Planning to cycle with a ‘saddlebag of memories’

I hope I’m not tempting fate by writing this post, but if all goes well, in a little over seven weeks time, we will finally be boarding a ferry at the start of a cycle ride from our little place in Devon, back home to Provence.

Provence is looking beautiful at the moment, with all the blossom

I mention that we may be tempting fate, as this isn’t the first time we’ve planned to do it, but on each previous occasion, the rug has been pulled from under our feet and our plans have been left in tatters. We had first planned to do it in July 2020, but Covid pulled the plug on that attempt and the same again in 2021. Then last year, the chaos that is our life took over, and once again the first shoots of the plan were nipped off and we got no further than getting the maps out and looking at where we would like to visit on the way.

The maps have been well and truly thumbed through

This year though, perhaps it will be different. Hopefully the stars will align and everything will fall into place for us to load the bikes with our saddlebags of memories and finally do the trip that we have dreamed of doing for rather a long time.

We just enjoy spending time cycling together and fancy an adventure

Andy has already ridden from Devon to Sete, on the Mediterranean coast, having done the cycle with our sons, seven years ago (when they were 15 and 18), but I have always felt that I missed out.

Andy & the boys …. From Moor to Med 2016

Originally, we had planned to do it as a family, but when they started we had just bought our little place here and after a lot of soul-searching, we decided that it would be best if I stayed here, helping them with booking hotels etc from a distance and being on hand to help out, in case there were any emergencies. I followed their trip, with all the excitement, drama and stress that it involved, having my heart in my mouth, when they messaged to say spokes had broken in their wheels, something that could have ended their ride on the second day. I felt involved, yet distant and have always regretted not having been able to do the ride with them. So all being well, this year I will finally start turning the pedals on my first cycle tour.

We’ve got a lot on this year, with a wedding to plan for in September and at first we considered doing the ride after that is over, but the way our life has been going over the last couple of years, we started to think that planning to do it so far in advance would just end in us having to delay it again. So, over coffee this week, rather than waiting for life to push a great big stick in the wheels of the plan, we decided to bite the bullet and do it sooner, rather than later.

We’ve been visiting France together since 1989 and have so many memories of our time here together that we want to revisit some of the places that have a special place in our hearts. Of course, it goes without saying that Provence is home, but we spent so many holidays along the West Coast and in The Dordogne, that we just like the idea of heading back down that side of France, unpacking our saddlebag of memories as we go.

Our cycling has come on a bit since our early holidays

When Andy and the boys did their ride, they initially followed the Eurovelo Velodyssey, cycling along canal paths and sticking to the prescribed route, until they decided their bikes had taken enough punishment on the bumpy tracks and took to the little back roads as well. They had an incredible experience and I know Andy values having been able to make the most of that moment in time, having such an adventure with the boys and I love that they still talk about what happened. They did though, learn a lot from their trip and Andy has often wondered what it would have been like, if they had done it slightly differently.

On the Velodyssey

They took so much kit with them, their panniers packed full with everything they thought they would need, from the 3-man tent, sleeping mats & bags and folding chairs, to clothing for all weathers, maps, repair kits and just about everything else, apart from the kitchen sink. Looking back at the photos, it’s easy to understand why the spokes broke on the back wheels on two of the bikes and how the exhaustion of lack of sleep on the busy camp-sites soon took its toll.

I still can’t believe they carried all this kit

So this time we will be travelling light, probably too light, taking our road bikes with back-packing bags, rather than packing everything into panniers and we’ll be staying in Chambres D’Hotes and hotels, rather than taking a tent. To be honest, that was a very simple decision as my camping days are well and truly behind me !

My camping days are over

The plan that we have settled upon this week, is to start the ride towards the end of May, taking the Plymouth to Roscoff ferry, before heading down through Brittany, towards the Ile De Re, La Rochelle & the Ile D’Oleron and then inland to The Dordogne, before dropping down towards The Canal Du Midi and making our way home. We haven’t given ourselves much time, but perhaps that’s the best way, as we’re both great over-thinkers and the longer we have to worry about it, the more bad decisions we are likely to make. So, rather than planning every aspect of the trip, we’re just going to pack the basics of life and see how it goes.

Andy had bought me a bike-packing bag for my birthday, in the hope that we may be able to do a little trip or two away, just to see how we get on and I’m not sure that either of us imagined that the first time we use it will be on a trip that hopefully will take us the length of France.

My little bike-packing bag

One bag won’t be enough, so over yesterday’s coffee, Andy ordered a rear bag for his bike and a couple of top-tube bags too (at our age, we need to make sure that we have enough space for all our pills and potions). We already have bags for the handlebars and have taken the view that we’ll start by packing the absolute necessities and beyond that, if it doesn’t fit in, it won’t be coming with us. At the end of the day, if we have forgotten something, we can buy it and if we find we’re not using something, then we can pop it in the post and send it home.

We’ve spent the last couple of days looking at the best way of navigating our way down, as there certainly won’t be room for my beloved maps. I can’t help it, I love a proper map, they always offer so much more than a simple route planner or satnav system. I like to be able to see where I am in the wider context of the landscape, being able to see nearby points of interest, and celebrating leaving one massive sheet of paper and replacing it with another; I always feel that it gives me a great sense of travelling, making progress and ticking off the departments. But, looking at the route that we hope to follow, we would have to carry 13 maps and even if I butchered them, cutting them up just to take the relevant bits, I really wouldn’t be able to fit them all in.

Working out how to get from A to B

I don’t want to set a route onto a Garmin or similar, as that feels too restrictive, so it’s looking as if our chosen method will be to spend each evening setting an end point for the following day’s ride, getting a general idea of the route we would like to take and flagging the places we would like to pass through on the way, Then writing the plan on a piece of paper and using that, with Michelin & Google maps to make our way from A to B. In our heads this is a great plan and suits our ‘take it as it comes’ approach perfectly, we do though realise that in practice, it may not work at all.

There are lots of places we want to visit on the way and already know that we will not be able to get to them all, but we hope to be able to potter through the Marais Poitevin, where we spent so many days cycling along the waterside tracks. We want to sit on a beach on the Ile de Re watching the oyster boats dapping about the shallow waters, eat a meal at a restaurant in the old port at La Rochelle and cycle the length of the Ile D’Oleron, perhaps taking a little trip on the ‘petit train de Saint Trojan’ for old-times sake.

So many memories to revisit

We hope to potter into the Dordogne, revisiting Sarlat, Castelnaud and Domme, perhaps taking a day off to kayak along the river (something we used to do every time we visited)

The Dordogne from Domme

and then drop down to Cahors and on towards the beautiful city of Carcassonne and the coast.

We have lots of ideas and so many memories to revisit, that it has the potential to be quite an amazing trip and I’m sure that the plans will change when we’re finally there. We are aiming to book the ferry over the next couple of days, which will make it even more real and then all we can do is to keep literally everything crossed that this time, all the plans fall into place and the mischievous little elves that seem to enjoy causing a bit of chaos in our lives, decide they fancy a bit of down-time too.

We may be mad even thinking about doing it so soon, but sometimes you just have to grasp the moment in time and I really hope it happens now.

5 thoughts on “Planning to cycle with a ‘saddlebag of memories’

  1. Sounds like a great trip!! Good to challenge yourselves …. Before you can’t. We are finishing up our trip here in Provence and dragging of the next time😉. Good luck ( Bon voyage!!)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Have the best time, you loons! Julie, have you thought about scanning your annotated paper maps? And OS England have a website with proper maps on. I think it’s subscription, but deffo worth checking to see if France have the equivalent

    Liked by 1 person

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