Day 35 – In Which Two Lost Sheep are Found and Returned to the Fold

With only two more day’s of cycling left to be completed before we reach our destination at Le Croisic, it is normal for riders to feel mixed emotions. On the one hand it is a great personal achievement for all the participants and there is a natural desire to reach the finishing line, but on the other hand it is usually tinged with the sadness that our long awaited adventure will soon be over. After one final free day at Le Croisic our riders will each scatter all over Europe to continue their own individual journeys.

The hotel in Champtoceaux was very popular with all modern facilities and a breathtaking view. It was a pity about the unreliable Internet connection here. When I last stayed at the same hotel two years ago they had the same problem and I was disappointed that they had not taken any steps to improve it. It was a strange sight to see a group of our riders huddled with their tablets and notebooks in the downstairs lounge at 7 am in the morning, trying to get a reliable Internet connection before breakfast.

Like the meal of the previous evening, the breakfast was also of a high standard, especially the wonderful baguettes from the nearby Boulangerie. I am sure that we are all going to miss that crunchy bread when we go home to Australia.

The sky was again clear as we began our ride, although there was an early morning chill in the air. We did not ride back down the big hill we had climbed up to get into town but followed a series of quiet roads in the opposite direction. A final quick descent brought us back to our familiar river bank. Just as welcome as the downhill was the steady tail wind that was pushing our backs for most of the day. It was such a contrast to those early freezing wet days we had suffered at the start of our ride when we left Orleans. That suffering now seems like a dim distant memory as conditions have certainly swung in our favour. It now looks certain that we will have bright sunny weather all the way to the end. Absolutely perfect for riding.

Once again we stocked up with supplies for a riverside picnic and rolled along happily with our baguettes and cakes safely in our panniers. There was no chance that Ron would be going hungry this afternoon.

Since the day’s ride was quite short, we knew that we would be arriving in Nantes relatively early in the day. Soon after 12 noon we started to see the first signs of high rise buildings on the outskirts of this large city. With almost 1 million people living in Nantes and its suburbs, it is the 6th largest city in France. After our somewhat stressful entry into Angers we were a little apprehensive at the prospect of riding into such a large city in the middle of a weekday.

We managed to find a likely looking spot for our picnic lunch and entertained a couple of local residents with our antics by the side of the bike path. After a lengthy break it was back on the bikes and into the big city. To our relief it was actually quite civilised and we managed to find our hotel safely and easily. The Best Western Graslin Hotel is situated in a beautiful part of town and it has a distinctly Art Deco character. Apart from the unfortunate noxious sewer smell permeating the main city plaza, we were all quite impressed with the city itself.

While we were returning to our hotel after having an initial look around the town, we were thrilled to see two familiar faces making their way up the hill to the Hotel entrance. It was David and Carol, our two lost sheep. Carol had only recently been discharged from hospital following her operation and David had apparently been trying to entertain her by driving her around Nantes in ever diminishing circles for the past hour and a half. He had also adjusted her new walking frame by setting each leg to a slightly different length, ensuring that it was virtually impossible for her to stand upright. Judging by the way it wobbled like a $2 rickshaw, it looked like David had also forgotten to tighten any of the screws that held the contraption together. No wonder she looked like she was ready to beat him around the head with what was left of it.

We grabbed David’s suitcases and pointed up the hill to the hotel door. It was only about 100 metres away and  I calculated that it would take Carol no more than about 45 minutes to make her way there.  In the meantime David looked like he had been dragged backwards through a meat grinder. I had to admit that the normally unflappable guy was showing distinctive signs of fraying around the edges.

We were glad that the friendly concierge from the hotel also came out to help by barracking for Carol to shuffle faster, before finally lifting her off both feet to get her through the doorway. I think that, if I had been in the same position, some of the nearby people would have been severely injured by this time. Once again she impressed us all by retaining her sense of humour in spite of what was a very difficult situation. Carol and David really have captured all our hearts over the past few weeks and we were all devastated when Carol’s accident took place. It was wonderful to see them again but we can appreciate what a challenge the next few days will be for them.