I have eaten at some interesting places in my life but the restaurant we dined at in Nantes surely was right up there. It was only a very short walk (or roll as in Carol’s case) from our hotel to the nearby La Cigalle Restaurant. Apparently this is a very famous place, and the line up of uniformed staff at the front entrance certainly made for an impressive welcome. I am not so sure that we were correctly dressed for the occasion. After so long on the bikes, the selection of available, even reasonably, clean clothes was rather limited.
We followed Carol in her wheelchair up the street like some procession of acolytes following the Delai Lama to his royal inauguration. The Maitre ‘d looked us up and down and I suspect that we all fell well short of his high standards, but he did do his best to open the door to allow Carol to enter without crushing her foot more than seven or eight times, then ushered us through the elaborate interior to our allocated table. The interior of this restaurant really is something else, looking a bit like a combination of something from the Arabian Nights and Donald Trump’s toilet. All the available walls are covered with an incredible assortment of coloured tiles and murals. I am sure that the pictures I tried to take will never really capture the spirit of this place.
We then spent the next two hours eating and laughing until the staff were very happy to see the last of us. With only two days of riding to go till our adventure is completed, I think we all had a mixture of emotions. Although a ride of this type is not on the same scale as swimming the English Channel, it still constitutes a significant challenge for most people. The physical demands are only one part of the equation. There are also the added pressures of living out of a suitcase day after day, adapting to other people’s personalities and dealing with food that might not always be to your particular taste. It is normal for the demands to start to take their toll towards the end of a ride, and for riders to look forward to climbing off the bike for the last time. On the other hand, when you have looked forward to something for such a long time, you don’t want the magic to ever end.
The next day we began our final day of riding along the Loire to the wide river estuary at St Brevin. The following day of riding would then take us away from the river and up north to the lovely coastal town of Le Croisic. Since the wild weather we experienced in the first couple of days out of Orleans, we were all relieved that the true autumn sunshine had returned and we had enjoyed a succession of lovely sunny days. As cyclists we were also extremely happy that our early run of punctures had stopped and that we were being gently pushed along by a wonderful tail wind. In fact the conditions for riding were ideal. Perhaps too ideal.
For the past couple of days we had been buying our lunches and then taking them to a convenient picnic stop by the river. It became part of our routine to visit the Boulangerie and buy a baguette and a cake for Ron (later Ron). When we found a likely looking pile of prepared baguettes I bought one for me and one for Maggie. We joked that they were “both for Ron”. As it turned out I wish that Ron had been there to eat the one I bought for him.
As we sat and ate our picnic lunch I thought that the egg, mayonnaise and chicken tasted a bit strong, but what would I know ? I was hungry and there was no sign of Ron anyway. I not only ate his baguette, I ate his cream filled eclair as well. We did not have too far left to ride and, since the conditions were so lovely, I quickly forgot about the lunch. I wish lunch had forgotten about me.
We reached St Brevin and posed by the side of the huge estuary and looked at the massive bridge across the river to St Nazair, relieved that we would not have to ride our bikes over that monster. It was a wonderful feeling of accomplishment that we had followed this river for so many hundreds of kilometres and had seen it change so much along the way. For the past three weeks we had been witnesses to so many fascinating aspects of French life and culture. On a ride like this you not only learn a lot about the country you are riding through, but you also learn so much more about yourself. You learn that it really is possible to achieve some amazing things if you just put your mind to it.
Within a few minutes of arriving at the hotel in St Brevin, I also learned quite a bit about myself that I wish had remained unknown. After collecting our key I went to the room, looked at Maggie and said “I don’t feel well”. About 20 seconds later I repeated it with renewed emphasis “I really don’t feel well”, making a beeline for the toilet. The rest of that afternoon and evening was a bit of a blur. I didn’t get to see much of the town as it is quite difficult to see much when your head is deep inside the toilet bowl. Whatever I had bought for Ron, it certainly kicked like a mule.
The last time I had experienced food poisoning was on a trip to Kathmandu in 1999 and I remembered it as one of the worst experiences of my life. This was certainly not on the same scale, but it was enough to ensure that, while the rest were enjoying what was apparently one of the best meals of the whole trip, I was restricted to making short, but frequent trips back and forth between my bed and the toilet. I felt like an elephant was sitting on my stomach and could not help but curse Ron for not eating his own foul toxic baguette.
It turned into a long and mostly sleepless night and I knew that the final day of riding was going to be a real challenge.