5th July, 2018
Thanks so much for your support shown for the “La Velodyssee” cycle ride I undertook recently. I’m glad to say I completed the ride and also managed to eat a different cheese each day whilst in France!
I must say it was not a ride I was used to….. 1200km of mainly cycle paths, weaving around Western France in a not too logical manner. After 240km of hilly roads to get to the start there were forest trails to begin with. They followed an old railway track so it was nice to see the road rise and fall in the distance as the track wound its way round the landscape in a much more civilised manner (read ‘flatter’). I’m glad it was dry though, some of the remaining damp areas were quite boggy.
Three days then spent following the Brest-Nantes canal with black kite, buzzards, marsh harriers kingfishers and bright green lizards for company. The path was really unpredictable here. Some reasonable hard packed trail soon gave way to the most chain eating gritty gravel! The lockside ramps were fun with a full load of four panniers, bar bag and tent, all perched on a set of road tyres! Not the easiest bike to negotiate some of the obstacles…. Found the first open campsite on this section; had been wild camping in a closed site and put up in a garden beforehand so I had my first shower. They even had a bike shower too! Small things……
Finally reached Nantes where I had my first real taste of riding without any signposts. There turned out to be quite a few areas on the route where there were none to be found. Not so difficult as a road cyclist, just head in the right sort of direction and you’ll soon find a sign telling you if you’ve gone wrong and what the alternatives are. Trying to follow La Velodyssee was a different kettle of fish altogether; if you lost the path you had nothing to point you to it. Stop, backtrack, guess; it was easier on the coastal sections but when the path went inland or through the outskirts of small towns it became frustrating. It turned out that a lot of signs had been stolen as souvenirs!!! They were 4” square signs, usually glued on to existing posts and you could see traces of broken bits occasionally. I’m proud to say I don’t have one!
Big towns were difficult. I’m quite happy pedalling with a map in front of me but put me in a busy place with cars, noise, small dogs and a bit of a language
barrier and I soon realise why I’m connected to Headway in the first place. I quickly become exhausted which makes route finding even harder and I am so glad to finally leave the city. The Atlantic coast is in front of me at last; maybe a bit industrial here but I can see the sea!
Some of the land here in mid-France is so like the fenlands closer to home, empty, flat as a pancake and, above all, windy! The cyclist’s no.1 law is that the wind is always in the wrong direction and this stays true in France. Hard going but the birdlife was fantastic; black winged stilts, avocets, storks, hunting short eared owls, merlin…. Stops for breath were well rewarded. A much needed food stop had me talking to a young guy who had also ridden the route but his real love was bread. This guy grew his own wheat organically, including heritage varieties, ground it and made 4 or 5 types of sourdough loaves! I could only carry one loaf but ‘man!’ it was good and stayed soft and moist for three days (unlike most French bread that lasts for 2 or 3 hours if I haven’t scoffed it straight away).
Away through an endless succession of seaside resorts that weren’t quite awake and were waiting for the holiday season so families could play sardines in concrete apartments. Most cyclists do La Velodyssee in the summer holiday season, I’m not sure it would be possible to ride through the masses safely having been one of the said sardines in holidays past.
More birds! Turtle doves and nightingales took their turn to sing us through 200km with the odd Cetti’s warbler muscling in on the soundscape! We’re lucky to get a handful in the UK; go to mid-western France, it sounds wonderful!
Over the water at Royan and into the start of Southern France. Empty doesn’t describe it well at all but there really is no-one there! Corsican pines line the tarmac track which any Roman would be proud of. Arrow straight until Arcachon with a towns usual lack of signage, but at least I had to steer occasionally! Re-joined the coast at the Dune du Pilat area where the road rolled up and down, not too steep but the hills were long. Unfortunately the roadworkers had been out and the path was reduced to rubble both halfway down and at the bottom of every hill. A little alarming finding a patch like that at 40mph with a loaded bike whilst admiring the scenery.
Rain, rain, rain accompanied me on the penultimate day of the route and I was hoping it was dry in Manchester where my daughter Ivy was celebrating her 20th birthday with her final exam. I hope you heard me singing Ivy, I was as loud as I could be!
The dark skies stayed for the final run to Hendaye; it didn’t rain much but felt chilly. It’s a busy section with town bleeding into town and the route trying its best to follow coast and estuaries. Masses of roadworks attempted to turn me away from the route and leave me dazed and confused. Hey! They succeeded in places too! The bits where I went the right way had other plans though…..roads that ended at the foot of a cliff with only a long, long zig-zag path to slowly push my loaded bike up, and impossible bits of the path that were 35 degree pea shingled ramps that a bmx rider might struggle with. I did the usual tourist things in Biarritz, ate a sandwich, oiled my chain, those sort of things. Found an amazing shop to buy my last bit of French cheese then set off for the fanfares and welcoming banners that mark the end of La Velodyssee… or so I dreamed! Hendaye is a long town that shows no sign of being the last place in France….the signs for the route just fizzle out and there are a number of waterway sections that don’t seem to belong anywhere. Feeling a little disoriented I stop at a café to refuel, only to find I don’t understand the language as I am in Spain!!! Hurrah, I have completed La Velodysee! I have another coffee and a cake to celebrate.
My intention was to ride on to Santander which I did mostly. I have never been to Spain before and found the language barrier hard work, the road signs harder work and the driving culture the hardest work. I eventually got to a coastal mountainous road that led to San Sebastien. Sea level to 455m and back down again. 43 minutes up and a most cautious 11 minutes down including a stop to put my jacket on! I was greeted by an eagle landing in front of me at the top (booted eagle maybe) only to be seen off by a disgruntled crow.
A rubiks cube of a route through San Sebastien eventually brought me to the road I wanted. It turned out to be a cycle track alongside a dual carriageway where the road junctions took a poor cyclist off in the most unlikely direction with no sign to let me know if I was back on the right road. Fairly maddening and I found myself singing the immortal words of the mighty Chumbawamba,
“Open your eyes, time to wake up, enough is enough is enough is enough.” I rode past a tiny railway station, checked the map, the red road continued all the way to Bilbao, I bought a ticket, my head was not in a good place and it was safer to be in a calmer situation. Sorry, but there you go, it was only a little bit though and it wasn’t on La Velodyssee. After Bilbao the road turned into a still busy but much calmer affair, albeit still massively lumpy. Going up one of the long hills I was overtaken by a whistling man on an electric bike! The shame of it! I prayed for powercuts wherever he went. Whistling!!
Spain became more understandable as I passed through. Loads of pilgrimage walkers were on the roads with me. I was even put up in a hostel with them when a campsite on the map turned out to exist only in the cartographers mind. Thanks to them for a welcome meal and a bed. The blisters left out to dry were fairly impressive too. The snowcapped mountains were a backdrop to dream of, how I wished for some hillwalking gear as I sweated up the meagre foothills until I finally reached the coast opposite Santander. A campsite for surfers welcomed me in and kept me awake all night with drunken revelry and huge downpours, finally releasing me to catch a tiny ferry to Santander city for a final 48 hours of relaxation and too much wine. The end of the road. Some 1700km of it. Not much of it was road either.
Thanks so much for your support. Headway are a worthy cause. They have been a huge part of my rehabilitation and it is lovely to be able to say thank you to them in this way. I’m proud of you for helping me along the way and hope to be able to say thanks in person before too long.
You can find Adam's just giving page here:
“ Ever since Headway has been involved, my son’s life has completely turned around. ”