Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Down the Loire - off on a rocky start.

This blog is going to jump around a bit now as I catch up. The next few posts cover the bit of the Loire that I cycled, from Orleans to Angers.

First there's that funny scene in Bordeaux. I have a ticket to Orleans, I have checked with the conductor on the platform and, yes the velo carriage will be be there at the W sign down the platform towards the back of the train. The train pulls in, its a mile long. I'm looking for the velo sign and an elderly woman pushing a bike runs past me shouting over her shoulder "first carriage". She's tearing off down the platform towards the "A" sign, and I'm running along behind pushing Betty and trying to dodge passengers with huge suitcases on wheels and not fall into that gap between train and platform and this train is a mile long and she's still running in front of me and the first carriage is miles away and now I'm on the pedals trying to keep up and weaving between people down the platform and here it is but there are 3 steep steps up and I'm trying to lift and drag bike with all its load up into the carriage and someone gives me a heave from behind and somehow we get three puffing old people and three bikes and a bike trailer into that carriage just as the train pulls out. Turns out they are from Tauranga. They are at the end of their ride down the coast from Brittany.

I said goodbye to them in Tours, and took another train to Orleans, by which time it was early evening. I picked up the Loire à Vélo signs from right outside the railway station. Incidentally, there was a bunch of people cycling inside the station. Several of the railway stations across France have set up stations where people can recharge their devices by pedal power and people really seem to like the idea. Check out the video.

Cycling trail in France

“Loire à Vélo” is a well-travelled easy cycling route that is mostly off-road. 800,000 cyclists take the Loire à Vélo each year. The gigantic project cost €52 million. The route attracts huge numbers of tourists, including about one-third from abroad, mainly from Europe (Dutch, German, Belgian, British…) but also from further afield (Americans, Canadians, Australians…). I saw a few Japanese. I met three kiwis and a few riders from the UK, but the route is clearly popular with the French themselves and most of the people I talked with in the campgrounds and along the way were French.

The route joins up with Eurovélo 6, a massive trans-European route that follows the Loire, Rhine and Danube, linking the Atlantic Ocean to the Black Sea over a distance of almost 3,600 km. Now there's a plan for next year.

Meanwhile in Orleans I was on the route, nicely separated from most of the rush hour traffic and spinning along happily until I started to suspect something was a bit wrong. Either the river was flowing the wrong way or I was headed for the Black Sea. Yes, I'd gone in the opposite direction to the one I thought I going. Again! Plus I needed to visit an ATM. That involved a few cobblestone streets. Practice for what was to come as I followed the river downstream and eventually out of town. Lanes became paths and then narrow tracks but I kept bumping along until I had to get off and push through long grass.

Google maps said I was headed for a campground. With only about half an hour of daylight left but at least back on proper roads again (read roads, with cars - not the Velo Route), the 'camping' turned out to be an abandoned bit of parkland in a dodgy suburb. What to do but keep cycling.  A bit further along the river there was an Aire - an overnight parking spot for camping cars. No toilet facilities but there was a tap and that was all I needed so I put the tent up and crawled straight in. Not exactly stealth camping, but free.

Next morning I followed the road a while before I finally picked up another one of these green signs and got onto the proper route again.

The actual cycle route is a bicycle superhighway.
But easy to miss a signpost, and following google maps
certainly makes for some bumpy rides until you get back on route. 

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