Day 2: Beaumont-sur-Sarthe to Saumur.
Trip distance: 309.88km
Red squirrels: 1
Horses startled: 2
Cuckoos heard: 1 (I’m definitely being followed)
Mystery meats: 1 (for ‘meats’ read ‘birds of prey’)
They say you’ve got to take the rough with the smooth. In that case, this morning was the coarse edge of a cheese grater to my rear end.
I had a really good sleep in the tent, with the sound of the rain sending me off almost as soon as my head hit the pillow. Unfortunately, this was as good as it got, and I woke to heavy rain in the morning, which kept me in my tent longer than I’d planned. I waited for a lull in the downpour, and eventually managed to surface at around 8:15, and quickly showered and packed the panniers, only for it to start pouring again as soon as I’d got the bike loaded.
The morning’s cycling was truly dreadful – it rained continuously for the first three or four hours, and I made painfully slow progress through the countryside, fighting a slight headwind and going mainly uphill, soaked to the bone apart from my top half which, mercifully, was kept bone-dry by my fairly new GoreTex jacket (fully justifying the cost…).
After what seemed like a lifetime of climbing out of the Sarthe valley in the rain, I finally got as high as I could get just as the rain stopped and I glimpsed my first bit of blue sky of the day, before I enjoyed a long downhill section all the way down to Avoise then Parce-sur-Sarthe, crossing the river which by this point was noticeably wider than it had been up-river at Beaumont.
I found my way through La Fleche and crossed Le Loir (not the be confused with La Loire), then almost immediately joined a traffic-free cycle path which would provide the most enjoyable 20km stretch of the trip so far. The path cut a path straight through a vast forest, leading gradually downhill all the way to Saint Martin D’Arce, and was clearly originally a railway line, similar to some sections of the Devon coast-to-coast route. There was more rain during this section, but thankfully the trees provided a roof over the whole path and kept the worst of it off me.
Rejoining the roads the route took me through Bauge, then finally onto my first major river crossing of the trip – La Loire at Gennes. I crossed the bridges (the river splits into two there, with an island in the middle), then turned left, following the south bank of the river heading east through picturesque villages all the way to Saumur.
Due to the fact that I’d had to pack away my camping gear while it was still soaking wet, then endure a soul-destroying soaking all morning, followed by further drenchings throughout the course of the day, I took the decision to take a tactical bed and breakfast stop tonight, and like any self-respecting 29 year old, phoned my mother for help in arranging said stop while I pushed on in the rain.
The result was a fantastically spacious room in an equally spacious bed and breakfast at the top of the hill in Saumur, a stone’s throw from the castle. There was room to erect the tent in front of some huge double doors, and the whole lot was dry in an hour or so, while I soaked my aching muscles in the bath. And having covered a shade under 310km in two days, I think I deserve it.
Tomorrow should be a shorter day, but I said that yesterday. The plan is to make my way from Saumur to Morthemer, just south of Chauvigny, where I’ll be staying with the first of my ‘WarmShowers.org’ contacts… If they get back in touch to confirm our arrangements, which they haven’t yet, unless I’ve got an email waiting. If not, I’ll find a campsite at around the 100km mark, and make sure I don’t do another 150km+ day. I’ve had quite enough of that.