From home to the Alps … by bike!

This isn’t the latest news … but rather recounting my hugely enjoyable ride from my home in Exeter to Die back in August 2012. I thought I’d put a posting here on the blog in case anyone else is contemplating a similar trip, and might find it helpful; also, as it was a splendid adventure, and you might just find it interesting in itself.

First the context: I had already stayed near Die (the very first time for me), at the Wessons’ house in St. Andéol-en-Quint in June 2012, and had an unforgettably wonderful week. Back in Devon in July, I was looking forward to a summer of cycling round the countryside in the warmth, when I realised that summer was going to bypass England yet again. Rather morbidly I started considering how many summers of fully active cycling I had left in me, and decided that I wasn’t going to lose another one to the grey, cool and windy conditions England was offering. And so I decided to cycle TO the Alps. As you do.

After establishing that the Wessons would be in residence, and could put up with my presence for a few days, I sorted a route, booked my ferry crossing out, and my flight home. with a bit of creativity with bike racks and cars, I worked out that I could ride there, and catch a plane back, with my bike returning later on my bike rack, kindly carried by the Wessons & their car.

So, to cut a long story short: the route consisted of two days cycling to Portsmouth from Exeter, via Shaftesbury & the New Forest (I decided that the 130-mile route would be a heavy one to do in one day for the first day), and then five days for the planned 530 miles from St Malo to Die (with deviations it came to nearer 600 miles). The weather on the English side was grey and and a bit damp; on arriving in St Malo, the sun was out, and 25C promised. In fact, that was the coolest day, and by the time I got to Die it was 35C.

I was amused while waiting for the ferry – there must have been about twenty-or-so cyclists, all laden down with panniers anywhere they could be fixed. Nearly all of them were heading for Brittany, and when one or two asked me where I was heading, with just my saddlebag for company, there was surprise when I said ‘The Alps’. But that’s how I decided to do it: as light as possible, finding B&Bs along the way. So my kit consisted of: basic repair stuff (enough to get me to the next town and a bike shop, if necessary), showerproof top (not used, in the end) and arm/leg warmers, in case of chill (also not used), passport, phone, computer tablet, money, and a T-shirt and shorts, so I could wash my cycling kit each night. You’ll see a photo below of the ‘laden’ bike.

And a summary of the ride? Absolutely wonderful. A week of solo riding as I pleased, mostly lovely roads (one or two getting down to Tours a bit on the straight, monotonous and slightly too busy side). There were just too many highlights to list them all, but a wonderful lunch in Thuret, an unbelievably relaxing and cheap B&B in Boën, and a final day of 141 miles, with 12,000ft of climbing, in 35C temperatures and with a decent tailwind, are all seared into my memory.

Firstly the French part of the route: – as I say, I did make some deviations from this in the second and third days, as I found some of the straight C-roads a bit monotonous and busy, but certainly the route from south of Tours was sheer delight.

Food-wise, I ended up eating café meals twice a day, and coffees morning and afternoon, which allowed me to fill up water bottles. It was warm enough that even with loads of ice in the water was warm within an hour. I also ended up calling at several houses along the way if they’d mind filling up my bottles, as I was getting through about 4-5 litres a day: no-one refused, and several were only too pleased to chat and offer encouragement too.

Cost-wise, it wasn’t cheap, as everything was bought as I went, and I couldn’t really shop around for places to stay: travelling alone, I didn’t pre-book anything, but each place I decided to stop, the first B&B/hotel I called at had a bed, ranging in price from 55 to 25 euros. I reckon in total it cost me £100 a day … but that was two restaurant meals a day, multiple café stops, and accommodation. Still cheaper than doing an organised tour. And it bought me unforgettable memories, that’s for sure.

Blue skies on arrival in St Malo
The first morning’s coffee stop
The lunchtime view in Fougères
The fully-laden bike
Tours Cathedral, after a lunch of rabbit stew
One of the many excellent calorie-replacement stops
.,, and this is where it was provided.
A refreshing view
The wonderful café in Thuret
And here’s me arriving at St Andéol seven days and 729 miles after leaving home. The photo was only slightly contrived…