Day 1: Ouistreham to Beaumont-sur-Sarthe.
Total distance: 151.65km
Average speed: 19.6kph
Max speed: 53kph
Total time cycling: 07:43:16
2 cuckoos heard (unless I was followed)
1 red squirrel
8 million kestrels
An infinite number of angry French guard dogs
Many friendly French cyclists
0 bad French drivers
The ferry arrived in Ouistreham (Caen) at 6:45am local time, 5:45 English time, so I only managed about five hours of sleep before my alarm went off. I got up and went straight to the restaurant for a huge breakfast, and in my usual fumbling, bleary-eyed morning state, spilled an entire bowl of cereal and milk over the table as soon as I sat down.
After stuffing my face with replacement cereal, pastries, rolls, cheese, and smoked salmon, washed down with gallons of coffee and orange juice, I stole a boiled egg and a roll, and escaped to my cabin for a quick shower, pursued by the Gendarmerie in little Renaults, weaving in and out of the Parisian traffic (ferry passengers), and performing handbrake turns in the narrow side streets (slowing down to a gentle jog because the corridors were narrow). I got back to my cabin, had a shower, and checked my documents to make sure I hadn’t left anything behind. Everything was fine, except my passport, which had ‘Jason Bourne’ written where my name should have been. Weird.
As soon as I’d cycled off the ferry I had my first minor disaster of the day, when I stopped to load the first route file onto the GPS only to find that it crashed and froze every time I tried to do so. After wasting 20 minutes trying to get it to work I gave up, and managed to figure out an alternative way to get the GPS to navigate. I was annoyed that all those hours of making sure I had the route files sorted out had been wasted, but I’ve found a fix and may as well forget about it.
I left Ouistreham on a smooth, traffic free cycle path, hearing a cuckoo in the distance. It no doubt knew I was coming, and had been waiting to do its cuckooing at me to remind me how insignificant my little trip to the south of France is compared with its annual winter holiday in sub-Saharan Africa.
The rest of the morning took me along flat and gently undulating countryside, under an overcast sky with occasional rain, but it was nice not to be too hot, and I made good progress, reaching 60km by about 10:30. After passing round the outskirts of Argentan, the route took me right through the Foret d’Ecouves, a huge forest on an equally huge hill. This involved a long, painfully slow climb, which on a road bike with no luggage would have been a nice challenge, but on the heavy, loaded tourer was pretty arduous.
Eventually, after what seemed like an eternity of climbing at a tediously slow 10kph, I reached the top of the hill, and was instantly rewarded with a long, steep descent down the other side of the hill, and I descended for a good 6 or 7km without turning the pedals, at a continuous 45-50kph.
Shortly after leaving the forest I arrived at Alencon, a stunningly beautiful, pictureque old town, with ancient-looking buildings and streets paved in small square cobbles, laid out in a fan-like pattern. Although the route took me right through the centre on the narrow cobbled streets, I was disappointed I was having to pass through so quickly and couldn’t stop to explore. I’ll have to visit again.
As was the case when I cycled from London to Paris last summer, I’ve been impressed by the courteousness and respectfulness of drivers towards cyclists on the roads. Whereas in England people tend to scream past far too close, almost without exception French drivers will slow down (always a reassuring sound when you can hear the revs slowing as a car approaches from behind), indicate, and pull right out onto the other side of the road as they pass. One HGV driver, traveling in the opposite direction, even gave me a honk/flash of the lights/thumbs-up/grin combo as he passed. He obviously knew it was my birthday.
Anyway. Back to the trip. With fatigued legs, the final 40km or so from Alencon took me south to tonight’s campsite, a fantastic municipal site in the town of Beaumont-sur-Sarthe, right next to the river. For the astonishingly cheap (and slightly random) price of 4 euros and 83 cents (roughly £4), I’ve got a huge pitch to myself, surrounded on three sides by hedges, a view of the river, and the most modern and clean shower block I’ve ever seem at a French campsite.
I treated myself to a tin of Hoegaarden when I arrived, then promptly passed out in my tent for an hour and a half. More, I think, to do with having just cycled a pretty tough 151km on very little sleep, than my inability to handle a drink…
And so to the sound of gentle rain on the tent, and a cuckoo mocking my efforts from somewhere across the river, I’m going to get a decent sleep and prepare for tomorrow’s 120km to Saumur on the river Loire.