13/09/2018 Simon ‘Wardy’ Ward is nomadonanomad
It sometimes takes a while to find positives when confronted by a wall of negatives. In this instance I was given a hint of a positive by a group of guys I met along the way who I now call the ‘100 guys’ because they smash out 100 kms a day. When I first met them they were kind enough to allow me to ride with them and if I tried to ride with them for any distance at all they would kill me! Having said that they are all 30 years younger than I am and their ‘rigs’ are all half the weight of mine. (Got to get your excuses in early is what I say)
So that the ‘100 guys’ have their moment in the spotlight, they are, in alphabetical order, Baptiste, Bruno, Francois, J.B., Matthieu and Rome. Great to meet you guys, thanks for the wild camping tips, and I wish you all well for the future. Also, the trailers that 2 of you had made the previous weekend were magnificent. They held a lot of beer!
We rode about 20 kms together and they waited for me with great patience. We eventually came across a bar and shared beers and whatever food we had in our panniers. They told me that the previous night they had arrived at a campsite 10 minutes before the reception was about to close. The guy in reception must having been having visions of his first ‘Pastis’ of the evening, and checking in 6 young fellas was going to eat into his free time. He told them to go away and come back in 10 minutes, when he had gone home, choose a pitch, and if they left early enough in the morning no-one was going to be around to charge them the site fee.
So, after moaning and groaning about French opening hours it gave me an idea. I already know that most campsite reception offices open at 09.00 and close in the evening at 19.00. (I don’t need to mention the 3 hours in the middle of the day for lunch) Very quickly I worked out that by arriving at around 20.00 I could choose a pitch, it’s off season and usually there’s plenty of choice, set up camp, and as long as I’m away early in the morning nobody will be any the wiser. This was my positive from a negative.
I would love to pay the required site fee but if thre’s no-one there to take it from me, what can I do? So it means that my meagre budget will now stretch a bit further. It needs to stretch a lot actually given the prices they charge around here. I’m waiting to see a menu where instead of having numbers where the price should be, they have emoji like faces with different expressions of horror. These people have some nerve!
Before I was handed this new idea of wild camping at a campsite, I had been getting very pleased with myself with the places I was finding to pitch the tent free of charge. One night I was behind a stand of trees but just 20 metres from the side of a house. I had to be very quiet and was very pleased when the tent pegs went into the ground without needing to use the hammer.
Anyway, I’d settled for the night at around 21.00 when I hear ‘Mummy’ in the house giving her kids the most amazing rollicking. It was a Sunday night and they obviously had school in the morning and were not keen about getting to bed. My goodness that woman gave them some, for at least 30 minutes, and I was busting a gut not to laugh, giving my presence away in case I was caught out. Funny.
A different kind of wild camp happened when I was getting seriously worried about where I was going to sleep that particular night. I had been riding along the canal path for 2 or 3 days when suddenly the route left the canal about 30 kms before Nantes. Every piece of land seemed to be owned by someone, i.e. it was all fenced, and it was getting late. The prospect of having to go to Nantes and get a hotel was looming large. I then came to a fork in the road with no signs and no obvious way of telling which was the cycle route.
As luck would have it an elderly gentleman appeared from a house that divided the two routes and I asked him for directions. He told me that the sign had been stolen 3 times in the last year and this time whoever was tasked with replacing it had not completed the job in 3 months. Out of the goodness of his heart he had made a sign himself and placed it in a tree on his lawn. I just hadn’t spotted it. I then asked him about campsites nearby and he explained there was nothing. He then took pity on me and showed me a small patch of land, not far from his house, that I could pitch the tent on the condition that I left no trace. ‘No problem Monsieur, and merci beaucoup!’
So, I started to set up camp and after 10 minutes or so a little old lady turned up and introduced herself. The gentleman who had taken pity on me was named Serge and she was his wife Madeleine. Madeleine had arrived with a bag of food despite me assuring Serge I was well fed, and she told me all about them and their family. I was then invited to coffee in the morning which, no surprise given what lovely people they were, included breakfast which I ate heartily before thanking them profusely and setting off. The next day I composed an email of thanks to them which had to be entirely in French as they spoke no English whatsoever. By the way, Serge was 87 and Madeleine 85. Great people and such kindness from complete strangers.
Yet another tremendous act of kindness happened just yesterday. I was approaching Rochefort and had just caught up with the ‘100 guys’. Not for long as they had ‘fuelled’ and were setting off as I rolled up to a service area on a main road. Just after I had enjoyed, coffee, croissants and the 20 minutes of not pedalling I also set off but a horrible noise was coming from the front wheel. Now a serious cyclist would have almost certainly identified, and dealt with this but you have to remember I’m a complete numpty when it comes to this cycle touring stuff. A complete and utter beginner!
Decision made to turn back and try and find a cycle repair shop in Rochefort. I was told that the eLeclerc supermarket chain had cycle repair facilities and headed straight there. It turns out that they only repair bikes that they’ve sold in the first place. Very poor Leclerc, and I would suggest that if you’re going to do something, do it properly or not at all. The ‘sales assistant’ then advised me to take it to Intersport, but almost immediately had the brainwave that they might be closed. (You could have knocked me down with a feather!)
He then suggested Decathlon, another huge chain, but they were on the far side of Rochefort and I had no confidence in them being open either. I then turned to google maps which, so far, has been adequate from a navigation point of view, but not much better. This time however it threw up the name of Yannick Sage. His shop was 10 kms out of my way but the fact there was a name gave me hope that he was a real bike mechanic, not just an idiot with a name badge. The big question was, would he be open???????
Ok, I set off and gave it as much ‘welly’ as I could. I was getting more and more worried about the noise coming from the front wheel, and just hoped that Monsieur Yannick would be my saviour. It was now the middle of the afternoon and I feared ending up somewhere very rough or very expensive while I waited for him to open in the morning. I got to the north side of St. Agnant, about 4 kms from Yannick’s shop and the legs gave out. I had to stop and have a rest and get my water bottles topped up.
Cue my first saviour. I should have taken this guy’s name but I forgot. He’s the proprietor of the ‘Tabac’ on the north side of St. Agnant and as soon as I told him my predicament he got his phone out and did stuff. He explained to me that he didn’t know Yannick, but knew of him. It transpired that he was at his shop and someone was just about to call in and direct me there. Then a lovely young lady, again I should have asked her name but forgot, appeared and told me she lived just a few metres from Yannick’s workshop and she would wait for me at the side of the road to make sure I got there ok.
After summoning up the energy to get back on the bike and do the last 4 kms I was met by the aforementioned wonderful young lady and followed her to Yannick’s workshop. Someone who wears an apron gives me great confidence in their skills, and wow was this guy skilled. His diagnosis that the front wheel was loose, his fixing it and checking the brakes, chain and pretty much everything else took about 5 minutes. Then he refused payment!!!! He wouldn’t have any of it and told me he was happy to help a ‘proper’ cyclist. Shows how little he knew about me! Another great act of kindness and it just goes to show the world is not just bad news. There are great people out there.
Anyway, have to go now as my much needed rest day, well afternoon, is going fast and I have to finish. As always, thank you for reading this far and may your God go with you.
Simon ‘Wardy’ Ward.