Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Lloyd Tour de France Day One

We picked up our bicycles the evening before our big ride, very excited. The bikes were easy to ride and fit us all perfectly. Julia and I have a basket on ours and Tom has panniers on his. This gives us the extra space we need for carrying lunch, maps and so on.

The next morning it was raining. Sigh. We dressed warmly, put on our Gore-tex jackets, helmets and safety vests and away we went: Captain Safety and the Caution Cadets. It is not the law that you have to wear helmets in France so few wear them. You also are not required to wear a safety vest, but you must have one with you at all times in case of an emergency. You also have to carry one in your car for the same purpose.

After the first hour of cycling, we were wet. The rain had waffled between drizzle and harder with a driving wind blowing it in various directions at various times. My glasses were almost useless as I had no wipers and the rain streamed down them onto my nose and off.

After two and a half hours, we reached the Chambord Chateau. Now we were soaked. The rain had somehow worked its way up my pant legs to my underwear and into my shoes and socks. When your feet are on the peddles and your butt is on the bike seat, it is difficult to contemplate how it happened but it did. I was completely wet to the skin. Only my shoulders and chest were dry under the Gore-tex jacket. Even my sleeves were wet, though, as the rain had somehow blown up them.

We entered the chateau and headed for the bathroom, making squishing sounds as we went. We spent several enjoyable minutes by the hand dryers taking the edge off before entering the chateau. Chambord is the largest of the chateaux in the Loire Valley with 440 rooms and almost as many fireplaces. You’d think it would be a bit warmer inside but apparently the middle of July does not warrant heat from the fireplace. I can attest that the middle of July in France certainly DOES warrant heat from the fireplace. We dutifully climbed the spiral staircase. It is two staircases spun around each other so you can have people going up and down but not meeting each other. At the top are terraces to look out over the property. It is probably really, really beautiful but as soon as we stepped out into the icy wind and felt it blow through our wet clothes, we lost interest. We actually stopped for a hot chocolate before venturing out into the downpour again. I can barely believe we pushed on. We were all very cold and the fastest way home was NOT to the next chateau.

The chateau has 20 acres of land surrounding it so the first part of our ride was through the king’s hunting grounds. The land is walled (32 km of wall) to keep the riff raff out. This was the king’s winter hunting lodge. They only used it in winter because it was easier to see the game when there were no leaves on the trees. They also had “beaters” who would stand at the walls and beat the bushes to flush the wildlife towards where the king and nobles were standing with their guns. Very sporting. To their credit, they DID believe that they animal population had to be kept in check for its health. The grounds are still stocked with wild boar and deer though today it is a sanctuary for animals. We actually saw a wild boar! It went racing through the underbrush. Rhys and Julia got a really good look but I only saw its tail end wiggling away. It was fast!

After about a soggy half hour, we came to a covered area in the middle of a village and stopped to eat the sandwiches we had bought that morning. It was a toss up between stopping to eat because we were hungry and continuing to ride because we were cold. Rhys convinced us hunger was the more important need. We rode another two hours and the rain did lighten marginally and the temperature increased by a few degrees.

When we reached Chateau Cheverny we were not quite as soaked nor as cold, thankfully. The sun was peeking out every so often and it lifted our spirits considerably. We traipsed through their elegantly furnished rooms looking like something beaten from the bushes of Chambord. It truly was a lovely place and one wing is still occupied by the owners. They are descended directly from the original owners 600 years ago. Their family photo was on an end table and they look like a nice average family. They are about our age with kids the same ages as ours. I think it is odd they live in an apartment in a castle overrun by tourists most of the time.

The best part of Cheverny was the sunshine, although the dog kennels came a close second. They own about a hundred dogs and it was a riot watching them. It looked like that Dr. Seuss book, “Go Dog Go!” Many of them have a V shaved into their fur to show they belong to the family. We dawdled here as long as we could manage before hopping back on the bikes for the 20 km ride home.

We managed to lose Tom in the last ride. He stopped to take pictures and we kept riding. When he raced to catch up, he missed one of the signs to turn and raced off in the wrong direction, only realizing his error when he reached a highway. Then he raced faster trying to make back time and by the time he got to us, he was very tired. We were all very glad to see him, however. I had been trying to decide how we would transport his body back if he was lying in a ditch somewhere or what the rest of us should do if he truly was lost in the wilds. I was confident he would be fine. He had all the money and ID.

In all, we rode about 55 – 60 km our first day. The paths were mainly off road, deserted and flat. I think I could have ridden about 10 km less and been quite comfortable. Though the ride wasn’t hard, the saddle became increasingly more uncomfortable as we went. We rode for about 6 hours total and that last hour was a push.