Hello to everyone from beautiful and sunny London, England,
It took us awhile but we finally did hit a city that had access to the outside world via a cafe with terminals. We are sitting in one that has approximately 100 terminals if not more.
Since our last writings we have crossed the Atlantic, been expected to ride 10 days straight, ate more chicken than we like to think about, seen some beautiful countryside, met some great locals and, if you can believe it, had no rain (we trust Mother Nature is not reading this).
We will divide this into two (2) parts as there is too much to cover and we would not want you to fall asleep with your noses resting on the keyboard.
After spending nine glorious days visiting with friends and family it was off again to rejoin the group in Quebec City. The drive down was uneventful and took a little over five hours.
We arrived in Quebec at Laval University expecting to leave for Paris on Monday only to find out the flight would now go on the following day, Tuesday, at approximately 7:00PM. The lodgings were at the dorms and we had rooms that would accommodate two people and on a floor of many, a limited number of toilets and showers. Since the gender of the facility changed by simply putting a slip of paper on the door attesting to its new status one had to be careful when entering to ensure the status had not changed since the last call of nature. The meals were served in the university cafeteria and were, as one would expect of university fair, quantity usually wins out over quality.
The mood of the group seemed very upbeat on our arrival, this attributed to improved weather, tailwinds and flatter terrain. Everyone seemed to have enjoyed their stay in Canada except for three who had their bikes lifted in Ottawa. This necessitated the purchase of new bikes from the tour organizers, a real bummer. Quebec City was a great experience for everyone including Mary and me who had not spent anytime visiting this quaint city.
The morning of our departure for Paris was a real downer as we learned that two more of our volunteers were about to leave the tour at the request of Tim Kneeland. Like Joyce and Gary Coombes who left in Europe, Stan and Shirley were respected by the riders and they had empathy for what we were being asked to accomplish on our daily trek. In fact, Stan got a standing ovation from the group on his return from a few days rest. These losses will be felt throughout the group and in particular the few volunteers who are left behind to carry the load without replacements on the horizon. The original news releases called for 35 staff and many more vehicles to support the trip. To date, the count is well short on both counts.
We also had a difficult situation with Matt the rider who had set up the website www.odyssey2003.com. When he tried to load his bike on the truck for transport to the airport he was denied same until he had a talk with Tim, other riders apparently loaded his bike so as to ensure it would be on the plane and Matt would continue with the group. At the airport a boarding pass was denied Matt and only after a discussion between Tim, Matt and a number of other riders committed to seeing Matt on the plane was a boarding pass issued, Matt received a round of applause on his entrance to the boarding room. Let us hope this is the last such encounter as it does nothing to help group moral and esprit de corps.
The flight to Paris left on time, thank you SkyService, the trip was fast, the food was good and the service was as usual, excellent. These folks at SkyService do know how to load the people and bikes in an efficient fashion, let's hope they get the contracts for all future flights. The Prince who flies the 747 is a nice guy but SkyService is a superior carrier.
Arrived in Paris @ 7:00AM where we boarded buses for a trip to the ETAP hotel where we were to be assigned rooms in alphabetical order. The rooms finally became available to the M's at around noon at which time we were ready for a couple of hours shut eye. Our room mate Dave Porterfield and ourselves crashed for a couple of hours at which time we were up and out to get some exercise and fresh air before dinner. The accommodations were interesting one double bed over which was placed a bunk bed. Poor Dave who suffered a broken pelvis in December was a sight to behold trying to get out of bed, we were afraid he may have another accident. Dinner was chicken at a local restaurant a short walk away and would be classed as fair.
The next morning it was up at 5:30AM for an early breakfast in anticipation of what was scheduled to be a 165km ride. Well 165 became 175km, which saw us sitting on a very hard, little and unforgiving leather saddle for a mere 8:30 hours, ouch. It took us three hours to cover a mere 40km, as we had to cross Paris before starting our circular long route to Orleans. The ride was generally flat and very scenic, just unbearably long, especially after 6 hours jetlag and a few hours rest.
The campground in Orleans was nice but on arrival at the camp at 6:00PM there were no gear trucks in sight and we waited until after 7:00 to get our clothes for a much needed shower and change. Once again supper was chicken and seating was limited to a few chairs and the odd table. The evening brought the sad news that the son of one of the riders, Jackie, had been killed in a traffic accident in Alaska, the mood in camp was to say the least very somber. Our prayers and wishes go out to Jackie and her family.
Orleans to Montlouis di Loire: After a fair breakfast it was off for a 149km ride on what was billed as a 131km ride, no we did not get lost. This ride through the Loire valley along a river and on a designated bike route was beautiful, stopped at an old cathedral built in the 11th century where the remains of Louise XI are at rest. The midday checkpoint was at a beautiful chateau that had a mere 440 rooms and too many spires to count, no wonder there was a French revolution. At the end of the day the skies opened up, but by this time we were safely in our hotel room. We were going to walk back to the campgrounds for a dinner of cold cuts in the rain but decided a hot meal at the local Italian restaurant was in order.
Montlouis to Chalonne ser Loire
After breakfast it was off again in overcast yet dry conditions. Once again it was along the relatively flat Loire valley but, as is becoming usual, the mileage, which was to have been 141km turned into 155km, not because we were lost by the way. These flat routes are great but they do play havoc with one's anatomy, as you tend to be in the saddle for long periods of time. The beautiful scenery and chateaus made up for some of the pain. As luck would have it we were able to find the only non-tent accommodations for miles around and spent a dry evening in a little caravan. The evening meal was served up by the locals and it was once again cold cuts with plenty of chicken. For those into wine there was free wine tasting and a gift package containing post cards was presented to each rider a very nice touch.
Challone ser Loire to St Auben du Cormer
After breakfast it was off in a private vehicle as we decided we needed a rest from a scheduled 155km ride. When one begins to ride unsafely, common sense dictates we seek alternate means of getting to the next night's stopover. Had a great day, enjoyed the scenery and arrived in camp in time to witness the final negotiations as to where we would be setting up camp for the night, as it turned out tents got set up around a national monument, on the gravel parking lot and in some cases in the actual campground. Supper for the evening was at the local elementary school and it was once again cold cuts and salads. The quality was great but we are creatures of habit, and a day without a hot meal seems to lack something. The locals had wine sampling and were extremely accommodating.
This was another day for bad news as we learned that Al Young had suffered a serious fall and was in hospital. It turned out she suffered fractures of her neck and luckily no neurological damage had been sustained a result of the actions of a few of our riders early on the scene and excellent emergency service from the French EMS teams. It looks like Al will be off for at least three months and will be missed by all as she had a great attitude.
We will close this first part for now stay tuned for our second installment.
Love, Dave & Mary