Dino's blog for mini adventures and endurance challenges

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.




Conversational sanity

June 19th, 2014 | Posted by Dino in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Day 3: Carolles to Cancale (86km)

I discovered previously in life (while pottering alone around Siberia) that I require at least one conversation per day to keep sane.

A conversation for this purpose is defined as a verbal dialogue with both parties speaking in turn. It must contain another person (not just the voices in your head) and preferably be in person rather than on the phone. It must contain an exchange of opinions rather than merely an exchange of facts. This is to differentiate it from a formulaic exchange such as “please can I have a fish and a beer” (which one day in deepest Russia is the only thing I said to another living being).

Having only spoken briefly to the man in the tourist information yesterday and uttered “bonjour” to some passing cyclists then by mid morning I was bordering on the edge.

Down the road I spied two touring bicycles neatly packed with Ortliebs and, across the road, a couple of cyclists sipping coffee.

“You’re German aren’t you?” I offered by way of greeting.

They nodded. Yes! I congratulate myself on having been able to identify the cyclists’ nationality simply from the look of their bikes. I grasped, in a combination of bad English and worse French, that the two Germans had spent the last fortnight cycling from Amsterdam and were now headed to Nantes along Veloroute 4. With enough enthusiasm anyone can talk to anyone. I recall a long conversation I had with my cabin-mate on the ferry to Japan. She spoke no English. I spoke very, very limited Japanese and yet we chatted somehow for an hour, learning about each other’s lives. The German tourers were not such conversationalists and, having realised that my school girl French had disintegrated into a stuttering mess, I pedalled off the wrong side of my definition of conversational sanity.

From the edge of the poppy field this morning, Le Mont St Michel was only a grey outline of a jagged triangle. I headed south along the coast of the the Baie de St Michel, before hopping over a bridge to a cross the estuary and continuing west along Veloroute 4.

Though my legs felt strong and were pedalling well it was slow going on account of having to navigate so much. The path cut in and out of crop fields, past verges of thick wild flowers, under skylarks, along a river and over crumbling bridges. The further west I pedalled the clearer the view of Le Mont became: first a shadow, then a line of wall, the details of St Michel were gradually sketched in as I approached.

Morning view of Le Mont

Morning view of Le Mont

Two hours later and Le Mont was only a grey shadow behind me when I pull up on the side of the road to swap my drink bottles around. It is late afternoon and the water in my bottle had warmed under the sun.

On the other side of the road another cycle tourer pulled up. He wore a small beard and John Lennon glasses. Definitely French, I thought, eyeing up his panniers. He waved from across the main road.

“Where ‘ve you cycled…” Zoom. A car whips by.

“I started in…” Zoom. Another car. “Er..” Zoom. A van. “And now…” Zoom.

A tractor rolls by. We stare blankly at each other across the road.


After five minutes of hearing ever other word he rolls across the road. (Why didn’t I think of that?) The Frenchman’s bike is neatly packed with panniers full to the brim. Stuffed inside his bottle cages are white school-boy sport socks.

“Does that work?” I ask, nodding at the sock covered bottles.

“Yes, it works,” he beamed. “You need metal bottles and you need to put the socks in water. But it works.” I make a mental note to try it out one time. I reckon that it could be handy if/when I cycle across Australia.

We discuss important cycling topics: kit, the respectively weight of our panniers, the kilometres travelled, the weather. Before he turns to go he pauses and adds one more thing:

“Brittany. It is more…” He waves his hand up and down like a diving fish.


He laughs.

“Bon voyage!”

My sanity has been restored.


Route de la Plage

June 12th, 2014 | Posted by Dino in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)


Day 2: St Germain-sur-Ay to Carolles

“The ocean will be open at 6.52,” he replied, conjuring a beautifully idiomatic vision of steel gates around the sea ceremonially swinging open at high tide. His pronunciation was heavily accented but the message was clear enough: “From five o clock it will be good for the swimming.”

With a map to guide me back to the sea, I trotted out the tourist info and straight into the camping municipal opposite. It had just gone 4pm and I’d decided that after 73km I’d done enough cycling for the day. For the whole day I’d been following the coast. Even when the road ran inland I would catch sight of the inviting glimmer of turquoise as I crested a hill. For elevenses I pushed Monty up a sand dune and munched grapes and M&Ms overlooking a vast vista of sea salt, sea weed and bird-filled estuary. A lapwing flapped overhead. For lunch I pulled into the beach at Granville and ate my picnic watching the stone-walled lido slowly fill with water as the tide rolled in. I stopped to buy a baguette which I then strapped onto the top of my rear rack. I noticed as I pedalled off that the end of the baguette was poking me in the left buttock so, while still happily pedalling along, I pulled off a bit and ate it. And then another bit. And so I continued pedalling past wheat fields and poppies munching thumbfuls of fresh bread. The day gave me quiet roads, sea views, sunshine and a tailwind. The only thing that could make it better was a dip in the sea to wash off two days’ worth of sweat and suncream.

Tent pitched and valuables scattered and hidden in a variety of locations, I donned my swimming costume, packed up by wetsuit, and (literally) coasted 2km down the steep Route de la Plage. At the end of these road a strip of soft sand and the glistening Baie du Mont St Michel awaited.

There was certainly no need for a wetsuit. The water was a better temperature than many heated pools and the late afternoon sun still warmed my skin. The messy, thumpy waves were opaque – presumably because of the amount of sand caught up in it. Each stroke disappeared into the cloudy drink as if the water had amputated my arms above the elbow. I swam back and forth along the shoreline. On one side I caught my breath to look at the sun and the face of the next lemonade wave. On the other side I kept an eye on Monty, parked by a railing on the sea wall, and my stash of clothes in a pile by some rocks.

Having swum back and forth sufficiently I returned to the beach to let the cooling sun dry my skin. I could see half a dozen kite surfers speeding along the water. That looks hard. How on earth can you control a power kite with your arms while battling the waves with the board on your feet? While the others skimmed gracefully back and forth one kite surfer kindly did a demonstration – or rather several demonstrations – of just how hard it is to mount a board on a wave while also flying a kite. First sploosh: falling back off. Second sploosh: flipping overboard. Sploosh sploosh sploosh and then – almost a trick – he rolls vertically in the air before… Sploosh. Eventually the poor man relented and came into shore.

I lingered at the beach until 6.52 just to see if any gates would appear. Then, as the waves swallowed the last child’s sand castle, I pedalled back up the Route de la Plage.


Back on the road!

June 12th, 2014 | Posted by Dino in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Day 1: Portsmouth to St Germain-sur-Ay (77km)

The Tour de Manche (tour of the channel) is a new bike route that only opened last year. People hearing that I was about to cycle the channel gave me perplexed looks (does she know it’s a body of water? Has she got a pedalo?) their furrowed brows only deepened when I admitted I was packing my wetsuit. But no, I am not swimming the channel bits. Having hopped on the Portsmouth to Cherbourg ferry this morning, I intend to relax my muscles after each day’s cycling by swimming in the sea. This week I shall be following the north shores of Normandy and Brittany. Next week I shall catch the ferry from Roscoff to Plymouth and then cycle home along the south coast of Devon and Dorset.

Navigating out of bendy roads of Cherbourg I took more left and right turns than I think I did across the whole of Canada. After 15km I was out of town and ascending yet another fiendishly steep climb while mentally tossing out clothes and kit from my pannier. Three tshirts? A body warmer? What was I thinking? Monty weighed a ton. The Devon-esque lanes were a fearful reminder that this time next week I will be wheeling this hefty load across Dartmoor. How on a earth did I cycle across Canada with all this stuff? (Answer: I didn’t. I posted it to Montreal!)

Today is National Grass Cutting Day in France. Or so it would seem. For all day I heard the buzzing of mowers and the air was coloured by the green scent of the fresh grass. I cycled up and down, up and down the windy lanes of Normandy. Cycling here needs to be done with one’s mouth firmly shut in order to avoid a lungful of bugs.

It was gone 3pm by the time I stopped for lunch. It was like being in Canada again: out comes the tent to flap in the breeze and, for the first time this season, I get an avocado stain on my bike shorts. Ah yes, the bike shorts. Nearly all the kit I have with me is the same as I had in Canada. Except the bike shorts.

One pair, to be fair, should have been chucked out well before Halifax. For the elastic had gone the way of a grandmother’s knickers and the lycra resembled a gone-over swimming costume. The other pair however (which were near new in Vancouver) had great sentimental value. Though they had been bleached by the sun I kept wearing them. That is, I kept wearing them until both my dad and my girlfriend independently informed me that they could read the label and see the curve of my butt cheeks. Hence new shorts.

The afternoon led me down a long disused railway that had been converted into a gravelly bike path that slices between the shaded trees. My pace had slowed on account of the gravel and the fact I’d been up at 5.20am to catch the ferry. It wasn’t until the church bells chimed 6.30pm that I turned off into St Germain-sur-Ay and commenced my hunt for the campsite. It was gone 7pm by the time I found it, hidden several miles away, and I arrived to find the office closed. Nobody in sight. Well, I wasn’t going anywhere else so I pedalled in to find the tent spots. Caravans. I pedalled further. More caravans. I pedalled round a corner. More caravans. Pedal on. More caravans. After about 5 minutes I found a washroom. It was locked. After 10 minutes I found another washroom – with one toilet cubicle unlocked – and a nearby tap. The other problem was I hadn’t the foggiest idea where I was. Lost in the labyrinth of empty caravans I took a bearing off the sun (yes, really) which was now firmly in the western sky and traced my way back to entrance. And then back to the washroom to find a rough patch of caravan-free grass on which to pitch my tent.

Finally, by 8pm I lay on my back and listening to a chiff chaff calling while the seed heads fluttered in the evening breeze. The hues of the sky dulled. The clouds blew over. Sleep came easily.

Back on the road following a disused railway line

Back on the road following a disused railway line

Churring in the dark

June 8th, 2014 | Posted by Dino in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

“Unknown artist?” James scrolls down the list on his iPod looking for the right track.

The tall trees outside the car are backlit by the dregs of light from the sunken sun. The road is quiet. An hour earlier we’d bumped down this rough track signposted “no access to unauthorized vehicles” and pulled up on the verge by the clearing in the trees. We’ve sat here for an hour with the cool evening air drifting in through the wound down windows. I don’t know if either of us is holding out much hope. James heard nightjars here before once – several years ago. I have never heard one before.

James locates the track “Eurasian nightjar” on his iPod and checks the volume. Then he stops, we listen.

And we hear it: eerie and unearthly. The weirdest, most synthetic sound nature provides is the vibrating churr of the Eurasian nightjar.

James looks at me. “I didn’t press play.”

We jump out of the car to see two nightjars shoot out the tree right next to us. They fly over the clearing and disappearing into the shadowy trees beyond.

We are left in the dark, grinning and jumping around like children in a playground. James climbs back into the car to press play on the iPod track. Nightjars are territorial, he explains, so the sound of one is likely to attract the attentions of another. We stand in the dark with the noise emitting from the car stereo. As the track slips onto the noisy opening bars of Peter Gabriel one nightjar comes back and swoops low directly over my head before disappearing again into the dark.