Days of Rain and Luck (Good and Bad)

September 25, 2012 at 2:06 pm

I left I.'s house nourished. I told her, in my best French, that the experience was a lesson for me in hospitality. My hosts provided not just a bed and shower, but a big warm meal at night and in the morning. I.'s husband is a baker and they gave me a vegetarian sandwich for lunch that day. I get the impression that she is used to being a force in hospitality. She watches children during the day in a great big day room with a wall-sized print of a bamboo-lined path on the wall.

I left Guingamp on a main route out of town. For many miles, there was nothing pretty to see. At this point in my trip, a corn field is not a pretty thing. I have pedaled past so many kilometers of corn fields that I would be just as happy if I never saw another. You've seen them all, you've seen them all.

I was headed straight for the northern coast of Brittany. I desired to see more of the coastline. If I were going to be all the way out here, weather be damned, I wanted to make the most of it and witness the coast. I fought the urge to just bail and hop on a train to greener pastures.

After about 30km, I arrived in a small town on the coast. It felt great to be at the sea again. A couple sat and talked over coffee at a small café on the water. The sun was singing high and I sat on a break wall soaking it in. I find that my days biking are much more pleasant when I remember to stop and sit and experience a place rather than pedaling past.

Like this place.


I crawled along the coast for most of the day, stopping twice or three times more. I enjoyed my packed lunch while watching kite surfers dance along each other's wake.


I loved these haunting lamp posts on the shore.

This swingset reminded me of a good friend.


At one point, I was stopped at an overlook and a Frenchman and his wife pulled over on their scooter. We talked for a while about my journey and he told me of places I should go as periodically the visor of his helmet slammed shut over his face, obscuring his voice. He would lift it and continue talking. He told me where to camp that night. He was kind, and impressed with my French.

I headed towards the campground he recommended. It was tucked inside of a bay. When I arrived, the host said that she was terribly sorry but there were no trees and would be no place to hang my hammock. I wasn't seriously tired yet, and it felt just fine that I didn't end my day there. Besides, I had not found eggs, cheese and bread for the morning's breakfast yet. I intend to eventually write a post dedicated to how I eat on the road. Eventually.

I carried on for a while and eventually found provisions for the morning. It began to rain again hard, but I was in good spirits and pressed on as the afternoon closed in. I found a campground right along the sea. Although the rain was coming down and the season was late, the campground was not abandoned. I found a place near the edge of camp where I could hang my hammock comfortably and did so. Then I sat beneath it and cooked my dinner and drank a beer. I was in a very good mood from the time I arrived. I felt good about having explored the coast. I could now start descending away from Brittany and hopefully find warmer weather.

The campground had a heated pool under a greenhouse-like blue enclosure. There was a hot tub in the enclosure that I was dying to use. I knew it would be good for my muscles and also warm me. I couldn't figure out how. If my hair was left damp I'd be freezing that night. And I'd have to swim in a pair of boxers that would need to be stored wet somewhere, as they wouldn't dry overnight. My dream was killed by logistics.

The night was extremely blustery and rainy. My rainfly battered against my hammock throughout the night. The rain fell in torrents. I remained dry and very warm and I slept well. I woke up to the sound of thunder. When the rain broke briefly, I got up and packed up my shelter. At the visitor center, I sat and made coffee and breakfast. I used the second half of my host's vegetarian sandwich and added soft boiled eggs. It was killer.

I had such a positive experience on the paved bike path early in my trip that I sought another. My map showed one starting southwest of me and running all the way to King Arthur's Forest, which I also wanted to see before leaving Brittany. I planned to head there in the morning and follow the path for the whole day.

It rained all morning. When I got to the place my map indicated the path to be, I was somewhere behind a farm house in the middle of nowhere. A woman in a coat pushing a wheelbarrow full of buckets was nearby. I asked her where the path was and she explained that it was right straight ahead where I was going. Another man just down the road verified this. I would never have found it otherwise. I had to descend a dirt road at a an extremely steep angle to arrive at the path.

This picture doesn't properly indicate how spooky nor steep the path was.


Once there, I made a little lunch. I was excited, but less excited. The path was not paved, it was dirt. After I ate, I began down it. And then the rain picked up more. This is about the point where if I had been traveling with someone else, they might have said, “this path is shitty.” Then we would have talked about it and maybe just gone ahead and done something else. Like play dice in a cafe until the rain let up.

But being alone, and not having had this conversation, I pressed on. I couldn't tell you why. Maybe I was feeling a bit like an adventure, or maybe I had no other plan. Maybe I had just made such a deal out of this path that I felt committed to it.

As the rain fell, the path got worse. It turned into thick mud that covered my shoes and legs and bike. Still I continued. For many kilometers I had seen horse tracks on the sides of the road. Eventually I came to a caravan of horse drawn carriages. The carriages were the width of the road. I said hello and tried to pass on the narrow shoulder. The grass was wet and I toppled, embarrassed, into the ditch beside the road. A man leading the caravan ran ahead and asked each driver to push slightly to the side so that I could pass. My muddy snail's pace outran their muddy snail's pace.



At some point the path pitched me out onto a busy road outside of a town. I lost the path, but lucked upon a McDonald's. One of the few reliable sources of an Internet connection. I sat there and ate some potatoes and drank an espresso and looked up nearby campgrounds. There was one not too far away, on the path I was headed.

I took off with some renewed energy. The campground's website advertised that they carried Guinness, and I made that my goal. This may sound funny, but finding a beer in France any darker than a Stella is truly a feet. I needed the motivation, as I had little energy after battling the mud all day.

I arrived in Rostrenon, where the campground was supposed to be. It was getting dark and still raining. I found a pizza truck and ordered dinner. The town was pretty at night. With purple light overhead and yellow streetlights painting the stone buildings. But I was tired and took no pictures.

Signs for the campground took me out of town. I eventually passed the place by about two kilometers and had to backtrack. At this point it was totally dark. I had been riding for way longer than I wanted and I just wanted to shower the mud from my legs. Every campground I had been to so far had clean showers, and I expected the same. Bats flew just in front of my face.

The campground was in a dark valley, totally empty. There were no good trees for my hammock, except a couple in an overgrown and wet field. The shower blocks were filthy. Frustrated and suddenly feeling very homesick, I leaned my bike against a tree. It was too late to find another campground, and I just wanted the night to be over.

I heard a voice and looked to see a woman and her dog. She was asking me in bad French if things were ok. I told her that yes, mostly they were. I explained in my own French my need to hang the hammock and she told me not to sleep in that field because it would be damp in the morning. She walked me over to the toilet block and said I should probably pitch in there and at least be dry. It was not a comforting thought.

We walked to her trailer to get a tarp and I asked where she was from. She was English, she said. Then why don't we speak English? I asked. And then we did, and it was a lot easier. Inside her trailer, she and her husband made me some tea and we all watched golf on teevee for a while. And then she got the idea to pitch her popup tent on their neighbors deck. He wouldn't be in camp until November, she said, and no one else was at the campground. I was more than willing to take the risk, and that is what we did. I slept great on the porch, in the tent. Before bed, I washed off my lower legs, but I had no intention of braving a real shower in the lousy facilities.

They had recommended that I follow the canal all the way to King Arthur's Forest. It was a better maintained bike trail, they said, than the one I was on the day before. I was skeptical, but decided to try it. In the morning, the English campers brought me tea and I made breakfast on the porch. Then I headed off, and soon found the canal. It was somewhat better, not muddy. Eventually the sun came out and dried the trail further. I pressed on for several dozen kilometers along this trail. The canal was pretty and there were many locks and bridges. I think I would have liked it more in other conditions, but I was trying to beat the rain and escape the north of France before too much longer.

At one point, I began to feel that I was riding the storm itself out of Brittany. I had a strong tailwind pushing me along dirt paths through the woods at 30+kmh. I felt strong and made quick progress. The day was blue and purple and dark and bright. The sun would scatter through the trees, and then disappear. It would rain in blue skies and clear up under dark clouds. The trail left me in the town of Linnouec. Here I found an open supermarket and grabbed some road food. I'm always excited to buy new snacks.

I found the tourism office in Linnouec. These are the second most reliable places to find wifi in France. I looked at directions to a small town on the edge of King Arthur's Forest. My map indicated that there was a campground there. Although it was another 50km, I had a few more hours of daylight and good strength. I decided to get there and have the next day to explore the forest.

I took the road instead of bike paths. The forested dirt paths were making me start to feel slow and isolated. I prefer to be able to look at my map and know where I am. Bike paths, especially French bike paths with poor signage, can be disorienting. I was in great spirits, knowing that I could easily make my target town. I still had a tailwind and was cruising quickly.

Along the way, the rain came down constantly. I was absolutely soaked, but I knew that the chances of finding two bad campgrounds in a row was slim. So far, they had nearly all been really nice.

At the town before the one I intended to stop, there was a campground. I thought about stopping but figured, “why give up now?” Then I got into town and there was no campground. Frustrated, I studied my map but could find no other one nearby. I turned around and climbed a few kilometers back the way I came. There I found the campground–closed. I figured I would just sleep on the back of the grounds anyway. No one would see me. And although I couldn't shower, there would be access to water.

I rode around the fence and into the grounds. The water wasn't running. Now I felt totally defeated. On my way back out of the grounds, I ran into a maintenance man and asked him where I could find an open campground. He knew of none nearby. But the gîte in town was open, he said. And a room was only 17€. This sounded way better than sleeping in the rain, so I followed him back to town. It turned out he ran the gîte, and set me up for the night.

Only 20 minutes after feeling defeated in the cold rain, I was showering in my own room. There were 5 beds, but I slept in the big room alone. I made dinner sitting on the floor between two beds. I tried reading, but fell asleep quickly and slept well.