It’s always amazing what a difference a few hours can make. After an outstanding meal at the Ecu de Bretagne Hotel, a good night’s sleep and dry clothes on our backs, we were all feeling refreshed and (almost) ready for anything. We spent a few minutes exploring some more of the delightful little village of Beaugency before finding the trail and heading off for our next destination at the town with the completely unpronounceable name of Blois.
Although the skies looked threatening, we were able to stay dry as we pedaled along a lovely succession of tiny lanes and bike paths. We regularly came back to the mighty Loire River which was the theme of our ride. After the mud and puddles of the previous day, it was relief to find that the vast majority of the paths were sealed and smooth.
At the head of our peloton was David Yates who had kindly volunteered to be our navigator for the day. Since our ride was a “self guided” trip we had to rely on our own map reading skills if we were to correctly find our way from place to place. Although I have always been a great believer of equality of the sexes, I sometimes wonder why all the ladies seem to take a step backwards whenever I ask for a volunteer map reader for the day.
We had not ridden too far before the unmistakable silhouette of a large power plant began to take shape on the horizon. As we got closer we could see that it was obviously an early generation nuclear power plant, probably built about the same time as Chernobyl. Huge clouds of steam (and possibly a toxic cocktail of other pollutants) billowed high into the sky from its huge towers.
As we reached the point in the path directly opposite the huge smoking reactors we found a local Frenchman happily picking walnuts from a large overhanging tree. We stopped to see what he was doing. Unfortunately we only have about 3 words of French in our collective vocabulary and our new French friend spoke no English at all. On the other hand I discovered that both he and I spoke fluent Gibberish and so we were able to communicate together perfectly well.
He explained that he had worked in the nuclear plant opposite for most of his working life and went on to say that it was perfectly safe. I looked down in the water and watched the three eyed fish swimming around happily and had to agree that it did seem pretty safe. Our friend put down his basket and pulled out some of his finest walnuts for us to sample. It turned out that most of them were rotten and completely inedible, but their luminous glow does make them quite useful as night lights. We waved Au Revoir, and our friend went back to collecting more rotten nuts while we rode away. Those sort of encounters are what travel is all about.
Our morning tea stop was at the tiny little village of Muides Sur Loire. We went looking for a place to buy some morning tea and, once again, discovered that the French have no concept of combining coffee and cakes at the same outlet. Although the typical little shop could sell you a cup of cafe au lait , they all looked amazed if you asked them for anything to eat with it. In other towns the few shops that sold cakes NEVER sold coffee. Someone could make a fortune by opening up a chain of shops selling coffee and cake to the cyclists who ride this famous route.
Our major stop for the day was at the mighty Chambord Chateau. This huge palace was built for the famous Francois Ist and it would have been quite an impressive castle if the designers had quit while they were ahead and not been tempted to add dozens of hideous towers and turrets all over the roof. They looked like some sort of malignant skin tags that had grown uncontrolled on the top of the building. When I saw this building for the first time a couple of years ago, I remember thinking that it looked like the work of a manic designer. On this second visit my opinion had not changed.
While we were sitting outside the Chateau having lunch and trying to count the turrets, I could not help but wonder how Group 2 was faring. They were following in our tyre marks one day behind, so every experience we had, they would have a similar experience on the following day. In particular, I was worried about one member of that group who had demonstrated that they had apparently not read any of my very important pre trip emails. When I was explaining to my own group members the importance of reading all email instructions carefully, one of our ladies replied that “she usually didn’t read the backs of emails”, as if that explained everything. I am still trying to figure that one out.
After our visit to Chambord, David resumed his position at the head of the peloton and led us out of the gardens and right back along the path we had ridden in on. Numerous mutinous shouts came from those behind “We came in this way”, “I want to go the other way”, I am not going anywhere”, “I want another coffee” and so on. David tried hard to look confident and explained that the instructions said we had to come back this way. Ross went red in the face and cast doubts on David’s intellect and birth status. I, on the other hand, remained loyal and assured David I would follow him all the way back to Beaugency if that’s what he wanted.
By the time we had passed the garden full of gnomes for the 4th time, we were getting a little frustrated. “David is a hopeless navigator”, someone shouted. “A drover’s dog could do a better job”, another added. “They could be right” I quietly advised him. He finally relented and we all turned around for about the fifth time and eventually discovered the little green marker that indicated we were back on track. It probably only wasted about an hour or so, so it wasn’t a complete disaster. Later David remarked that it was all done on purpose to ensure that he will never have to do that job again. Perhaps that was also Tony Abbott’s excuse as well.
Once we were back on track the rest of the ride went without a hitch. The trails were well marked and made for fantastic cycling. The final section took us along the banks of the river and into the large city of Blois (best pronounced by saying “B” and then putting one finger to the back of your throat. Of course by this time we had ridden well over 50 km and and 10 of our 13 riders (all the women)were complaining loudly that they wanted a rest.
We finally crossed the huge old bridge across the river and discovered that our hotel was at the top of the highest point in the town. More complaining. At 6 pm we were standing in the reception waiting to be checked in. It had been a long day, but at least the weather had been much kinder to us.
At this point I would like to add a little bit of historical background to a strange phenomenon that has plagued all of our previous 30 or so overseas rides. The little known Himalayan Barking Spider is a small creature with a very loud and unpleasant mating call. It was first noted one evening after a particularly large meal of beans, onions and lentils. When everyone had retreated to their bedrooms, the still night air was rent with regular loud spider barks. Some insisted that they must be under the beds, but we could never find them. I have often known them to hide under the toilet seat, but again they resist all efforts of detection.
Since that earliest manifestation, these barking spiders have plagued every subsequent trip, sometimes reaching epidemic proportions. I have been tempted to contact someone like Richard Attenborough to shed some light on the matter. In the meantime it is just something we have learned to live with. Suffice to say that this trip has demonstrated that the notorious barking spider has infested France as well as all the other countries we have visited.