#36 – Bike Tour, Biarritz to Bordeaux

Day 5

We awoke in the 1 person tent, with dark clouds gathering overhead. Dean set out on his quest to acquire a tent and bike, ready for the following days departure.

As for me, I spent much of the rest day nursing a coffee and working from the campsite cafe/restaurant, where I had the ongoing comedy show of French rudeness from one of the girls working there.

At one point an older Welsh guy popped in asking for a spoon, or asking to use one of the many plastic straws on the counter, but she was having none of it and shouted him out of the cafe. He popped back in when she wasn’t looking to try and sneak a straw and I started a quick conversation with him, which was unfortunately his downfall. She stormed out from the back, incensed that he had helped himself to a straw and began shouting at him.

It was hard not to laugh as the man bemusingly asks her ‘it’s just a straw? I’ve not stolen anything… YOU ARE VERY STRICT!’. She threw her hands up in desperation and stormed out, only to return a few moments later when she spotted three other campers sitting innocently at one of the tables eating a sandwich. This was obviously completely against the rules, as she shooed them away like they were wild cats.

Somehow I’d managed to win her round with some terrible attempts at speaking French and a charm offensive, as I needed to stay in the restaurant to charge my laptop (which the socket displayed a $1 fee for charging!!). The comedy show wasn’t over though, as one lady ordered a coffee before realizing her wallet was back in the tent. Was she allowed to pay later? Haa…!

We spent the afternoon looking around Biarritz for a place to watch the football. Our first stop was a cafe charging 8 euros per pint, but we quickly found an Irish bar which was more reasonable and had a good atmosphere as they drew 1 – 1 with Sweden. Although not displeasing to the eye, there was little in Biarritz I would recommend.

As we drank some more Grinbergen back at the restaurant later that evening, another camper kicked off with our new favourite cafe worker, which all boiled down to a misunderstanding of some type in a very fawlty towers-esque manner.

At least we had two tents tonight, one for the bags and one for us to sleep in comfortably (though Dean had failed to acquire an airbed).

Day 6

The next day we arose a little later then planned, as we packed away the tent among trickles of rain and very dark looking clouds gathering overhead. The forecast was atrocious for the next few days and there didn’t seem to be any two ways about it, we were in for a very wet ride – and not in a good way.

As we readied our bikes I noted that my back tyre was looking a little on the flat side (surprise surprise). For some reason, possibly because it caused me so much anguish I had banished it from my mind, but I hadn’t even thought about the fact I didn’t have a working pump. Inexplicably and without any real thought, I got out my new-but-broke-already one out and tried to give the tyre just a few pumps of some air. Of course it didn’t work, and of course it deflated the tyre to a stage where it wouldn’t be rideable.

More efforts by Dean, myself and a young French lad who was working at reception could not blow it up. Fortunately the reception had a pump, but again this appeared to be from the fake-pump variety that I was becoming so accustomed to, as we tried everything from the taking the tyre and inner tubes off, but air was just not flowing.

I would have certainly punched another tree by this stage, but Dean has a calmer head then me, so I went off for a walk and to see if anyone else might have a pump. I spotted a car with two mountain bikes and managed to grab a decent sized oe off them which, low and behold, actually worked!

During this ordeal the heavens had opened a number of times, pouring in a way that I’ve rarely seen, just adding to the picture of desolation. Dean must have been wondering what he had gotten himself in for, but the tyre was finally pumped to a decent level and although it could maybe do with some more, I didn’t want to risk the inner tube bursting as it was slightly undersized. It was about midday when we finally set off cyclng, though it turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as we had dodged the torrential rain, only suffering from some occasional minor drizzle on the way.

I had somehow lost my phone charger and consequently my means of navigation, so it was down to Dean and his phone to get us out of Biarritz and on our way to Bordeaux. He did a sterling job and after some stop-start work we were over the bridge of Bayonne and onto one of the ‘piste cyclables’, which were a beautifully paved route away from any roads, weaving its way through forests a few kilometres from the sea.

We had given ourselves the target of reaching the small town/village of ‘Mimizan’ as a minimum target, though with our slow start this was going to be tough ask. Despite the perilous beginning to the day and forecasts of definite rain for the majority of it, the sky somehow broke into blue sky as we cycled through the picturesque towns of Capbreton and Hossegor. Both of which were very tempting to stop at for some lunch or early dinner and would have made an interesting stop, but with the blue sky we simply couldn’t not continue.

The sun continued to win the battle of the sky, as we reached Leon in dire need of some food and drink. We grabbed a couple of cold cans and a selection of treats from a patiserrie and smashed them all down, before heading to the lake in Leon, where we were promised the first match of the day was going to be shown.

It wasn’t, but we did find a quirky pop-up Josh Tuddenham-esque restaurant where we had a burger each with a pizza to share. It was early evening but if we wanted to make Minizan we would be cycling until 9 or 10pm, so after our short break we kicked on, leaving behind the relaxing and eerily quiet lake.

The whole journey since Biarritz had been very quiet so far, with many of the camp sites and holiday resorts we were passing seemingly empty. Perhaps it was the weather, or we had got there a week before the season had started, but there wasn’t a huge amount going on, which was pleasant in a way.

As a couple of hours passed and we were still around 20km from Minizan, the clouds overhead gathered menacingly until a few light trickles began to fall. We hadn’t seen anyone in this stretch either way for what felt like a few hours, and I was also keeping my eye out for a petrol station to give my tyre a little more air, though neither occurred.

Instead the rain started to drop more heavily now, as we put our rain jackets on and tried to battle through. After 1 km further and being alarmed at a wild hog suddenly appearing out of nowhere, the rain didn’t show any signs of stopping for the evening. Looking around we were in a decent place to wild camp, with trees either side of us to provide a little shelter and concealment. We hadn’t reached anywhere near where we’d hoped for the day, but the thought of continuing in the rain and fading light wasn’t too appealing.

We ventured 20 metres off the bike track and set up camp for night. The two tents worked out great, allowing us to use one for the wet bags and another for ourselves, keeping us dry as we heard the rain continuing outside. At one stage in the night fairly sizeable something fell on the tent, but other then that it wasn’t a bad night sleep.

Day 7

Again, expecting rain in the morning we awoke to silence, so we quickly took the chance to pack the tent down and get on our way. Yet again, the forecast was wrong as the skies cleared to reveal beautiful blue sky – today was going to be a good day, or so I thought until 5km down the road and boom. My tyre that could have done with a little more air was now flat and lifeless.

A fault of my own doing, I should have tried harder to find a petrol station to pump it or somewhere to buy a new pump, as after examination it looked like the rim had run across the inner tube and punctured it, probably caused of the lack of air.

Our hearts sank, as we tried to use the old pump with complete futility. I was ready to give up on the whole cycling at this stage, except we were at least 4 or 5km from any civilization so it wasn’t even a possibility. For the next half hour we tried a range of different pumping techniques, all with no luck until we started to hear a car coming down the dirt road that ran parallel to the path.

We managed to flag it down, as a French ranger slowed down and then jumped out. We then tried to explain the situation in broken French and hand signals, which took a while but was eventually understood. He didn’t have a pump, but he did say that 5km further down the road was a small resort with a bike shop. Having marginally better French then Dean, I put wheel around the handlebars and set off on his bike in pursuit to Contis Plage. It was awkward cycling with it on the handlebars but 5km later I made it to the bike store, which was currently closed until an hour later ( 10am).

I bought some cheese, ham and a baguette from the small resort shop and sat outside the bike rental place, asking anyone that came passed if they had a pump. I got lucky on the 3rd cyclist going passed, who was a Welshman named Aled. His pump worked a treat and as he was going back the way I had came, so I asked him to give word to Dean that I was on my way.

As I cycled the 5km back, Dean came into sight and was already there talking to Aled. As the sun was still out and we had practically given up with the idea of getting to Bordeaux that day, we stopped to have breakfast and share a few stories. Aled had a fascinating bike trip to Azerbaijan for a Welsh qualifying game, where he had an accident in a tunnel right on the Azerbaijan border. He was selling his house and heading off on a year and a half cycle from Alaska to the southernmost tip of South America, with this being his trial run with the new bike.

Admiring and quite rare for a man in his late 30s / early 40s to have no commitments allowing him to embark on such a journey. After many thanks and shared food, we were on our way and this time when we swung into the cycle hire it was open, and I bought the only pump available. A reassuringly large hand pump.

With around 130km to cover in ideal situations without any wrong turns, and having only managed a paltry 80km or so the previous day, combined with a couple of small hills, we wrote off arriving in Bordeaux and succumbed to the idea of another night wild camping. On our way towards Minizan, with the sun shining, the bike route took us nearer the beach with sand dunes separating us from the sea. We spotted a sign that said ‘Naturistes’ and an arrow pointing to the beach, which was too good to pass up.

We stopped short of stripping off and running over, though we did contemplate it, and instead walked over to inspect. Good job we didn’t come running over the hill, as there was a few old guys naked but the rest were all clothed. A lovely beach complete with a little shack bar, we stripped down and waded into the water, the large waves stopping us from going any further.

Further down the speech we spotted a large washed-up objected and went over. It was a dolphin larger then a person and looked like it had been dead and decaying for some time. It had a pungent smell and as the waves broke on it, it moved it around like it was alive, with various liquids pouring out into the sea.

We dusted (or de-sanded) ourselves off and kicked on up the coast to Minizan, where we lost the track for a while before kicking on to Parentis-en-born, where we stopped for some dinner. We caught Russia versus Slovakia in a strange restaurant, where the eastern European looking owner either loved or hated us, though we couldn’t tell which.

After checking the weather forecast we saw that from about 9 or 10pm it would be raining, increasing to a very heavy rainfall in the morning, which was not great news for camping. We also saw that we had another 75km to get to Bordeaux, and it was already getting fairly late.

After a couple of pints on an empty stomach and buoyed by a brief rest, we slowly started to contemplate the possibility of doing those 75km before the light gives way, which would be in around 3 or 4 hours. There was a patisserie around the corner, so making a bold decision we stocked up on a whole range of sweet treats and cold savoury snacks, before munching them and re-saddling.

Just as we began to cycle away, the first few drops of rain started falling, suddenly bringing us back to the enormity of the task. We flew along quiet French roads, setting a much faster pace and one that was extremely tough to keep. With an occasionally strong headwind, progress was hard but fast, as we knocked off 40km or so under increasingly ominous skies. Stopping only once to grab a couple of cans of cold drink, and to advise Ross we were hoping to arrive sometime around 11pm, we hurtled onwards.

Against all instincts that it was about to pour down, somehow the rain was holding, while we were also holding our speed. As we turned down one particular side road, we ignored a bridge to our left, which turned out to be a very costly mistake. After a kilometre or so down what was fast becoming a poorly maintained road, we passed a couple of farms as the road deteriorated further. At this stage we should turned around and retraced our steps, but instead we pushed on and the path turned increasingly sandier until we could ride no longer.

We dismounted the bikes but had come too far to go back. We trudged on as storm clouds gathered overhead. Ignoring the bridge had left us the wrong side of a busy rail track, which was agonisingly close to the road we needed. High speed trains were storming by every ten minutes or so and there were barriers preventing us crossing. There was nothing for it but to carry on, pushing the bikes through the sandy path for what seemed like an endless time, the whole time dark clouds stalking us like prey.

I’d have loved to have taken a snap of the moment, with the sun low in the sky and the sinister clouds above our heads. A seemingly endless amount of farmland spread out in front of us, to which we were imprisoned by a train track. With dean trudging on ahead, it would have made a great shot but I couldn’t summon the energy to open my bag and grab the camera.

After a silent trudge of about an hour, remnants of a path started to gather again and we could re-saddle the bikes, a wonderful feeling. We rode this along until it reached a small village with a train station and crossing. There was a huge relief being out of the farming field, where I was almost certain we would have to spend the night and I thought anything more now is simply a bonus.

The French were playing in the late game that evening, which was a 9pm kick off, to which was only 15 minutes away. There was still an ounce of hope of making Bordeaux before the sun set, when it would then become too dangerous to cycle without proper lights. There wasn’t much of a window left for us to make it.

We pelted on, at a resurgent speed, probably the quickest of the whole journey. Taking it in turns to lead (mainly Dean at this stage with his lighter load), I focused in on his back wheel and refused to drift more then half a metre from it. Every pedal took felt like a herculean effort, as I started to feel ligaments in my knee straining with each push. There was also the thought in the back of my head, wondering if we were to arrive much later than the 11 mentioned earlier, would Ross still be around to let us in?

Fortunately the French game being on meant the roads were clear, as we were on a main one which occasionally had no hard shoulder to assist us. Onwards we pushed, as the clouds still remained above us threateningly as the sun edged further down. The light was starting to become dangerous and we hadn’t seen a km sign in a long time, as we debated how far we thought we were from Bordeaux. Our estimates were wildly different, Dean thinking we were very close whereas I thought we had much further to go.

Approaching 10pm we started to see signs of suburbs, we were indeed much closer then I had guessed! The road took on more roundabouts and signs for Bordeaux and slightly further on we spotted a tramline. It felt like we had made it, and as we crossed a road to reach the bike lane the bags on the bike fell off from the back. Exhausted I collapsed next to the bike, not having the energy to do anything else.

After a few minutes of getting ourselves together and reloading the bike, we still had 15km to the town centre. Thankfully this could be navigated along a separated bike lane, meaning the light was no issue as we continued towards the city centre.

We arrived on the road where we’d booked our accommodation, which was one of the main ones in Bordeaux and headed towards the right number. Chants echoed through the street from over a block away, as an Irish bar was in full swing with songs and chants that carried for blocks. We passed them and found the correct number, locked the bikes up and went into a cafe opposite to get some wi-fi.

For a couple of tense hours we heard nothing from Ross, as we started to contemplate where we would stay if we couldn’t get hold of him. It was nearly 1am and it hardly bore thinking about, as my body had given up for the day. After some messaging back and forth of a friend I was able to get his number (cursing my lack of phone charger) and after ringing him a cheery Irish voiced greeted us. He was still out having food and drink with his family, we were saved! He was on his way to let us in, the relief was absolutely resounding.

There was an overwhelming comfort of knowing we had somewhere to stay after probably the most exhausting day I have ever had. We caught up with a few beers, along with two well deserved showers, and were sound asleep.

We had done it. We had made it to Bordeaux in time for the England game the next day!

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