And with a flourish of his hand at 6.01 a.m. my riding companion for six of the last eight days disappeared into the Eastern France dawn. Welsh born, Oxford educated and now a neighbour in the street Gareth W. has plans to ride to Istanbul one day soon and seized this opportunity to get the first 500 km under his belt.
His is an encyclopedic mind with more information than a 4TB memory stick. A true gentlemen whose knowledge of almost all things relating to France, including the language (tres handy), led me to nickname him my "Cyclepedia". He is a subscriber to many traditional methodologies, in particular, paper maps. Often, he would cross-reference what my STRAVA (bike navigation tool) was telling us against his 1:150,000 Michelin Road Map that he always had tucked away in his rear cycling shirt pocket.
Gareth - who rode without an odometer - also had the uncanny knack of accurately guessing how far we had ridden at any given time and seemed disappointed if he was more than half a km out.
We reminisced over dinner last night about the lowlights and highlights of his six days on this tour and laughed many times but no harder than my mention of his quote of the trip .
Gareth had just examined his map ahead of the next 30 km and turned to me and said
" This next stretch of road is called the Chemin du Dame (path of the lady) and I think you are REALLY going to enjoy it. It looks EXCEPTIONAL on the map"
He was right about the exceptional bit. It was exceptionally bloody hard! Two hours of riding along an exposed ridge line into a brutally strong headwind during which we covered 22 km. Yup, an average speed of just 11 kph. And most of it was flat.
I won't make mention of the fact either that it took such an intelligent man five days to realise that I had a Papua New Guinea flag sticker on my rear mud guard. The observation was closely followed by "Hey what's that black and red thing on your mudguard with a butterfly on it ? " (it's actually a bird of paradise).
Thanks for that and all the other great memories Gareth. It has been an honour and pleasure riding with you sir.
So with Gareth's departure and a day of rain forecast it seemed like an ideal day to rest up. The back hasn't enjoyed the last few days so some time off the bike will be good. I have shacked up in the town of Piney which sits just north of three lakes (Lac d'Orient , Lac du Temple and Lac Amance ). It's a two-horse town and not really much to show for itself other than some mildly interesting domestic architecture though am guessing from the activities map below it will be a hive of activity once this weather gets warmer.
Me thinks if you grew up here you'd be getting your drivers licence pretty smartish so you could hit the highlights of Troyes which is 20 km down the road.
Oh, and the 2017 Tour de France is coming through here en route to Troyes (20 km west ) with this hotel hosting officials and support staff.
Tomorrow it's onto Arc-en-Barrois some 80 km away where two other friends (Mark S. and Scott G.) have decided to join me for three days. They will be driving all the way from Kent arriving late Thursday night before heading back on Sunday night.
A 1,300 km round trip for 2.5 days of cycling . #nutters