperature being 41.2 degrees and Boyles Law dictating that heating something up in the same volume will increase the pressure, hence the tearing of inner tubes, or it could be sheer bad luck that on the day that we needed to cover 72 miles, that we ended up buggering about in the searing sun, beating down relentlessly upon us, changing inner tubes between the wonderful lunch again arranged by our logistics maestro.

Following lunch and just before we set off I discovered a rear wheel puncture and so another repair was in order. What odds for two punctures in the same day? Grant’s tube could be repaired as the hole is so small we have not yet found it. My tube was torn near the valve. No need to search for where the problem lay, it was obvious. We have more spares but hope not to use them.

The afternoon heat got up to 41 degrees at one point and we were drinking litres of water. Much of it was hot, no matter how cold the replacement had been. Still, it was water and we needed plenty of it. I think I went through 5-6 litres of fluid which I still don’t think was enough considering we were in the saddle for over 9 hours today*. The cycling however is heaven, cruising along in the summer heat with a warm breeze for company on roads designed, it seems, with the cyclist in mind. Again and again we crossed the Rhône and its canals on bridges and what must be hydroelectric dams. The views are magnificent. We rediscovered the voie verte (V2 – the ViaRhona), and slipped effortlessly to a small town called Chateauneuf de Rhône.

Nevertheless, if you’d have asked me if I wanted to spend 9 hours staring at a hairdryer on the full heat in my face in a cold, wet morning in mid February (or mid July if you live in England), I might have said yes, but now on reflection of today, I might give another answer. So, the stats are above, but that masks a beautiful day on the Côtes De Rhône, passing vineyards and the rolling River Rhône, passed vast power stations and industries that rely on the mighty european river to breathe life into them. Beautiful hill top castles and villages, mostly medieval, some not changed since, with the architecture so reminiscent of Provence (where we enter tomorrow – hurrah).

At this point roadworks blocked our path and so resorting to discussions with an old local (who was wearing a baseball cap with a small fan fitted to it, I kid you not) we found an alternative road. His french was appalling though, it was worse than mine and I could hardly understand a word he said except for ‘up’ and ‘down’ and ‘5 kms’. This must be the equivalent of ‘Camborne English’ which even people from St Ives find hard to understand. Anyway the road did turn out to be 2 kms, but of steep climb in heat. He did not mention the heat. The bastard. Again, this was another Watlington Hill with knobs on. At this point water had run out but we had calculated at being at the next village to top up in another 5kms. It took what seemed an age to climb the 2kms but the 3kms descent to a cold glass of iced coca cola at a cafe flashed by.

The last 10 miles into Bollène were thankfully uneventful. A pretty much straight road in to town flanked on our left by hills and pretty villages.

It has all changed from the plains of Northern France, the panache of Champagne and the Côte De Nuits, Beaujolais, and Maçon in the the Saône valley, to the Med proper; the food, the wine the poor driving !

I continue to be staggered by the simple beauty of this part of the world, with its smell and light, and with the voie verte, France’s version of motorways exclusive for cycles, makes it accessible to anyone – even slightly overweight Dutch people loaded down on their way to Barcelona from Amsterdam. It beats the hell out of sitting on a beach in Torremolinos, or some other popular hellhole with a hangover looking forward to your next Spanish sunday lunch.

A shower then a beer were then the priorities. Dinner tonight was hake for one and steak for two. Another very nice 50cl bottle of the local stuff finished it all off. During dinner, a guest had to carried out by paramedics as she was having respiratory problems. I blame the eggs. The ‘chinchilladas’ are still zizzing rhythmically. Tomorrow is a doddle, 37 miles to Avignon, where I will find a bridge and dance.

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