Distance cycled …….. 67 miles
So boys how would you sum up today in 3 words? ……. Medieval Cart Track!
Arriving in Toulouse last night I think it’s fair to say that Andy George & Tom felt they needed a rest. In the last 3 days they had cycled just shy of 250 miles & have really broken the back of the journey to the Coast.
At least in the hotel they didn’t have to worry about loud music starting up next door and so after a quick swim to cool their legs down and a decent meal they managed to get a good night’s sleep.
Today they had decided to go as far as the spectacular Medieval City of Carcassonne, about 67 miles further on ( certainly a shorter cycle than the ones they have done over the last few days).
They set off after breakfast & the daily ‘fettling’ that’s needed to keep Tom’s bike going and started to head out of Toulouse, which wasn’t as easy going as they have found in other cities they’ve been through.
Whereas in Bordeaux they felt there had been a real effort made to encourage cyclists with well signed & structured bike paths, they didn’t find that here.
The route out of Toulouse wasn’t well signed and for the first time this trip, they found themselves going in the wrong direction at one point. They also felt much more vulnerable amongst the traffic, particularly carting all their kit & towing the trailer with cars whizzing past.
Eventually though they did find their route through & set off cycling alongside the Canal du Midi on another well-made trail.
The Canal was busy with boats, and the trail was being well used by cyclists & walkers alike and they started well, making good ground towards Carcassonne.
Then it all changed & the multi-use trail stopped and the track became an 8 inch wide rut running through the middle of an overgrown, weedy towpath. The difference was dramatic and almost brought the boys to a halt. They had to negotiate the track really carefully in an effort to stop the bikes getting damaged or the trailer simply rattling itself apart.
It quickly became clear that they had to take the first chance they could to get off the track and find a route through along the quieter ‘white roads’
It’s such a shame that the trail is in this state as the Canal du Midi trail should be one of the best cycle routes in the South of France, bringing with it the tourists who would relish the tranquil, shaded cycling it would offer.
For the time being though it’s a case of either having to pick your way along it & risk damaging your bike, or get the maps out & choose a different route.
By the time the boys reached Castelnaudary at lunchtime they could see there was a much more substantial trail again, but it wasn’t clear how far this would go, so the question was whether to risk it or not.
The answer was that they decided to give it a go – surely it couldn’t get any worse? ….. Sadly it could & the trail became a rut through a partly cut field, making it almost impossible for Andy to pull the trailer through the grass with its wider wheel-base.
The only way Andy could describe it was a ‘Medieval Cart Track’ and they weren’t the only ones who were struggling. They saw families with young children also trying to negotiate the track that was really only suitable for Mountain Bikes. There were occasional patches where there was packed gravel, but these were few & far between
The upshot of it was that it took them over 3 hours to do about 12 miles and they had their worst afternoon’s cycling of the trip so far (and with everything that’s happened that’s saying something!)
The whole experience was compounded when they heard an angry voice shouting ‘allez-y’ behind them. Tom was at the back & had nowhere to go due to the ruts etc & had Andy (with trailer) in front of him. The man then hit into Tom’s back wheel, causing him to knock into Andy, taking them both off balance as the rude man hammered past them on an electric mountain bike – just so unnecessary & could have had really horrid consequences, considering they were close to the Canal bank at the time.
Thanks to some excellent map reading by Tom they managed to find a safe route through Carcassonne to their hotel for the night
Now they’re there they can collapse & recover from a hideous afternoon’s cycling. Tom has been checking the bikes over as they have been pushed almost to breaking point today & has managed to sort out all the brakes, which have become loose.
Andy really isn’t sure how they managed to get there with themselves, the bikes and the trailer in one piece.
Cycling along The Canal du Midi should be ‘one of the top family cycling destinations in Europe’ but on today’s experience the boys would suggest giving it a wide berth (unless you have Mountain Bikes) – which is a real shame
The sad thing is that they feel they have no option tomorrow, but to find a route away from the Canal along quiet back roads on what will now be their last leg to the finish point on the beach at Sete.
Incredible really that, if everything goes as planned, this time tomorrow their adventure will be over!