Since this is the day that we start our ride, it also officially marks the date that our participants split into two groups. Since I will be riding with Group 1 (the better group) I thought it might be worth taking a little time to list each of the riders in this group.
David and Carol Yates – both have been riding with the Ghostriders for some time. David is heavily tattooed but has explained that, since he had them done when he was only 8 years old, he should not be judged by them. Apparently he once belonged to a very bad crowd when he was in grade 2. This will be their first overseas ride with the Ghostriders.
Pauline Lister – Pauline lives in Cooma where the sun hardly ever shines. She has taken part in numerous previous trips including the 2011 Danube Ride, the 2012 Turkey adventure and the 2014 Finland and Sweden rides. On a personal note, Pauline also shares 2 grandchildren with Maggie and me,
Priscilla Lister – Priscilla is Pauline’s daughter in law. This is her first overseas ride with us, however she comes from a serious cycling family. She started off a little quiet but can now laugh as loud as the rest of the women.
Ross and Fran Luke – both have been riding with the Ghostriders for some time. Ross took part in our 2014 Finland and Sweden rides, although this will be Fran’s first overseas ride.
Liz Kwok – the only person who can eat a Nutella crepe without getting any of the contents down the front of their clothes, Liz is a very competent rider who has already taken part in our 2014 New Zealand ride.
Mary Kinch – a very experienced Physiotherapist and therefore a handy person to have as part of our team. This will be her first overseas ride with the Ghostriders.
Sue Rainsford – since Sue is a doctor she is also a very valuable team member. Unfortunately, since her specialty is palliative care, we hope her services will not be required. Sue has already participated in a number of previous rides, including the 2011 Danube ride and the 2014 Finland and Sweden rides.
Eugenie Teychenne – Eugenie has been a personal friend of ours since she was our son’s first violin teacher about 25 years ago. She took up cycling especially for this trip as she has always wanted to visit France.
Sally Aridi – a close friend of Eugenie’s and the youngest rider in this group. Not yet old enough to suffer miscellaneous aches and pains like the rest of us.
Dennis and Maggie Dawson – since Maggie has been studying French for many years, she is the closest thing we have to a French speaker in the group. This is her first overseas ride with the Ghostriders. She also occupies the very important position of the real power behind the throne.
The first day of our ride would take us from Orleans to Beaugency. Since it was only a short ride of around 30 km it should have been a gentle prologue to the rest of the ride. As it turned out, fate had a completely different script prepared for us……
Perhaps we should have seen that things were not going to all go smoothly when the first disaster occurred before we had even retrieved our bikes from the storage shed. At breakfast time I heard a shout and looked up to see Fran covered in raw egg, dripping profusely from her fingers and elbows. Apparently she had mistaken the bowl of fresh eggs for hard boiled ones and had energetically proceeded to shatter it in her own face. She had obviously not seen the egg boiler situated prominently on the breakfast bar.
Of course we had all wished for a lovely warm sunny day to start the ride. We might as well as wished for a premature visit from Santa, the Easter Bunny and Elvis Presley. When we looked out the window we were “greeted” by leaden skies and steady rain. It had that particular sort of character that looked like it might set in for the next fortnight. On with the rain jackets.
Out we tramped into the rear courtyard to collect our bikes. Unfortunately the key did not fit the lock. Another ten minutes standing in the rain trying to get the door unlocked. Half of the riders discovered that their cheap “rain jackets” were already leaking profusely and we had not even started riding.
We tramped across the road to join the bike path. It was time for the obligatory happy group photo. Thirteen sodden cyclists lined up their bikes and pretended to smile. Unfortunately there was water on the lens and the picture did not work. We thought that things could only get better from that point on. We were wrong.
The early route was easy to follow, even in the torrential rain. We rolled along, splashing water and mud into the faces of those alongside and behind us. “This should stop soon”, I announced. In fact, it didn’t. It got heavier. Maggie started asking for a coffee stop, even though we had only been riding for 10 minutes. I couldn’t see where we were going since my glasses were covered in water and I think that the water had also affected my eyes as well. My expensive rain jacket had also given up the ghost in the onslaught and was now also letting in copious amounts of water.
“At least it’s not cold”, I encouraged the team. That worked for a short time, until the temperature started to plummet as well. Just when we thought things could not get any worse, they did. Sue suffered the first puncture of the day.
I must admit that I had been a little worried that Sue had had trouble keeping up with the glacial speed of the peloton. She is normally a strong rider and this seemed out of character. She had also been complaining that her “wheels were not round”, but I had put that down to hyperthermia. It turned out that there really was something VERY wrong with her bike.
Dave had been riding as the tail gunner and gave me a call on the CB radio that Sue had a puncture. Unfortunately his frozen fingers also managed to activate the emergency assist beacon, resulting in an ear splitting siren and sending out a distress call to all those within radio range. A few minutes later we noticed a local police car stopping beside the track to investigate. We tried to pretend we knew nothing about it. We had more pressing problems than to initiate a conflict with the local Gendarmes.
While the rest of the group rode ahead Dave and I started to dismantle Sue’s bike. It was only when we removed the tyre that we discovered that the previous user of the bike had obviously made some unusual modifications. Stuffed inside the tyre was an oversized tube that had been doubled over in an attempt to get it to fit inside the tyre. I had never seen anything like it. It was no wonder she thought that she was riding on square wheels.
For the next 20 minutes we wrestled with the repair before finally giving thanks for the huge floor pump that I had strapped to the back of my bike. At least it made it easy to pump up the tyre. We were finally on our way again, soaked to the skin and Dave and I had grease all over our hands as well. It was the proverbial “icing on the bad cake”.
“I think the sky is clearing”, I suggested. But what would I know, I couldn’t see anything by that stage. We finally caught up with the rest of the riders at the beautiful little hamlet of Meung sur Loire and immediately looked for a coffee shop. We found a likely place, but the proprietor took one look at us and told us not to sit at his lovely clean tables. I don’t blame him one bit.
He did agree to sell us coffees, provided we stood near the bar. At that point Pauline came in the door with even more bad news. For those that thought the day could not get any worse, they were really underestimating things. The worst was yet to come.
“Somebody’s bike is making a funny noise”, she said. That was a new one on me. I had never heard of a bike farting before but I guess there is a first time for everything. I followed her outside and, when I heard the noise, I immediately knew that there was nothing remotely funny about it. It was the sound of air rapidly escaping from Maggie’s inner tube. “Sacre Bleu, this is getting ridiculous”. We only had one puncture in the entire 2013 France ride and we had now had 2 in the space of the first 20 km of this ride.
I called for Ross to put down his coffee and lend some assistance. I went and bought a cake at the nearby Patisserie and stood and watched while Ross went to work. I know I should have felt guilty, but I can honestly say – I didn’t. After all, it was a lovely cake and someone had to eat it. My actions were also vindicated when I was able to prevent a little old French lady from leaving her purse behind in the shop after buying her morning baguette. That indicated that I really was meant to be there at that time.
Another 30 minutes went past while Ross and David tried to untangle themselves from the greasy chain while they figured out how to remount the rear wheel. Eventually we were ready to leave. The rain even stopped for about 30 seconds. Things were definitely on the improve.
For at least a kilometre we were in high spirits, riding through the deep mud puddles that the rain had created on the trail. The women started looking for another toilet stop. Maggie started slowing down again. “I think my back wheel is acting funny”, she explained. I glanced down and saw immediately that she had been riding along on the rim. The tyre was as flat as the lamingtons she had tried to cook soon after our marriage. This was getting ridiculous.
A small group pulled to a stop while the others pedaled on into the gloom. Within a few minutes I had succeeded in recovering my hands with grease and mud and, once again, set about removing the tyre. Ross then spent the next 10 minutes searching for anything caught in the tyre that might have caused both punctures. We looked and looked but could not find anything.
While all this was happening I spied a strange change in the storm clouds overhead. It looked like some sort of apocalyptic event was rapidly approaching. I mentioned this to Ross and he looked in the opposite direction and said “our weather comes from that direction”. He was wrong. Very wrong. The violent squall swept across the paddocks, the wind blew all our bikes away and we huddled to save ourselves from the hailstones. Fran managed to crawl underneath a pile of bikes, in fear of her life. I must admit it really was rather frightening. The teeming rain increased to an absolute deluge. Any part of our bodies that was not soaked through certainly was now. I was tempted to crawl into the nearby Loire in order to stay dryer. David showed that, somewhere in his ancestry, he was related to a chameleon. His whole body quickly changed to a dark blue colour and he started shaking violently. For a while it looked like we would all make the front pages of the Australian papers in the worst possible way.
Fortunately the squall only lasted for a few minutes, but unfortunately it was followed by a rapid drop in temperature. By now we were all freezing, wet through and filthy. It could not possibly get any worse. But it did.
We somehow managed to ride the remaining few kilometres to the beautiful medieval town of Beaugency and entered our hotel, dropping water and shaking like maracas. “But your rooms zey will not be redee for another 2 hours”, the manager apologised. “And your bags have not arrived yet”, he added for good measure. We huddled together in a rictus of shared misery. This was going to be a long and very cold afternoon.
A little while later there was the first ray of sunshine in a very bleak series of events. The manager had a change of heart and announced that we could have our rooms after all, not that we could do much without any dry clothes to change into. Everybody adopted their own survival tactics. Apparently Dave spent the next hour under the shower, Sally and Eugenie jumped into a hot bath together, other just climbed straight into bed (pity about the white sheets), Maggie and I huddled around the heater and the heated towel rack. That towel rack was put to continuous use over the next few hours as we dried all our clothes, shoes, underwear, etc.
Our luggage did safely arrive a couple of hours later and somehow everything all worked out OK in the end. In a strange way, it can be these types of really tough days which people look back on with affection in the years ahead. One thing is certain, we all fell in love with this beautiful town and its profusion of brightly coloured flowers. Our stay was too short to really do it justice, but we will all have very fond memories of our brief time here.
In the evening the Hotel (Ecu de Bretagne) gave us the best meal we have had so far on this trip. We all agreed that it had been a day that we will never forget. At least we know that the weather could not possibly get any worse. If we could survive that, we can survive anything.