From the River to the Ocean…

May 14, 2017

It seems to be the case that, on entering a city after being on the road for days, we constantly feel out of touch with reality and feel that we could just never belong in this world of commuters, people buying new clothes and laughing with friends on restaurant patios over bottles of wine. And it isn’t just because we’ve almost run out of money and we couldn’t afford any of those things. It’s not like we’re standing outside patisseries drooling onto our handlebars or anything (I just avoid eye contact with the millefeuilles). It’s also because we are experiencing profound city shock. Like culture shock, but compounded by being used to sleeping by riversides, hardly seeing any other people and eating exclusively on picnic tables by the sides of roads for days on end. I can no longer imagine what it would be like to have my own apartment, or a job to go to every day, or friends to hang out with in the evenings. I actually rather miss these mundane things and am getting excited to return to them in whatever form that is going to take in the next couple of months. We’ve been on the road for nine months now and, yes, just as expected, our perspective on the world, and how to live in it, has totally changed.

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Once you can have a shower, put on a pair of jeans and dump your bicycle and panniers somewhere safe, everything seems to shift slowly and you don’t feel as much like an outsider. By the end of our two-day stay in Nantes, it actually ended up being a bit difficult to leave. We had readjusted (slightly) to normal life after sleeping in someone else’s apartment, eating their food and having access to the amenities most city folk don’t even think about. And so, that is why it was after 3:00pm before we mustered the courage to leave the comfort of Ingrid’s apartment and sojourn back into the world of the cycle tourist.

It was a bit more difficult to find the route than we thought it would be because the outskirts of Nantes are complicated and extensive. We got lost several times, ended up cycling on a number of rather loud (albeit cyclist-friendly) highways, and finally made our way out of the suburbs and small towns surrounding the city to find ourselves on a nice quiet cycle trail along the Loire River.

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We made up a lot of kilometres on the flat, freshly-paved stretches of trail, and after a very hasty 44.8 km in 3 hours, we were getting close to Frossay (not the destination we had originally intended to get to though). We were still over 30 km away from St. Brevin (where we  wanted to end up), and there were ample opportunities for excellent wild camping by the riverside.

Judging by the frequent signage, this area seemed to be very popular for night fishermen (doesn’t that sound macabre?), but we decided to try our luck and found a perfect spot right next to the river with a picnic table and shelter from the road. Because it was a weekday night,  (and our camouflage was excellent), we hoped to be left alone. We were.

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We ended up accidentally sleeping in until 9:30 and hit the road after some porridge in the sunshine. Today was the day we would reach the Atlantic, and that spurned us on to make great progress to St. Brevin.

Nantes to Saint Bonnet sur Gironde

The ocean wasn’t exactly delightful on first sight because the estuary was at low tide and the industrial port of St. Nazaire was a far from ideal backdrop.

Nantes to Saint Bonnet sur Gironde

Eventually, we hit the actual Atlantic coast and were met with beautiful sandy beaches, which is not really what I expected from the French seaside.

We ended up completing 79.3 kilometres that day and seeing some lovely little seaside towns and historic fishing villages along the way.

Our camping spot for the night was less than ideal because we couldn’t find anything appropriate for miles. Just outside the fishing town of Bourgneuf-en-Retz, we ended up tucking ourselves into some forest next to the ocean and enjoying dinner (not the chips; that was just an appetizer) in our little forest den amidst the rabbit holes.

We had organized a stay with a Warmshowers host in St-Jean-de-Monts while we were in Nantes and made our way there slowly after getting a bit turned around near the town of Le Gois where there exists a tidal roadway to the popular tourist spot island, Iles Des Moutiers.

We had heard of this place solely because of an episode of Chef’s Table France that showcases La Marine, a Michelin star restaurant there, but because dishes range from between 64 and 148 euros, and the tide wasn’t going to be low enough to get there for another 5 hours, alas, we decided to just stick to our tuna wraps and enjoy the view of the island from a distance.

We arrived in St-Jean-de-Monts mid-afternoon and took a break on the beautiful seafront promenade to bask in the sun and stretch out our weary muscles.

Nantes to Saint Bonnet sur Gironde

After a stop at the shop for some wine and dessert to share with our host, we arrived at Stéphane’s lovely blue-shuttered, spotless home just on the outskirts of the town. Stéphane was an incredible host and we enjoyed a delicious hot shower, the chance to do some much-needed laundry (we had both been wearing the same shirts for three days at this point…) and a tasty quiche with wine for dinner. We also got a chance to hear all about Stéphane’s adventures in South America with his husband which lasted two years and sounded a lot more adventurous and exciting than anything our trip has been so far! It was a wonderful stay and I slept like a baby in the real bed he provided for us.

Next up, Christian will tell you all about our voyage to the the orchard on the estuary!

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Author: Bronwyn

Musician, teacher, traveller. Currently on a year-long journey around the world. Bronwyn is one of the founders of onlyamazingdays.com.

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