Near the end of our RTW trip, mom and dad wanted to do something fun, active, and slightly epic. They had toyed with idea of cycling through parts of France but were uncertain if we could pull it off. After doing some research they figured that we should go for it. There are many cycle routes throughout the country but we settled on the Loire à Vélo route. It is a cycle route that follows the Loire River right out to the West coast. We decided to go from Nevers, which is in the middle of France, to St. Nazaire, a town on the Atlantic coast. Dad estimated the route to be six to eight hundred kilometres from start to finish. We gave ourselves a month to do this. This gave us a lot of time and flexibility to account for weather and energy levels, and would give us enough rest days.
We thought about renting bikes for the trip, but we found out it would cost around the same price as buying them. If we bought the bikes, we would also then have them for our one month in St. Jean-de-luz, where we planned to stay after the cycle tour. We went with this option.
The start of our adventure was very beautiful but cool. We commenced alongside a small canal with the cold morning air freezing our legs off. There was lush, green trees on either side of the canal. The Loire River is a wide, flowing river with really clear water. You could usually see the reeds bend in the flow of the river. Mom was always stunned by how many birds there were along the river. The air was usually filled with the music of the birds.
We were very fortunate with the weather. Although May is quite rainy and cool in the Loire, we only biked in the rain once. That day was pretty miserable. We had other rainy days too but at least they were rest days. Overall, the weather was descent and temperatures increased as the month wore on. For a couple of days we rode into a headwind and then it shifted to a tailwind. With a headwind, it felt like we were going nowhere, but with a tailwind, you could ride your bike with ease.
A typical day of biking went something like this....we would wake up, pack our clothes and luggage onto the bikes and then get going at around nine to ten in the morning. When it was lunchtime, we would find a nice place by some trees or a canal, and eat our sandwiches. We would usually cycle forty to fifty kilometres a day. Our shortest day was thirty kilometres and our longest day was sixty-six kilometres. When we had rest days, we would usually spend one to three days at a certain city.
The cycle route was generally easy and flat, but we did have a few steep uphills segments. We rode mostly on cycle-only paths which were paved or gravel but very well maintained. Occasionally we did have to ride on regular roads with cars but we managed. The signage was also great. There were signs in all the places you needed them. They were marked with the Loire a Vélo symbol. But what wasn’t easy was keeping an even pace, because my thoughts would always wander, especially when we were next to a road. More often than not, I was thinking about something that happened in one of the Game of Thrones book I was reading.
We came across many villages during our cycle tour. Most were small towns with white houses and terracotta slate roofs. Of course, a village isn't a village in France unless there is a bakery. We always ordered baguettes and croissants for lunch. After passing one village, we knew we were going to pass another one soon. We also spent some time in the bigger cities of the Loire, such as Orleans, Nantes, and Tours. They were beautiful and had more to offer in touristic sites.
The nickname for the Loire Valley is the Valley of the Kings, due to the abundance of castles in the area. The castles were all so grand and magnificent. All the castles were made out of old grey brick with towers jutting out of the keep and narrow arrow slits. The castles displayed the might and wealth of the kings and lords of the land at the time. I have to say, even though the castles were amazing and cool, we were a bit "castled out" by the end. There were just so many!!
During our tour, we stayed in apartments, houses, and hotels, but my favourite were the mobile homes in the campgrounds. They were so fun because there were lots of trees and open spaces where my brothers and I could play. There was one luxurious camp site with a huge pool. It had both a heated part and an unheated part. The water was so cold here that we could only stay in for 3 seconds! Sadly we only stayed at this campground for one night.
One of the more exciting events that happened on the trip was when Nico and I were fooling around. I had the bright idea of trying to joust with him while he had one hand holding his fleece and the other steering himself…close to a two metre drop. He jerked away from my stick and swerved towards the edge of the drop. I glanced his way after passing him, and saw him falling off the drop!!! I muttered a quick “Oh s@#%!”, dropped my bike, and rushed to see the aftermath. Luckily, Nico jumped off his bike at the last second and was surprisingly unscathed. During the event, we were all worried and scared, but after a while, we were laughing about it. I guess I learned never to joust next to a two metre drop again.
By the time we finished our bike trip, my body was pretty tired and sore. My legs were usually sore after a day of cycling, but I felt better after a couple of days. Overall, I think our cycle trip was a neat and fun experience that may have made me more fit. Our total distance cycled was seven hundred and forty five kilometres! That’s like going from Red Deer to Calgary FIVE times!
-Finn, of House Colebrook