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Cycle camping: day 2 - John C. Kirk

Jul. 5th, 2010

11:00 pm - Cycle camping: day 2

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I went on a cycle camping holiday in Brittany from 3rd July to 10th July (via Breton Bikes). I'm backdating my blog posts for each day, based on notes I made at the time.

The crime rate is roughly zero in Brittany, so we left our bikes lying outside the tents (unlocked) with the panniers still attached, and only took what we needed into our tents. I then woke up at about 06:00, and heard that it was raining. This was unfortunate, and I reflected that I probably should have brought the panniers inside the tent the previous evening; still, hopefully they were waterproof. Half an hour later, it was still raining, and I thought that I really should have gone outside when I first woke up to retrieve the panniers. I wasn't sure whether it was worth going after them now: either they were waterproof (in which case they'd be fine), or they weren't (in which case it was too late). However, I decided to make a quick dash to the bike: I left the panniers attached, but threw all my carrier bags into the tent. Actually, the stuff inside was still pretty dry, but after that I took the panniers off the bike every night and put them in the "porch" area of the tent.

Once we got up properly, we went back to the town centre for breakfast, and didn't actually leave until 10:55. However, we still reached Binic (the end of the day 2 route) at 12:30. By this point, I'd noticed that Lucy and I had different cycling styles, and I tended to travel faster. This isn't necessarily because I was any fitter; I think it's mainly because she used her brakes on the way downhill to control her speed, whereas I'd whoosh down as fast as possible. Gliding like that is one of the real pleasures of cycling: it's a reward for climbing the hill, and my momentum can often carry me partway up the next hill, so it's the gift that keeps on giving! (That's the main reason that "fixies" don't appeal to me, i.e. the bikes that don't freewheel.) Anyway, that's not a criticism; different strokes for different folks, and all that. Even when we cycled "together" (single file), it was hard to have a conversation unless the person in front turned round. I think that cycling and swimming are inherently solitary activities, even with company. We settled into a routine where I'd go on ahead, then stop every so often to let her catch up. However, we got separated at Binic: I did a couple of loops around the town, then decided to continue on my own.

Again, it seemed a bit silly to set up camp at lunchtime, so I started the day 3 route; the next scheduled campsite was at L'Arcouest, on the north coast. According to the blurb for Plehedel: "You pass a GREAT restaurant on the left as you leave the village ... STOP AND EAT!!!" I used that to motivate myself, and planned to stop there for lunch. When I arrived, the sign outside said "Ouvert", which was encouraging. I went inside, and the woman working there seemed a bit surprised to see me.

Me: "Bonjour."
Her: "Bonjour."
Me: "Un table pour un, s'il vous plait."
Her: "Pour manger?"
Me: "Oui, oui, pour manger!"
Her: "C'est finis, le manger."
Me: "Ah. Merci..."

I'll let you picture my dejected slump as I trudged back to the bike to see how far it was until the next village. I had some bread and cheese left over from the day before, so that was my backup plan for lunch. Although we'd been told that it was ok to eat our own food in pubs, it still felt a bit cheeky, and my French wasn't really up to the job of asking permission, particularly now that I was on my own. On the other hand, every time I stopped my bike near a house (e.g. to drink some water), yapping dogs would rush out, so that wasn't conducive to a leisurely meal. In the end I waited until I was in the middle of nowhere, then stopped in a field (opposite some cows) to eat my lunch. Thankfully there was no sign of Farmer Gilles turning up to say "Allez-vous orf my land!"

Resuming my journey, I had some problems with the route. The directions were all quite specific, e.g. "Turn left when you see the house with a black and white front", but there were also a few mistakes, so I annotated it with corrections; this is similar to what I do if I find errata in textbooks. Just as we have A-roads and B-roads in England, there are D-roads in Brittany. One particular instruction said: "After 2 kms you reach the D& where you turn right then after 100m turn left signposted YVIAS on the D79. Here take the D82 signposted for PLOURIVO which you reach after 5 kms."

"D&" was obviously a typo; I guessed that they'd held down the SHIFT key for too long after the capital D, so the number at the top of the keyboard had been replaced by the corresponding symbol. So, as I sat there on my bike, my thoughts ran like this: "Suppose I was in front of a computer keyboard, and I wanted to type an ampersand; which number would I press?" The snag is that I'm a touch typist, so I rely on "muscle memory". Particularly since I use the Dvorak layout, but my keyboard looks QWERTY, that means that I can't "hunt and peck" to find keys. However, if you ask me where a particular key is, I have no idea; my fingers know how to type it, but I couldn't tell you which row it's on. In this case, I guessed that D& was either D6 or D7, and it turned out to be the D7. (I had a similar problem later on, when the route described a distance as "£ kms".)

The other problem here was that someone had built a roundabout after these instructions were written. I took the exit for the D7, but that led to a big road where bikes weren't allowed, so I backtracked and took the exit for the D79 instead, then phoned for help.

This brings up the issue of maps. When I do LEJOG, I'm planning to carry Ordnance Survey maps with me, but I'm not sure which scale is better: Explorer (1:25,000) or Landranger (1:50,000). The Explorer maps give more detail, but I'd need more of them, so they'd take up more space. I need to do a test ride to find out whether Landranger are good enough. On this route, I had a Michelin map with a scale of 1:125,000. That was useful to get a general overview of where I was going, but it was completely useless for working out which way I should turn at a particular junction. However, that's still useful knowledge to have for future trips.

Anyway, I sometimes got a bit worried because I wasn't sure whether I was going in the right direction. In a case like that, it's a balancing act: do I keep going in the same direction and hope for the best? If I'm going uphill, that means that I'd be wasting effort, and if I'm going downhill then I'll have to go uphill to get back on course; that's doubly awkward because it takes the fun out of the "big whoosh". On the other hand, what happens if I abandon my current course and then it turns out that I was going in the right direction after all? I'll then have to come back along here again. This was mainly an issue when I disagreed with the route instructions, and I only crossed bits out after I knew that my version was correct.

As a specific example from this day, I bottled out on my final approach to the campsite, so my route looked like this:

Backtracking around Ploubazlanec

When I went through Ploubazenec, there was a crossroads with a signpost that almost pointed diagonally between two roads (either straight on or turn right). This seems to be fairly common in France, and I think the idea is to make it easier to see the sign if you approach from different directions. Anyway, I thought that I was supposed to go straight on, but after a while I hadn't seen any signs for the campsite so I went back to the junction and went the other way. After a while I decided that this was even less plausible, so I went back to the junction again and repeated my original course. It turned out that I was about 100m away from the campsite when I abandoned my first attempt; d'oh!

I reached the campsite at 18:00, and pitched my tent. Just as I finished, Lucy arrived! After we got separated, she left Binic ahead of me, so she made it to the restaurant in time for lunch; she must have left just before I got there. Apparently it was very good (a 5 course meal), but it was quite meat oriented, so I didn't really miss much.

Since we were on the coast, I went down to investigate the beach, but it was very rocky. Not just pebbly, like Brighton: there were huge boulders strewn around, and there was no easy way to get to the water. However, there was a jetty sticking out for the ferry to moor. By this point I was determined to have a swim somewhere, so I waited for the ferry to leave then went out to the end of the jetty and entered the water from there. It was a bit cold, but I got used to it, and I had a quick splash around. Unfortunately, by the time I'd finished all the restaurants had closed, so my dinner involved chocolate biscuits and the bottle of cider that I'd bought the previous day.

Ah well, it wouldn't be an adventure if everything went according to plan. Things don't need to go wrong, but there should be an element of the unknown. I read an interesting article recently: Missing: The British spirit of adventure? In my own small way, I like to think that I'm redressing the balance.

Distance cycled: 72.4km.


Date:July 19th, 2010 07:08 am (UTC)
Landranger maps are ideal for cycling. Explorer maps are too large-scale - you spend all your time re-folding the map at the speed you travel - because their suited to walking. MP-J
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Date:July 19th, 2010 03:42 pm (UTC)
I prefer Landranger maps even for walking. That said, I haven't used Explorer maps much - maybe if I used them more I'd get over my aesthetic qualms and benefit from the greater detail.
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Date:July 19th, 2010 04:09 pm (UTC)
Thanks to you both - I've ordered a few Landranger maps that cover London to Brighton, so I can test how well they work.
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