12 to 16 August 2015 – a break in the Ardèche

I haven’t done a lot of cycling since my last post, but did manage to get back on my bike today, and to drag myself away from Chris and Carole’s wonderful house and farm in Salavas. Here’s my route and stats for the 16th; pretty swift for me so must be fully recovered and legs raring to go:

–> 12 to 15 August – chez Christophe et Carole’s a Salavas
What a great break! It’s been brilliant to catch-up with Chris after nearly 17 years, and to meet his lovely wife Carole. Staying at their house in Salavas has given me more recovery time after being a bit poorly, and allowed me to mentally refocus on the route ahead after Spain; I felt like I was slightly adrift after some punishing legs, and since finishing my primary goal of pedalling from Nordkapp to Tarifa. I still think the hardest thing about long solo cycle tours is the mental rather than physical aspect, at least it is for me. Saying that, it’s not often that I’m down for long, and if I am I just remind myself that I’m not sitting in an office having to attend countless meetings, answer the phone, and generally stress about things.

So I spent several days in Salavas, helping out on the farm, chilling and catching up after the last 17 years. The farm, Le Champ de la Riviere, is all organic, growing a variety of vegetables including lots of different types of tomato, all delicious. Aside from tomatoes they grow melons, aubergines, carrots, courgettes, salads, butternut squashes and a load of other produce; needless to say I ate very healthily. I helped set up an automatic water system for the chickens, with water coming from the Ardeche; seems to work alright despite my slightly dubious DIY skills, although we did have to fix several leaks in the hose-pipe.

Everything got a bit wet due to stormy weather, however it was quite refreshing to have some heavy rain, and I’m sure the pig enjoyed it. The pig’s days are possibly numbered as winter gets closer, however she’s had a good life on the farm, and will supply lots of meat; every part of the animal will get used.

Friday was open farm and market day, which saw loads of visitors arrive to have a look around and buy some of the wonderful produce on offer; eggs, goat’s cheese produced by Chris’ Dad (Bernard), jam, and loads of fruit and vegetables. It was a great to see loads of locals turn up, as well as several campers from the nearby campsite; good business but also a lovely close-knit and friendly community. The main attraction, aside from stocking up on fresh produce, was probably the hog.

Another surprise was in-store for me when we went to visit some ‘friends’ in the nearby village of Ruoms on Thursday evening (sorry, I’m getting the days in the wrong order). They turned out to the parents of Stephane, another friend I haven’t seen for a long time; Chris and Carole kept it a secret until we arrived. Steph is away at the moment as he’s a ship’s captain, however it was great to meet up with his parents, children and family; I haven’t seen them since staying at their house in Tahiti in 1996 for a few weeks – a fantastic holiday that I’ll always remember. Francois, Steph’s Dad, even had some Tahitian beer for me to sample; Hinano, which brought back some memories. Great pizza too! They still laugh about me taking frequent ‘petit siestas’ when I stayed with them; think it must have been jet lag!

After being introduced to the art of chicken whispering, I also experienced pig wrangling when le cochon escaped. She was in a bit of a playful mood, however we managed to stop her rampaging through the vegetable fields. Having a determined looking pig charge towards you, at speeds approaching 20km/h, can be slightly intimidating, especially when the beast weighs in excess of 200kg. Luckily she isn’t aggressive like a wild boar, and can be wrangled, as long as your willing to stand in her way! The electric fence had to go on after that to keep her contained.

Saturday is Chris and Carole’s day off, so with some other friends we took a trip to Labeaume, a picturesque village on a tributary of the Ardeche. A lazy picnic and siesta next to the river ensued, along with throwing stones for a very happy dog (Tina) to chase; she loves water. After lazing about for a while we thought we’d better go and find some ice-cream – very important to keep energy levels up. We sat in the square watching a fiercely contested game of Petanque; my ice-cream really was very good – chocolate and vanilla with a chestnut sauce.

It was a full house in the evening with more friends arriving, and a great meal with produce from the farm, including nearly the last of the previous pig! All this good company and chat has done wonders for improving my French, and whilst I’m not as fluent as I used to be I can at least understand most conversations now, and make myself understood, even if I do forget the odd word here and there; replacing it with the English version seems to work usually. It’s also been great to play some guitar again (Christophe has several); just like he old days.

Forgot something; there were some very noisy wild board in the field next to the house one evening – think they must have been fighting. There are lots of wild boar (Sanglier) around here, and also crosses between pigs and wild boar, which are apparently called Cochonglier; a new one on me.

With my blog mostly up to date, a bike shop located in Marseille, and feeling well rested I thought I’d better get back on the road lest I end up staying until winter! Onwards to Marseille.

–> 16 August 2015 – to Saint Martin de Crau
I was sad to be leaving Chris and Carole after a great break, but was keen to get riding again as I’ve still got a long way to go; to Istanbul then back to the UK. It’s been great to catch up after so long, and fantastic to spend a few days doing something other than pedalling; life on the farm is definitely hard work, with long days, but rewarding. I think it would do anyone who works in an office a lot of good to go and work on a farm for a few days, to help get a sense of perspective and clear the mind.

Chris had to get up at 05.15 to prepare for the Salavas Sunday market; I heard him go downstairs but decided to have a lie in until 06.45. Then it was back to the routine of packing up and loading my bike, remembering to fill up my water bottles, and finding the right page on my map. After a decaf coffee I was ready to go. Carole supplied me with several hard-boiled eggs, peach, melon and tomatoes to keep me going on the road, and after bidding her and their other guests goodbye I pedalled off to Salavas, stopping at the boulangerie for a pain-au-chocolate or two; will miss boulangeries when I leave France!

On the way out of Salavas I paused at the market to say goodbye to Chris. It was already bustling despite it being Sunday and only 08.30; loads of artisan produce, however unfortunately I really didn’t have room for a lot else. I promised not to leave it another 17 years before I come to visit. Hopefully I’ll make it back next year to see what new projects they have started; perhaps by car or train next time, but who knows, might do another lap. Again the hospitality of my French friends, whilst not unexpected, is wonderful, and it’s been so easy to pick up where we left off despite the 17 years.

From Salavas it was uphill to Barjac, and then on to Rochegude and Tharaux, retracing some of my route from last Tuesday. Then it was a long climb up to Mejannes-le-Clap, alongside or being passed by a lot of other cyclists out for a Sunday morning ride; I chatted to a few on the way up – everyone was happy about the tailwind. I passed through some lovely countryside as I left the Ardeche and entered Provence.

There followed a fun downhill stretch to Uzes, and a break at Pont-du-Garde near Remoulins. Pont-du-Gard is a huge Roman aqueduct and bridge crossing the Gardon river, built in the first century AD and still standing. It was used as a toll bridge after the fall of the Roman Empire, so was maintained. Well worth a visit if your passing, although expect lots of other tourists; it was packed.

From Pont du Gard the road took me to Beaucaire, where I munched my way through some hard-boiled eggs and melon, then over the Rhone, which is very wide, to Tarascon. After passing through a few villages, I ended up in Saint Martin de Crau for the night, at a very reasonably priced campsite (€12 makes a change).

Not only was the campsite good value, but it also had a swimming pool and free wifi, marvellous. Despite having covered 116km, I’d arrived in good time, so after relaxing for a bit I did some route planning for the legs ahead; I’m considering changing my route to Istanbul to pass through Albania and Greece, as my return route to GB will take me through Bulgaria and Serbia etc, so I won’t be missing out on any countries. I also had a look at my tyres; think I’ll definitely try to get some new ones in Marseille, to be on the safe side. I use Scwhalbe Marathon Plus, and these ones have done over 6,000 miles. They’d probably be fine for another 1,000, and might even get me all the way home, but I figure it’s not worth the risk. As long as the bike shop can accommodate me (I’ve emailed them) I’ll also get a service done in Marseille; brakes, gears, cables etc.

Current tyres have done well but replacements required

Current tyres have done well but replacements required

Tomorrow I’ll reach Marseille, where I’m staying chez Steph and Sophie’s for a couple of nights, before pedalling on towards Nice and Italy, and then Eastern Europe; best find some new maps in Marseille too. Legs are feeling great and morale high after my break. Now if only the mosquitos would go away.

I’ll end on some random thoughts on being successful. I reckon most successful people are also decisive people, able to make decisions easily, or at last make them, even if they turn out to not be good ones all the time. Too many people, including myself, dither at times, letting opportunities slip by because they’re afraid; afraid of taking a chance, leaving their comfort zone, or of making a mistake. I am going to endeavour to be more decisive and take a few more risks when I get back to the UK, and try a few new things to continue to get satisfaction out of life and build a bank of great memories and experiences. I don’t need loads of money to be happy, just enough to have the odd adventure and to enable meeting up with friends and family,  and have new experiences/fun.

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