Day 6 – Tonnerre to Châtillon-sur-Seine
This was the bit that I was supposed to ride yesterday – Now I’m glad that I didn’t attempt it then. Even today I found it a hilly ride on the direct route of the D965 and time consuming for the short distance of about 55 kms. I decided to go no further today as the high heat and humidity have returned and I find myself tiring very easily. I’m also finding it hard work to shop for goods as the stores are few and far between and with different selections than what I prefer when riding. The language is certainly a barrier, but beyond that there are few places in the villages that I pass through to buy anything of nutritious value. I barely see a gas station anywhere other than larger towns, as they are usually a good resource for cold Gatorade, ice creams etc. I consider myself lucky here if the village has a boulangerie/patisserie for a morning quiche – which has to suffice for second breaky. Oatmeal was very hard to find in even the larger supermarkets – and when I run out of the Gatorade crystals that I brought with me from Canada, I don’t know what I’m going to do?
All in all, with looking for campgrounds, setting up, cooking, laundry and shopping, it seems to be making for longer days than when I tour in North America. I guess that it’s just easier and quicker to do the daily chores there. Even writing these emails is breaking into the small amount of leisure time that I seem to be finding. So if I miss a few, think kindly of the reason why. I’m also having a hell of a time trying to find WiFi connections to send my emails. In retrospect, I should have maybe stuck to my old system of Pocketmail, but everyone kept telling me how prevalent and plentiful the WiFi is here. Well, maybe if one is staying in hotels, but in the real world I’ve yet to send after Paris – you’ll know when, because you’ll get this one!
Other than my griping, the towns and villages that I pass through are many and for the lack of facilities, I make up for with less traffic. I’m sure that on the major routes there are more place to stop for food and drinks, but the traffic is horrendous to say the least. I’ll keep to the scenic back roads for as long as I can – if I get fed up with the lack of opportunities, then I’ll have to rethink my plans.
Today, I at least arrived early enough to have a restaurant lunch and a look around town at some of the historic sights and buildings. I must mention that a lot of the villages go back many hundreds of years and certainly some of the buildings, cottages and churches are quite dated. Many seem to be in need of extensive repairs or have for sale signs applied to their windows and doors. And it seems that a lot of the Brits are snapping up these handyman specials, as I’ve noticed construction on quite a few with British registered cars in the driveways!
I detoured to another small village when I saw a sign that read “Musee Canadien.” After much searching, I asked a lady in the village where it was. She told me that it had closed – too bad, as it would have been interesting I’m sure. Must have been something to do with the war here in the Bourgogne region. I still plan to hostel tomorrow and am keeping my fingers crossed that they have a vacancy – and an Internet connection!
Still lots of agricultural farmland for scenery – I’ve seen so many fields of sunflowers and wheat that I sometimes wonder if they grow anything else here! At least my cell phone works fine and I can keep in touch with my wife to let her know where I am and what’s happening.
Adam K. & (dehydrated and tired) Basil.
Day 7 – Châtillon-sur-Seine to Gray
Today was a much better day, not just because I rode further, but I also felt better. Last evening I was overly tired and definitely dehydrated. I ended up drinking about three litres of water and had something salty for dinner – I felt much better in the morning.
I set out with a planned route to the hostel in Gray, started out on the D971 and then I can’t remember all the road numbers, but I passed through many villages… Aisey-sur-Seine, Aignay Le-Duc, Moloy, Is-sur-Tille, Lux, Fontaine-Francaise etc. Some of those places were quite the vision of a typical picturesque French village. Other than high heat, humidity and headwinds, I survived the day’s ride of 124 kms.
Today was also better in respect that the villages that I rode through actually had some services. So I kept buying drinks and whatever food was available to last me throughout the day – worked out well and I arrived at the hostel not feeling too bad. But even this evening, the humidity is terrible. I hope that it storms/rains tonight and clears out this oppressive heat.
With my bike secure in the hostel, I went to play tourist in the town. Gray is one of the larger towns that I have stayed in and has a good selection of shops, restaurants, bars etc. I even took my time in the Supermarche to look around for items that have seemed to elude me on previous visits to other shops. I usually rush through these places as my bike and all my belongings have to be parked outside, and I tend to worry about the security of my stuff. Anyway, I didn’t find my Gatorade powder, but found some Swiss stuff called Isostar that will do just fine.
One thing that I have noticed since leaving Paris, is the definite lack of English speaking people. In Paris, it was relatively easy to communicate, but once out of the city – you’re on your own pal!
A quick comment on the roads is that they are all in very good condition. Albeit, there’s a lack of shoulders to ride on – very few of the roads that I’ve been on have had any space for cyclists, other than the actual roadway. However, all the drivers are very respectful; they all give lots of room when passing and even slow down and wait if it’s too risky to pass me – even the big rigs are very courteous – let’s hope it stays that way as even the back roads are fairly busy and people seem to drive faster here than in North America.
Well, still no WiFi – the hostel here has Internet, but no wireless link for me to tap into with my PDA. I’ll keep trying, but at this rate, I’ll be home before my emails arrive! Next big task for me – how to buy a single roll of TP? They all come in bags of 4, 6, 8 etc. I don’t have that space for that much – so I have to go now and finish the paperback book that I brought with me to make space for a bog roll in my pannier!
Adam K. (I’m not giving up my space) Basil.
Day 8 – Gray to Besancon
In retrospect, I should have stayed put this morning. The skies were ugly and it had only rained a little during the night, so storm clouds were still circling. I had a quick look at a newspaper weather forecast and storms were predicted for both the area I was in and where I wanted to ride to. Well it wasn’t raining after breakfast – kinda strange breakfast, but that’s another story – so like a fool I set out. About 30 kms into the ride it started to spit rain – then thunder, then heavier rain, then lightning, then even heavier rain. I had to take time to stop and cower off in the bush somewhere about 15 kms northeast of Besancon.
I had planned to ride to Pontarlier on the Swiss Border at the start of the Alps route, but I couldn’t see it happening in that weather – especially riding into the mountains with thunder and lightning! So as I was cowering there, waiting for the rain to subside, I was wishing that I had stayed put in that nice warm and dry hostel in Gray. The other bad part was that even though I chose what I thought was the lesser road of D67, it was still extremely busy with truck traffic, so when I did venture back out when the rains eased off to a steady downpour, I was getting drowned by traffic spray. I knew that I couldn’t keep this up all the way, so I bailed out at Besancon to live and ride another day.
Besancon is quite a big place/city and a real quagmire to ride into to try and find anything. The tourist office was well posted though and a very nice lady who spoke a “leetle Englishe” helped out the drowned rat (and his buddy – sorry Basil!) that arrived on her doorstep. I found the hostel here – up a big hill – and fortunately there was space again with me acquiring a private room with breakfast for €23. It was €18 last night, but this place is a much nicer and newer facility. At French prices, these places really are a huge bargain and I’m glad that they are somewhat on my route for me to find refuge in now and then.
I’m studying maps this evening and will have to figure out where my next stop will be – weather permitting – forecast is for drier weather tomorrow. Before the rains washed me out, I did realise that I was leaving the great expanses of farmland behind and entering more forested areas, and hillier landscapes. I forgot to mention that for the last two days I was in one of the many Vignoble wine regions which are quite popular with the wine touring community.
I haven’t spotted many touring cyclists though, other than at the campground back in Bray sur Seine – Germans and Dutch mostly who were touring the wine routes. I’ve heard that there’s a “Cyber Cafe” in town, so you may actually receive some messages now.
Adam K. & (don’t squeeze so hard to dry me out) Basil.
Day 9 – Besancon to St Laurent en Grandvaux
Well, if you wish for mountains, they will find you. I had quite a day with three long climbs – or was it just one long climb with two flat bits? Either way it took a long while to cycle the 108 kms. The first half of the day went fine with the first long climb out of Besancon on the N5 route (I figured with it being Saturday it wouldn’t be too busy – I was right!), then I took the D467 to Salin de Bains. That was OK too with some beautiful vistas all the way. I stocked up there with some baked goods (quiche and a pizza slice ) and drinks – good job I did too! Then the second and steeper/longer climb out of that town was a groaner, but I soon reached Champagnole and had to restock as I’d scoffed that previous lot of food that I bought!
I’d learned earlier from a chap at the last hostel that the N5 road from Champagnole had suffered a rock slide, and sure enough there was a detour – oh what a detour it was! I got misdirected out of Champagnole onto the wrong detour route – there were two, figures that I’d pick the wrong one! Anyway, after circling the town and wasting an hour, I found the correct route with the help of the lady at a tourist info place there. If the whole of France didn’t take two hour lunches, everything would have been fine. I did call the info place before, but… closed for lunch! What’s the use of an info place that’s closed at a peak hours? And that’s not the first time that’s happened!
The detour took me along the D127 and another section of the D467. What a road, talk about a narrow mountain road with no barriers for quite a while and a gorge to my right that got deeper and deeper as I gained altitude – hundreds of feet – white-knuckled riding for sure. Just spectacular road all the way though – at least all my hard effort climbing was worthwhile. The Gorges of Langouette and the mountain villages of Les Planches en Montagne and Foncine le Bas were fabulous. I even managed some good pics without falling over the edge. All in all, a long but good day of riding that left me tired but satisfied.
I’m definitely in the lower Alps now, as I didn’t descend much today at all today, and the area that I’m in is called the Haute Jura at between 700 and 1500 metres. Much cooler in the evening, but I don’t mind that as it’s easier to sleep in the fresher air than that humidity of late.
Update on yesterday – the weather cleared out in the late afternoon so I managed a little sightseeing and as you’ve realised by now, found a WiFi connection! Too bad I didn’t have more time there as Besancon had a lot to offer for architecture/history and even has a Citadel way up on the hilltop overlooking the city, hence my half day off because of the storm was quite enjoyable. And the storm did a wonderful job of clearing the air.
Enough for now – I’ve got to get me some kip – there’s lots more climbs ahead!
Adam K. & (I held onto his pants while he took the pics) Basil.
Day 10 – St Laurent en Grandvaux to Bellegarde
I had high hopes of reaching Annecy today, mainly for a hostel and a day off to give the old body a rest, but after almost 90 kms I had only reached Bellegarde and the heat was ferocious again – Annecy was to be another 46 kms down (and up, I’m sure) the road – too much! I decided to stop here as it was already 3:00 p.m. – and perhaps camp. Well wouldn’t you know, another campground that was “Ferme!” What to do? There was another campground listed at Frangy, about 15 kms away, but I was wary now that maybe that one might not be open either. Of course the Tourist Info place was closed – it’s Sunday you know, as if tourists don’t travel on Sundays – Duh! Anyway the executive decision was to hole up in a hotel. I saw a sign for “Touring Hotel” and let my instincts take me there – sure enough it had a sign in the window that it was recommended by the “Cyclotouristes.” Good enough for me – I got a nice room and a garage for the bike and gear. Nothing fancy, but nice and clean for €31 – €6 extra for the “Petit Dejeuner.”
So I washed up and set off into the town – bit of a dumpy place for a bigger town – hardly anywhere open for me to forage in. Restaurants (open, but only serving drinks – oh, if only one could live on beer and wine alone!), supermarkets, shops just about everything was closed. It was really hot walking around too – the temperature was in the mid thirties here this afternoon. I did find a take-out Pizza wagon though, so that had to suffice. I guess some towns really do close down on Sundays.
Another reason to quit early was that it was a hard ride with mucho climbing – starting off early on the N5 with the Col de Savine at almost a 1000 metres. Then down to Morez and then another big long climb to the Alpine village of Les Rousses on the Swiss border. Quick stop there for pastries and a yogurt drink – that’s my second breaky lately – I’m hooked on the quiches, croissants and Yop yogurt drinks. Then onto the D29 and D25 to Lamoura – another beautiful village where I stopped for snacks and got waylaid helping some young people fix a flat on their rental bike – amazing how a company can rent bikes to take into the mountains and not give the poor suckers a patch kit and pump. That was my Good Samaritan work for Sunday to make up for not going to church!
Onto the D304 and then the D436 for an amazing downhill run with multiple hairpins to the village of Mijoux. From there the D991 all the way to Bellegarde. I made it sound quick, but believe me there was a lot of steep granny gear climbing along the route which explains why 90 kms took six hours to ride not counting stops. Of course the downhills are fast, but the uphills take a lot longer to accumulate the same kms.
Spectacular scenery once again though, more gorges, steep drop-offs, windy roads, tunnels etc.; I know that my photos will never duplicate what my eyes see, but they will serve for a good memory. I saw lots of cyclists today – Sunday drivers! – all kitted out in their finest colours riding the hills and dales. All on nice empty road bikes – although I did meet a Dutch touring cyclist with as much crap as me who was just finishing up his five weeks in France and was heading home.
The D991 is part of the upcoming Tour de l’Ain – a stage race similar to the TDF. It will be passing through the village of Lelux on August 12th – there were big advertising banners all around the village when I rode through.
I’m still planning for Annecy tomorrow and a day off too. The roads are quite difficult to ride here with all the climbing involved and I lost all my altitude coming down the mountain into this valley – that’s why it’s so hot here. I’m sure that even the 46 kms tomorrow won’t go so quick.
Quick observances… Not much road litter here – very clean at the sides of the roads. Guess why? There’s not too much in the fast food take out business here. Sure there are McDonald’s in the larger towns, but that’s about it. When you think about it, most of our road litter back in North America is take-out/drink containers of one sort or another. BTW, McDonald’s have beer on the menu here!
You know how I’ve reported on other trips about the single shoes that I keep seeing at the sides of the road – well no shoes here, but gloves – single gloves all over the place – what’s with that?
I’ve got TV tonight, what a treat, I just wish I could understand what they’re saying! At least the few commercials that are shown are interesting!
Adam K. & (talk about roller coaster riding) Basil.