Sunday, 14 October 2012

Une semaine en Bretagne

Well, life rumbles on in its own strange way. Part of me never expected to get to France in the first place, let alone spend the whole week there, and get plenty of riding in. The reason for that lack of expectation will become clear in future weeks; it's just not appropriate to rehearse the reasons now.

I'd always intended to spend the first few days alone, and indeed the first full day was my birthday. It didn't go as intended. Within 2 hours of arriving at the house I was round at the neighbours being plied with beer, wine and curry. I was, apparently, a willing participant, but I saw my birthday in hogging a bottle of red, having got through plenty of beers first. We all know the old adage about never mixing grape and grain, but I flouted it that night, and paid the price. The hangover took a good 24 hours to subside.

That didn't, however, stop me getting out for my first ride of the week on my birthday itself, Saturday 6th. It was only a couple of hours, but that was enough to either a) wholly disprove Jacques Anquetil's theory that the best preparation for a race is "a bottle of champagne, a brace of pheasant, and a good woman", or b) much more likely, prove that notre Jacques was much more of a man than I'll ever be. Climbing the few hills that day made me feel thoroughly vomititious.

Not having ridden "properly" for a year, I decided to build up the distance and miles. My original intention had been to intersperse riding and running, but a combination of Life and sciatica means that the ultra-marathon planned for the end of October isn't going to happen, so I decided that a solid block of base miles (ie nothing too exerting), would be just the ticket to build on over the winter.

So, Saturday's 2 hours were followed by 3 on Sunday, 4 on Monday, 5 on Tuesday, only 3 on Weds (the only day that being alone meant motivation was hard to find), 6 on Friday, and a warm down 2 yesterday. Thursday was a day off, deliberately, for rest, gardening, dog walking, and generally being Gallic for a day. I walked round the garden shrugging at the weeds and saying "boof" a lot.

My routes, the places I saw, the villages I rode through, are all of interest to nobody but me, so I shan't bore you with them. Suffice to day I know the Cotes d'Armor departement (to be pronounced in the same way as Sean Kelly says 'classement') better than most.

That said, there were some recurring themes. Number 1: undulations. Brittany has no mountains, in any kind of proper sense. It also has, however, almost no flat roads. I truly wished I had a Charlie Garmin this week to record the ups and downs, for there were many. Number 2: rain. But then again, it was October in Brittany, so what the heck did I expect? To be fair, most days it was so mild I rode in the rain with bare arms and legs; it was reminiscent of being caught in a shower in Singapore. And on Friday, when I rode 100 miles for the first time in over a year, not a drop fell out of the sky.

Number 3: the sheer bloody joy of riding a bike in Brittany. I've gone on about the roads and lack of traffic before, but there's so much more to it than that. The skies are enormous and the horizons seem to permanently be visible through a full 360 degrees. So many villages are perched on hills, with their churches reaching skywards in the centre, that route planning is both easy and impromptu - you just spot the next village and head towards it. I also did days where the route planning rule-of-thumb was simply to choose quiet roads I'd never ridden before. Sometimes I inadvertently retraced my steps, but by and large I found one previously-undiscovered gem of a village after another. There was something very special about riding through one called Tregenestre last Monday afternoon; it was a typical mid-autumn day in northern France. The drizzle was coming down, the streets were deserted, maize-harvesting was going on just outside the village, and the distinctive smell of woodsmoke found its way up my nostrils as I pedalled through. It felt a million miles away from working and being in central London, and was all the more wonderful for that. It couldn't have been more French if Michelle from the Resistance had stepped out from behind the church and said "listen very carefully, I shall say zees only once".....

Each day my post-ride routine followed the same pattern; bike clean, deep hot bath, real food whilst dusk drew in. If I'm beginning to sound a bit misty-eyed, I make no apologies - it was a brilliant week. The only regret was that Mrs Monmarduman couldn't join me at the end of week, as was the original plan. That would have rounded it off nicely.

As it was, the only other possible regret was cycling nearly twice as far as I drove in the hire car; it would have been cheaper to have put my touring bike on Ryanair and cycle to the house. I'll know for next time, and yes, there will be a next time.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Tweets by @skinsalive