Day 33 – In Which Sally Takes the Lead into Montjean

After the very stressful ride we had into Angers in the Friday afternoon peak hour traffic we were all a little apprehensive about running the gauntlet again on the way out of town. We needn’t have. As we rolled away from our hotel at 9 am on a quiet Sunday morning, the streets were still almost deserted. Obviously those who had once again spent the night in the streets training their vocal chords for the shouting championships had finally retired to bed.

Just as important was the fact that the day had dawned bright and clear and the advance weather forecasts promised no more rain for the remainder of our ride. It was finally appearing that things were falling into place. We managed to quickly leave the confines of Angers and resume our journey along the bike path. There were quite a few out jogging, walking their dogs or just enjoying the sunshine. Since we only had a relatively modest distance to cover, we did not need to rush and decided to take the ride slow and easy.

The European Autumn has now officially started and this often provides delightful periods of sunny and mild days and cool nights. This is often perfect for cycling. We even saw the first signs of the the changing colours of the leaves on the trees. In a few short weeks the whole appearance of these regions will change again as Autumn rapidly moves forward into winter.

After we had ridden about 10 km we noticed a large number of spectators gathering along the sides of the bike path. I knew that some locals were aware of our epic ride, but I had not expected this sort of reception. I looked down at the faded stains on the front of my jersey and wished that I had worn my best one for the day. Proudly taking the lead for once, I tried to maintain some semblance of pelotonic discipline as we approached the waiting throng. To my surprise and dismay, they weren’t actually there to meet us after all. We had ridden into some sort of huge kayaking event and there were hundreds of rowers and spectators, long lines of motor homes, countless support and transport vehicles, not to mention several hundred pet dogs as well. It became something of a challenge to wind our way through the throng without becoming another item on the local nightly news.

We finally emerged from the chaos and resumed our riding along the bike path. Since we had traveled for over an hour without a single coffee or toilet stop, our situation was becoming somewhat desperate. Fortunately we had not ridden much further when we found a lovely little open space, right on the river bank. It even had several likely looking eateries on both sides. The prospect of getting a coffee and cake looked promising, but once again we had to be satisfied with the proverbial “glass half full”. Although we were able to get quite reasonable coffee, the girl looked at me as though I had bitten her when I asked if they sold cakes as well.

While we were stopped we studied the flood levels for the major floods over the past century. It was quite staggering to see just how high the river does rise on regular occasions. I think the worst was in 1910, when I suspect that manufacture of arks must have been a popular pastime. In the Autumn of 2015 the Loire is peaceful and there is little prospect that we will be flooded out.

A little further on we reached the large bridge at Chalonnes Sur Loire. Although our route dictated that we stay on the right bank, as soon as we saw the array of eateries on the left bank, we agreed that it would be worth crossing the big bridge in order to get something for lunch. Since the Loire is now a wide river and the bridges are rather infrequent, any bridge crossing is usually associated with a busy road and lots of cars and trucks.

Although the first place we stopped at had not tables available, we soon found a full scale market in operation and also a fine Patisserie and Boulangerie. We were not going to starve after all. Since we only had about 10 km left to ride, we all decided that it would be a good place to sit in the sun and have a lazy lunch stop.

When we finally staggered to our feet, somehow something really strange happened within the peloton. Over the course of the previous 10 or so days, there had been a pattern established with some riders always heading to the front and others very happy to ride at the rear. I know that in a classroom, it is always those students who sit at the back of the class that are the ones that the teacher needs to watch the closest. Exactly the same principle applies to those riders who always go to the back. They are usually there to tell jokes, fool around, stop to take silly pictures and regularly go into fits of giggling. The ones at the front are those who study the maps, do their homework, diligently identify hazards and set a brisk pace for the ride.

You can imagine how surprised I was to find that, on the final 10 km leg into Montjean, the peloton had inverted itself. The naughty riders were at the front, with Sally actually leading the way. I must admit I had not seen that one coming and I nearly rode off the track and into one of the roadside stinging nettle patches, such was my amazement.The only other time Sally had taken over the group was way back in Paris when she led us on an errant goose chase all over Paris looking for a Metro Station.

This time Sally managed to find a couple of the direction indicators and we almost followed the correct route all the way to the lovely riverside town of Montjean. This is a quiet and quaint town that reminded me immediately of the town where Doc Martin terrorises all his patients. The architecture is distinctly maritime and there is an increasing number of fishing boats and other vessels visible in the river.

We had a superb evening meal, probably one of the best so far and the brilliant full moon shining on the river outside was a fitting final touch to a wonderful day.