Day 4: Cancale to Binic (116km)
I arrived at the sea with four minutes to spare. I parked Monty on a railing, walked fifteen steps down the sea wall and with my sixteenth step I felt the wet sand sink between my toes. At 7:56pm I waded into the warm water of Binic bay as the high tide began to nibble the bottom step. Finally: after 116km the salt water lifted the weight from my tired muscles.
At 7pm I heard the church bells. At the time I was skidding down a steep sandy slope. My day-long hope of reaching the sea by high tide was not yet diminished despite the fact that the Veloroute signs had disappeared and I now appeared to be following the GR34 – a coastal footpath. The warm singing of the church bells told me I must be close.
So far my “route planning” has underestimated distances. (I use the term “route planning” loosely as I cobbled together this trip at the last minute and was printing off maps until 2 hours before I jumped onto the train to Portsmouth). Today’s ride was supposed to be 100k or so. And hilly. And I realized yesterday that I had run out of paper map. Last night I tried to download the digital map onto my iPad but by the time I received one smidgy bar of wifi connection I’d forgot why I’d logged on and then the internet conked out again. I departed the campsite at 9.30am knowing I had over 100km to ride but not where to go!
It had gone noon by the time I eventually found the bike path. With barely 20km logged all morning I was not amused to find the bike track 10ft below me under the bridge I was standing on. A very steep descent buried in trees barred my access. I backtracked again. By this point in the day I had at least succeeded in acquiring two maps. One shows the bike paths but not the road. The other shows the roads but not the bike paths. Go figure.
Neither map had the sort of scale that could explain to me how I could access the bike path below me. And I had already established that where path met road had been sealed off by a high wall of construction work. I found another wall – could I climb this? At the first heave of Monty a vision of me with a bulging disc in my spine popped into view and I realised I’d forgotten my European health insurance card. Don’t do it, Dino. Don’t do it. Eventually, and with language more colourful than a meadow of wild flowers in late spring, I unloaded Monty’s pannier and lowered him down a rocky embankment to the track. Phew.
The track followed another disused railway line for a few kilometres and then it swerved out into the countryside. Sometimes it followed quiet lanes. Sometimes dusty farm track, or gravel, or grass, or sand. Sometimes it choose to take me on what I suspected was three sides of a square. Sometimes it choose to take me on what I knew must be seven sides of an octagon. The kilometres wore on. Occasionally I could glimpse a view of the sea but always I smelt the scent of the fresh sea breeze in the air. I passed wheat fields, cows, horses, donkeys, two goats, old stone farmhouses, dusty red tractors, hay bales and poppies. Swifts screamed over the roofs. The road dipped down a 15% gradient hill, crossed a bridge and then immediately climbed again. By the third such climb I was almost smiling.
I stopped for a quick lunch – it was 4pm and I had done 80km. My road map didn’t show the track I was on and my bike path map didn’t have the scale to show me, well, anything useful. I was at the mercy of the small green and white signposts to guide me along Veloroute 4. I listened to Canadian pop music in a zen like trance while scanning every corner for a signpost. I followed it successfully until the last 5km when the signposts disappeared and were replaced by a footpath. The steep sandy descent meant I was near the sea. The church bells told me I was near the town.
Finally I got my swim. Three kids were playing ping pong in the water. I swam out across the beach towards the clock tower. A small lighthouse stood by the harbour. One, two, boats were still sailing out in the sea. A smudge of land lay on the far horizon.
I swam up and down three lengths along the beach. Slips of seaweed brushed against me. The salt water tasted tangy.
By the time I returned two of the ping pong players were wrapped in towels. The third snorkelled in the shallows. The sun faded behind the chimney pots. I sat on the top step brewing hot chocolate. I watched as the surf departed from the bottom step and retreated slowly down the sand.