Brioude, France: When the 6:00am alarm went off this morning I decided — or rather, my body decided — to take an impromptu rest day. I haven’t had a non-cycling day in ten days, since San Sebastian. Plus my clothes are stiff and wreak. I have some housekeeping to do.
After getting up at 9am, I set out to find a self-service laundromat. That’s not as easy as it sounds, but eventually, in a quiet neighborhood I found a laundromat next to a bric-a-brac store. Then I realized I didn’t have any change, so I walked back to town to break a 50 Euro note by buying a pastry and a cafe-au-lait. Figuring out how to get everything to work at the laundromat was another adventure, but thankfully a French couple showed up and together, the three of us figured out how to get the detergent and the machines to operate and which buttons to push. We laughed and got the job done.
Refreshed with some clean clothes, I then returned to the hotel, changed rooms, put all my cycling clothes out in the sun to dry (yes, there is sun today, and no, the hotel did not like my airing laundry) before returning to the old town for another 12 Euro menu du jour and to see the Basilica of Brioude. I skipped the salmon museum.
I don’t think there’s much of anything else to see here.
This afternoon I did errands. I have noticed in almost every French settlement there are predictably three commercial establishments: a boulangerie (bakery), a cafe-bar, and a coiffure, so I figured correctly this is a good country to get a haircut. It was a productive day, but hardly a rest day.
The time off the bike also gives me an opportunity to address some various questions which have been posed to me over the past few weeks.:-
Are you sore? No, not where the body contacts with the bike (ie my derriere). But I am tired from the cumulative effort of cycling for nearly a month now. I am finding the climbing much more difficult than I expected, and before this trip I considered myself a strong climber.
What’s the hardest part of this trip? Being away from my son, who is in Taiwan this summer having a good time and absorbing Mandarin. I’ll get to see him in three weeks, but this is the longest stretch ever we’ve been separated. It’s hard.
What do you think about when you ride? Not much. I try to concentrate on my immediate surroundings and there’s always navigational issue to focus on (e.g. have I missed a turn?) On good days there’s a village every five or ten kilometers, which keeps it interesting. I try to snap back to the immediate when my mind wanders. Sometimes I play distance games, and sometimes when I’m really off the grid I’ll sing, boisterously. To get through the challenging parts I also think about the rewards which follow, such as a hot shower or a good meal.
Are you bored/lonely? Definitely not bored. Between the cycling, the daily route and logistical planning, the blogging, and everything else I have to do to get through a day, I am very busy. Most of my days are intensive 18-hour days. But the solo part is increasingly a challenge. The first few weeks were ok, but the shallow and largely transactional social interactions I have on the road don’t satisfy. I crave real conversation. I just have two weeks to go before I’m with friends, and three until I’m reunited with family. I am confident I will make it.
Do you think you’ll finish? Absolutely. The only questions are how long will it take and how painful will it be along the way. I also think about navigating Istanbul, which I hear can be a nightmare for the unfamiliar cyclist. I definitely have my eye on the finish line.
Are you carrying all that camping stuff with you? Unfortunately yes. It’s why my bike is so heavy and I’m so slow. In addition to my cycling (four sets) and street (three sets) clothes, I am carrying a tent, a mat, a sleeping bag, and a cookset and utensils to prepare food — just in case. I could lighten my load by about 50% if I didn’t have the camping equipment. I have camped only once, but consider this equipment insurance: hope I don’t have to use it, but if I need it then I am glad I have it. Plus there’s all the spare and duplicate things: two cameras, a video camera, a safety kit, bike tools, and loads of other stuff. Loading and unloading my bike every day is a process.
Did you take all the pictures on your blog? Yes, with the exceptions of: 1) some photos in which I appear and ii) some photos on the “Go Green” page. I’ve not had a chance to share some of my best photography, in my view. I am constrained by bandwidth issues in some places, and when I can upload photos sometimes I choose photos to illustrate a point, but those may not be the best photos of the day. For example, here’s one of my Bordeaux photos which I couldn’t upload at the time. You may just have to wait for the book to see the full picture.
How much weight have you lost? At the rate I am consuming calories, I am worried about gaining weight on this trip. Right now I think my weight is about the same as when I arrived in Lisbon a month ago.
Any close calls? Yes, two days ago. I had a controlled descent off a mountain and didn’t realized I was at a T-intersection until I was at the intersection. I wasn’t going that fast and slammed on the brakes, but physics rule — a heavy mass going downhill is hard to stop. There was a car approaching on the perpendicular road from my left. The driver and I made eye contact, and the driver was trying to figure out which way to swerve and which way I would go. Fortunately I was able to stop just before the intersection, but had I come down the hill two seconds later it would have been too close for comfort. That morning, my son said “Dada, be careful.” It is the only time ever he’s said that.
Tomorrow I cross the 2,000-km mark and have three cycling days to go until I reach Switzerland. My route map is also now up-to-date.
Day 26 (Thursday, June 30): Brioude, France
Distance: 1,979.10 km
Climbing: 14,271 meters
Rest days: 5
Police interactions: 1