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Cycling the front wheel (part 2)

Posted on 09 September 2019, by Arianna

After reaching the highest point at the Pas de Peyrol, the landscape started to slowly smooth down through the regions of Auvergne, Limousin and Dordogne, with the hills becoming lower and lower, and eventually giving space again to vast flat areas towards the end of the wheel, while crossing the Poitou-Charentes and Centre regions.
Upon exiting the Massif central we particularly enjoyed the lovely little town of Argentat, beautifully set along the river Dordogne.

View of Argentat, on the river Dordogne
View of Argentat, on the river Dordogne

Here in Argentat we got some bad news, given that the Guinness World Record finally contacted us with very detailed instructions on how several proofs should be collected if we wanted to set a record. Yes because, just before leaving, we realised that what we were about to do could be crazy enough to gain us some sort of record… and we were indeed surprised upon finding that the category under which our endeavour would fit - “largest GPS drawing by bike” - not only already existed but the current record was actually easily breakable! However, according to the rules we just received, already the fact that we had used two GPS units to record our route rather than one (our beloved 9-year old Garmin died and we had to replace it) would prevent us from getting the record. Without mentioning the lack of pictures of us both next to road signs and daily witnesses signatures to prove we were actually cycling and not driving a stupid car…
We initially got a bit disheartened by this, but finally decided to keep trying to set the record and did our best to collect all the possible evidence for it, including emails from campsites where we previously stayed at. Ultimately, we know we are not cheating, so we will have to leave it to the Guinness World Record generosity to decided whether the evidence we have is enough to get the record or not…

Thus, from Argentat onwards we started stopping random people every now and then, asking for their signature to confirm we were there on a bike, as well as taking two or three daily ridiculous pictures of us both, with the bikes, near recognisable signs and/or landmarks…

A typical picture of us and the bikes near a sign, hoping the Guinness World Record will enjoy our smiling efforts
A typical picture of us with the bikes near a sign post, hoping the Guinness World Record will enjoy our smiling efforts

In Brive-la-Gaillarde Zola felt deeply honoured to discover a bus stop named after her, and insisted to take a picture of it. We tried to tell her that there are many Zolas out there much more famous than her but she refused to listen…

The Zola bus stop in Brive-la-Gaillarde
The Zola bus stop in Brive-la-Gaillarde

We then crossed briefly the north of the Dordogne region, mainly passing through the Périgord-Limousin Natural Regional Park. It’s a shame we couldn’t see more of this area as we loved the landscape, hilly but not as strenuous as in the Massif central, and we read about all the interesting tourist highlights that we unfortunately missed!! The food culture here is great too and while we did not eat at restaurants to test it, purely for economic reasons, Daniel did enjoy taking a break from his pescetarian diet for a couple of days to taste the famous foie gras.

A quiet wild camping spot in Dordogne. The huge bush in the background was filled with black berries, which both me and Zola thoroughly enjoyed...
A quiet wild camping spot in Dordogne. The huge bush in the background was filled with black berries, which both me and Zola thoroughly enjoyed...

A messy lunch break with a very tired Daniel
A messy lunch break with a very tired Daniel

Cycling through the Périgord-Limousin Natural Regional Park was a pleasure for Zola!
Cycling through the Périgord-Limousin Natural Regional Park was a pleasure for Zola!

In Dordogne we got the first puncture of the trip, on Daniel’s small front wheel, and we started having problems with his rear tyre too: the tyre side walls ruptured for some reason, giving rise to a bulge in the tyre and a bumpy ride. We didn’t expect this to happen, given the good reputation that Schwalbe marathon tyres hold in the cycle-touring community, and the company did at least refund us immediately upon hearing of our problem. But still, this was a real pain for us, as Daniel had to deflate his tyre considerably to keep cycling. Luckily we bumped into a small cycling shop in Saint-Pardoux-la-Rivière, literally in the middle of nowhere, where we did manage to replace the tyre with something not really very good, but suitable enough considering the circumstance… We were happy.

After all the tyre mess, we reached our destination in Montemboeuf very late in the evening, only to find out that the campsite we were hoping to stay at didn’t exist any more. We decided to camp there anyhow, and we managed to get a hot shower from the nearby municipal swimming pool… The lady at reception must have smelt our need for a wash! Again, we were very impressed with French openness, even in rural areas.

Daniel in the process of fixing the first puncture of the trip, in Dordogne
Daniel in the process of fixing the first puncture of the trip, in Dordogne

We then continued to climb-up the wheel through the Poitou-Charentes region, where the hills almost completely disappeared and the countryside reversed to being quite flat again. It was with great delight that I understood we would cross the Regional Natural Park Loire-Anjou-Touraine and meet the Loire again, this time with the possibility of seeing a couple of good castles!

We first reached Chinon, which is set on the river Vienne, about 10 km from where it joins with the Loire. Aside from its 11th century castle, Chinon is also famous for its medieval historic town and, of course, for its wine. We spent a few hours walking around the city and we even found a vet, where we finally managed to weigh Zola. We have been suspecting that she gained some weight for a while now, given the lack of crazy enthusiasm with which she typically jumps over and devours rubbish in the streets, and we were right: a whole 700 grams more from when we started!! No matter how much Zola claims the vet scale was badly calibrated… she certainly will be put on a strict diet now!

The castle of Chinon, from the bridge over the river Vienne
The castle of Chinon, from the bridge over the river Vienne

In Chinon we also learnt of a serious problem that is affecting the bodies of fresh water in the whole Indre-et-Loire department: that of Cyanobacteria blooms, also known as blue-green algae, which release harmful cyanotoxins into the water. Swimming in these poisoned waters can be extremely dangerous for humans (particularly children) and can even be fatal to dogs, especially if they drink the water. Zola would have seriously loved to swim and drink (she masters both actions simultaneously) in the Vienne, and she did not quite understand why we prevented her that pleasure… especially after the vet discovery. Nonetheless, she got used to it from an early age, since it was the same when we lived in south Finland - algae everywhere in lakes, rivers and even the Baltic sea for most of the summer season.
In order to inform the population and avoid unnecessary risks, most news outlet tend to focus on the dangers that Cyanobacteria pose to human and animal health (perhaps quite understandably), somewhat swiping under the carpet the reasons behind the observed increase in frequency, severity and geographic distribution of these harmful algal blooms. While it is true that the issue is scientifically very complex and many different factors could be linked with the upsurge of the blooms, their connection with human activity is becoming more evident and shouldn’t be overlooked. Among the two main culprits are increased nutrient loading due to intense farming (especially nitrogen and phosphorous) and higher water temperature due to climate change.

The river Indre, almost completely covered by a velvety layer of toxic blue-green algae
The river Indre, almost completely covered by a velvety layer of toxic blue-green algae

After Chinon we continued towards the Loire but realised we left Zola’s titanium bowl behind. Honestly, we had never lost so much stuff as in this trip! Since we are quite attached to that bowl (while Zola doesn’t care as long as she drinks), Daniel decided to go back to get it. While waiting for him in a little park, I made a lucky encounter with a fellow cycle-tourer: a 73 year old Irishman that not only had travelled by bike all around the world, but was still going strong, carrying probably even more stuff than us, and with two replaced knees… Keep going Jamie!

Jamie from Ireland, next to his beautiful Thorn, adorned with one of our stickers
Jamie from Ireland, next to his beautiful Thorn, adorned with one of our stickers

And finally we reached the Loire again, where we saw the majestic castle of Ussé, which apparently inspired the French author Charles Perrault when writing “the sleeping beauty”, and the medieval castle of Langeais. We then stopped in Cinq-Mars-la-Pile, or rather I stopped, as Daniel decided to exploit the proximity to Tours to go and buy a replacement for his bottom bracket (which was starting to emit disturbing sounds at every pedal spin). Thankfully he managed to find a well-equipped bike shop and replaced it. I hope mine will not need the same treatment any time soon…

Château d'Ussé
Château d'Ussé

Château de Langeais
Château de Langeais

The rest of the wheel was really very boring and flat, but we had two pleasant experiences. Firstly, in Châteaudun we met a couple of young farmers, that had spent several months cycling through Sardinia, Sicily and south Italy to learn about agriculture and farming before coming back to France to have a family, buy some land and grow sustainable food, which they sold in the local markets. It is upon hearing these inspiring stories that I do really see hope in the future! Secondly - something much more down to earth - we managed the longest cycling day of the trip: 101 km. Perhaps not something to be so proud of for a regular cycle-tourist, but considering the fat dog we are transporting with us we felt quite pleased with this record…
After a quick look at Yèvre-le-Châtel, a member of the “Les plus beaux villages de France” (The most beautiful villages of France) association, we eventually completed the wheel and we enjoyed once more the generosity of Patrick and Françoise, whom we had met in Saint-Loup-des-Vignes at the beginning of the wheel. This time our amazing friends were on holiday, but they were so kind as to leave us the keys to their barn, where we stayed for 4 entire days. It was incredible to be stationary for such a long time and being able to enjoy proper cooking facilities as well as a fridge!! During these days we rested, repaired some broken clothes, cooked our favourite meals and wrote loads of emails to all sorts of news outlets that we felt could be interested in our journey. The success rate for publishing our story has not been very high so far (thankfully our academic experience has provided us with some strong resilience against rejections!) but we keep trying.
Thanks again to Patrick and Françoise for helping us so much!

Zola is not too happy of posing for us at the church of Saint-Lubin, in Yèvre-le-Châtel
Zola is not too happy of posing for us at the church of Saint-Lubin, in Yèvre-le-Châtel

Enjoying a morning coffee outside Patrick and Françoise's barn
Enjoying a morning coffee outside Patrick and Françoise's barn

The inside of the barn, with plenty of office space and the amazing kitchen in the background
The inside of the barn, with plenty of office space and the amazing kitchen in the background