It’s pitch black when I wake up, I can hear rain outside. This isn’t surprising as it was forecast. I doze off again but my 6am alarm rouses me again. I need to get up and be on the road by seven today. I’ve got a very hilly 200km to ride, a good way beyond Limoges to stay with friends Tim and Jane. I’ve slept like a log but I feel tired and my legs heavy. The rain continues joined by the sound of wind in the trees. Hmm, maybe I’ll wait until 8 and the start of light. I check the forecast. Holy crap, that’s worse than it said yesterday. Storms with hail and gusts up to 70kph this morning. I’m not sure I want to ride in that. This isn’t some daft endurance race, I don’t need to ride in this. I do need to get to the next rendezvous though as I’m expected this evening, plus if I don’t ride today I leave myself three days of over 200km to make it to Saint-Malo and the ferry home on Sunday morning. I wonder if there are trains? Nope, a replacement bus for the only train to Brive this morning. The silhouettes of the trees bend in the gloom outside the window. Dad offers me a lift as far as Brive.
“Yes please. Thanks.”
That knocks 50km off the ride and means I should ride into improving weather, but I need to plot a new route as I was due to ride via Tulle and Uzerche further to the east. Then Dad says it’s not much further to Uzerche so he can drop me there.
I have a second breakfast and turn on the TV. Awful weather to the south all over the news. Orange warnings and flash floods. The banner along the bottom of the screen shows ‘A month’s worth of rain in a day’ in Aude, where I was two days ago. We load the bike into the car and set off in torrential rain. There’s standing water all over the roads, strong winds. This is vile. We join the motorway at Brive, the rain isn’t easing, if anything it’s getting heavier.
“Want me to drop you in Limoges?”
“If that’s OK, thanks. I’ll shout you lunch.”
After a plat du jour (tartiflette, green salad, bread, wine) near the centre of Limoges I slot the front wheel back in the bike in a car park and say goodbye to Dad. The weather has improved immeasurably in the last hour or so. I boot up the Garmin and ride a couple of streets to find my planned route out through the suburbs and out into the countryside. It’s very different to yesterday. Having had a lift for 140km I’ve jumped to a different landscape rather than felt it slowly change over a few hours of riding. The land is flattening. This is the halfway point, the bit where northern France starts, the less hilly half.
Tim has ridden out to meet me halfway between Limoges and his house. I turn off the Garmin route, I don’t need it anymore as Tim can guide me. The weather has definitely improved, even a hint of sun through the cloud. Seeing as I’ve shortened my day Tim offers a less direct but prettier route to his. We spin along chatting.
Early morning clouds scuttle across the sky at speed, I’m going to have one hell of a tailwind today. By the time I’ve kitted up there are unexpected glimpses of blue sky. Tim and I ride into Lussac-les-Eglises to meet his friend Robbie so the locals can escort me off their patch. The first 10km or so are the reverse of the route I rode south a couple of years ago when I attempted Dieppe to Lot in 48 hours. I remember this road and that roundabout and feeling exhausted thirty hours and 480km into that ride. The sky is full of fast moving banks of clouds, smudges of rain visible on the horizon. We deviate from my planned route slightly to get to Saint-Savin as it’s where Tim knows there’s definitely a cafe. It starts to drizzle as we cross the river into town. The TV on the cafe wall shows more news of flooding and landslides in the south. Two metres of rain fell in Beziers yesterday! The train line between Montpelier and Barcelona is under water and out of action for at least two weeks. Coffees drunk Tim and Robbie turn back into the wind and I find a bakery before continuing northwest.
It rains for two hours, all the way to Chatellerault but the sky breaks with bright cracks as I drop into town, pulling into a bakery for lunch. Salad and coffee for now, a sandwich for the musette. A TV shows another weather forecast, black & white clouds cover this part of France, but no rain drops. Hopefully I’ve had all the rain I’m going to have.
An afternoon of long roads, big views, and a lot of sky. This definitely feels different to the last few days, I’m certainly transitioning to the north. I’ll finish today on the banks of the Loire which always feels like a dividing line between landscapes. I have had it in my head all day that it is 160km from Tim’s to Saumur where I’ve booked a room at the Campanile for the night, but I’m starting to have a niggling feeling it might be a little further. Swipe Garmin screen, 150km, next junction with a sign for Saumur, 25km. Ugh. Only 15km more than I thought but my legs and head are getting ready to stop at 160. I join the dead straight road towards the Loire. It goes on for an eternity. I think I hear woodpeckers in the woods but then recognise it as machine gun fire (grew up near army ranges and rode a BMX around neighbouring woods as a teen). Shortcut to Saumur through the forest. Army signs,
UNEXPLODED SHELLS. DO NOT LEAVE THE ROAD.
The air freshener smell of damp pine forest. Woodland gives way to vineyards and then a sharp drop to the edge of the Loire. Then I ride back up the hill to the hotel on the outskirts of town. Not even sure it’s the outskirts but another town entirely. That was an extra four kilometres I didn’t need to ride.
Hammer the breakfast buffet and snaffle a few things for the musette. Dry my tights with a hairdryer. Following the southern edge of the Loire I head west, the banks of the river often right next to the road. There are indications that historically this was an afluent area, lots of big houses pretending to be chateaus as well as actual chateaus. Everything feels a little posher and less rural that the last few days. More roadworks, the detour cut short with some offroading through a vineyard. Crossing to the other side of the river the roads are damp and the air smells of wet grass. I must be following the bad weather today rather than being chased. I transfer from the Loire valley to le Maine at Angers where the roads get busier. The city is a sprawling nondescript mess and it takes what feels an age to pass through and escape it’s orbit. A very near miss with a car driver not paying attention on a roundabout. We both skid to a halt. I give them a look that can very easily be translated into French.
I’m following yet another river now, le Mayenne. Lunch in a church yard in a village next to the river before strolling inside afterwards to discover incredibly ornate decoration for a village church. Beyond this the river splits again and I’m following the Oudon to Segre where I stop for a second lunch. Moving away from the river flood plains the countryside starts to roll through farmland. The daily afternoon coffee and Orangina at 140km with 40 to go. Engage TCR mode for this final part of the day, a long undulating main road into Rennes, head down, bash it out, get it done, find the hotel.
The last two big days leave only about 80km to go today so I have a bit of a lie in and head down to breakfast in daylight. Snacks are pilfered for the musette. A pottering zigzag around the cobbled streets on my way out of Rennes. Maintain the daily routine of a coffee in a village PMU bar and a pastry in a bus stop. Things get scruffier as I near the coast, forgotten roads now that everything bombs along the dual carriageway. More roadworks and a dead end ‘deviation’ into an industrial estate. Two hundred metres of Cyclocross through the roadworks instead. More quiet roads watching fast traffic on the horizon. Past the Saint-Malo town sign but the kilometre marker below it has a 4 on it. Industrial estates, shopping centres, and a billion roundabouts. Catch every red light. Eventually I run out of land and am gazing out across the English Channel. From the Mediterranean to the Channel in a week, a thousand kilometres ridden. I press stop on the Garmin, turn around, and freewheel towards the old town to look for Maison Georges Larnicol, and on the recommendation of Bez buy a bag of kouignettes.