It’s been nearly a fortnight since Don, Nige and myself went on our ‘little’ (that term used very loosely) Audax cycling weekend. Don had sourced two 200km rides starting and finishing at Roscoff – Now being probably the weakest cyclist of us, two 200km (125 miles) rides by any standard is a long way – even if you say it quickly it still sounds a long way. I’d only done two century rides previously, one of them in a race, and I remember how much they hurt. Nigel had only done a max ride of 80 miles so new ground for him, and Don……Don does these sort of rides quite regular, his most recent an end to end of Wales, 600Km in one go! Don stated that breaking it down into small 30 mile chunks, stopping for a coffee and cakes would really help, there was no rush, it wasn’t a race, we would stick together, and cycling in France was a totally different experience to cycling in the UK – we would enjoy it. I thought he was joking – more of a holiday, a few beers, we wouldn’t really be cycling that far – would we?
Now for those of you not in the know – ‘Longflaps’ is the name of the Carradice saddle bag Nigel and myself had recently invested in from Dons recommendation, we had to pack everything we needed into this small bag for our weekend!! 3 sets of cycling kit, waterproofs, tools, spare tubes, tyre, wash kit, casual wear for the evening and sandals to wear, if you could fit anything else in then you were doing well.
Don being the seasoned traveller had purchased a Penzance to Plymouth return ticket for him AND his bike for the princely sum of £6, Nigel and I hadn’t booked our bikes on board but as Nige was a train driver he had contacts?! Nigel was getting on at St Erth, as living at Whitecross this was his closest station. Don and I met at Penzance and wheeled our machines to the train managers carriage where the bike racks were, having the weight of the longflaps on the back of the bike made handling a bit different as the front was now really light (note to self – be aware of this when dismounting) only 6 spaces for bikes! 2 were already taken, our two, that’s four, Nigels on at St Erth that’s 5 – seated in the carriage we could see bike after bike loaded onto the train – Don told stories about cyclists had been refused travel for no bike reservation and left on the platform – The train pulled out and I nervously checked my bike hadn’t been left on the platform – we were away. Pulling into St Erth, there was Nigel ready to board, into the guards carriage he went and the train pulled out of the station with no sign of Nigel, Hayle station, no sign of Nigel?!, Camborne WHERE WAS NIGEL? He’d only realised he wasn’t working and didn’t have his keys with him to get through to the carriage! Anyway all on board Don got the map out to show us where we would be cycling – bloody hell – that looks like half of France!
We arrive at Plymouth, retrieve the bikes and off we set, cycling to the ferry. Passport and ticket check and forwarding onto line 2 to queue to board. Simple, fast and efficient – Pulling up at the line Don and Nige in front I pull my left foot from the cleat – now remember how heavy the longflaps is and unsteady the bike becomes at the front? Well I didn’t – over we go to the right, down like a sack of s**t onto the tarmac – I had fallen off before even leaving the country! – extremely embarrassed, blood pouring from my right knee I didn’t half feel a plonker! Don even had to take a photo! We get ushered through to board and park our bikes ready to get onto ferry.
We were directed onto the ferry first, top result, as by this time (9.30pm) it’s getting a bit chilly, secure the bikes and up into the ship to find our berths. Nigel and I were sharing and Don (probably wisely) had a single berth next door. We change into more comfortable civvies and off we went to explore.
It didn’t take us long to find the bar and something to eat, jambon, frites and pizza Don amazing us all with his near fluent French and Nigel and I used the fail safe ‘point’ method or ‘est pour moi’ which I think means ‘and for me’ after we let Don go first.
The crossing was very calm but the movement of the curtains in the bar area was still noticeable, so only a few beers consumed (and a little red wine) and we retired to our bunks ready for the off as soon as we arrive at 8am in the morning, France being an hour ahead of GMT.
We had set the alarm for 5.30 as we were definitely going to need some breakfast, so we showered, headed for the restaurant and consumed a large greasy fry up, back to the room, repack the longflaps and down to the hold to prepare our bikes, we dock and off we set 200km here we come! The weather is perfect as the giant doors open – ‘Bonjour Roscoff’ – first off, straight through immigration, didn’t even have to stop.
The cycling is fantastic, personally I notice a number of unusual things. The lack of cars, and the ones we do encounter have so much respect, they give you room when they pass, the roads, so smooth some like glass, no cormac road dressing going on here! The hills are very gentle, the space i.e. towns and countryside, everything is so spread out, nobody seems to ‘living on top of each other’ and finally quite weird, none or very little road kill! As the day grows it’s amazing how many other people are out cycling, single riders, groups, all friendly and wave, all differing ages, I must say we saw a lot of older cyclists and all wear the real race kit! We stop off every so often to fill our water bottles and to buy cakes etc – somehow we ended up walking through the town of St Renan right down through the local Saturday market – I drew the line at ordering up a horse steak burger! Every so often we would stop and check the map as some French roads seem to suddenly change without notice – this we found out to our cost as we headed 8 miles down the wrong road only to retrace our tracks to get back on course (this of course added an extra 16 miles! You can clearly see our error on the map).
We stop for a bite of lunch at Plougenvelin. It’s a beautiful day and a lovely little seaside town but again really quiet – everywhere seemed to sell moules et frites? What was this super meal – we would find out later.
After a quick browse of the menu, we opt for a huge pizza. This is where I discover Leffe, a Danish lager with a really strange addictive taste. Don warns that anything alcoholic made and consumed by monks must be approached with caution, and that we should limit our intake.
Off we set again on our way – the French are cycling mad!! Don, in order to maintain “Super Randonneur” status within Audax UK has to complete 200km, 300km, 400km and 600km rides each year. To prove he has done the distance we have to stop off at set points en route to get his card stamped – finding some of the suggested places for stamping in some towns proved quite a task as many were closed. The highlight was when we entered one tourist information office for Don to approach the receptionist in his finest French to request a stamp – to which she replies – so what part of Scotland are you from?!?!?!? Classic!
I was beginning to struggle a little with a recurring knee problem but copious amounts of ibuprofen cream was doing wonders but I still found myself being dropped by Don and Nigel a little on some of the ascents, to give them credit they always waited for me when there was a turn or different road to take off a roundabout, some of them quite amusing.(see picky)
We approached a group of school children, and thinking to myself ‘oh no here we go’ but no! they put their bags down start doing the Mexican wave and applauding – I thought at first they were taking the Michael but no this is normal – people at the side of the road picnicking would stand and applaud as we passed – totally different to this country – coming back to Roscoff, tired but going well, climbing what was a relatively steep climb for the day, my longflaps decides to flap! Become loose, fall off and become jammed in the back wheel, where I promptly came to a standstill, feet still clipped in and yep you guessed it, over we go for a second time!! At least its to the other side this time, so two hurty knees now. We spend a little time securing things back on, tightening nuts and screws and carry on back to Roscoff. 136 miles, 10.5 hours out in the saddle in all, day one complete, could I do it again tomorrow? Nigel discovers 2 large blisters on his cheeks which is really gonna make things painful tomorrow!
Roscoff for those who don’t know is not that large, a few gifty shops, couple of nice restaurants and bars, few hotels, a really quaint little seaside village. We find our hotel, the view is OK, check into our room, basic but cheap, a triple with 3 single beds (this is gonna be cosy!) shower and out we go to hit the town. Don has forgotten his sandals, so it’s the height of fashion for him as he has to wear his cycling shoes!
Omelette and chips (£5) tonight and we stumble across a bar serving Leffe – Don and Nigel decline but you know me! Returning to the room it was straight to bed and hopefully sleep, lights out, just dropping off and a mobile kicks in – best Scottish accent (I can’t repeat the ring tone!) Don quickly turns it off – what seems like only a few minutes, we all drop off again and my mobile kicks off ‘message, message, MESSAGE!) Falmouth Biathlon results! A mixed night of snoring, strange creaky windy beds if you get my drift…
Don wakes up looking like something out of Blackadder with wet toilet paper in his ears and up his nostrils – vowing never again to share a room! We don’t snore Don! We go down for breakfast – a quick continental and off we set again, another 200km to do. Don mentions a little surprise for us today, ooh I can’t wait – my ass is feeling like concrete, but as Don says it’s mind over matter (He didn’t mind and I didn’t matter). Weather again is beautiful, although a little windier.
An uneventful morning a couple of cake and coffee stops, and a lot more people out cycling. We approach just gone midday and I completely bonk, I’m getting dropped even on the downhills – I’ve never felt like it before, my tank is empty, Nigel waits and I stupidly tell him I’m OK, just stopping for a wee and I’ll catch him up. The weather is still really good, I start to shake, shiver, sweat, I was a mess and on my own!!! I go to my longflaps and dig out a Mars bar that I’d bought earlier, thank god for that – now remember I’d told Nigel to carry on? – every 4 minutes is another mile behind – so I must have been here at least 10 minutes – the Mars has an instant effect and I feel supercharged, the next stretch of road is glass like, slightly down hill and I’m flying, averaging 28 miles per hour, Don and Nigel take it easy as I pull back to them – dinner time we all vote as we head down into Chateaulin. Then, of all things my saddle nearly fell off! It had come loose somehow – so another stop – a turn of the allen key and away we went again – why is it always me?
A huge baguette and Kronenberg 1664 later, fully refreshed we start to journey onwards, 50 miles to go – here comes Dons surprise – a 13 mile ascent up to the top of Roc Trevezel. We climbed, and climbed, Nigel leading the way, Don close behind and me falling back again – as we ascended into the clouds it started to rain! And rain it did! It pelted it down – it was now that Nigel discovered he had forgot to pack his waterproofs – it was cold, wet and windy and everything was soaking, our shoes filled with water, and to keep my morale high I was singing to myself ‘what’s that coming over the hill, is it a monster’ I understand later that Nigel, soaking and shivering with the cold is singing ‘I’m blue, deeda day deeda do etc’ I stop in a layby, go to the longflaps, put my waterproofs on, an instant warmer feeling stopping the wind-chill, turn on my back light, as fog had descended. Carrying on I see in the distance two figures and as I get closer it’s Don and Nige, shivering to death, waiting for me! I don’t think they were too impressed that I’d stopped and put all my wet weather kit on! I was now in agony, if I’m honest, as trying to pull away from an earlier roundabout in the wrong gear, I pulled something in my right leg, even the movement of pedalling was painful let alone driving off that leg – Don states that it’s all downhill from now and as we descend the rain clears, the sun re appears and we warm up and dry off quite quickly. Back to Roscoff, we had done it!! I feel quite proud of myself.
That night we have a little celebration, as we head for town, have, in the words of Daddy Don (his new name as he looked after us) we order a big hairy steak and chips, and lots of Leffe (6.6% proof) Don having to wear rather wet cycling shoes, tho’ I did lend him my seal skin socks to keep his footsies dry! I can’t remember a lot more about this night only that when we got back to the hotel I somehow acquired some buns for supper?! Job done – 260 miles in 2 days!
Today was a rest day – the ferry was due to leave at 3 but we needed to be checked in by 1.30, so we decided to cycle into Morlaix to the Decathlon Sports store – 16 or so miles down the road, very scenic hugging the estuary into Morlaix We stop at a café and decide we haven’t got time to find Decathlon so we cycle back to Roscoff for lunch.
Back in Roscoff the weather is excellent as we sit outside and order the local delicacy of moules et frites, with curry sauce no less.
Don shows us the correct way to get the little buggers out the shells and they go down a treat, along with a few more beers.
Time to say goodbye and check onto the ferry – lining up in the queue there are many fancy expensive cars returning from Le Mans – Ferraris, Aston Martins, Porche etc even a contingent from the Cornish Car Fan Club, complete with flags flying.
We are left till last to get on and bump into a couple of other cyclists who had cycled 2000 miles from Istanbul in 3 weeks – wow!
Once on board, we change again to our civvies and hit the bar – sitting at the table I look over and spot a familiar face – can you see who’s hiding behind the book?
Don disappears to the duty free shop to buy his pressies for Mrs H and daughters – this takes him 3 bloody hours!!! At least that’s one way to pass the time! You can guess how I passed my time. But at least again the crossing is calm.
More beer later we are feeling peckish and so retire to the restaurant for our last feed before docking – again a big hairy steak!
Once back on dry land we cycle back to the station to catch the 9.20 train with plenty of time to spare and whilst on the way back discuss how brilliant it was and when we would go again – Don says, to try and encourage more to come along, perhaps in September, he would put together a couple of shorter rides of 100km – these are within most members capability – so interested? What did it cost? £6 return for train, £88 return on ferry with bunk going over, £25 B&B per night and cash for food and drink – so all in all not that expensive for a great cycling experience weekend.
We arrive back in Penzance at about 11.15 – Nigel has to cycle back to Whitecross, but first checks his roster to see when he has to work, Don and I cycle home – Nige has the good news that he starts work at 4am – less that 5 hours – RESPECT!
So come on guys – fancy a cycling weekend in Brittany in September? Let me or Don know if you are interested.