Canal of the Two Seas

As we cruised towards Toulouse at the end of Stage 6, our odometer neatly clicked past 1000 miles. It felt like a moment. 1000 miles of largely enjoyable pedalling, 1000 miles of avoiding potholes.

imageBut just as we were high fiving this achievement and accelerating towards the city, a huge pothole suddenly appeared out of the shadows of a large tree. There was no avoiding it. Pulling up hard on his handlebars, Andy cleared it with his front wheel but the back one still smashed straight into it, sending both panniers flying, buckling the rim and breaking a spoke. Behind him, Clare just managed to skid to a halt. Pride before a fall once again!

It doesn’t look much, but this is the biggest pothole we’ve seen in France!

This meant we rather ingloriously limped into Toulouse. To our relief, the brilliant team at Decathlon (a massive chain of sports warehouses) were able to straighten out the wheel and fix the spoke immediately. 30 minutes repair work at no charge! Wish we had more of these stores in the UK.

Reaching Toulouse was important as we had a deadline to get there by Tuesday 18th October (Day 29).

After leaving Bordeaux on Friday (Day 25) we’ve spent most of our time on the Canal des Deux Mers (Canal of the Two Seas). This combines the Canal de Garonne (that we cycled down) with the older Canal du Midi as a fast, safe trading route connecting the Mediterranean with the Atlantic, dreamt of since Roman times.

Whilst the Canal du Midi was operational from 1681, the Canal de Garonne was only completed in 1856 just one year before the railway that takes the same route – so it was quickly overtaken by a newer, faster technology.

Bath has a beautiful canal but this is on an altogether grander scale. It runs for 437km (270 miles) and needs 118 locks to cope with the altitude change of over 360m. Each of these has traffic lights and a bell to summon the lock keepers who still live in the pretty, immaculate cottages beside each one.

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Over five days cycling we saw very little canal traffic so it’s hard to imagine what the lock keepers do all day behind their shutters. The paper? Lunch? An afternoon snooze?

At times it was spectacularly beautiful, especially in the Autumn sunlight.

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But pedalling beside a canal for so long can also become boring. From time to time we had to resort to cycling games – sprints, catch and especially drafting.

This means taking turns at the front and powering along as fast as possible, with the other person cruising just behind in the slipstream. For the full benefit you must tuck in as close as possible and this was the first time we’d felt brave enough to give it a go. It’s an extraordinary sensation to feel sucked along by the cyclist in front of you and it’s also fun to watch them huffing and puffing with the effort. Taking turns, we ate up the miles at record speeds (for us) of about 28kph.

This turned our thoughts to which cyclists we each might resemble. For those of you who are familiar with professional cycling, we decided Andy is an Ian Stannard – large, a bit ungainly, stoically setting the pace as a super domestique then running out of steam. Clare is an Adam Yeats – small and neat, tucked in behind, then effortlessly cruising past to take up the running near the end.

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Why was reaching Toulouse by Tuesday so important? Before we left Bath, many of Andy’s mates were impressed (and surprised) to learn that he planned to sneak away for a boys only tennis trip in the middle of our journey. In Mallorca. For 4 days. And the only suitable flight was from Toulouse on Tuesday evening.

You’ll be pleased to hear that Clare has not been abandoned. Her good friend Sue is joining her for a few days of rest and relaxation with no bicycle in sight but lots of chat and wine.

So as we pause for a few days how would we sum up the last 4 weeks?

We both agree it’s been better than we ever imagined and we would now recommend a cycling tour to anyone.

Our overall impression is that it’s like seeing a French promotional film at an iMax cinema. Part of the view is the same – the handlebars, the barbag, our hands, each other. But there’s also an ever changing scene rolling by in front of us – fields, rivers, villages, vineyards, marshes, canals, forests, cities, chateaux, the sea. It all flows into one long moving image.

We’ve loved being in France, have visited some incredible places and eaten delicious food. The roads and cycle paths are usually nice and smooth and the towns are cycle friendly. Passers-by often call out a warm bonjour or bon courage and we’ve been surprised by some small acts of kindness, like an extra tarte aux pommes from a patisserie owner “pour le velo“.

We’ve really enjoyed cycling together and haven’t found it too hard. We’re fitter than we were but we’re not fit. We’ve learnt that 60-70km and a maximum of 5 hours in the saddle means we’ll have a good day.

Here are 3 reasons why Clare likes cycling with Andy:

  1. I have a (novice) bike mechanic on hand.
  2. He let’s me have a shower first.
  3. He can get us out of tricky situations – usually by smiling, bad French and a lot of arm waving.

And 3 reasons why Andy likes cycling with Clare:

  1. She always has great snacks.
  2. She’s (usually) up for any dreadful detour.
  3. She’s a much stronger cyclist than she admits. As I pant and sweat my way up a hill, a voice behind sings out near the top … “I’m he-ere” …

We’re now looking forward to the ride from Toulouse to Barcelona with renewed enthusiasm. Over or round the Pyrenees? Hmmmm?

Clare and Andy

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Stats at the end of Stage 6:

1,656km cycled (1,029 miles)
7,522m climbed
106 hours, 11 minutes of pedalling

Route so far:

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29 thoughts on “Canal of the Two Seas”

  1. I love reading your updates. You’ve made superb progress, and seem to have evolved with the experience. You now explain your progress in a sort of semi pro cyclist speak! The descriptions of the countryside & photos are beautiful. Enjoy the rest both of you, – you deserve it! Love, Katherine.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. All sounds brilliant. Andy, your newly acquired fitness should stand you in good stead for the tennis. Interested to know your technique for negotiating a mid-tour break though 😉

    Good luck for the next stage! Think you should work in a couple of time trial days. What do you think?

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  3. Absolutely amazing! Never doubted you’d do it – when have you ever failed at something you set off to do? Well Done Claire! The physical challenge and Andy’s foibles (still not quite got the Andy but its almost there). Will you continue the fancy dress on the next leg?

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  4. A 1000 miles, not sure what salutation that deserves – possibly chapeaux (O level French was a while ago). Stunning trip so far and a joy and a delight to be doing it (vicariously) with you.

    Mr M – you obviously need to work on your bunny hops for future potholes but I’m not sure what the consequences of doing bunny hops in a pair of fishnet, safety pin supported shorts would be…..

    And Clare, I think you are more Froome than Yeats – destined for greater things on the bike 🙂

    Enjoy the break – don’t forget to feed and water your steeds.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. 1000 miles – a serious achievement by any standards, well done to both of you. The mid tour break is a stroke of genius, readying you for the mountains. Go over them or you will regret it forever. However you will probably curse me all the way up the first 3 hour climb!
    Who will summit first though, it sounds like Froomey is waiting for her chance in the mountains!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Oh Clare, I fear the Kennet & Avon just wont ‘do it’ for you on your return, and cycling with your Book Club chums may be just too slow !!!! Beautiful pics and just brilliant to feel we are riding along with you both, thank you. L. xx

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  7. Hi both, congratulations on making it to Toulouse, my odd ride to Bath or Bristol along the cycle route will never again feel like an accomplishment! Enjoy the well deserved rest, I have loved the updates, perhaps a new career in the making ?

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Amazing, well done. I have never tried proper slip streaming, not sure if Pete will be up for it. I agree canal paths are like fish and chips, nice to start with but then too much, and rather boring.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Like everyone else we’ve been loving your blogs, great prose and lovely pics. I like slipstreaming too, it is incredible how much effort it saves. But you do have to trust the person 1 inch in front of your bike!
    I think Clare is like Marianne Vos who is an amazing cyclist (said to be the best cyclist of her generation) and a woman, which Froome and Yates aren’t! Though she is Dutch, but I think we like the Dutch!

    Enjoy the break, Nicola

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Nicola. It’s true, as you told us before we went, you really have to trust the person in front and keep a consistent pace. Very flattering to compare Clare to Marianne Vos – she’s one of the greatest all rounder cyclists ever.

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