Lost in Bourgogne – Cycling in France

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My concerns related to the Burgundy stage of Le Tour have proven to be materially under stated and have left the team confidence in tatters. I liken it to the state of the All Blacks after their infamous defeat by the French in 2007.

Our initial problems have been the instructions and the state of French sign posting. In a typical 3 km, the first four days would proceed along the lines of following directions such as these:

“Bike 12 meters, turn left into Rue de confusions, bike 250 meters, turn right into Rue de no sign post, bike 15 meters, take a slight left back into Rue de confusion or D 768j you will now be biking through the vines, crucifix on left”. Our problems were simple, no odometer, no rue signs, crucifix on the right and houses not vines. or, it would go like this,

“bike 850 meters southwest along Rue du obscure then take a slight right to continue along Rue du obscure”. The problem was that when we got to the slight right there would be five options all as a slight right and either, no names or names at angles that indicated either of any two could be the correct choice.

The most effective solution was to get out the trusty iPhone, power up my City2Go maps app (works offline otherwise we would be penniless by now) and plug in our next landmark, walk down each road and then see which one appeared to be taking us in the right direction.

Needless to say backtracking occurred often and progress was slow. It took three hours to cover the same distance we could do in 1 hour in Germany. Not helped by Ruth’s mount being very dodgy and not dropping into low gear for the more prevalent hills we have encountered (I never said this stage of Le Tour would be all downhill), so a bit of walking has also been done.

Every cloud has a silver lining though, no backside problems because we have spent more time out of the saddle than in.

We have a very intimate knowledge of most villages of the Cote du Nuits, Cote du Beaune and the Saone Valley. We could not ask anyone for directions because we suspected a plague had recently swept through. All of the villages were deserted; shops shut, no dogs, no kids, no tourists ( probably all lost in other villages). Concerned that we may need to seek urgent medical advice, we made inquiries of a few survivors who reassured us all was well, the citizens had simply fled south for a month on vacations that were spent largely in traffic jams and briefly on the Mediterranean. They would all be returning in another week.

Despite feeling perpetually lost we have stayed in some impressive places, eaten some very average meals and choked at the wine prices, particularly where the regions have “Cote” in their name. On Saturday night we stayed in a 14th century bungalow that in NZ would be a major tourist attraction but here did not even warrant “chateau” status.

On Sunday we were stoked to see that we had a bicycle path for the remaining two days, no directions to follow, simply get on the path at Madam Moulin (the shack we were staying in) and ride. Confidence was high but given our experience of everyhing shutting up for half of the afternoon we decided to head into town first to get some snacks for lunch.

We headed into the local Casino (like a four square) in Givry, Casino open, cool, things are going great, Ruth came back with supplies, like hitting the jackpot. Back on the bikes we headed back out of town past Madam Moulin with Ruth taking the yellow jersey bit to heart and setting a cracking pace. After a half an hour we got to St Remy and as I was mentioning brandy to Ruth, a horrible though struck me, I don’t remember St Remy being mentioned in any of the place names that we pass through today.

As we stopped for water, I checked the trusty phone map and my worst fears were confirmed, we were heading in the wrong direction. Le revolution amongst my team was in the offering so rather than face a traditional French end, I fell on my sword and tendered my resignation as team leader.

Ruth immediately lead us forth with speed and accuracy. Her first decisive action was to point in the direction we had come from and say with confidence, “this way”. When we got to Madam Moulin for the third time in an hour we snuck past lest any of the other guests had already seen us ride by earlier. Didn’t want to let NZ down.

The rest of the day was uneventful from a navigational view, we sliced through the kms at a rate that would have made Lance Armstrong look like one of the very large snails we saw on the path. We got so far ahead we had time to wander off the path to visit a medieval quarter in another deserted village and then pop into a Chateau to get some renovation and landscaping ideas for Hone Heke Road (Chateau du Flat deux de Hone Heke). We are thinking of building a turret on the south escarpment of Du Chateau and a mini maze in the north western corner of the garden.

Our final day today was a short hop to Macon, gateway to the south of France.

The first three days of this stage delivered very hot temperatures but since the thunderstorms on Saturday(yes we got wet wet and yes it cleared up when we reached our destination) the weather has cooled down dramatically to the extent that is probably about the same temperature here today that it s in NZ.

Ruth lead the paleton out this morning onto the bike track and immediately rode off down a road rather than the bike path. I put it down to enthusiasm and let her keep her role, however, she did tire of it fairly quickly and we are now operating a co leadership arrangement, like the Maori party.

We had to bike through a 1.8km tunnel this morning. Apparently it has become home to a rare species of bat. I was told to shut up while we transited as Ruth did not want me waking any of them up.

The architecture has changed each day and we are starting to see the clay “half pipe” tiles on the roofs of the houses. Macon is unspectacular but like so many of the places we have visited, the main shopping areas are car-less. Mind you the speed some cars go down the “streets” barely wide enough for them, can be a bit unnerving, especially if you are wobbling along the cobbles on your bike.

We found our way into Macon with ease, did not shed any tears as we parked our dodgy steads in the Hotel garage and high-fived the end of 500kms. Sporting leg and arm muscles like Popeye we hit the hotel room, the shower and the shops. Supped a tea (Ruth) and a beer on the water front (the Saone river runs through town) purchased some cheese, bread and olives on the way back to the hotel and decided to eat in for a change. Catch the train to Avignon tomorrow, have Wednesday off as well and then hit stage three(Provence) on Thursday.

The time is flying by.

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