Time has flown by since I returned from my quick mini cycle tour of France; busy time at home and work, and a serious case of man flu hasn't helped :-) Now that I have finally got round to downloading my photos from my iphone, I thought I would write a blog post about my cycle tour. Hopefully give you all a reason to get out and go cycle touring, and if you are thinking about heading out on your first cycle tour, then some encouragement to get out there and enjoy.
The ferry ticket for this mini cycle tour was booked back at Christmas. Winter in Jersey is very boring and you can go stir crazy on an island 9 by 5 miles in bad weather! Having a bicycle tour to look forward to is a must - the dreams of sunny days riding along in France, taking in the great scenery and devouring as many pastries as possible always keep me going - just like the one below :-)
The plan was simple; get off the island, head south, find some sunshine, enjoy the peaceful roads, see some great towns, eat some great food, have a few beers and generally chill out. And that is pretty much what I did!
As usual it took me a few days to finalise my kit list. I do try my best to keep it as minimal as possible. Think I have struck quite a good balance these days and find I need everything I take. In the past I had been carting around stuff I just did need. Less is more!
- Terra Nova Laser Competition 1 Tent
- Terra Nova Voyager Sleeping Bag
- Sea to Summit Sleeping Bag Line
- Mammut Pillow
- Life Adventure Trekking Towel
- Jet Boil Stove
- Jet Boil Cutlery
- Tefal Frying Pan
- Plate and bowel
- Flip Flops
- 4 * cycle shorts
- 4 * cycle tops
- Casual shorts
- Long Sleeve Cycle Top (doubles up as evening top)
- Pants and socks for evening
- Powerbee solar charger
- Powerbee battery brick
- Toiletries (toothpaste, toothbrush, deodorant, shower gel, chamois cream and sun cream)
- Toilet Roll
- Garmin Touring GPS
- Ortlieb Panniers
- Ortlieb handlebar bag
- Quoc Pham Leather Cycle SPD Shoes
- Saddle bag for tools (not in photo below) - contains, multi tool, spanner, spoke adjuster, tyre levers, inner tube, cable ties, bag of random nuts/bots and puncture repair kit.
Think that is about it! Leave a comment at the bottom if you have any questions and I'll do me best to answer them.
In the past I would have over complicated my cycle tour by planning down to the last minute of each day. Exact route planned, camp sites booked, etc... Am glad to say I have learnt the error of my ways; this over planning lark will mean you miss so much and doesn't allow for any spontaneity. The day I learnt a valuable lesson was on another tour when my Garmin Touring GPS device went into meltdown and I switched to paper maps. What was planned as a straight ish route from Brest to Rennes, turned into an epic ride that will stay with me forever. Shortly after leaving a camp site on the edge of Brest, my normally reliable Garmin Edge GPS decided to power itself off and wouldn't come back on. After trying in vain to get it working, I gave up and switched to my backup paper map and iphone. Tracking my location on the iphone I soon discovered a path running along a canal I was near to. Unknown to me this was the Nantes to Brest canal; a stretch of water that runs 385km between the two cities (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nantes-Brest_canal). What a find!
The minor detour through some woods (more like a BMX track!) and dirt roads led me to the best cycle paths I have ridden on. Beautiful scenery, stunning stretches of water and not a car in sight. A truly epic ride on a summers days. In hindsight, the biggest frustration I have with myself is letting myself create a route from a computer without any knowledge of the area. If my Garmin hadn't failed that day, I would have carried on riding along a nondescript country lane. Don't get me wrong, I would have still thoroughly enjoyed myself, with great views and happy times peddling, but I would have missed something great. These days I don't book accommodation in advance. I have a rough idea of where I'm heading and what is in the area, and turn up at a camp site early evening. I prefer this method - it takes away the stress of keeping to a plan and gives opportunities to find great places. I do still use the Garmin GPS to help me out when it comes to the end of the day when finding my final destination, especially if I'm lost and hungry!
Back to this cycle tour! Waiting at the ferry terminal in St Helier I saw the most amount of bicycles I have ever seen get on the ferry - there must have been about 40-50 of us. What a great sight to see so many people using bicycles. What was more surprising was the amount of people who had been touring in Jersey and now returning to France.
Arriving in St Malo with by bicycle loaded up with all my kit always puts a massive smile of my face. Knowing that I'm going to be escaping the everyday stresses of life and be riding on some of the most bicycle friendly roads in the world is a great feeling and something I always treasure for the first few hours. Within a few miles I'm where I want to be; on the back roads out of St Malo heading towards the town of Combourg. With the ferry not arriving until early evening, I picked this town at random on the map as a good place for the first night to get my head down before heading south early the next morning.
It took me 2-3 hours of leisurely riding to get to the Le Bois Coudrais camp site (http://www.leboiscoudrais.com), not far from the town of Combourg, Brittany. What a superb camp site this is. Around 20 pitches, some cabins, a couple of Gites and a herd of goats! After a warm welcome from the owner, I chose my pitch in the field and spent the next hour sorting my tent out and drinking some ice cold beer I purchased from the camp site shop. Had a chat with people pitching near me and a couple who were planning on cycling in the area. Then got the Jet boil on and cooked myself some sausages for dinner and enjoyed a beautiful sunset. Phoned home to catch up with my family and headed into my tent. Great end to the day :-)
The next day was going to be a long one. I decided to head towards Tours, which was around 120 miles away. I don't normally go for that kind of mileage, especially this early on, but wanted to follow the sun. I got up at sun rise and packed all my stuff and scoffed down more sausages for my breakfast. The day was an amazing ride through the awesome country side of Pays de la Loire. I was setting a good pace after fuelling myself many times on delicious pastries. One of the benefits of cycle touring I think, is the ability to eat your own body weight time and time again :-) Rolling up to a patisserie and buying multiple cakes is a true pleasure. Along the way I briefly stopped in towns and villages to take in the local sights and watch the world go by. Lunch was by the river Loire in a town called Frome - sitting there in the shade watching the boats drift slowly up the river was so chilled :-)
I finally arrived at my next camp site in Moulihern around 7pm that evening after clocking 120 miles! I felt good and energised after such a good day riding. A quick omelette for dinner cooked on my trusty Jet boil and I was happy. This is a great camp site that was in the owners back garden; 7 pitches, one toilet, one shower and one kitchen sink. The shower was such a relief after all those miles :-) I prefer smaller sites like this to these larger commercial places. They have a nicer feel to them.
The next few days I planned to take it slower after my high mileage day. Although I rode slower, I still ended up doing more centuries! I really find I cannot stop riding with the longer daylight hours, especially when the weather is in the mid 20's, which makaes for perfect riding conditions. I made my way through the rolling French countryside towards La Rochelle. I had thought about visiting the Ile de Re, but the traffic towards La Rochelle was getting too busy and I was over heating! So, whilst chilling under a tree in some random field, I used Siri (iphone help service for those who don't know) for the first time. Saying 'find me a camp site within 20 miles of my current location' instantly gave me a huge selection of camp sites. Brilliant, I thought to myself! Why hadn't I used this before?! I always knew about it, but never really crossed my mind until that moment I guess. What a great resource for cycle touring when you don't know what is around you.
Off I went in search of my final destination for the night. Put the details into my Garmin Touring GPS and off I went. Found myself another great camp site in the town of Les Epesses; the site was next to these beautiful lakes and surrounded by cycle paths leading through the woods. Those cycle paths would be my first place to visit in the morning :-) They were just awesome to ride; wide tracks running by rivers/canals, through the woods and across fields. My touring bike (ex MTB bike) is designed for this terrain and it made mile after mile of real enjoyment.
The next morning I got up early and had my new breakfast of champions, guaranteed to get any touring cyclist, cycling! 6 eggs, couple of sausages, butter, old French bread in bits, and mushrooms. Some good calories in there that will see you through till lunchtime. See picture below. Trust me tastes better than it looks!
I took a few photos and then headed off in the direction of Nantes for my next camp site - yet again found using my new favourite technology, Siri.
Many of us know that France has a true love of cycling and they really embrace anything related to it. They are even courteous to cyclists, despite being some of the worst drivers in the world! The one thing that really impressed me on this trip were the cycling lanes and tracks around the city of Nantes. I have never seen anything like it before. Clearly defined lanes for cyclists that are built around the car lanes. You find yourself cycling in and around the main roads feeling very safe and knowing that you can make your way across the city fairly safe. These lanes link well and don't suddenly stop or you find a bus, car or pedestrian using. Lanes that are only used by cyclists and that have been well thought out. I made my way across the city (in rush hour) in no time. It's no wonder Google tells me Rennes ranks high on the list of bike friendly cities.
Riding out of Nantes I came across this random roundabout on the outskirts! Please post a comment if you know why this is there?
That night I stayed in a wonderful camp site just outside the city. A quiet little site with a bar next door selling some ice cold beer to help me regain energy after what turned out to be another long day in the saddle. I got myself set up and cooked some pasta whilst drinking beer :-)
From Nantes I took a slow ride up to one of my favourite towns in France, Dinan. I just love this place. It has everything; pretty historic town, picturesque river with boats going up and down, and a nice chilled atmosphere. It has one of the steepest cobbled streets ever! I dare anyone to try riding up it with a fully loaded touring bicycle! The ride to Dinan was rather spectacular. I was in an area where the Tour de France was due to visit shortly some of the locals had brightened up the area with bikes in their gardens. Such a joy to see the effort going into welcoming this historic cycle race.
I picked up a route along the river that took me away from where I was heading, but I couldn't stop myself from riding! It was sunny, the cycle track was empty, my legs felt good and I was fueled on more strawberry tarts!
I guess it did come back to bite me later in the day when I was very tired, lost, very hot and in need of a good shower. Riding along, something got caught in my front mud guard and ripped the whole mud guard off! I was so lucky it was cleanly ripped off; it could have taken some spokes with it, or thrown me off completely! After a quick chill out and cold drink of my new found love, Schweppes Agrum (so good when you are roasting hot!), I got back on and eventually found a camp site on the outskirts of Dinan. It was a large commercial site, but I didn't care, just wanted to collapse!
Whilst setting myself up for the night, I saw a great sight of a hot air balloon just about the site. I then collapsed into my sleep bag and before I knew it, morning was here again.
My final day was a slow 30 mile amble back to St Malo. This ride from Dinan to St Malo is one that I have completed a few times now and never get bored of. Nice countryside, quiet lanes and some awesome food available along the way!
Before I knew it I was in St Malo drinking a cold Leffe beer looking out to sea, whilst cooking up some sausages on the beach. Next stop was the ferry terminal and back to St Helier. Another great tour in France. Thoroughly enjoyed myself :-)
My route map.
Hope you have enjoyed reading this post. This is the first of many little tours I have planned for this year. I'll post details of them soon.
Please do comment below with your feedback and questions.