Since my last update, Russell and I have continued to make steady progress through France (and even in the right direction). We’ve found our way through France’s second largest forest (and it is huge), we’ve climbed a few big hills (and deliberated on when a hill becomes a mountain), we’ve navigated our way into Besançon which shall now be known as the world’s least bike friendly city (disclosure: unless you know about the super-easy cycle path through it), and we met ‘Crazy Camembert Claude’! All that to come and a little bit more!
Travelling by bike seems to be the perfect pace, as you spend plenty of time to observe somewhere, but notice changes with sufficient frequency to keep everything fresh. Having spent much of the first week pedalling across farmland, a variety of crops in every direction as far as the eye can see, we entered woodland, which we later discovered were the second largest in France. These forests are majestic, especially when the light is golden at dusk and dawn and the birds are making what can only be described as a melodic racket. We’ve been able to find some great wild-camping sites under these #tall, ancient trees. One week and 400 miles later, everywhere is still thickly covered in trees. We have also passed through over 100 miles of a completely flat cycle path, firing us from St-Dizier to Langres beside canals. This section was relaxing with fishermen every couple of hundred metres trying their luck with rod and reel, a wide variety of birds soaring overhead, wading through the water, or singing in the trees (you can tell Russell, who loves his birds, did the route planning for this section), and warm, gentle and sociable cycling.
We had great difficulty trying to get into the city of Besançon. With just a couple of kilometres to go, our road tried to fling us onto a rush-hour speeding motorway. It was around about this point also that every road sign disappeared, and junctions and roundabouts could randomly pop out with no indication which way each road went… unless you want to go into Besançon in which case this convenient motorway right here should help you..(!) After following our map with absolutely no success, and having no idea where on the map we were, or if we were even still in France, we put it away and followed our compass. At each junction, we would simply pick the most south-easterly option. Fool-proof huh? Being a city on a hill, and also sod’s law, meant that this was also the steepest virtually every time. It appeared even our compass wanted to get us onto every motorway possible, but eventually, after several frustrating hours skirting the entire north of the city, and, I believe going round in circles a few times, we made it in. We crashed in despair on a bench, devoured a pack of sweets, and began wondering if we’d ever get out this city. This is when Damion, our knight in shining armour came over and asked if we needed help (we must have looked that lost). He told us of a flat cycle path beside a river into and out of the city, not shown on our map, just over 100m from where we were sitting. He also happened to be a bike tourer and could tell me about part of my route ahead!
Having a route out, we finally got a chance to examine the city around us. I desperately wanted to hate it, but found that I just couldn’t. It felt vibrant and energetic, one of those evening’s where everyone is making the most of the gentle warmth, and the sunlight’s last hour, with many younger people running, cycling, skating, scooter-ing their way beside the river which courses its way through the city. Meanwhile others enjoy a meal or a drink at a table outside a bar or restaurant, in no rush for the bill to come, and spoil their evening. A château stands at lofty heights overlooking the entire city, cliffs falling vertically away from it.
Some of the people
As we’ve come further south, we’ve come into contact with more people, and also had a lot more interest in what we’re up to. I can’t talk about everyone but here are some of our favourites,
Crazy Camembert Claude
I say the word ‘crazy’, but perhaps eccentric might be a better word. As we pull up, Claude is already opening a big bottle of cider, “Let’s Party!” he hollers. At the age of 50, with many stories to tell, he has come back to where he grew up, living in a simple wooden house in the woods, with no electricity other than lights from a solar panel or running water. He talks to us about how we should be able to get good women here; “it’s easy now, this isn’t the city’, he tells us, before swiftly moving conversation on to the time he smuggled a Russian bayonet into the country. After a refreshing break, discussing life, over a bottle of cider, we got up to leave. He gets up and pulls out a wheel of Camembert cheese he’d bought that morning, a kind departing gift vastly improving the next two day’s pasta.
At the bottom of a hill, I saw two huge rucksacks bobbing in the distance. Right, my motivation to get to the top. They were two retired French doctors, Mickael and Amand, walking a pilgrimage from
Canterbury to Rome, over 155 days. Although older, they were bursting with life and energy, equally excited about our trip as theirs. Embarrassingly they managed to overtake us about 5 miles later!
The bike touring students
Coming out of Besançon we bumped into three French students, Zachary, Louis, and Luca, who had just begun their two week bike tour that day. Their trip was rather more spontaneous than mine, carrying luggage in a rucksacks, missing lots of stuff, but carrying the important stuff… beer! I embraced their sense of adventure. Proof bike touring can be done by almost anyone. We ended up laughing away the evening, and the aches and pains from their first day’s riding on the banks of the Doubs river, and sharing our provisions out. They bought beer and fine cheese to the table, and we bought fresh baguette and chocolate. It was this kind of evening that reminded me why I wanted to do this tour!
The week ahead
This is my best guess for the week ahead. If you'll be in the area, please be sure to drop me a message if you'd like to meet up for a beer or a coffee, or to show me around the area! If you'd like to cycle with me, or offer a bed to stay in, even better!
Thursday - Heading into country number 3, Switzerland, towards Yverdon-les-Bains.
Friday - Going back into France towards Pontarlie.
Saturday - Russell goes home :'( I'm on my own. Heading to Neuchatel to stay with a friend.
Sunday - First rest day of the trip! Staying in Neuchatel.
Monday - Heading to Basel, Switzerland.
Tuesday - Into country number 4, Germany!
Wednesday - Following the Rhine to the start of the Danube.
If you live in, or are travelling near any of these, please don't hesitate to message me, whether I know you or not!