Saddlebag of Memories – we have a cycle ride to plan

Ever since Andy and I first visited France together on our honeymoon so many years ago, we have always had our bikes with us. Not the sleek road-bikes we have now…

Our current bikes ….. a bit different to the ones we used to ride

… but a real hodge-podge of a collection, from Andy’s well-used commuting road-bike he had had for about 10 years, to heavy old mountain bikes, hybrids and even uncomfortable rented bikes.

The bright colours of early 1990s bikes ….

We would pop the bikes on the roof of the car, hitch up the caravan (borrowed from parents) and head off, not always certain where in France we would actually end up, but that was how we discovered Provence so we can’t complain.

Early holidays …. ready to ride

In the early years, before we had the boys, we pottered off for rides not really knowing where we were heading. We would buy a small scale map of the area, designed for walkers and cyclists and head off, turning down roads and tracks that took our fancy and somehow making our way back in one piece at the end of the day.

A lot of the comments in our old albums seem to relate to the need for a comfy saddle!

We would stop for lunches in little bistros or find, what quickly became known as ‘Perfect Picnic Spots’, where we would munch on baguettes and cheese that we carried, strapped to the back of the bike.

Just one of many perfect picnic spots we found

Of course these were the days before mobile phones, before Strava and any other simple way of recording how many miles we had covered, so we would spend our evenings tracking the routes we covered on the maps with a piece of string and measuring it against the scale to get an idea of how many miles we had done. Probably not the most accurate method, but it worked for us at the time, with me recording each ride in the photo album of the holiday….

Stone-Age Strava

….Effectively this was a precursor to a digital Instagram Story! (In some ways I really miss putting the albums together now, as they are such a treasure trove of memories and now the source of much amusement for the boys).

Looking back on it now, we have to smile at how unprepared and under-equipped we were …. we wore padded shorts (sometimes) and just T-shirts and trainers, in fact if the truth be told, we don’t even remember carrying a proper puncture repair kit, and often found ourselves standing under the irrigation sprays to cool down during a ride as we didn’t have the right clothes (or water).

Andy cooling off Provencal-style 1994

That said, it was these youthful rides that made us realise that it was the ‘getting there’ part of a day out that we enjoyed, more than the actual being there and this set the blue-print for what has now become our love of exploring an area by bike and our tendency to go croissant-chasing at boulangeries, rather than col-chasing up hills.

Over those early years we cycled in Brittany, The Marais Poitevin & Charente Maritime (many times), The Dordogne and (of course) Provence….

Ile De Re is one of the places we want to return to…

I clearly remember my first ride up to Gordes from Coustellet, with my legs burning, thinking that I would never make it to the village and the sense of absolute elation when we arrived at the viewpoint…. I had such a sense of achievement, never imagining for a moment that it would become a regular ride during our future potters around the valley (although the view is just as spectacular and remains a real favourite of mine) .

The face says it all…… utter elation

When the boys came along, we pottered with them along the flat cycle tracks of the Ile D’Oleron and the Ile de Re, with them strapped into cycle seats at first, then making their own way with stabilisers, before wobbling along on their first unsupported rides to the beaches or to watch the fish being unloaded from the trawlers in the bustling port at La Cotiniere (sadly now closed off to the public).

So many miles covered, so many places visited and so many wonderful memories …..

Our earliest ride in The Luberon

Then 3 years ago, just after we had bought our little place in Provence, Andy and the boys set off on an epic cycle from our (then home) on Dartmoor to Sete on the Mediterranean coast and their ride (covering 1392 km) saw them passing through (or close to) some of the places we had cycled around in our younger days.

This got us thinking, perhaps the time has come for Andy and I to revisit some of these places again and unpack our own little ‘Saddlebag of Memories’ on our own ride from home in Exeter to our home in Provence.

It’s over 30 years since we first turned the pedals in France and initially we had thought we would do the ride to celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary this year, but life got in the way and for one reason and another the plans shifted, seeing us just spending the summer riding some of our favourite routes around The Luberon.

A summer of cycling around The Luberon is always a delight

Not doing the ride though has been niggling at us and we have realised that it’s sometimes too easy to find reasons not to do something, so we have looked at what got in the way of us doing the ride this year and come up with ways of overcoming them, to leave us free to do the ride next summer.

So the maps are out of the drawer again and we’ve started listing the places we would really like to revisit, although we realise we won’t be able to get to them all. Now even the Ferry crossing to Roscoff is booked, so I think that means that we have to do it.

So in early June, just after packing the silver away from our stand at the English Country Garden Festival we will be packing our saddlebags and heading off to revisit some old memories…..

Old memories to be revisited, but with good bikes, proper cycling kit, comfy saddles and no perm!

And I’m sure create some new ones on our own little Tour de France ….


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