Moving Into the South

September 27, 2012 at 5:41 pm

Feel free to get another cup of coffee now, or a beer. Likely I will violate best practices w/r/t blogging again and write something very long. Let's catch up.

Last I wrote, I was staying in a gîte in Tréhounteuc. Of all the French towns I've visited, this is probably the best-known and hardest to pronounce. I think now I'm marginally proficient at saying it.

In the morning, the gîte was still warm and there was some sun visible through the slanted window. I made my usual breakfast on the floor between the beds. In a way, I felt guilty utilizing all of that space for myself. Then again, I wanted to stay for a week.

Although it may not look like much to you.

I was seriously interested in finding a way to slow my pace, at least for a few days. By the time I had arrived in Tréhounteuc, I had covered 125km that day. The body doesn't start to fail at that point, but the fun really starts to wane. Another trip, another time, a different goal: fine. But for me it's just not necessary to push through as many corn fields as you can before the shadows get long.

To that end, I packed my things and left them in the gîte. I took a bag with just my wallet, camera, snacks, and water. In my street shoes, I walked out of the gîte to the tourist office. In most towns, this is a reasonably modern building rife with maps, computers, and people sitting behind computers. But Tréhounteuc is the jumping-off point for King Arthur's Forest and the supposed location of the Valley of No Return. This is where Morgan le Fay, of legend, legendarily imprisoned unfaithful lovers. According to legend. Here's the thing about legend, though. The valley used to be somewhere else, but they built a factory there. Now the Valley of No Return is in Tréhounteuc. Legends are like that.

And so the tourism office in Tréhounteuc is instead filled with colorful books of fairies and wizards and looks more like a new-age gift shop. But it's cool. There I got a map of the forest and some directions from the kind and pretty employee behind the desk. I took off down the road and spent the morning walking around the valley.


I have no idea why they painted this tree gold. Something to do with Merlin.



But it's pretty here.


Really pretty.


Although the legends are clearly bogus, it's still really fun to walk around the area. The woods are pretty and dark and the path meanders. Also, it just felt damn fine to be off the bike and kicking around in the woods, where I couldn't see my speed or kilometers traveled or the time of day staring me in the face.

When I got back to the gîte, I took my bike out of the shed and loaded it up. The kind tourism guide had circled other things to see in the area, so I took off. I first arrived at the Monk's Garden. To me it looked like a totally unimpressive rectangle of stones in the ground. Maybe that's your thing, though, so here's a picture of it.

Rocks, big and old.

I had to leave though, because I had other unimpressive rocks to see and these September days are short. Next, I headed towards Merlin's enchanting stone. It's on a 4km hiking loop in the forest. This hike was slightly less relaxing because I had to leave my bike and my stuff in order to walk it, but I forced myself to relax and enjoy it. When I arrived at the rock, there was an older woman standing on it and staring down at her blue rain boots. Normally the French will cross the street to say “Bonjour!” It's like some national contest to greet the most people possible in the same way. But there she was, greeting no one, just standing on this unimpressive enchanted stone. Eventually, she looked up at me and said, “pas beaucoup.” And that was that.

Pas beaucoup.


After the rock party was over, I made my way to the giant oak tree. It was too big to take a picture of. Seriously, the thing was a big tree. Not like redwood big, but pretty big. And old, too. I sat beneath it and meditated a bit and thought about things. The nice thing about big old things is that they make it easier to sit and take your time thinking about other stuff. You can quote me on that, feel free.

I left the tree as the rain began to fall again. It fell hard but didn't change my positive feelings. I'd already had a wonderful morning in the woods, with the sunlight filtering through the leaves and scattering on the wet autumn ground. It was gorgeous and a welcome reprieve.

Back on the bike, I rode into Paimpont. It's at the center of the Brocéliande forest. Like many towns in the area, there is a centre-bourg instead of a centre-ville. It's a smaller, insulated street with less traffic and a narrow street. Often there's only foot traffic and shops. More communal and friendly, it's wonderful.

I stopped at the local bar to use their wifi and have a beer. I was serious about reducing my pace. The wifi passwords in France are novellas. You have to stop for a snack halfway through typing the damned things. And if somebody did a lousy job of writing the password down, oh boy, you're likely to be there all afternoon. It took two young bar patrons to help me through each individual character to finally connect to the network. I thanked them profusely and their kindness is probably the reason they kept winning small sums of money on scratch-off lottery tickets while I sat in the corner and listened to the rain and sipped a beer.

It wasn't necessary to push through too many kilometers that day. I had a host waiting for me in St. Nazaire the next day and that was only 100km away. I picked a town about 20km from Paimpont and said goodbye to my new friends. In heavy rain, I rode to Carentoir, feeling strong.

The campground there was nothing to write home about, so I won't.

It rained hard throughout the night. In the morning, I awoke to a break in the rain and started cooking breakfast at a picnic table. As I cooked, I continually checked over my shoulder. The rain was visibly approaching. It was not the dark clouds that were approaching. Instead, it was possible to literally watch the rain come. I have seen this several times in my life, and I always think it's fascinating.

It looks like this.

The road to St. Nazaire was not long nor difficult. I made little effort to take the least traveled roads. North of the city is a large area of wetlands. There's pretty much only one way through it, and the road has a bike lane. The weather alternated between long afternoon sun and hard rain. Often the two came at once.

This made for gigantic clouds that loomed over the factories outside of St. Nazaire. I wish that I had stopped and attempted to capture the mood. If you've seem Gilliam's film Brazil, you have some idea. I never saw the perfect image and instead I missed them all. That happens sometimes.

The city itself is wildly gorgeous. There are beaches bordering the residential areas. Beaches like this:


Dumb picture, yeah.

My hosts lived 100m from the water. And at this point, I have some idea of how far that is. I was welcomed into my room on the bottom floor and locked the bike in their garage. I showered and joined my hosts and their friends for a long evening of wine and conversation. I ate fiercely and continually for hours while everyone discussed the war, racism, St. Nazaire, America, Ben Bernanke, and bicycles. After drinking 50 glasses of wine and every ounce of food in their house, I retired for the evening.
I feel bad for my hosts that as evenings wear on, my French gets progressively worse. If I can understand and be understood most of the time when I arrive, I basically know zero French by 10pm. The brain has a limit for this kind of thing.
In the morning, more of the same. This time over coffee. The sun was beaming into the large ocean-facing windows and warming my back as we talked more. I drank an inhuman amount of coffee and met more of my hosts' wonderful friends. I finally tore myself away around noon. With good news: it would be sunny until Monday.
I had a host set up for the day after, only 120km away. From there I planned to take a ferry to an island for my birthday. Casually, I wound down the coast. The last time I visited Los Angeles, I went with a long pretty bike ride with a pretty girl. Today was similar, without the girl, and without returning to the vacation rental. I stayed near the sea, enjoying the clean air and sunshine.
I stopped for a beer on the beach, here:

Lines are cool.


And then realized I'd made a stupid mistake. Although my map had a blue dotted line indicating that I could take a boat from Les Sables D'Olonne, it is really only possible to charter them. The ferries leave from a port only 35km from the beach I was sitting on. Shit. I emailed my two hosts and asked if I could switch the evenings. Luckily, my host on L'île-D'Yeu agreed to receive me tomorrow.

So I got back on my bike. I found food for the evening and morning and a nearby campground. Stopping so soon seemed a bit like giving up, but it was probably the wisest choice. It's bizarre to ride only 50km in a day. But tomorrow, I leave here in the morning. I head to the ocean, and then take a ferry to an island out to sea. The next day, I wake up there on my birthday. Again, tout s'arrange.

To give you some idea, I've been on the bike for 1,250 km at this point. In miles, that's some amount which is pretty big.