Tour de France 2023: Injuries, disaster bivies, failure to complete the ride - a great time all round

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jameso
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Joined: Tue Nov 06, 2012 1:48 pm

Tour de France 2023: Injuries, disaster bivies, failure to complete the ride - a great time all round

Post by jameso »

A long post but it's got pictures to help you through if you can face it : )

This July I made it out to the Alps again after 4 years. I just missed the mountains. It felt so good to be back on French roads, simple solo road touring again. It's not epic, it's not hardcore and it's barely worth reporting on, it's what 1000s of CTC types do every year and I love it.
Anyway, here’s a (bad phone camera) photo-heavy trip report from a 1500km trains, ferries and bike trip that didn't go to plan due to injury again but worked out just fine, with a few 'memorable for the wrong reason' bivies along the way.

I wanted to get out to Turin again this September for a TNR but a change of jobs in August would have meant 10 days off in the second month in the new job, not ideal. I also had only 3 days between one job finishing and the new one starting so I was itching to get some time out. Things were fairly quiet at the current place in my last few weeks and my work from home responsibilities could be work from bike - answer a few emails and keep a couple of things moving via my phone while taking a couple of weeks out. All was ok'd so since I had some routes mapped out I booked a train and ferry on the Wednesday and was in Caen by Friday night. The plan was to ride to the Alps, do some riding there then ride home. 10-14 days plus a day each end for ferry and train maybe?

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I like ferries for bike trips, there's always a few touring cyclists on board and it's good to hear of their plans on the way out, or stories and reports on the ferry home. On the way out I had dinner with a chap from Bristol, just down the road from me, who was heading out for the Pan Celtic Race. Frank was good company, an interesting guy the same age as me who worked in finance and investments who was planning some time out to ride round the world and had been training well for the PCR. He told me about some of his climbing in the Alps and Nepal and we talked distance riding and racing ethics and the merits of guided climbs.

Day 1
Caen, grey and drizzly. There's a good bike path out of the city along the estuary river with loads of space for a bivi but given the weather I was glad of Frank's offer of a floor in the Air BnB he had. It took some finding (keys and flat location), my bar width took up most of the kitchenette but it was quiet, enough floorspace for me and there was a mocca pot and good coffee. We left around 8am and he headed off to get ready for the start the next day. I wished him a good race and set off on a more relaxed ride.

Just outside Caen itself the roads were typically quiet and so similar to the rolling countryside that I love in the UK. France is just more open and my appreciation of that openness has gone up hugely in the last 10 years or so. There's more space between landmarks there, longer distances between junctions. I've probably waffled on about this before but I think that's what keeps pulling me back to road trips across France, not only the accessibility but the space and the perfect rate of change in the landscape for a rider covering a reasonable amount of ground per day. The reward of the Alps or the limestone gorges is always there but in hindsight it's the journey there and back that often comes to mind at random times post-trip. It's as if subconsciously it's where my bike-mind feels at home and it's reminding me. Rural countryside is a landscape where almost every direction is open to a rider, an open network versus the hemmed-in valley roads and one col per high ground border line of the higher mountains.

It started raining again within that first 10km out of Caen. I had taken an opportunity in the timing of this trip, setting off with a forecast for a few days of improvement followed by a week of good weather around the Alps, but that morning the rain was just plain wet. It got better in the afternoon though.
My route was based on a default 950km A to B from Cycle.Travel and was flat as could be for the first 700k so the miles (sorry, K's) were going by easily. I rode through 120km or so of flat, rural 'badlands' north of the Loire late afternoon and was in Orleans for dinner around 7pm.

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Bleak, flat and windy

I had a few bivi snacks and breakfast in my bag already from a Lidl on the outskirts and decided to have a pizza and juice in town. It's a lovely city. I made it into the cathedral briefly before it shut, reminded me how much more impressive it is from the outside though. The interior of Spanish catholic churches are inspiring and dramatic compared to some of the sombre, rather dull cathedrals I see in France.

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Cathedral in Orleans

I left Orleans with an hour or so of light and full bottles and stomach, only intending to ride as far as it took to get find a good bivi spot. I was on the Grande Levée d'Anjou again, a section I rode on in 2019 on my ride back from Nice after the TNR. I love crossing over old routes like this - some familiarity of the place but a different time of day, energy levels or direction mean I only recognise parts of it. It's odd how clearly a certain junction is remembered yet other parts of a repeated route seem new. The levee is elevated (well, yeah..) about 10m above the plain there so it can be windy. It was, it had been all day. I found a sheltered spot sometime around 10pm. 310km down, probably the easiest 300k I'll ever do, or would have been in the dry and without the incessant cross wind.

Bivi suprise #1
I rode down a path off the levee onto a track that lead to the river. At the side of a corn field there was a flat area of grass, sheltered from the wind and the open side of my tarp would face the sunrise. Perfect. I set up and was eating something when a light came toward me. There had been a few bikes going along the levee path but this was definitely coming down the path I'd taken. Some animated, amused chat sounded like two drunk guys and they were weaving towards my tarp lines. I warned them and shone my headtorch out onto the longer line then rolled out from under the tarp. A friendly-drunk 30-something chap with a tinnie in hand told me I should move, I'd get run over because cars use this track and he couldn't see me... OK I said, sure, I'll be careful. "Non, bouger, allez..!" he says, not aggressively but he was keen that I didn't do something he thought was not smart. "ok ok.." They carry on down to the river in a direction of the faint music I could here and I spent the next half hour thinking there was a party going on down there, cars parked by the riverside (you could drive a car down there in the way that you see Fiat Pandas on wide mountain tracks in the Alps) and a horde of drunks falling over my bivi at 2am. From peace by the Loire to minor stress in 5 minutes. But in the end I didn't bother moving, I got into my bag and fell asleep. If they did come back that way they were very quiet as they passed. I slept well, I was on the road by 6.45am the next day after waking up an hour later than normal compared to the clock, normal time compared to the sunrise.

Day 2
A pleasant and uneventful day along the Loire valley and the central canal path and some open roads. It was all pretty much flat, the canal path wasn't always that smooth but Coypu spotting in the canal was fun, they're not particularly bothered by people. I was spinning along happily while also getting a bit bored of the flat, efficient and low traffic route, to be honest. As fast as it was I'm not used to riding on the flat all day for 2 days and toward the end of another 300km day my knee was aching, it felt like IT band pain. I thought it was simply not being used to that amount of constant seated pedalling.

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Looks like the Loire to me

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Morning coffee stop at a Bar Tabac, a rule of French touring?

Bivi #2 was at the side of a Voie Verte bike path. Bike leaned up against a handy bench, tarp strung up behind it. I slept well and sat on the bench making coffee at 6.30am the following morning in peace. I'd not seen anyone on that particular bike path since 9pm the night before.

Day 3
Knee and now achilles area not feeling right after 30 mins riding that morning. It was like the IT band pain I used get when hill walking. I checked my recently-fitted cleats and noticed the cleat on that side was ~4mm too far forward. Moved it and hoped that was that. A bit further on that morning I went into more rolling countryside and I was happy to have a change of pace and effort on the climbs. Partway up the first one I dropped my saddle a touch as my achilles was complaining a bit, remembering some advice about this reducing 'ankling'. All this wasn't good.. not had that kind of discomfort on the bike before. I ride a few different bikes and shoes and have never been too sensitive to exact bike and shoe fit but I have been getting more general riding discomfort as I get older yet still ride long distances without the conditioning I had a number of years ago. Climbs and descents took my mind off it, it was just minor discomfort rather than pain. A 250m climb felt ok and I liked the slightly lowered saddle.

Entering the Rhone department was interesting.. suddenly I was on Welsh gradient roads in 28 degree heat. 12-15 degrees up, 12-15 degrees down, narrow gravelly lanes, slow going. Heel hurting. Wondering why I'd not taken the main D road and more gentle slopes. A coke can from a vending machine was the first refreshment available that afternoon, it was shops-shut day in France but I found a supermarket only a few km later.

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It was a nice area, the high point was 550m above the valley and the descent was amazing, the first long, Alpine-style descent I'd ridden for years. I was in Vienne and crossing the Rhone by late afternoon and the Rhone bike path was a great place to be after the hills, eating ripe yellow Mirabelles by the dozen sat on the riverbank. I stocked up for dinner at a Lidl, wrapped everything in my silver foil bubblewrap 'bikepacker fridge' as it was hot, and rode on for a bivi spot.

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The Rhone, just before crossing the bridge there into Vienne centre

The ride into the countryside S of Vienne was beautiful in the evening light with my long shadow ahead of me. Riding for days in the same direction is something special, I really enjoy the light and shadows as a clock. "it's probably 8-ish... 40-50k before a bivi" sort of accuracy is all you need.

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Perfect light and heading SE

After the higher ground there was a descent towards a valley plain. On that descent I stopped to admire the evening light on some vertical limestone cliffs. The Vercors! No.. I'm looking due east so it's the Chartreuse area I think? Whichever .. it felt good to see big geology again. Now I'm in the France I was pedalling for (had to zoom with the phone to get a blurry pic)

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Unidentified cliffs that I was very happy to see

Bivi #3. A real bivi.
It was a clear night, warm and no sign of changing weather. I used to bivi all the time and I've had a couple of bivi bag-only rides across France and Wales where too often I end up riding late looking for a roof to sleep under due to the chances of rain, or it actually raining. Mairie side buildings, sports grounds, hobo bivis R US. Having a tarp was good but I've got into the habit of using it and I wanted to see the night sky on this trip. Real bivies are great. I was asleep within minutes of feeling warm and appreciating that 'nothing between me and the stars' view.

Day 4
With my achilles not getting better or worse I was soft pedalling a lot of the time. Rode towards Grenoble with more spectacular rock formations in the near distance. Second breakfast / early first lunch on the way out of Grenoble, eating while looking at my route and the alternatives because this heel issue wasn't going to get better from riding. I was determined to at least get to the Alps though.

The N1091 road out of Vizille sucked. There was a bike path at the side but it was a busy main valley road, often dual carriageway and a 3-4% drag uphill into a headwind. I didn't fancy it much so I turned around, rode back the wrong way in the gutter path at the side of the road because it wasn't possible to cross over, kept my thoughts or hand gestures to myself when I got beeped at... then crossed over when the road was single carriageway without a barrier. Took a small road that lead to the N85 which though a shorter looking section of N road, also sucked. A very steep, busy main road. I'm doing 5-6km/hr, 9% uphill alongside trucks that are being overtaken by cars doing 70. It's 30 degrees plus and I'm out of water. My heel hurts. feck this. A smoking lorry pulled out of the layby across me, I braked, wobbled and stalled. 'feck you too'. The lorry gassed it then broke down 200m up the hill in front of me where the 2 lanes go back down to one. Hazard lights went on, chaos happened behind him as the traffic slowed and build into a jam, I didn't look back much as I rode up the inside of his lorry onto a now almost deserted road to finish the last 5km of the climb from hell. One person's misfortune, another’s benefit, somewhere : )

I got off the N85 feeling disappointed. 20 years ago I rode from Grenoble to Provence through the Alps and a lot of it was on or close to the N85 Route Napoleon. Maybe the road's been widened or maybe it's just the increase in car use since then. There's basically no good way out of Grenoble-Vizille area towards the Alps, it seems. Anyway, I then rode on lovely, hilly side roads and took a longer route south and round to the Col d'Ornon. A hillier but far prettier alternative. The Ornon was the first col I rode on that tour 20 years ago and I remembered some of it like it was last week. I soaked my shirt and cap in a fountain on the way up as the sun was on my back, it was 2 or 3pm and hot. I took a few brief breaks on the climb. My heel needed rest and it was just a bit too hot for me. Plus shade, a drink, time to look at the view, all good reasons to stop.

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Col Ornon

The descent down the north side of the Col Ornon is a cracker. It's not a high col but it's a great ride overall. I got into Bourg d'Oisans around 6pm so decided to get a proper meal there and then stock up and ride to La Berarde that evening. Dinner was an experience in itself, I took pot luck on a quirky place, the chap who ran the place was a character and a motorbike tourer who’d ridden around most of the world. I left feeling ok for supporting his business even if the food wasn't amazing. Carbs content was acceptable and that’s the main thing. At least it wasn't another pizza.

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Entertaining guy on a motorbike.

The ride into the Ecrins from Borg d'Oisans was what I was here for, I'd been missing this area for a long time. I took the bike path out of town and started up the long climb to La Berarde in the evening light and it was just stunning. Less snow than I remember from my last visit in 2006 but the road still ranks as one of the most beautiful I've ever ridden. I stopped often. I rode up the steep section in a big gear because last time I toured here I was on a road bike, 53-39 front and 12-27 rear with a rucksack on, and I had been wondering how I'd ridden it on that bike. I probably didn't do my heel any favours.

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Bivi #4 - like a king. Until 2am.

Well this one worked out ok to begin with. I'd stopped in Saint Christophe to fill up bottles and use the public toilet I remembered was there. I'd passed a great spot not far away where I could camp since it was dusk and no-one would see me there. It was a clear evening and I had a view of a snowy peak reflecting the last light after sun set behind me. It was flat and comfortable and I had a tree beside me to keep the condensation off. I ate, drank chocolate milk and elevated my foot which was now feeling like it was a ride-ending problem, but I was here. I soaked up the view then star-gazed. What a place to be... I slept well. I woke up when it started to drizzle and had to get up and put up the tarp which needed support from an upright bike. ie, a bit of a PITA when it's 2am ish and you're getting wet. That done, I had an Ibuprofen and went back to sleep. The rain didn't come to much and the morning was dry. I was up early, packed up fast, then made two rounds of coffee just to have something to do while enjoying the view.

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Nice view to wake up to

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Mmm, chocolate sarnies for breakfast.

Day 5 - rest day.
By now Achillies had told me to do one and was swollen up in protest. But that road... it's just stunning. I can't remember the last time I rode so slowly. It was good for my heel as well as what I wanted to do anyway.

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The small road, first thing that morning

The road to La Berarde heads up a valley into the Ecrins mountains, ending at a village. There's steep 3000-3500m rock peaks on both sides and the side valleys are headed up by a snowy peaks closer to 4000m. Thankfully the road between St Christophe and La Berarde is fairly flat, most of the climbing is done in the early stages. I rolled along looking at the views and covered 10km in about 2 hours.

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Alpine meadows on the way to La Berarde. Riding east into the rising sun means no good photos but the views of the 4000m peaks ahead was what I rode all this way for.

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Looking back along the road I was slowly riding up that morning.

When I got to La Berarde I thought some time off the bike would be good, rather than continuing with the other 'Rough Stuff Alps' routes I wanted to follow next. I put my bike behind a bush where the road in the village turns into a carpark and walked up the path heading east into the Ecrins National Park. It's the path we took on our first amateur mountaineering bumbles here. I hesitate to call them climbing trips, performances and summit counts weren't impressive but we lugged kit a long way, learned as we went and enjoyed some easy mountain routes and crag climbs in the valleys. In the end we got up some basic routes under our own steam and I think the Ecrins are special to me partly through knowing what the view is like from the tops of a couple of those peaks.

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Arrive! The destination for the trip.

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A hike after a bike, into the Ecrins National Park

I walked slowly for a while, got to the first refuge in the valley and after going a bit further round the corner to see the Ailefroide again, decided that was far enough.

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View into the mountains from the (low level) hut

Back to the refuge for cake and then some regret as I walked downhill with the feeling that my heel wasn't benefitting much from this. But it was just so good to be there.
When I was back in La Berarde I decided to book into the Municipal Camping just down the road. It was 8.50E a night and luckily I got a pitch right next to the shower block as I was limping a bit by then.

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Le Camping Municipal at La Berarde

I picked up a 60s SciFi novel from the book shelf in the office. Something about giant 600ft trees from alien spores that took over all the land mass on earth and the midwest USA communities now trying to survive under the darkness of the canopy (6/10, interesting but a bit bleak, I got through 1/3 of it and returned it before I left. It was one of the only 2 books in English anyway). I rode slowly back into town for a late afternoon beer, the 1st of the trip and it was good. At 6E for a local artisan IPA made from Ecrins mountain stream water it should have been.
Then dinner sitting outside because no shower yet since leaving UK .. but kit had been rinsed and I'd had stream splashes to 'take the edge off'. Then an early night.

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Icepack improvisation. I could have sat there all day, I almost did.

Bivi 5
A campsite.. A much-appreciated warm shower and sleeping under the tarp that was strung from a handy tree on the pitch I had. It was cold up there (1800m or so?) and rain was forecast but it didn't fall on that area. Ibuprofen and log-like sleep, interrupted only by a late night limp to the loo.

Days 6 to 9 - more rest and less bivvies
I rolled down from La Berarde slowly and stopped at the museum of Alpinism in Saint Christophe en Oisans to have a look around, it’s also got a section about how the road was built. I also visited the the small churchyard. There’s gravestones there with the names of pioneering climbers of the turn of the century on as well as memorials to more recent unfortunate accidents. I got back to Bourg d'Oisans around lunch time. I wasn't intending to go far, I couldn't.

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Home for 2 nights, not a bad place to rest at all

While killing time at a park bench on the edge of town where I camped for 2 nights next to a trout river under some big cliffs I called my parents who were in France for some of the summer. I'd felt bad about saying I wasn't going to get far south enough to visit them while they were there when I'd already planned another few 100km of cols and hike-a-bikes in the Ecrins area, but we live only 2 miles apart back in the UK so it's ok. Injury had changed my plans and they suggested meeting in town and giving me a lift to where they were staying, I could rest there and figure out the way home which didn't involve pedalling 1000+ km. I'm glad we did that, it was nice to be there with them for a few days.
My mum was a physio before she retired and she told me it would be daft to keep riding on a aggravated Achilles. Which I sort of knew but was trying to ignore. Shaf said the same thing on here. After a few days of doing not much it felt ok, swelling was right down and I went out and rode 30km locally and felt ok ...so I started mapping out a route home. As a fool does.

The ride home, Day 1
I should say to anyone who thinks I'm a total fool ignoring medical advice, I planned to be riding a route that ran roughly parallel to a train line into Lyon. The aim was to take it easy and bail west to the train at the first sign of any issues. Hopefully I'd be able to ride through the Vercors into Lyon then get the train through the flat part of France which I didn't really need to see twice in one trip. The Vercors... I rode through there in 2019 and I was rather taken with the crazy, exposed balcony roads there. The riding is mostly pretty, mellow forest roads through valleys overhung by vertical cliffs, but now and then the road has nowhere to go apart from through a sudden steep gorge or a tunnel into or around a rock face. It's rate of the change in the landscape that's so dramatic. It's like listening to System of a Down.
It's fairly mellow and
winding along,
it's calm until
Suddenly!
Its not! And it's nuts!
Where
the
hell
does this road
Gooooo?

The Vercors were at least a day's ride from where I was so I left my folks early so I had time to take it easy.
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Provence.

The heat on that first day heading north again was almost too much, 37 degrees on the clocks in towns in an area where water taps aren't as common as in the mountains. Cicadas, yellow or purple fields and heat. An hour long lunchbreak sat under a tree. A beautiful, quiet climb up to the Col des Carabes was my route into the Drome and a 60km downhill to Die (the place, not my physical state).

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A few miles outside Die

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Die for a pizza

I love this area, it's quiet and the towns have a hippy feel that makes a Stroudie feel at home. I got dinner in Die and started up the Col Rousset - 800m and 20km, so long but mellow. I had food with me and planned to stop at a picnic spot I'd eaten breakfast at on a ride a few years before. It was dark when I got close to this spot around 12-15km up the climb and I'd been hearing large things in the undergrowth on the way up, wild boar I think. The picnic spot was in dense woodland and off a hairpin in the road - there were very few cars on this road but their lights swept the spot as they passed and I didn't fancy it. I carried on, thinking I remembered a sheltered spot off the road beside the tunnel at the top. I got close to the top and stopped to look back down the valley to Die, the only lights I could see. The night sky was stunning. I saw a great bivi spot off the side of a layby, behind a gravel bank and below road level. I lay there in the bivi bag looking at the stars, out of headlight range. There were occasional low flashes in the sky that must have been lighting a long way off, all I could see was the flicker of light over the mountain top to my side.

I woke up sometime in the early hours and watched the flashes highlighting a bit of cloud above me. More frequent flashes now. Now I'm just waiting for that first pat....pat... patpatpat of the rain. I thought about that, then woke up as it began some time later. It wasn't just going to drizzle so I packed up fast and got on the bike. 4am maybe? Damnit... it was such a good bivi up to that point. Sleepy packing is never much fun.

It emptied down before I got to the top but I had the tunnel in mind as a worst-case shelter spot. I was only in the rain for 10 or 15 minutes. The tunnel was full of noise and flashing orange lights though, it was closed for roadworks! Thinking there was an advantage to this I pulled out some wax earplugs, found a safe space in the tunnel entrance (they were working at the far end), blew up my matt and lay down. A bit later a roadworker drove past and I gestured a thumbs up or down to where I was, got a very French 'ok, whatever..' gesture back. Another guy passed soon after and said they were opening at 5am, not long. Not the best night's sleep but a good game all in all. I rode through the tunnel to a bright yet misty and wet morning on the Vercors side, just gorgeous. I had a bit more sleep in a bus stop then a coffee, then started the day's riding properly.

What a day. The Col de Machines and Combe Laval was just as stunning second time around and the road up the Bourne valley was hard but dramatic.

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The Vercors… I just love the Vercors.

The gorge and road at Ecouges was a new one to me and another classic of the genre - round a corner, brakes on suddenly, stop to look over the edge and marvel at where roads get built in this area. But I didn't stop long as the clouds were building and I wanted to get across the Isere river before the Vercors got soaked again.

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So many dramatic roads in one day

It was a long drag from the valley out towards Vienne again. I stayed dry but I was tired and the wind was against me, the skies were threatening and I was flagging generally. I ended up in an area that felt increasingly familiar until I came to a village fountain I recognised, I'd filled up there on the way south a week earlier. The fish in the pool under the fountain were doing ok. The way into Vienne was far easier than the way out, downhill with a partial tailwind and dinner was easy to find. I got a large carbonara and a small beer then a shop stop for snacks and breakfast, onto the Rhone valley bike path again to find a bivi spot.

Bivi disaster
It could have been so good. There were a lot of spots alongside the river but most were a bit exposed and the path was relatively busy since cars could use sections of it. On the outskirts of town I saw a loading bay near to the banks - flat concrete, open access and looking unused, and tucked away. It was dry, sheltered by a low wall to the side edge and I checked it was a few feet above river level and not getting swamped by passing boat wakes. All good. Rain wasn't forecast but I put the tarp up anyway, strung from the side wall. Cosy. Until about 3am when the heavens opened. The wind got up and within minutes I was holding the tarp edge and feeling like a storm was settling in over the river. It was emptying it down. The concrete loading bay was slowly pooling up and after maybe only 10 minutes I was lying in one big, shallow puddle. Hey who needs drainage on a riverside loading bay.. Debate - sit tight and hope it stops or get drenched as you pack up?

As the puddle depth was slowly increasing and the tarp was flapping like crazy I started to pack up. Everything got wet, even the sleeping bag despite packing that up first.
Then the fun of riding in the dark and the rain hoping to find a bus shelter to sit it out in, but this was the industrial outskirts of town now and there was nothing around. I just kept riding and after an hour or so it started to get light and the rain eased off. I kept riding for a bit and then passed under a large bridge that was wide enough to be fully sheltered. I stopped and dried off, unrolled my bag so the wet end could dry in the sun (luckily it was going to be a clear, warm morning) and dozed and ate a bit.

In all the faff and rain I'd lost one of the plastic nose pads on my glasses so the wire was digging into my nose, that was annoying but with forced downtime I could try to fix it or bodge a replacement pad.

...And that’s how I ended up sitting under a bridge, bedraggled and scruffy with a lighter in my hand melting some hot-melt glue onto the base of a coke can I found to make a teardrop-shaped rubber nose pad for my glasses, a walker coming past shaking their head after they looked at me. I don’t know how to explain what I was doing in French but I realised what it looked like!

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“Under the bridge downtown, that’s where I dried my bags..”

A black sleeping bag dries fairly fast in the sun with a few shakes and fluffs so I set off around 10.30am with only 50km to go to Lyon. Arriving in Lyon Gare a few days before Bastille Day and hoping to get the next TGV to Paris with a bike.. not ideal. There was no way to get home without an overnight in Paris between train changes and Paris two days before Bastille day was going to be busy and expensive.

Hobo bivi
So I killed some time in Paris, drank a couple of very nice and eye-wateringly expensive Weiss beers (9 euros each.. but it was somewhere to be for the evening) then sat by the river listening to a band on the other side. Nice. The banks of the Seine do have a distinctive smell but there’s spots where it’s ok. Suprisingly busy down there with a mix of partying Parisiens, tourist and the folk who live down there somehow. I rolled out my bag on a piss-free stone platform and dozed a bit to wait out the night.

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“Under the bridge downtown, that’s where it smells of wee..”

I was woken by someone shaking my shoulder at about 5am just as it was getting light. Because of where I was I wasn’t actually inside my bag and my first reaction to this situation changed as I realised it was a friendly face and gesture. It was a health charity worker checking I was ok and offering help. It’s good to know those people are out there and that must be a risky job they do.

I made a coffee and looked across the boat moored in front of me at the dawn on the Seine. The boat had a pile of stuff under a sheet at the stern. As the sheet moved a bit I realised there was someone sleeping there, hidden away in a kind of peace. Noise as a helicopter flew overhead and some RIBs came down the river at speed with armed soldiers on board, Paris wasn’t taking any chances for Bastille Day after the recent riots. The sheet moved and someone peered out, then covered up again.

I was glad to leave Paris. It’s a beautiful city but having to be there for an early train had made the urban bivi a necessity and I hadn’t been prepared for it apart from knowing it wasn’t going to be a good night’s sleep. Being on the train with a book and some music was good.

I got to Caen early in the afternoon and had booked a night ferry rather than repeat the urban bivi thing near Portsmouth to get the first train home, since getting to the afternoon ferry wasn’t going to work out. Caen old town is quite nice. I bought a CD from a market stall after hearing the stall owner playing something with a brilliant guitar solo and asking about it (Patrice Vigier of Vigier guitars, an album by his band Summer Storm, rock fans).

I wanted to take the long way back to the port via the beaches of Normandy. My grandfather was in the medical corps attached to a regiment who landed on Juno beach a few days after D-Day and made their way through France and Belgium into Holland. He wrote about it afterwards. Being at Juno beach with families from Canada and other parts of the world, all there for similar reasons, was moving. Particularly at the end of this ride, an abrupt change in mood or thoughts that makes you think about the freedoms we do have.

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Juno beach

I rode along the coast towards Caen, picked up a 5l wine box for my OH and a bottle of Scotch for me just outside the town then found the waiting area and bar restaurant at the ferry terminal for a public bathroom wash and food.

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Caen terminal with an extra 6kgs of wine and whisky to take home

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A good end to a great trip.

The same chap was running the bar as when I was here after a ride from Provence all the way up to Caen 4 years before, a really friendly guy. I had a Croque Monsieur with frites and a couple of beers and just felt pleasantly tired and very lucky. I got chatting with a Scottish bike tourer in the queue for the ferry, he’d been around Corsica having ridden to and from the south coast of France over a month or so. Of course the Scotch was opened, we had a few good drams from tin mugs on the ferry before finding spaces for air mats in the lounge for the best night’s sleep I’d had for a few days.
Last edited by jameso on Mon Dec 18, 2023 2:42 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Rasta
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Re: Tour de France 2023: Injuries, disaster bivies, failure to complete the ride - a great time all round

Post by Rasta »

:-bd
La Bérarde is the best ride in the Alpes. The 2 climbs are beasts. Spent 10 days there this year on multiple trips. Last Christmas I was camping and swimming at Lac Lauvitel.

I started the same trip as you from Dieppe in September. But bailed after a week due to the heatwave. Spent every day hiding from the sun in forests, only riding in the evenings.

Can't believe how little kit you have. That alone, is how much food I carry.
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Re: Tour de France 2023: Injuries, disaster bivies, failure to complete the ride - a great time all round

Post by benp1 »

I've not had a chance to read the whole post, just scan and look at the pics. From that alone, James, it looks like a bloody ace trip! Thanks for sharing

I drove down through France in the summer with the family, from Caen to not far from Limoges, and thought how good a place it would be for a bike tour. I was there in the last two weeks of August and it was absolutely bloody roasting though!
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Re: Tour de France 2023: Injuries, disaster bivies, failure to complete the ride - a great time all round

Post by PaulE »

That looks amazing James - I'd love to try something similar, possibly with a few days at Fontainebleau for some bouldering on the way down... now I'm getting ideas in my head including meeting the family somewhere sunny and French!
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Re: Tour de France 2023: Injuries, disaster bivies, failure to complete the ride - a great time all round

Post by Bearlegged »

Really liked that James. For all the Achilles-related tribulations and dodgy bivvies, there's a real sense of the freedom that comes with having nothing to do except ride, eat, sleep. I'm feeling the need to get something (un)planned in the diary.
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Re: Tour de France 2023: Injuries, disaster bivies, failure to complete the ride - a great time all round

Post by RIP »

Fabulous, appreciate all the effort writing it up. That gorge at Ecouges looks amazing. Impressed with the 'down and out in Paris...' bivvy. Yes, as Legs says, you give a great sense of the pleasure in just toddling along (admittedly with your ridiculous distances :smile: ) enjoying all the little moments.. random bivvy spots, bit of shopping here and there, meeting interesting folks... cracking stuff :-bd
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Re: Tour de France 2023: Injuries, disaster bivies, failure to complete the ride - a great time all round

Post by jameso »

La Bérarde is the best ride in the Alpes
I think so. Strong competition around but it's also not really like any of the classic cols. I've mapped out a route that follows most of the dead-end roads into the Ecrins but it's 650km in total, a lot of out and backs and climbing meters. I went up to Pre du Madame Carle on the east side many years ago but La Berarde is more scenic.
That alone, is how much food I carry.
:lol: I have a packable rucksack in there, that can carry a large dinner and breakfast! :-bd
I'd love to try something similar,
Do it Paul, all so easily done if you can find the time. It's hard to pick a bad route. Rock shoes and a chalk bag pack small too..
I'm feeling the need to get something (un)planned in the diary.
It was good following your recent Wales tour. Between France and Wales I'm not sure what more I need for bike trips.

Cheers Reg. Down and out in Paris was an interesting experience but I'm not in a rush to repeat it : )
Still editing out all the typos, ha. And I hadn't realised I'd taken so many 'my dinner' type pics - I was sending my nieces (9 and 11) photo diary 'postcards' as I went. Mainly wildlife seen, random food updates and the odd mountain or Vercors road pic. No disaster bivi shots in case they think (realise) I'm a bit odd :lol:
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Re: Tour de France 2023: Injuries, disaster bivies, failure to complete the ride - a great time all round

Post by Johnallan »

Just ace!

I really enjoyed reading that and after writing on another post that I don't really take inspiration from anywhere, I feel remarkably inspired :grin:
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Re: Tour de France 2023: Injuries, disaster bivies, failure to complete the ride - a great time all round

Post by benp1 »

Read it now, excellent write up. Sounds like a memorable trip, if not entirely as planned. But then what ever is!
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Re: Tour de France 2023: Injuries, disaster bivies, failure to complete the ride - a great time all round

Post by jameso »

Cheers for reading it Ben, and Phil + others - it's good to have a place to post trips and re-live it a little.

John, thanks - maybe the easier we all make these things (just pack a bike and pedal, what's the worst that can happen?) the more easy it is to be inspired?
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Re: Tour de France 2023: Injuries, disaster bivies, failure to complete the ride - a great time all round

Post by PaulB2 »

I enjoyed that, makes me want to dust off my French and go ride a bike.
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Re: Tour de France 2023: Injuries, disaster bivies, failure to complete the ride - a great time all round

Post by jameso »

Dusting off your French.. mine needed a jetwash and a full polish:)
Reminds me to recommend a book, Rides of Passage by Matt Lamy. You might recognise his name from the cycling press where he's been a writer and tester for years. It's about him and his father (Arthur Lamy who owns a bike shop in Guernsey) riding across France. Great read. I particularly enjoyed it having met them both a few times via the bike trade when I was at Madison first time round.
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Re: Tour de France 2023: Injuries, disaster bivies, failure to complete the ride - a great time all round

Post by slarge »

Really enjoyed that James, looks like you had some great times, and a lot of memories. "One day" I keep saying to myself.....
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Re: Tour de France 2023: Injuries, disaster bivies, failure to complete the ride - a great time all round

Post by Richpips »

Thanks for the write-up James. You've reminded me that once upon a time I did a winter ascent of the N face of the Ailefroide, and that I should do a write up of my summer French trip. It truly is a marvelous place for bike touring.
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Re: Tour de France 2023: Injuries, disaster bivies, failure to complete the ride - a great time all round

Post by Scattamah »

Thanks James. The grotty green cup, chocolate sandwich and sneaky bivvies reminded me of good times in the Alps.

Greetz

S : )
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Re: Tour de France 2023: Injuries, disaster bivies, failure to complete the ride - a great time all round

Post by sean_iow »

That's a good read James, I enjoyed that.
Scattamah wrote: Thu Dec 21, 2023 3:30 pm The grotty green cup
The cup caught my eye as well :lol:
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Re: Tour de France 2023: Injuries, disaster bivies, failure to complete the ride - a great time all round

Post by jameso »

That must've been quite a trip + climb Rich..

The cup.. :grin: Cut to size to fit into my small ti mug, used for cowboy coffees - it's like tea tannin marks on a mug?
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Re: Tour de France 2023: Injuries, disaster bivies, failure to complete the ride - a great time all round

Post by Pickers »

Bloody excellent trip and read!

My French is no better than yours James, but I can speak menu fairly fluently!
Some of my pics https://www.flickr.com/photos/107347896@N06/sets/

We’re gonna need snacks

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Re: Tour de France 2023: Injuries, disaster bivies, failure to complete the ride - a great time all round

Post by jameso »

My French is no better than yours James, but I can speak menu fairly fluently!
Mange tout Rodney, mange tout.. :grin:
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Re: Tour de France 2023: Injuries, disaster bivies, failure to complete the ride - a great time all round

Post by Pickers »

jameso wrote: Sat Dec 23, 2023 9:16 am
My French is no better than yours James, but I can speak menu fairly fluently!
Mange tout Rodney, mange tout.. :grin:
😁
Some of my pics https://www.flickr.com/photos/107347896@N06/sets/

We’re gonna need snacks

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Re: Tour de France 2023: Injuries, disaster bivies, failure to complete the ride - a great time all round

Post by Bearlegged »

Reminds me of a friend of my grandfather whose approach to getting directions was to point in the direction he thought he should be heading, then ask, "La piscine,* oui ou non?"

*Insert destination of your choice.
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Re: Tour de France 2023: Injuries, disaster bivies, failure to complete the ride - a great time all round

Post by Rasta »

So you love the Vercors! :wink:

I've just spent the last couple of weeks bikepacking up some very big climbs. Multiple trips.
But getting a bit burnt out riding up little hills like Mont Ventoux with a tent and 3 days of food. Daft me. It is also getting hot down there.

So typing in Vercors, your name constantly comes up. It also seems the hills are a bit smaller and the weather a bit cooler. So after some recommendations.

Thinking about (safe) parking in Corps N85.
Gorge des Gats.
Die, as per your post. And maybe north for a bit.

Stopping for as many swims as possible. :-bd

Would like to avoid the Grenoble end.

Cheers.
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Re: Tour de France 2023: Injuries, disaster bivies, failure to complete the ride - a great time all round

Post by jameso »

@rasta, yes I do love the Vercors, amazing area to ride. I have a few gpx filres on ridewithgps if you want to take a look at them? There's some big climbs there but not full Alpine scale. Die area and south into the Drome is beautiful and really quiet. Hilly but not massively so.
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Re: Tour de France 2023: Injuries, disaster bivies, failure to complete the ride - a great time all round

Post by Rasta »

:-bd
Just finished today. Stunning area. Even got some swims/dips in.
Some mild roadworks with excessive warning signs (French style), meant I had the Gorge des Gats to myself and it is all down hill. It kept the Dutch Clogs away with their caravans.
Did a few days/nights but had to cut short as a few wet days are heading in. Will do another tour next week.
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