Day 31 – In Which one of our Riders Barks at a Helpful Frenchwoman – and DISASTER STRIKES

In every extended ride there is the longest day. That is the day that all the riders look forward to with a mixture of apprehension and excitement. Once that day’s ride is completed, they know that the rest of the ride will be easier in comparison. For the Loire River Ride the longest day’s ride is the section from Saumur to Angers. Although the distance is only around 62 km, it does contain a wide variety of riding experiences and finishes with a demanding entry into Angers (a city of over 400,000 population with a lot of very busy roads).

At least I knew that the weather forecast from the preceding couple of days was quite good. That meant that we would not be contending with rain as well as long hours in the saddle. It was a pity that the local weather bureau did not inform the actual clouds themselves about what sort of weather they were meant to provide for us. When we wheeled our bikes out of the storage shed we were greeted with drizzle and the promise of much more to come. Not exactly a perfect start.

I skilfully led the peloton out of the city and straight into the middle of army maneuvers. Numerous groups of waterlogged soldiers were jogging in various directions staring at maps. Presumably they were trying to read the directions to the nearest Patisserie. Some of them looked keen but I had to admit that the majority looked like they would rather be somewhere else. I thought I would assist by yelling out an encouraging “Allez, Allez”, but I suspect that it was about as welcome as a stale baguette at Christmas. We dodged around the soldiers and kept on riding.

The early rain slowly dried to a stop and a few breaks in the clouds became visible. Spirits immediately lifted. They lifted even more when we rolled into the small town of Gennes and found a likely looking place for morning tea. To our unmitigated joy, the place not only sold pretty good coffee, but it also had a good supply of chocolates and lollies as well. This really was a lovely surprise and we set about stuffing our panniers with copious quantities of sugar laden treats for the remainder of the ride.

It was now time to cross the Loire River back onto the north bank. This involves traversing a long and busy bridge at Les Rosiers Sur Loire.  As we walked our bikes across the bridge we could see how much the river had grown since the early days of our ride. Walking across such a long bridge built up quite a hunger and we immediately set about looking for a place to buy lunch before the shops all closed for the compulsory daily siesta. It was a relief that we managed to find one of the most awarded Boulangeries in the region and were able to order our baguette sandwiches just before the shop closed at 1 pm sharp.

We then all happily sat on the church steps munching our sandwiches and eating cake. Obviously Malcolm Fraser was completely wrong when he said that “life was not meant to be easy”. At that moment we all thought it was pretty darn perfect. After finishing our lunches the women demanded the 14th toilet stop of the day so we went riding around the town looking for the familiar toilette sign.

After a vigorous search they did locate a single toilet a little further down the road and then all proceeded to line up to utilise its facilities. The men waited while the ladies created history by setting a new Guiness Record for the longest toilet stop ever (by a considerable margin). I watched the sun sink lower in the sky while we waited and waited for the queue to slowly progress, until finally the last bladder was emptied (mine) and it was time to leave.

As we rode back past the church a local French lady caught our attention. She was trying to ask us (or tell us) something. Unfortunately she couldn’t speak a word of English and we had absolutely no idea what she was saying. Finally Pauline deciphered the word “lost” and guessed that she must have lost something. Carol immediately took a huge leap of deduction and for some completely unknown reason assumed that the lady must have lost her dog. “Woof woof”, Carol barked at the lady, while pretending to be a large dog. You could imagine the lady’s surprise and confusion at this turn of events.  What she had been trying to tell us was that someone had left their purse on the church steps and they wanted to know if it belonged to one of us. Of course it was one of ours, in fact Carol has made an art form of leaving valuables everywhere she goes. When she was reunited with her purse she hugged and kissed the finder (well he was quite a good looking fellow after all) and resumed the ride. It really was a stroke of good fortune that we had not just ridden straight off and left the purse behind.

Mid way through the afternoon we also faced another serious challenge. We had to cross a sizable river without using a bridge. The only way across was a small ferry which had to be dragged across by pulling on a chain. Because of its small size, only about 4 or 5 could travel across at a time. The challenge was not so much as in pulling the little boat across, but in trying not to wet yourself laughing in the process. After an hysterical 15 minutes or so, all our team members were gathered on the opposite bank, ready to resume the ride.

The final 30 km of the ride took us right away from the towns and through a variety of quiet rural areas and some new housing estates. It was only when we reached the outskirts of Angers that we rode straight into the peak hour traffic of a very large and busy city. This is a rather stressful time, but somehow we avoided being run down by trucks and buses and made it safely to our hotel. Since the longest day was now behind and, since the next day would be our second rest day, we were all looking forward to a shower and a rest.

A single phone call can change the complexion of a day instantly, and this is exactly what happened when the phone in our room rang just before we were due to meet for dinner. When Maggie answered it, it did not take long for me to detect that it was bad news. Very bad news. Carol had slipped under the shower and had fallen heavily on her right ankle. We are fortunate to have a doctor in our team and Sue had already had an initial examination and felt that it was broken. An ambulance was called and the news quickly spread around our shocked riders. This really was a disaster. Carol had worked so hard both before and during the ride and we were all so proud that she had made it through every challenge. She always wore a huge smile and was very highly regarded by all of us. We all wanted so much for every rider to be able to roll across the final finishing line together in a few day’s time. Although we hoped that the ankle was just sprained, I think we all feared the worst.

The ambulance soon arrived with a couple of energetic young paramedics. They even managed to get Carol to break into another of her huge smiles when they loaded her into the back on the ambulance and sped off down the street with lights and sirens sounding. Although it was not the way the script was meant to go, I had to admit that it was a dramatic moment and one that we will be able to laugh about in the years to come. Later that evening we received the confirmation that the ankle was indeed broken and that she would require surgery to pin the bones. Her ride had ended prematurely and we all deeply shared David and Carol’s shock and disappointment.