Cycling the Eurovelo 6: Upper Loire

Day 16: Wednesday 20th May
Chateauneuf – Briare 94km

The morning greeted us with sun for the first time since turning east up the Loire. Taking advantage of the weather we enjoyed an early start and easy riding along minor roads and pleasant stock banks. We were on roads for the most part as the Eurovelo route was not well developed in this section.

The mercury was rising as we pulled into the pretty town of Gien for a basic picnic lunch. The next town Briare had an imposing entrance (the longest metal canal bridge in Europe). It was uncanny to ride alongside the canal directly above the Loire. Briare was a pretty gem of town and seemed popular with the French tourists. The abundance of waterways and great views down the river had bought out amateur painters who were taking lessons along the riverbank.

Our luck didn’t last long as a rear spoke on Susan’s bike broke (heat or heavy load??) at the end of the bridge. The resulting buckled rim could only be ridden with the brakes disconnected. Mark scouted out a local campsite and we nursed the bike down the road to consider the next action. We opted to pitch up in Briare for the night and after sussing out our repair options Mark whizzed back Gien (31km round trip) to the nearest Intersport to get the spoke replaced and wheel straightened. Still under warranty the repair cost parts only (0.70c for one spoke) and Mark returned to camp with a fixed wheel and two big frosty Kronenbourg from the local store.

Day 17: Thursday 21st May
Briare – Sancerre 60km

The morning was wet as we followed deserted tracks along a quiet canal. Light traffic today due to public holiday (France has a LOT of public holidays in May). It was unbearably hot and humid for riding and we arrived early in sodden bike clothes at a campsite near Sancerre. Sancerre is famous for is Sauvignon Blanc and the plan was to pitch camp then spend the afternoon enjoying some leisurely wine tastings at the hilltop town.

We made it up the hill climb just in time for a huge thunderstorm. To escape the downpour we followed our noses to the old town tower where something incredible happened. Mark can tell the story…

It was a fair climb up a rickety wooden stairwell to the rooftop and near the top we paused out of the rain to watch the downpour. There was intermittent lightning so we kept away from metal objects in the staircase. It appeared the storm was here to stay so after watching another couple run around the roof under an umbrella we too cautiously made our way out into the rain. I was concerned about lightning so told Susan to keep well away from the metal handrail. Turning back towards the stairwell I was relieved to see metal spikes protruding about a foot above the top of the stairwell, making them, not us, the highest point for miles around. I pointed these out to Susan and as doing so I felt a smack on my head, the spikes illuminated, my hair abruptly stood on end, and there was a loud ‘phissst’ followed almost immediately by what sounded like a biblical version of Indiana Jones’ bullwhip. Susan stared at me in horror and took off back down the stairs like a rat up a drain pipe.

It took a while for the adrenaline to wear off and after examining myself for lightening entry/exit points I concluded it was a fairly mild strike. Apparently most lightening victims die of burnt lungs some hours later so we were still feeling a bit uneasy. We spent the rest of afternoon cautiously sampling wines to calm nerves and muttering about the darwin awards.

The wines, by the way, were excellent.

Day 18: Friday 22nd May
Sancerre – Decize 97km

Good start out of Sancerre meeting several other cycle tourers. It was another hot day and Mark’s spoke failed at lunch, so we headed to a nearby Decathlon in Nevers for repair (10 euro for spoke and straightening). Frustratingly we only managed another 40km or so until another spoke failed so we limped into Decize campsite after a long day.

An English couple at the campsite were also cycling the Loire, but then heading south to the med via the Rhone. They had retired a week earlier and were managing 100km/day (the wife was enthusiastic about the distance but the husband was not).

At camp we also meet an Australian couple cycling the Eurovelo 6. They were retired looking, and enjoying a leisurely pace of 30km/day.

We shared stories with the other tourers and seemingly caused a bit of a domestic after explaining we were trying to limit ourselves to 50km/day. By morning the Brit’s had resolved to dramatically reduce their daily distance.

Day 19: Saturday 23rd May
Decize – Ganny sur Loire 77km

3 blown spokes in 3 days strongly suggested the back wheels needed to be replaced. Mark had spent about an hour ‘discussing’ the broken spoke with the salesmen at Intersport back in Gein and had difficulty with translating the details of the warranty being barley able to speak or read French. Highlights from discussions with service people included Mark declaring ‘je’suis un problem’ (translates to ‘I am a problem’) and ‘ne pas problem’ (translates to ‘there is no problem’) – both versions causing great confusion. Intersport would be happy to keep on replacing spokes under warranty but the real problem is being stranded with all your belongings in the middle of no-where.

We had clocked 1,071km up on bikes in the space of a few weeks with a heavy load and it was clear the spokes were finished. Fortunately a local bike shop in Decize sold 700mm double-rimmed wheels. An hour and 2 x 40 euro later both our bikes sported new rear wheels. As an aside the original wheels turned out to only be single-rimed.

We set off in the afternoon with high spirits only to have creaky spokes 30km down the road…

It was another seriously hot day and there weren’t many big towns for the next few days so we made the tough call to turn back and rushed back to Decize before the bike shop closed to get the spokes tightened. The owner of the shop was astonished with the load we were carrying (most cyclists don’t carry an airbed, 3-man tent, and several days of canned food) so we resolved to lighten our load at the next opportunity.

The day drew to a close after 80km of riding although we had only ended up 20km further along the trail. On the plus side we spotted a neat farm gite/camping out of town which had a pool. At 8pm it was still stinking hot so we headed straight for a much deserved swim.

Day 20: Sunday 24th May
Ganny sur loire

The roosters outside our tent woke us before dawn but we were exhausted and woke again at 9am. It was too hot for biking so we resolved on a rest day to be spent by the pool. It was seriously hot! We went for a walk to Loire around 5pm but still so hot that Marks feet actually cooked and blistered from walking on tarmac.

In the cool of the evening we threw out lots of luxuries we had progressively added to our load. We shed a couple of kilos making the bikes easier to ride and hopefully heading off any further wheel problems.

Day 21: Monday 25th May
Ganny sur loire – Palinges 82km

Up with the roosters at dawn, we loaded the bikes and were riding by 7:30am to beat the heat. The Loire finally looked clear and almost swimmable at Digoin but this was the point where we farewelled the Loire to head east (instead south to the Massif Central where the Loire begins).

After Digoin we followed a canal, ignoring the official route which winds over nearby hills. A highlight was watching a wild otter effortlessly swim in search of fish near one of the locks.

Our early start was worth it – it was 28 degrees at 11am in Dijon and fiercely hot by 1pm when we pulled into our campground beside a small lake. It was a great morning of riding as we averaged 18km/hr compared to the 12km/hr back in Brittany. The afternoon was spent having siestas in the shade and swimming at the lake to escape the heat.