October 19, 2010

5| The Start

My experience on the TER (the bike-friendly, slower, affordable, and easy, French regional train network)  was totally unlike my experience on the TGV (France’s glorious, high-speed, state-of-the-art, but not bike friendly and more expensive national train) last year, when I took the fast train to and from Paris to the South. I arrived in Montpellier around 3:00, went straight to the nearby Tourist Bureau (Touring Idea #3) and got a good map to follow north out of town. Unhappily they had no list of campings or chambre d’hôtes north of the city. Leaving Montpellier: the riding was relaxed, felt safe, the town enticing, unlike other experiences where leaving or entering cities has been too stressful to be truly enjoyable. But I wanted to be on my way, so I didn’t explore and was riding by 3:30. After a few diversions (read: minor lost episodes that ate up time) caused by road construction and/or tiny signs, I left the town behind at Juvignac, after something like 20 km of suburbs, and headed west towards to La Boissière on the D27.
The route gradually rolled its way uphill. Though there was a single chevron on my map,  I recognized the uphill only because I was pedaling harder than seemed necessary … and, big hint, the bike rolled backwards, downhill, when I got off. First day: with a 75# loaded bike and a 3:30 start, I felt sluggish. But still – when I looked back  I saw the city below me and bigger hills ahead. I hoped: please let me be fit enough for those hills! The roads were small, the traffic minimal, and the riding lovely, with long gradual uphills, followed by similar downhills. When I arrived in La Boissière, I was told there are no campings there, and was directed on to Aniane, where there were promised both camping sites and hotels.
When I reached the center of Aniane, I was certainly ready to stop, and saw a sign pointing north for a hotel. By now I was pretty tired. I had been riding in a skirt, leggings and blouse. Right, no way was I going to ride French trains or arrive in a cosmopolitan French city in bike clothes. But, hindsight is everything, my cycling clothes would have felt alright on the train, not  totally self-conscious as I anticipated. So I have not been really comfortable. And my derailleur has been a bit noisy, and needed some adjusting. I really wanted to camp, and to sleep in my little tent, both for the budget and because that was my plan. I didn’t see a campground, so asked a father and his young son, both on bikes, who directed me to one. I couldn’t follow the conversation between them, except that I knew they were confirming that it was open. But they spoke slower to me, and after some conversation (with my limited, but I believed functional French) I was moving again, knowing where to turn, how to get there and that I didn’t understand something. I thought they told me that it is a simple camping site without electricity or hookups, but I believed that while I didn’t understand the details, oh well, I got the gist…  From the road on the way out of town, I could see a small campground with tents, but no camping vehicles, no reception area, and no sign telling me how to get there. The road I was riding on was built up high and the campsite I looked at was at the bottom of a 25-foot or so constructed wall. I was sure I had found the campsite, but not at all sure how to get to it. The next possible turn was into a local park, which seemed to make sense. I turned in, and rode through it, fording a small stream where children were playing, then walked the bike along a footpath through a weedy field, only to reach an unpassable fence and no access to the tents. Circling around and around, I never could discover how to get in, and finally decided it must have been a private camping club.  This lost more time, but I rode on a bit further out of town. 

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