This is the last stretch.
The last real leg of this bike tour involves a planned eight-day ride north on the bikes to bring us into Paris, a place where we will officially end the trip together. Ray and I will fly to Ontario on June 29th; Bronwyn returns to the U.K. to spend some time with friends and family before joining me back in Canada three weeks later. But before any of that can happen – before any of the packing or parting or reflections on the whole trip can happen – we need to get ourselves to Paris. We’ve guessed that it will be a shade over 600 km to get there, and we have eight days to do it, fully loaded.
We had breakfast with Suzanne, Peter, Eva and Dale in Figeac before leaving them so we could beat the heat. Ah, the heat. The forecast was calling for heat. Before we had finished our coffee and croissants the temperature was approaching 30ºC and it was just going to get hotter over the course of the day.
We knew that early starts would have to be the modus operandi for these last days if we were going to survive the climbs and make it to Paris on schedule. So off we went, leaving family and friends once again as we worked our way north.
It started off with a lot of climbing as soon as we passed the Célé River and faced the other side of the valley. Our goal for the day was to make it back into the Dordogne region to camp; our math suggested that we would need to ride around 75 km each day to stay on schedule regardless of elevation climb, so day one brought us back into some familiar territory.
The day was filled with long stretches of river valleys and distant green mountains and, well, heat. We repeatedly promised each other that the remaining seven days of this leg would have to start with or before sunrise. We stopped in a small park in Bretenoux and ate some prepared lunch that we picked up at the grocery store the day before. When we finally found the Dordogne at kilometre 54, we had to stop for a river swim.
After sweating all day, the river was irresistible, but we were reluctant to jump in because of the silty quicksand bottom of the riverbank and the river grasses that lurked just below the surface. Why does that cause otherwise rational adults to hesitate? Are there mysteries lurking in the abyss? The first three metres from the edge were grassy but refreshing, and I knew I could swim past the grasses to the deeper, clearer water. Once past the grass we were treated to some of the coldest water I have ever submerged myself in. This was polar-bear-swim cold. This was ice-bucket-challenge cold. The heat from the day was ripped right off of us and we lasted all of 3 minutes before we were clambering through the silty, grassy riverbank back to the summer air.
We continued until Brivezac before we had to stop to top up our water supply at a cemetery. While I hunted around for the tap Bronwyn found a dark (and wonderfully cool) church to take some shelter from the sun.
When we finally found our campground in Le Vaurette near Monceaux-sur-Dordogne, we were drained and sun soaked. We must have looked really bad because the woman working at the counter gave us a discount for no real reason that I can think of other than pure pity. We found a glorious little riparian camping spot before heading over to the wonderful swimming pool and soaking the day away.
The next day, we made it as far as Meymac, but it was the most challenging day we’ve biked in France and easily one of the hardest roughest days of the entire Only Amazing Days trip. The total climb for the day was 1,435 m, which is almost a kilometre and a half of elevation gain. The worst was at kilometre 9 when Google’s recommendation directed us up a hiking trail that found us pushing our bikes uphill through dirt and stones for two kilometres. While we were relieved to see Saint-Martin-la-Méanne after an hour of dragging our bikes on foot, I wouldn’t say that the charming hilltop town was worth it.
Even with a 6:30 a.m. start, it took us so long to cover our 82 kilometres that we were on the road for about 12 hours. I think we probably each drank about six litres of water before the day was done and not even a 90-minute siesta stop could recharge our spirits. It was a day that left us questioning our motives but likely strengthened our partnership. And that kind of thing is always worth it.
We decided not to mess around the next day. Our alarm went off at 4:44 a.m., and we were rolling out an hour later. This definitely helped with the heat of the day, but there were still over 1,000 metres of climb to conquer over the course of the 65 kilometres we rode. To make matters more interesting (read: worse). we found ourselves adopted by swarms of pre-dawn flies that were scouting our mouths and ears as options for a new colony.
I’m not sure if they were attracted to our reflective vests or the funk of cycle touring we were emanating, but they had an affection for our intimate personal space in a way that I’ve never experienced. Fortunately, they weren’t interested in biting us or landing in our eyes, so it eventually became a matter of outrunning them until the sun forced them to retreat back into the plagued forest from whence they came.
When we made it to Felletin around 9:30 a.m., we were on the lookout for a place to enjoy a coffee and some croissants. An old man standing at about 150 cm talked our ear off about how he had been a local champion cyclist back in his day. Based on his age and the way that he struggled to move around as he described his experience, my guess is that his day was probably about 50 years ago. We got such a kick out of him; he wish us well and bon courage before waddling into the roundabout in the middle of town and disrupting the traffic that passed us.
These first three days were intense. That evening we arrived at Camping La Perle and enjoyed their beer and above-ground pool until it was time for bed.
I originally set out to wait and then write about all eight days to Paris in one blog post, but the experience has been so action packed that it deserves a second (and possibly third – we’ll see how it goes) post to describe what will be the culminating road trip for our year of touring. Bronwyn and I looked at some of the numbers for our trip in terms of time spent riding versus time spent doing other things, and I’ll talk about that in the next post. Thanks as always for reading!
Middle school teacher on hiatus/budding permaculturalist currently cycling the world. Sometimes he acts in plays and film. Mostly he travels and blogs about it. Christian is one of the founders of onlyamazingdays.com