|Chemin de la Rochelle|
When we first moved to France in 2004 we bought ourselves a walking map of the local area so we could get out on foot or on our old mountain bikes and explore our new location. One of the first things we noticed was that one of the back lanes out of the village has a name, ‘Chemin de la Rochelle’ (the La Rochelle path), which amused us, as La Rochelle is an hour and a half away, by car. Why does a small village 100km inland have direct access to a major town on the coast? Who in their right mind would head there on a small track rather than using the main roads?
Well, eleven years on and a discovered love of traveling the back roads of France by bike, and although the answer to my first question is still a mystery, the answer to my second is us. At some point along the years, "why" became "why not" and yesterday, after much planning and anticipation, we set off from home and followed the Chemin de la Rochelle out of the village and kept going.
|Our route data to La Rochelle|
The route had been carefully thought out to give us the challenge of doing 100km in a day, but not take us too many kilometres over, to avoid main roads where possible and most importantly to include stops in places where food and coffee would be available. This meticulous attention to detail was (as usual) down to Ade and his Garmin navigation device, however as I know that I reach the end of my reserves long before he does, I added in a few extra snack stops along the way. I knew my only way of succeeding was to keep fuelled up. We breakfasted on wholewheat cereal and boiled eggs and made sure we had time for an espresso coffee and some dark chocolate before heading off. The first 20km were a breeze and the breakfast, caffeine and excitement kept me going with no problems at all. I didn’t really feel I needed the muesli bar at 20km, but I knew it would ensure the second 20km to our morning coffee stop wouldn’t be a struggle.
|Just outside our village on the Chemin de la Rochelle|
My first moment of panic arrived when we found the boulangerie in Beauvoir-sur-Niort closed. I had my heart set on a coffee, a croissant and a square of dark chocolate, my fuel for the next stage. Thankfully a small detour up the main road and we found an open boulangerie, phew, and after a small rest I was ready. Oddly enough this photo of us was taken by the lovely lady who was cleaning in her closed boulangerie.
|Route de la Rochelle at Beauvoir-sur-Niort|
We had purposefully picked a day when the weather forecast was in our favour, a sunny day with some cloud cover, so not too hot and with no rain or wind. However, an unforeseen cloud had rolled in from the Atlantic overnight and while keeping it’s toes in the ocean it slowly spread it’s way inland, giving the day a grey and sometimes drizzly feel to it. We weren’t too far out of Beauvoir, on the Route de la Rochelle (our little chemin had grown a bit) when we had to stop and put the wet weather gear on and cycling into the wind made it quite hard going. Luckily we seemed to skirt around the worst of the rain, but this third section of 27km to Surgères for lunch was the bit I found most difficult.
|Grey, drizzle and wet weather gear|
Ade had told me that as our village is 102m above sea level and La Rochelle is at sea level it would be down hill all the way. Now, I’m not saying that my husband is a liar, but with hindsight I think he slightly bent the truth here. There were some hills along the way; my legs felt them and they don’t lie.
I was running on empty by Surgères and we really should have stopped for an energy gel as although on paper 27km doesn’t seem too much longer than 20km, it was too far for me. A restorative salami and goats cheese baguette, followed by a huge slice of rum and raison flan made me feel much better and rather than abandoning the challenge at 65km, something I had been thinking about on the last few kilometers before Surgères, I was ready to roll once more.
|Along the canal almost in La Rochelle|
By splitting the route into manageable chunks of around 20km, it seemed far less daunting for me, but if (or rather when) we do it again, I think having stops at 15km later in the day would be better. More than once I found myself tiring before we had planned a stop, but an afternoon energy gel really helped to perk me up. The last stretch was along the Canal de Marans à La Rochelle where we joined up with the marked cycle paths into town, a much nicer way to arrive than by car.
|The port of La Rochelle|
A funny thing happened when we arrived; we really didn’t know what to do, or where to go and although we’d achieved what we set out to do, being there seemed a bit of an anti-climax. However, after a few photos with the famous towers behind us, we cycled to one of our favourite cafés, where we sat looking out to sea and enjoyed a hot chocolate that came with a biscuit and I’m sure you’ll agree, we had earned that biscuit.
|Putting my feet up looking out to sea|