It’s been a slow week with a few bumpy bits. Chris was laid low with a cold in Carcassonne, and I lost a day to a migraine in Le Somail. Then I did something silly while cycling along the dike of the Canal du Rhone a Sete, nearly ending up in the canal. It could have been worse.
2014/10/15-18: Carcassonne with a cold.
We’d walked the ramparts on our first evening, so we visited the inside of the castle on our first morning, but soon Chris was in bed with a sore throat. On our second day, we made a brief but successful outing for much-needed new bike shoes for Chris. Our third day in Carcassonne was a Saturday and therefore market day. While Chris slept, I spent the morning doing the rounds of the food stalls to stock up with picnic supplies for our next day on the road. It brought back memories of le marche du Samedi when we lived in Ferney-Voltaire. I spent the afternoon in search of an open pharmacy, as we resorted to drugs for Chris’s symptoms.
2014/10/19-20: Le Somail with a migraine
Chris was ready to move at a relaxed pace. As we left town, we were passed by a man in a red T-shirt who was singing very loudly as he led a group of four who were about our age. We kept passing and being passed by these two couples as we made our way along the canal, and I chatted with the women as we approached Le Somail. By coincidence all six of us ended up finding lodgings on the same peniche — a barge moored by the canal side — and we went out for a relaxed dinner together. One couple was from Toulouse, the other from Marseille, and the two women were cousins. Merci Bernard, Nanou, Gisèle et Patrice! Nous garderons de bons souvenirs de notre soirée avec vous à Le Somail.
The next morning, I awoke with a piercing headache. I spent the day either vomiting or asleep in the dark, while Chris sat on the deck of the barge thinking about physics problems.
2014/10/21: Agde – the end of the Canal du Midi
Feeling almost like myself again, we continued on the last stretch towards the Mediterranean. The further south we move, the more evidence there is of the disease of the plane trees; there are blocked off areas where trees are being removed and burned, and long stretches where only stumps remain. We chatted to a cyclist from nearby Perpignan who rued the fact that was likely the last time he’d ride the canal as it would be changed forever once the planes were gone. Personally, I think his attitude was gloomier than necessary. The addition of maritime pines and columnar cypress trees as we rode south added a bit of variety, and –realistically– trees don’t live forever. Who on earth decided to plant the plane trees all at the same time?
We dodged work site barricades with Monsieur Perpignan, and as we rode over the top of a ridge where the canal passes through a tunnel, he led us to a viewpoint that looked over a low-lying circular area laid out with wedge-shaped fields. This was the former marsh of Montady, drained in the 13th century by local monks who installed a system of underground conduits. It remains productive farmland, and the seepage now channeled underground still irrigates nearby areas.
We’d planned to camp, but we reconsidered as we neared Agde and saw various marginal groups camped near the canal. They were not Roma this time; there are others living on the margins in southern France as well. Someone later told us, as he warned us to watch our bikes carefully, that a marginalized element tends to migrate to the warmest parts of the country. There are some rough areas here in the south. We found simple digs near the train station
2014/10/22: Carnon Plage – covered in mud and losing luggage
We rode to Sete, and asked a local cyclist for help getting out town northeastward. Our helper was chatty, and explained that the coast was a hive of activity because the dorados (fish) that spend their summers feeding in the étangs or coastal lagoons, suddenly go out to sea en masse when the weather changes in the fall …as it just had. It seemed that every local fisherman was busily gearing up to catch his quota.
Our chatty fellow explained that the signs forbidding cycling along the dyke of the Canal du Rhone a Sète were to be ignored, and that everyone used the industrial haulage road along the dike to pedal their way across the salt marshes. The canal provides a channel for barges to make their way the mouth of the Rhone to the start of the Canal du Midi. In a few places, there is a hive of windsurfer or kite boarder action; in most others, there are quiet expanses of sea lavender, with egrets, cormorants, and even flamingoes.
We did well till we neared Carnon. We had an alternative route option, but a local woman encouraged us to continue on the dike, warning of a muddy stretch. As we approached the muddy area, the result of dredging activity, instead of dismounting I decided to try an ride through at some speed. This was not clever. I slipped, failed to unclip from pedals, and fell over hard into the slime. Happily, there are no photos of the result. Filth was everywhere on bike, panniers, person, and clothing, with enough blood in the mix too so as to raise sympathetic eyebrows of dredging workers. A seaside camp site among rows of camper vans no longer appealed, so we found a hotel and set about dealing with filth and wounds. To add to a bad end to the day, I realized I’d left the bag containing various gloves, socks, a neck warmer, and raincovers for feet somewhere at the last hotel while loading my bike in the morning. A phone call revealed it had not been found.
We road a coastal bike path to La Grande Motte, and turned inland to the medieval city of Aigues-Mortes, built as coastal town but now lying five kilometres inland due to the expansion of the delta. After lunch, we started out on a ride in strong winds across the Camargue. We saw herds of compact white horses of the Camargue breed used for centuries by local cowboys — gardiens, and we respectfully admired sleek black bulls armed with great curved horns. They’re raised for export to the bullrings of Spain. In addition to vineyards and orchards, there were expanses of Camargue red rice, the fields flooded in spring now drained in preparation for harvest.
The wind was behind us at first, gusting up to 50 km/h. Our direction gradually changed and so did the wind’s; soon it blew from the side, threatening to hurl us into the ditch, if not into a truck. We fought it almost head on for the last 30 km to Arles. While hotel hunting in Arles, a gust off the Camargue took me by surprise and I fell again. I landed on my other knee, so now at least they match. I am a sorry sight, and Chris is still coughing.
We rolled past 2,000 km a few days ago, and a fair chunk of it has been unpaved or even single track. We’ve found a good hotel, and will take a few days of needed rest here. This morning at breakfast they had a machine for squeezing your own fresh juice, with a mountain of oranges beside it. Can you hear our sighs of contentment?