The road away from the hotel was smooth, flat and almost deserted. On our right hand side was the mighty Loire River. With another clear sky overhead and no rain predicted for the next few days, it should have been a perfect ride. It wasn’t. A bicycle is meant to be quiet. Mine wasn’t. For the past few days a small click had been growing somewhere in my bike’s nether regions. By the start of today’s ride the click had developed in both volume and regularity so that it now accompanied every damn turn of my cranks. Click….Tick….Click.
A similar irritating and entirely unwelcome noise had become my companion for most of the Italy ride, and I had loved the sensation of riding in quietness for the first few days of this ride. My nemesis had now caught up with me and looked like it was going to be with me all the way to Le Croisic. I tried tightening the pedals. If anything it seemed to make the clicks louder. I tried kicking the bottom bracket. It didn’t get rid of the click, but it did make me feel a bit better. Short of chucking the bike in the Loire, there was not much more I could do. Perhaps I was being taught a valuable lesson in patience and long suffering. If so, I was obviously a poor student, as all it succeeded in doing was make me cranky.
Apart from my own on board symphony of sound, the rest of the ride went exceptionally well. Everyone was in high spirits and we were making excellent progress. If anything, our progress was actually too excellent. If we kept this up we would be at our destination at Champtoceaux far too early. We had plenty of time to fill and needed something to do with it. I came up with an idea.
The first likely looking opportunity for a coffee stop was at Saint Florent le Vieil. I decided to turn from the bike path and explore the town. My first effort led the peloton up a hill and straight into a dead end (en impasse). I tried to look like I had planned it and instructed the group to turn around. We then proceeded up another hill and discovered the town centre, complete with large coffee shop and, not one, but two Patisseries/Boulangeries. This was just what I had been hoping for, and revealed my plan for the day.
“Let’s buy lunch and then make a picnic by the river”, I suggested. Ever since this ride had begun we had learned to make sure we “bought enough food for Ron”. Whenever we had the chance to buy lollies or baguettes, we had to make sure that there was also plenty for Ron as well as ourselves. And who was this mysterious Ron ? Of course it was the legendary “Later Ron”.
Although the first patisserie was a complete disappointment as they didn’t sell sandwiches and their cakes looked second rate (some even went so far as to classify it as a rubbish cake shop), the second one turned out to be a veritable El Dorado. It had enough tooth rotting cakes to satisfy even the hungriest pelotons and the cooler was piled with freshly made baguettes with a delicious range of fillings. We really had struck it lucky this time. Some time later we all staggered from the shop with large bags filled with more than enough for us AND a whole army of Rons. There was no chance that Ron would be hungry today.
Since it was still too early for lunch we walked to the nearby coffee shop, ordered our coffees and then sat in the warm sunshine chatting and drinking coffee. This cycle touring can be highly demanding at time, but today was NOT one of those times. It was just plain good fun.
We managed to lose half the peloton on the way out of town, but that was not a serious matter as we did find them again later. Our next task was to find a place to enjoy our picnic by the river. When a suitable place was suggested a few kilometres later, there was no argument. Everyone was hungry and this was deemed a great time to share our lunches with Ron.
Another extended time was spent sitting in the sunshine, watching the river, wondering if the swans would swim our way and munching on our baguettes. It will remain a treasured memory of this trip, but when someone threw a banana peel into the undergrowth, I warned that could be dangerous as someone could slip over on it.
Reluctantly we remounted our bikes and rode for a few minutes before the women starting asking for another toilet stop. We managed to find a lovely opportunity (the location, not the toilet) by a series of green lagoons. The ladies lined up, the men waited. And waited.
The remainder of the afternoon’s ride was warm and easy and put everyone in a lovely mellow mood. When we were about 4 km from the hotel at Champtoceaux I stopped for the final rest break of the day. At the time some may have wondered why we stopped so close to the hotel, but the reason was answered when they turned the corner and saw the road reaching up to the skies. The hotel was situated on the top of a hill. Gears clicked down, heads dropped and the climbing started. If this hill had been encountered two weeks ago, it would probably have caused a riot. Now that all the riders are stronger, it was fascinating to see that most actually enjoyed the challenge. Even with the heavy bikes and loaded panniers, it was a strange sort of fun. The views from the summit certainly made all the effort worthwhile. The so called “Promenade of Champalud” rewarded us with the finest views of the entire ride. Standing at the lookout we could see up and down a huge section of the Loire Valley.
After dinner we all climbed back to the lookout. The experts had predicted the best full moon of the year – the so called “Blood Moon” and we wanted to experience it from the best spot possible. As we stood and gazed at the twinkling lights of the scattered villages and the enormous full moon overhead, I am sure that we were all satiated. And I am sure that Ron slept especially well that night.