Way back in April I had a trip away with friends planned; a week of speed in Mallorca and then why not ride back (as you do) It’s Salsa time, I needed a bike for speed on one hand, then one to convert to use on a country bashing trip home, and the Tripster is just plain hard work at speed. After a winters abuse it was time for a total strip down with an eye on being frugal, so the only new parts fitted were brake pads and cables.
A flight to Mallorca and a crazy fast fun boozy week with the Gorillas was great and the smooth comfort and superb descending skills of the Salsa reminded me how great this frame is. My climbing was good with a 33×34 lowest gear on 10 speed proving adequate over the shorter fast distances.
The classic lighthouse ride as a warm up
Sa Calobra was a manic grin fun descent followed by a race up, a proper race; 12 riders lined up for a start and then full gas to the summit, happy with 5th.
We ate well, our hotel food allowed you to cut your own cake and pudding portion…..engage Homer Simpson mode, oh yes; and they had a chocolate fountain running every night!
Despite the forboding skies I had to go for a stroll round this fantastic city. A stroll, what was i thinking, its a big place but it was cool seeing just how many other people were out doing the same.
Las ramblas had to be en route of course, seemed the lastest tat of choice was a luminous toy you shot into the air and waited for it to parachute back to you. It was also time to shop and stock up on hobo travelling food,
This was to be a low cost tour from now on, my target was 20 Euro a day, a figure that would allow several long trips this year on no income.An early start means a quiet ride out and as the the sun rises over the groomed Barcelona beaches I’m sharing the roads with a ton of Triathlon bikes heading into the centre. Such a great ride along the coast here.
There were plenty of signs though that this area had been through a wet spring like the UK, as this underpass showed. The forecast was looking amazingly good which was good as I was now riding North for the week and needing all the help I could get.
The coast road after Tosa is one of those must do roads on two wheels of any sort, I was keen to relive memories of powered two wheel action here over 20 years ago. It was baking hot to my pale wintered skin but a fantastic afternoons riding on surprising quiet roads.
There were still plenty of signs of the wet early spring though. this raging river was just a bit to much to go at, even at speed; time for a re-route.
Eurovelo 8 continued to be challenging, a bit further down this one I back tracked, full width lakes of mud, not today, ta.
With the Pyrenees in sight it was time to wild camp before sun down. A nice quiet roadside wood was perfect and very stealth, no need for an early dark start. Day 1 Relive video spot the super wiggly fun coast road
Day 2 starts with the first Country border crossing of the year, the relatively gentle ride up to La Jonquera for a big breakfast in the trucker land there. Then rather than take the coastal route I had done before I stayed inland onto Perpignan on some good cycle tracks.
To stick to my 20 Euro a day budget it was essential to get cool fresh water when it was available, The still climbing temperatures meant the extra 1.5 litre bottle on the back was kept full too.
Yet another closed road, this time it was ok shooting the rapids, just don’t think about the deep drop at the side of the causeway/bridge. Day 2 Relive video route
Day 2 ended with another stealth camp before Carcasonne, which was perfect for an early start to enjoy breakfast and this superb site as another cracking day begins. The views of the city walls were magical caught in shadow, if only the camera could do it justice.
My route now crossed France on a mini coast to coast heading for the Atlantic. I’d heard of the canal du midi cycle route but had alternatives in case it turned out to be to rough. Not a problem, it was fantastic and a welcome rest from climbing. The superb weather made it a joy to share the ride with several others out riding here, there was more shade than being on the open road too.
Into Toulouse and the good route continues, this bridge helping on a water crossing. As crossing a big city goes the route through Toulouse by canal was brilliant, its the future, oh hang on, no it’s the past!
The heat was taking its toll it was hot and the water taps became invaluable for rinsing both my head and my salty top. I had now turned onto the Canal lateral a la Garonne heading for Bordeaux. There were longer stretches now between the honeypots of car parks and villages, as evening approached it was easy to use a bridge to cross to the other side of the canal and find a hidden spot for tonight’s stealth camp. Day 3 relive route video showing canal power
After a cool start along the misty canal the sun soon burnt off the haze to reveal another fantastic day, far from getting cooler heading North it was getting hotter. This quaint building was close by to where i stopped.
At Agen the canal crosses la Garonne river on a bridge built in Napoleon times, fantastic engineering and the cycle route follows. From the heights of the Aqueduct you look down on Cafe Velo in a wonderfull old building in a superb location twixt the river and canal.
Now that’s some cycling cafe, Agen.
Approaching midday and at Buzet sur Baise the canal and River Baise form a natural island and a marina with services and a nice picnic area. It was an ideal place for a picnic lunch and ice cream, whilst drying out the tent damp from the dew around the canal stop last night. Pretty soon I got chatting with a cycling couple who also stopped for a picnic, they were impressed with my journey so far and I took the liberty of leaving my new found friends in charge of all my kit while I took advantage of a 2 euro shower in the marina buildings. Much needed after 3 days wild sleeping.
And on it goes the canal is eventually absorbed into the river and by then I’d had enough, Over 100 miles of flat traffic free travelling sometimes there can be to much of a good thing, I needed a change and jumped off at Langden to head to find food and a different route to the Atlantic. I then stumbled across a cycle track that dived deep into the forest of the Park Natural Landes de Gascogne. It was like someone had been given a tarmac laying machine and had driven it straight through the forest, fast, smooth and sooo peaceful.
It was Wednesday evening and I was in the middle of a Thetford like forest, so this required a dive off track to the small village of Hostens to find a beer pub. wed equals pub ride back home so I needed to show I was keeping up the tradition. finding somewhere to throw up the tent in this forest was easy, wait untill dusk and just dive down one of the side tracks, a super isolated sleep location. there was some mental bird/animal making a heap of noise in the night though, I guess it didn’t like the smell of human. Relive video
You have to say its a nice start to a dozy day when you don’t need to much brain to ride these superb Forest tracks with fresh tarmac. Just needs a cafe on it 😉 luckily I had plenty of food in stock, the benefit of pannier travel.
After a morning almost exclusively on cycle trails, I finally hit the Atlantic coast at Hortin Plage. I realised I’d done overt 100 miles since 6pm last night without touching a road, and what a beach, soft golden sands and fantastic weather, once again so glad I had been blessed with this fantastic April weather.
This is the area of the huge Dunes d Hourtin and I took advantage of an on beach shower to wash off the salts soaked into my jersey and on the body. The area had the feel of a nation on holiday, everyone enjoying the un-seasonal great weather.
Heading North up the Atlantic coast now, this was the view of the beach side trails at Soulac sur Mer and I was living the dream, what a fantastic trip so far.
At la Pointe de Grave i was in no rush to get the ferry across the estuary so took advantage of the wait to enjoy a beer and ice cream as today had been a quiet day for spending and I had budget to spare.
The Ferry to Royan was busy and after a quiet 4 days it was quite a shock to the system to be dumped in this manic city in full tourist mode. I just wanted to escape as fast as possible and headed away from the more obvious coastal route for cycle tourists. I was no heading for a date in Le Mans. Relive ride video. Finding out again the Garmin 1000 doesn’t like being stopped, mileage is correct it just missed out chunks of data. (investigating later it’s there but given a date of 01:01:1990. what!
Once again it was easy to find a rarely used track into a wood and head down it untill out of sight. A lesson was learned though, cover the arms and legs before going into the wood, it was a seriously steamy hot bug night. I was being bitten non stop and had to quickly cover up and throw up the tent, then dive into it. It was so hot I just laid there naked for some time until it cooled down enough to cope, eat and wash. It was a great quiet sleep though.
An early start, it’s now Friday, and I have 200 miles to cover to keep a date with friends to drink beer and go watch some motorbike racing. This was now proper farming country heading away from the coast on quiet country roads, but the odd cycle friendly help still popped up.
I love this place, a lovely place, some great wine caves carved out of the limestone that go on for miles, and troglodyte villages to visit. Lunch in the sun admiring the view, time was getting tight if i didn’t want to ride to late tonight.
Just when you want to get a move on France throws some off road at you. Blasting through some rocky woodland trails for 30 mins it had to come, loaded bike worn tyres, a deflating moment. A tubeless worm to the rescue as I was hit again just how warm it was while stationary and sheltered. Fluids were sparse but luckily a late evening shop in a very small village (very un-French) came to the rescue
Approaching Arnage at dusk I could hear evidence of my target for the weekend, the sound of night practice before the 24 Heures du Mans motorcycle Endurance champs race. My host Veronique was North of the old town of Le Mans, another beautiful place to visit it looked good lit up as I raced through.
After a great Friday night welcome, a big meal and get together with some old motocycling buddies it was down to the Le Mans circuit for a weekend of relaxing fun. Everyone but me had advance tickets but after hanging around the entrance a while a circuit worker making some extra money soon came up trumps with a VIP pass with access all areas for a great price; result.
Right in the pits with the action, bringing back great memories, I must have visited this event for 10 years in the nineties and had not been back since. They weren’t often as warm as this one, my luck with the weather continued.
There is a much fun off track as on here, a fair and stalls and always a good concert. This year it was Chris Slade drummer of AC/DC fronting his own band, of course it was effectively an AC/DC tribute band, it went down a storm.
The spectators like to add their own brand of entertainment, who can destroy their back tyres and often engines in the most original way. A nutter in full flow here, a huge megaphone exhaust and a fuel injection pump plumbed in for mental loud backfiring and flame throwing, ow my ears are still ringing at the memory.
At the obligatory stop at the Pegasus bridge when heading for Caen I caught up with the guys sat at the cafe, it was good to blow there minds at how cool cycling across countries was. They then set off on the busy road to the Port while I cruised down the water side dodging a few African immigrants.
A final French meal at the port was a nice way to relax and wait for the late overnight ferry, one of the nicest of the Channel ports in which to do this. We also enjoyed some bizarre entertainment watching the Africans chasing the lorries and caravans trying to jump on the back of them, bonkers and an illustration of just how desperate these guys are to get to the promised land of the UK.
On board I was not going to turn down an invitation to share a bunk and have a shower, especially with a few buses of mad French school kids running a muck. Dumping all the gear meant we could have one last session in the bar in comfort; Room with a view as we pulled into Portsmouth.
Crossing the Thames is one of the progress markers on the way home, and England welcomed me back as it only knows how, a good soaking in the final hour, Aprils heatwave over, almost perfect timing for me.