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  • Day21

    On the Road Again

    September 10 in France ⋅ 🌙 15 °C

    After our three days of relative inactivity (actually disorganised mayhem), it was time to resume our cycling. After all, that was why we had come all this way to the far side of the planet.

    Before we could start riding we first had to get bikes. That is sort of a basic fact of the universe. But there was a problem, There often is. I received a phone call informing me that the man who was bringing the bikes from Blois was stuck in thick traffic and would be "retarded by at least an hour". We would have to adapt Plan B.

    We had read that there was an amazing market in Nevers that was really worth seeing. A little further research showed that it was apparently close to our hotel. I therefore suggested to our riders that they might like to have a look at the market first, and then get the bikes later. Before I had finished my sentence, the women were already out the door looking for the market and an opportunity to spend money.

    About 45 minutes later I thought I might as well have a look as well. The bikes still had not arrived and the hotel foyer was getting a little boring. I had not walked far when I found Carol and Sam walking back towards me. They were devastated. They had not been able to find the market. Obviously life can not get much wore than this. On further investigation, I found that they had actually walked right past the front door. I had to admit that it was a little underwhelming as it was only a food market and most of the stalls were still locked. There were none of those exciting stalls where women could buy Chinese knock offs at inflated prices. What a letdown.

    The big bike delivery van finally arrived about 10 am and the driver slowly and carefully unloaded all 16 bikes. He did not want help as he wanted to do it his way. About 30 minutes later the bikes were unloaded and then began the familiar process of each rider finding their allocated bike and assessing its suitability. I had been in this position many times before and always find it stressful.

    "My bike's too big", "My bike's too small", "Mine is the wrong colour for my shirt", "I won't ride a ladies bike", "I didn't know we had to ride bikes", "My handlebars are too pointy", "My seat's all funny", "My bottom is hurting already", "How do you change gears ?", "What are gears for anyway ?", "I don't want a pannier", "I want more panniers", "I want lunch".

    It went on and on. It's not easy trying to set up 16 elderly citizens with walking frames, let alone with bicycles. After every single bike was adjusted, poked, asssessed and decorated with ribbons, we were finally ready to go.

    Our peloton slowly wobbled down the main street, watched by numerous bemused locals. We somehow made it to the old city without too much incident, but then stumbled into a complicated sequence of staircases. We had to manhandle all the bikes down the stairs, at times coming close to destroying a couple of the ebikes. It was not an an auspicious start to the ride.

    We finally left the city by crossing the bridge over the Loire. We were on our way at last. Actually we were on the wrong way. I had made a small error of navigation and was leading the group in the opposite direction. I quickly realised my error, the group U turned and we found the correct route.

    What followed next was a beautiful bike path, right alongside a shady canal. This was just the type of riding that we all adored. It was what we needed to settle our nerves after the stress of the morning. You can imagine my joy when I spied a lovely cafe, right on the bank of the canal.

    "This looks like a suitable coffee stop", I yelled.
    "But we have only been riding for 10 minutes", someone commented.
    "We have no idea when the next opportunity will be", I countered.

    Since no one could fault my logic, we all parked the bikes. Actually we spread them all over the precinct in a random array of unlocked vehicles. Arie was no longer here to dictate that all be parked in a precise line with locks and chains galore. We just needed coffee.

    It was now after 12 noon and I think that everyone was happy to sit and enjoy the surroundings. We also took a new group photo to immortalise the occasion. Our adventure on the Loire was now officially underway.

    We never did find another place to buy our baguette lunch. Well actually we did, but they had none left. We rode the remaining 45km on empty stomachs. Fortunately the scenery was absolutely superb - a never ending sequence of canals, locks, tiny flowered villages and quiet bike paths.

    The highlight was the Pont de Canal, an amazing sight which allows the Canal of the Loire to cross the Allier River. It would even have been more amazing to see a barge crossing the Pont, but the canal was deserted. The huge lock at the end had gates which must have been 10 metres high and they were decorated with colourful flowers. From the side, the structure almost looked like the huge Roman Pont du Gard, that we had ridden past in Provence. In nature it would be highly unusual to see two rivers crossing each other !

    By the late afternoon a steady head wind had developed. It was nowhere near as strong as the Mistral we had endured in Provence, but on empty stomachs it was a challenge. Our first view of Charite Sur Loire was a memorable one, cameras were produced and pictures were taken.

    The final kilometre to our hotel involved a long walking peloton through the ancient town. Our hotel was the quaint "Thousand and One Books" hotel. Every inch of the place had been decorated in a literary theme. The staircases were about 30 cm wide and there was no lift. It was going to be the pitstop for the first day of our Loire Ride.

    Our evening meal was at the restaurant attached to the hotel, so we did not have to walk far. Once again the food was glorious. It had been the first time most of us had eaten since breakfast in Nevers.
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