Bike Bashing In Blois (BBIB)

“This is not possible,” I mumbled in desperation. “This can’t possibly be happening. It just can’t.”

Oh, but it was … and I blame my sister because, well, it was totally her fault.

It was 2013: The start of our Loire bike trip. We had spent a few days in Paris, then it was on to Blois, where Susan and I were gonna ride for a few days. Susan was then heading home (Columbus, Ohio), while I got to stay, ride and gather information and photos for my first eBook: Biking the Loire. Thank you Susan.

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We’d made arrangements with my sister, Debra, who lives with her family in England, to ship my bike to Blois. It was the bike – a men’s road bike (you know, curved handlebars and a straight-across top tube) – we bought during our 2007 French bike trip. We also bought a women’s hybrid bike (flat handlebars and an angled, woman’s style top tube) for Susan. We met Deb and family in Southern France back in 2007, hung out for a few days, and had a great time. They packed our bikes into their SUV and drove home to England (yes I know, you can’t drive all the way from France to England … they took the ferry across the channel).

And there our bikes sat, in their garage, gathering dust and cobwebs, for several years.

So, I asked Deb to take my bike to the local bike shop, have it tuned up, packed up in a box and shipped to our hotel in Blois.

“I did it, it’s on the way to Blois,” Deb emailed a few days before we flew to Paris.

That’s a relief. Thank you, Deb.

We arrived in Blois, and the guy at the desk told me there was a big box in the garage with my name on it.

That’s a relief. Thank you, Deb.

The plan was for me to ride my old friend, and we’d rent a bike for Susan. Her old bike, from 2007, was kind of a crappy bike. And she was only riding for 2 days.

Went to the garage, started opening the box … and … it was Susan’s bike. You know, the too-small, non-road-bike bike. The women’s bike. The hybrid. It wasn’t my bike. How is this possible? They’re totally different bikes. Different sizes and …

Think I went into shock. A little bit. I just stared and stared at the bike in the box, not believing or comprehending what I was seeing. Thinking that somehow, some way, if I kept unpacking the box, my bike would be in there.

It wasn’t.

Decided to assemble the bike … and ride it. What choice did I have?

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Sometimes you just gotta make the best of a bad-bike situation

And, too make matters worse, which is always possible, I couldn’t get the damn front tire back onto the fork. Somehow, someway, in the packing or shipping, or by osmosis, the front fork had been ever so slightly smooshed together … and the tire wouldn’t fit back in no matter how much I tried … or cursed. And I cursed a lot! Some of it in French.

(Here’s the link to my Biking the Loire eBook if you’re interested)

Thank goodness the guy at the hotel desk (the owner) is a former Tour de France rider.

“We will pull,” said Roland Le Clerc, who rode the Tour from 1987 to 1991. His best finish was 70th in 1988. That’s impressive.

bike11And so we pulled and pulled, each of us pulling on one of the forks, somehow stretching it a millimeter further apart, just enough to squeeze in the wheel.

“Voila,” Roland said after we got the wheel on and it seemed to spin properly. The French say “voila” whenever they accomplish something.

If I’ve learned one thing over the years on bike trips, it’s that you must always adapt and overcome the inevitable mechanical, logistical, geographic and psychological problems you will inevitably encounter. This was a big one.

And so, I rode this too-small, women’s bike for the next two weeks. It was manageable. Barely. Although my knees began to hurt on Day Three. And then my back.

At the end of the trip, I left the damn bike at the hotel in Saumur. In the garage. Never wanted to see – or ride – it again.

“You can have it … or let the guests ride it,” I told the woman at the front desk. “It’s a woman’s bike.”

PS: I eventually forgave Deb. Mostly! And, in retrospect, this made for a good story … and blog post. Wouldn’t have been half as interesting if she’d sent the right bike. So, Deb … here’s my belated thank you.

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I wonder if “my” bike is still sitting in this garage at the hotel in Saumur?

2 Days and 9 Photos From Bordeaux

When I checked out of my hotel in Langon, and told the desk guy I was headed north to Libourne, he went like this: Up and down motions with his hand. Like waves. Or a rollercoaster.

“It is all hills,” he said. “It is all up and then down.”

He was right … and then some more ups and downs.

But it was worth it. I’m seven days and 352 miles into my Bordeaux extravaganza. Here are the last two days in photos.

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The climb started immediately, up and up to Ste Croix du-Mont where there’s a great view down from whence I came (I’ve always wanted to use the word “whence.”). And a WWI memorial with quite the intimidating figure on top…

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I mean, come on: This is one angry, muscular and intimidating fighting rooster. The “Coq Sportif” is the national symbol and you may remember seeing one on the jerseys of the French team that won the most recent World Cup.

Then it was up and down a few more hills on the way to Cadillac. And, every time I saw a sign for Cadillac … I started singing Springsteen’s “Cadillac Ranch.” I like to sing when I ride. Sometimes in my head, out loud every once in a while. Especially going up hills. It helps. Cadillac is an old, walled city and here’s the view through one of the medieval entrances. And yes, it was market day.

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These guys were hanging out at the cathedral in the town of Castelviel … which is a million years old!

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Here’s my reward for a long, hard and beautiful day of riding…

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Today was all about the red wines of the St-Emilion, such as…

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Everything here is all about the wine … it’s one vineyard and chateau after another. Endless vineyards. Miles and miles of vineyards of red grapes. And when they say chateau, they don’t exactly mean castle, although some are quite castle-like. The chateaux here refer to the maisons of each individual winery. And, because there are so many, and I imagine it’s quite competitive, you need to have quite the fancy and ornate chateau/tasting center in order to create your brand and sell your wine for exorbitant prices. Here’s the entrance to one of the more elaborate chateau…

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Here’s the view from the little town of Montagne.

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And the view a few kilometers later and back and up to Montagne.

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Tomorrow it’s back to St-Emilion, the epicenter for tourism in this area. I was able to get a hotel, for one night, maybe two, and am determined to do some wine tasting. I’ll let you know how it goes if I’m able to write/blog.

 

Toilets, Lights Bulbs, Snacks … and Even a Little Cycling

Today topics: the nuances of flushing a French toilet, saving electricity, a machine that makes fresh-squeezed orange juice, the importance of snacks, and, OK, some riding in the Bordeaux countryside.

Flushing: They’re all about saving water here in France, which is a good thing.

And it starts with the toilet. Most toilets provide flushing options. For example, in my hotel in Bordeaux, here’s the flushing mechanism…

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Notice the small circle and larger circle. When you only need a little flush (I’ll let you use your imagination), you push the small circle. When you need a more powerful flush (again: imagination, use it), you push the bigger circle. I’m not sure, but I think if you push both circles at the same time you get maximum hyper flushing grande power. However, if you do this more than once during your stay … you get charged an extra 1.76 Euro. Per hyper grande flush. So flush wisely when in France.

Electricity: Again, it’s all about saving it … which is why I had a really hard time figuring out how to turn the lights on in my hotel room in Paris. I was hitting every switch and … nothing.

Finally, I got an idea (I was gonna say the light bulb went off, but that’s too much of a cliché) … and put my room key/card into the slot above the light switch by the door and … voila, the lights worked.

Instant OJ: So, at the ibis hotel in Bordeaux breakfast is included: a rare treat in France. Breakfast in France is all about coffee, yogurt and lots and lots of carbs with added jam. And, at this ibis there’s a really cool machine. You put a couple oranges in the top and they start spinning around and juice magically appears at the bottom.

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Snacks: Arrived in Langon today and am staying here four nights. This means I can load up on snacks, which I did. I’m trying to eat healthy, but it’s a bit of a challenge … so here, take a look at my snack collection. BTW: the Mars bars here are different and so much better. And so are the ancel stick pretzels. So far, I’ve been able to resist getting potato chips. They’re really good over here. Too darn good. Once I start … the bag is gone. I can kinda stop with the angels, not so much with the Mars bars and may have had four one night.

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Riding: Oh yeah, today’s ride from Bordeaux to Langon (48 miles). So, I was a little (OK, a lot) anxious about loading all my stuff (the panniers and a knapsack that sits atop the panniers and holds my laptop) onto my bike for the first time. It’s a lot of stuff. It’s heavy and unbalances your bike. But everything worked. Whew, that’s a relief. Now I can be anxious and worry about other stuff. Here, take a look at my fully loaded bike…

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Back onto the Roger Lapebie bike path and the further you get from Bordeaux, the nicer and nicer it gets. More and more vineyards, fields of corn stalks and sunflowers that are  all dried up. The sunflowers look so sad, as if they’re hanging their heads in shame because they are no longer beautiful.

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And then, a K or two past La Sauve St Leon, you go through a long, well-lit tunnel Not sure why there’s a tunnel here, as there’s no river up above or major highway. Maybe they added it to break up the path and add an element of excitement. If so, it worked.

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Got off the path at St Brice and followed the small country roads the rest of the way, through a series of tiny villages and vineyard after vineyard chock full of ripe and ready to harvest red grapes. This is the Bordeaux I was hoping for … and have now found. Bike paths are nice, but they’re a little sterile. Sorry Roger.

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Bungee Cords and Bike Trips

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Here’s a time-tested, bike-touring tip I can’t stress enough: Bring a few bungee cords with you.

How many? I recommend three or four.

What color?

Doesn’t matter.

Why bungee cords?

Well…

Use #1: Pannier protectors

pannier1Panniers are the packs you attach to either side of the rack on the back of your bike.

They hold your stuff.

And sometimes, especially when you go over a bump, they tend to fall off. Which is quite annoying. And kind of dangerous.

So, wrap a bungee cord around them and … voila! … they stay on the rack.

I also usually put a small knapsack on top of my panniers and, yep, a third bungee cord keeps it in place.

Use#2: Laundry lines

You’re gonna do a lot of sink laundry on a bike trip.

Sorry, it’s inevitable.

So, I string my bungee cords across the window and hang my damp bike shorts and jersey and gloves on them.

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And hope for the best.

They’re usually dry by the next morning.

Only once, in Chateau-Thierry (a little east of Paris) were we yelled at by the hotel owner. “This is not possible in France,” he told us, pointing up at the laundry hanging from our window.

Oh, but it is … and lots and lots of bike travelers do it.

Use #3: Glove rescuer

Once, in Lourmarin (a little north of Aix-en-Provence), we’re at a hotel. I did a load of sink laundry, hung everything on my bungees … and, the next morning: One of my bike gloves had fallen off the cord and landed on the roof over the balcony one floor down.

Uh-oh … I really need this glove.

Susan declined to let me hold herb by her feet and dangle her out the window. I’m pretty sure it would have worked.

So, connected the hooks of two bungee cords together, wrapped some duct tape around them so they wouldn’t separate … lowered down my bungee rope … and tried and tried to hook an edge of my glove. Finally … voila! I Hooked it … and carefully reeled it in.

And, speaking of duct tape … bring a small roll. So many uses.