3 years after our first long trip in Europe (see ‘flashback #2’) I muscled my way back to France for another ride. I can’t say Shoko was against the idea, but it was certainly my trip, and almost the end of my marriage…but we’ll come to that in time.
The plan was a 2-week ride from Bordeaux down to some point on the Mediterranean, perhaps as far as Nimes. What we finished with was Bordeaux – Toulouse, about a third of my (eternally) optimistic goal. We flew to Paris from Tokyo, where we were living at the time, and caught the TGV from the airport down to Bordeaux. Here’s Shoko in happier days with all our gear on the platform.
On the train we sparked up a conversation (god knows how, with our non-existent French) with an a group of elderly travelers on their way to pray at Lourdes, in the foothills of the Pyrenees. Being French, they never leave home without a bottle of wine, so we were well supplied on our trip down south.
After an evening of me trying pretty unsuccessfully to straighten my forks (they’d been squished a bit on the plane) we were ready to head east towards St. Emillion, one of the world’s premier wine towns, and a place I had visited 8 years earlier in a vain search for work in the fields. I felt a little triumphant this time, not having to grovel (in French, unsuccessfully) for the opportunity to break my back picking grapes. I’d just drink them this time around.
I think I was the photographer this trip…here’s Shoko and our bikes outside our hotel / repair shop.
This is our first campsite, around 2 km outside of St. Emillion – a fairly sparsely populated campsite, I might add. Maybe that’s why they gave us this RV-sized lot.
After this first day, it was hills. I’m sure there were flat parts but they are erased from my memory. Hills are what is left. Reason: they nearly destroyed a pretty decent marriage. I made the mistake of planning a slightly challenging route with a wife that hadn’t been in the saddle much in the months leading up. Yes, I’m sure you are saying that it must be at least partly her fault, but you are obviously not married, whoever you are. My bad, period.
But funnily, I don’t have pictures of those hills. Maybe the memory was too painful to scan. Anyway, I do have a valley. Here is Shoko riding along the lovely Dordogne River.
Unlike the last time we rode in France (in June/July), the grapes on the vines this September were heavy and ripe.
Somewhere in the middle of nowhere we happened upon the small village of Beauville – perched on a 200 meter plateau and surrounded by endless rurality. This region of France (anywhere up the Dordogne) affords excellent cycling, if you don’t mind being alone for long stretches. One day we passed a number of ‘towns’ before realizing that just because something is shaded town colored on a map doesn’t mean there is a store, a restaurant or human activity for that matter. We ended up having to steal prunes from an orchard to keep ourselves going! Another day (a Sunday, so doubly dead), we had to beg at a cafe (closed but a family gathering was going on there) for food. They took pity on us and offered up amazingly large amounts of cheese and bread and salad. Lessons: 1. don’t believe everything you read. 2. Always carry extra grub.
Anyway, this is Beauville the next morning, having breakfast in the town square.
Next, one of the few scanned photos I have of my Emperor and me. This bike, by Japanese maker Maruishi, hadn’t changed its style in about 25 years (still hasn’t as far as I know). It even had shifters on the down tube. But it was pretty sturdy, and you could park it anywhere and never worry about it being stolen!
And then all too quickly we were in Toulouse, wondering about what to do next. Shoko had developed a knee problem in the hills and we were wondering whether to risk it and move on or find something else to do in the area. I think after a couple of days we decided to give it a shot, headed out due east into a nasty headwind and were back in Toulouse by noon looking for a bed for the next week!
Our bike ride was done but our marriage was still intact. Dangling by a thread, but together. The rest of the trip in the south we just hung around Toulouse and did day trips to Carcassonne and Sete, on the Mediterranean coast. Here they are in that order. The shocking brightness of the Mediterranean light is one reason we chose this region to live in a few years later (we live 30 minutes from Sete now).
Then it was back to Paris on the train. This is Gare d’Austerlitz.