Waking and packing in the dark gave us extra time in the morning. We ate well and sat around our plastic picnic table drinking coffee. I played music on my phone, which sounded pretty (though tinny) in the slowly lightening morning.
E. and I knew we had many kilometers to go, but we felt encouraged by the morning roads. We found them as enjoyable as any bike path: flat, smooth and straight. The slowly rising sun shot shafts of light through tall pine trees.
My map indicated a bike route. Since we'd had such mixed success, we decided to stick with roads. All day we slanted diagonally towards Bordeaux. The forests eventually faded into open vineyards. The day warmed, and soon we were riding through wine country under a hot sun.
We both accepted the length of the day's ride with a quiet and constant determination. Until lunch. We decided arbitrarily on a small town to stop in to rest and eat. When we got there, there were speakers on buildings playing some surfer-folk music. We found our way to a river in town, and I spotted a wine shop. I bought a bottle of rosé and we found a picnic table. In the morning, E. had prepared a lunch of couscous with corn, peanuts, and fresh greens. We ate this with bread, tomato pesto and split the wine. Normally I don't stop for long lunches, but it was a proper feast that we both enjoyed over fine conversation.
The roads got busier but stayed pretty as we got nearer to the city. We had a basic idea of where we were going, but no good city map. We followed a pretty bike path into Bordeaux and then I half-intuited the rest from a snapshot of Google Maps I'd taken on my phone. The process went surprisingly well and E. followed me through the busy city streets straight to our host's house.
We had been discussing what we might make for dinner all day. Once we arrived at our host's, we showered quickly and ran to the supermarket. We wouldn't have had to run, but we went the wrong way for a while. When the store was 10 minutes from closing, we finally found it. We literally ran around the supermarket and bought most of want we wanted. I was standing in an aisle looking at canned vegetables when the lights went out. It was an effective way of getting people out the store.
We made a tasty Mexican dinner for our kind and wonderful host. In exchange, she told us about her own bike touring adventures around the world.
In the morning we took a tram into Bordeaux. I thought I would like the city. Instead, I loved it.
Truly gorgeous, full of old dark stones and long boulevards.
We walked around for a while before settling at a restaurant for pizza and wine. We ended up waiting nearly an hour for a plate of cheese and some bread. We decided to get coffee and dessert elsewhere.
We discovered a fantastic bookstore, where I found some postcards I liked. Then we had coffee and both wrote for a while.
When we returned, we ate dinner over another bottle of wine. Near the grocery store, we had discovered a pub called the Yorkshireman. Because E. and I were headed in opposite directions the next day, we decided to have an ironic drink at a fake British pub.
The experience was surreal. A supposed English pub owned by actual Yorkshire expats in the suburbs of Bordeaux. They had strongly predictable drinks on tap–Strongbow, Newcastle, and Guinness. Also shocking was the price. The bartender asked E. if she had gotten used to French prices yet. E. responded quickly in a low voice that paying 6€50 for a pint of Guinness isn't something she'd seen anywhere else in France.
We sat talking about where else we might go after France. What it would be like to build stone walls in Iceland for a couple of months. And of course we talked American politics. A favorite topic, I've found, of Europeans. E asked if I wanted to play cards. She insisted that any self-respecting English pub would have a deck of cards. She said this knowing that neither of us found the pub the least bit English, nor self-respecting.
By the time we left, we both realized that we'd done ourselves in. Neither of us had drank nearly enough water that day, nor stretched, and we'd both had more to drink than on any other day of our tours. The next day felt like it would be rough.
I slept fast and well. In the morning we made a big breakfast of potatoes and eggs. Any glimmer of a hangover faded fast cycling through the morning downpour. I was headed for a bridge near E.'s train station. We rode together into Bordeaux and this time I got us well lost. Any faith my cycling companion might have had in my Bordeaux-navigation skills from two days before must have vanished. She asked a man to write down some directions. It had been an hour of pointless circling, and five minutes after getting directions we found our exit.
We said goodbye and split off. I had to cross a busy bridge and head east on a large road that was not at all meant for bicycles. It was rainy, and again there were constant hills through farmland. This time, thankfully, the fields were vineyards instead of endless corn.
Riding alone through farmland in the rain felt familiar. It was a similar experience to the beginning of my trip, but things are different. I'm stronger now, and never descend through my gears quite as low. My legs and back and neck don't get fatigued as early. I don't adjust my position as much either. Ever since making a small saddle adjustment at the suggestion of my host in St. Nazaire, I've been comfortable riding all day on my hoods. I am confident too in finding a place to rest, in trusting my navigation, and I know I can trust my gear and my body.
I reached my destination town early. When the signs starting indicating the kilometer countdown to Montpont, I was surprised that I had arrived so soon. Ninety kilometers now feels like a very short day.
At the edge of town, I saw signs for my campground. I followed them, and clearly made a wrong turn. It took me down a desolate and strange road. I found several circus trucks and vans. They were newly painted and newly destroyed. Turned over, with broken windows and twisted metal. It was as if someone had taken the entire small fleet and used them against each other. I took a couple of quick pictures and then got the hell out of there. A large German Shephard was insisting that I didn't belong.
I found the campground totally empty. The water was running, so I assumed I was in for another lonely but free night of camping. Soon a series of other campers arrived and I met the owners of the grounds. Not so free, but I was able to get a hot shower. Tomorrow I arrive somewhere special and begin an entirely different part of my trip.