Carteret, 30 miles south of Cherbourg - 12th Sept 04
Le OUCH! 67 euros for the last hotel room in town. Note to self - arrive earlier in future. On the way down, every single French biker waves. It's what your left arm's for, apparentement. It's day one. One giant leap across the channel for me. Tomorrow I shall witness with my own eyes the glittering splendour that is Mont St Michel. Unless I get lost or something.
I wake up by the sea in Carteret with a slight "where the hell" feeling. Shortly after breakfast the rain starts.
It's not exactly coming down in sheets but there's enough of it to bring a wry smile to my chops. I've got to do about 150 miles a day to get to Lisbon for the 27th; lucky I've got my waterproof trousers and socks.
I set off damp but light hearted in the general direction of Coutance. It gets wetter and greyer but progress is made, and about 15 miles into the day, I start shouting with cretinous mirth at the fact that I am actually on my way to - whisper it - Cape Town.
Whizz past Coutance towards Mont St Michel. 20 miles later it becomes clear that the following items are not, in fact, waterproof at all: (1) my boots (2) my waterproof socks (3) my waterproof trousers, particularly in the oh-so-important frontal area (4) my 300 quid/reduced to 150 Belstaff jacket (5) my Aerostich gloves.
I eventually squelch to a halt at a service station somewhere between M.S.M and Rennes, having given up on M.S.M as I'm too waterlogged to appreciate it. Jambon Baguette and a soaking wet roll-up for lunch. Onwards. I aim for Rennes, which will be reasonable progress for today. It soon becomes clear that there is one more item to add to my "not-at-all-waterproof" inventory: my skin.
Arrive wetly in Rennes around 3pm, and find a very nice looking hotel. "Non monsieur - complet". And near here? "Rennes est complet". I don't believe her, so I ride around the town stopping at every hotel, dripping pints of rainwater onto every reception carpet, until it becomes clear that she's right.
Oh fuck. I really need to get out of these wet things. I'm shivering and having to make up songs (e.g. "The sun'll come ouuuuut, TO-MORRAAAOOOOWW! You can bet your bum it will be boiling") in order to keep my brain ticking over. I decide to head towards Nantes - much further than I had planned to go today. I stop at the first exit that has a nearby village signposted, and find a hotel. "Complet". Piss and shit. Onwards to the next town. No hotel of any kind. A campsite - I don't fucking think so.
The sun comes out! It stops raining! I stop and take off the most drenched items of my outer layer, and hang them, steaming, over the bike. Manage to roll a cig that doesn't collapse. I remember Dan Walsh's (a very great man who's done what I'm going to do) mantra, "wet now, dry later". It's true. I take the next exit off the Nantes road - Bain de Bretagne - and find Hotel des 4 Vents. 30 euros and it's absolutely fine. Dry clothes on! To the bar! Blimey - this is my first beer of the trip...
I found myself thinking today, while I was drenched and stationary, "Wouldn't it be great if a fantastic French woman came out of her house now and breathily insisted that I come in for a feed and a *ahem* lie-down." I snorted with disbelief a mile down the road at the vividness of it. Or is it vividity? Either way, it didn't happen. In case you're in any doubt.
Sept 14 - La Rochelle
I had a notion on the way here that L.R. was going to be the Santorini of mid-Western France; i.e. bastardingly expensive and full of yacht people. In reality it's only quite expensive and the yacht people have all gone to Monaco or somewhere.
The numbness of my backside after getting on the bike at 9am and off at 4pm (plenty of rural detours) forced me into the first hotel I saw. (Actually the second - I went straight past the Novotel. This is not a business trip - if it was someone else would be paying, no?) Chalk up another 67 euro hotel on the blackboard of shame.
Anyway, sod it - La Rochelle is absolutely gorrrgeous and it's also hot. Every few miles south winds the clock a minute or two back into summer.
Washed my jeans, which were on the verge of photosynthesising, in the bath, and hung them out of the window to dry, attached with an Aerostich luggage strap. Ingenuity! That's the ticket.
A late lunch by the harbour of Camembert and Kronenbourg. I really need to eat some fruit soon. Or bran. You know what I'm saying.
Sept 15th. La Rochelle - Bordeaux.
Check out. A certain amount of dicking about ensues, as, having said goodbye to the receptionist who's going to South Africa exactly a year before me, I realise I've forgotten my helmet. Go and get. Then my sunglasses. Go back. Get. Then I can't get my bike off the stand as I jammed it up close to the wall last night without the boxes on.
On the road by 10.30am. A late start as I sat in "McEwans Pub" in the harbour last night watching Chelsea giving PSG a bashing, which was not what was required, and drinking Grandes Verres of Loburg. A couple of tubby berks from Blighty were unsuccessfully employing the "English-But-LOUDER" method of ordering in French.
11am - blue skies and empty, perfectly surfaced winding roads all the way to Bordeaux. A lot of shouting and laughing takes place inside my Shoei (that's Japanese for "hat"). The landscape changes from cornfields, where the corn is as high as, if not an elephant's eye, at least a giraffe's ballbag, to dead sunflowers, and then abruptly it's Wine Country and I start wondering if I've ever drunk a grape off that bush, or that one, and then Bordeaux itself, which is one great snarling, boiling gridlock. It's the first traffic jam I've seen in France.
Having swallowed me whole, the beast shits me out in what I hope are the southern suburbs of the city. "Le Jadian" bar/hotel/restaurant looks nice and cheap, and Oui! Bien Sur! - they have a room.
I stopped for a fag and a gulp of water in another empty French village this afternoon. Some dude on another Dominator rumbled into view, and as he saw me he began to slow down, ready to stop and help, until I gave him a thumb to let him know I hadn't broken down. Gawd bless you old boy, whoever you were!
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