Provisions and Pedalling

I’ve been asked for a female perspective on our cycling adventure so here are some of my feelings and reflections after Week 1!

“When preparing to travel, lay out all your clothes and all your money. Take half the clothes and twice the money.” 
Susan Heller

The biggest problem for a woman is what to take. Having deliberated for several months I eventually narrowed it down to the bare minimum plus some last minute can’t-go-withouts. As well as my luxury item, a hairdryer (weighing only 0.33kg!) other essentials included my favourite face and body moisturiser, facewipes, travel size shampoo and conditioner (Andy’s not allowed to use the conditioner) and perfume, which I managed to decant into a super light diffuser.

Shoes were the biggest problem. Knowing I could only take 3 pairs including cycling shoes I dreamt about this choice often. Which ones to leave out? I ended up with one pair of walking sandals (not attractive) and a pair of my favourite Desiguals.

A travel handbag got ditched on day 3 together with a few extra items that I’d squeezed in without Andy noticing. I’ve now pretty much worn or used everything with the exception of a travel pillow and towel. It’s quite liberating wearing the same few clothes everyday until you need to wash them. Thanks to Nicola H, we’ve used the towel wringing method several times to dry clothes quickly – and it works.

Yesterday’s food is today’s fuel! 
Ian S

Provisions are a big part of my daily thoughts.  After two days surviving on Wiggle bars and odd snacks I hit the bong and I realised that we must eat properly. This means that I have to make Andy stop to buy lunch provisions before midday. In France all shops close between 12 and 2 daily and on Sunday’s and Monday’s NO shops are open at all, except for boulangeries. At this time of year the towns and villages of rural France don’t even have a cafe open. For the last two evenings we’ve cycled out to find our supper, only to find everything closed. All we could find was a takeaway pizza place on both occasions.  Can’t wait to eat a decent salad!

Breakfast is usually excellent – croissants taste so much better in France and the coffee is delicious too. We experienced a true farmhouse breakfast yesterday in Britany –  milk from the cows, apples from the orchard, homemade bread, jams and honey. Drinking coffee out of bowls reminded me of staying with old French families.


As for the cycling – my legs have felt the burn and my buttocks the ache at the end of each day. My 2 pilates balls have been a great relief on the glutes. Andy thinks these are a second luxury item but I’ve now convinced him they are a necessity.

Most of the time I’m really enjoying the cycling, keeping apace with Andy, but 50 miles is definitely my limit for one day. While he’s perfecting the use of ViewRanger (our digital mapping app) I’m still trying to get to grips with it. I’m not yet convinced by it, as it doesn’t show road numbers or place names that well, which I find very confusing. I still wish I had paper maps.

Some of my highlights have been cycling past Longleat House, Montisfort Abbey, Le Mont St Michel and of course, cycling off the ferry for our first coffee & croissants in St Malo. The views along the coast from St Malo to Cancale, arriving exhausted in St Brice en Cogles after a 60 mile cycling day, seeing sunflowers for the first time, staying in lovely simple guesthouses, French churches in every village and the feeling of freedom on the open road.

Lowlights have been hitting the bong twice, mending three punctures, falling off while clipped in on a gravel path, breaking my cycling shoes, repacking every day, eating takeaway pizza two nights running and Andy’s dreadful detours!

A journey is like a marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it. 
John Steinbeck

Suffice to say, we are still happily married and looking forward to pedalling on.



Downhill all the way

“At least it’s mainly downhill!” was the most common reaction from our friends when they heard of our plans to cycle from Bath to Barcelona. And today it felt like it as we cruised through the rolling countryside of southern Brittany. Of course it doesn’t quite work like that, what goes down has to go up but the ascents were so gentle we barely noticed them.

Sunday (Day 6) was meant to be dull – a connection towards the Loire river – but for 61km (38 miles) it was so much more than that. A day of simple pleasures, blue sky with puffy white clouds, peaceful villages, a simple lakeside lunch. To misquote Wild Thing as made famous by the Troggs …

It made our hearts sing. It made everything … groovy!

imageToday we tried a new and better way of navigating. We stuck an “as the crow flies” line into ViewRanger in the rough direction we wanted to go (the straight blue one) and then cycled down a maze of country roads never deviating too far from the planned course. The black line shows where we actually went.

It worked!  Just as well as yesterday (Day 5) we nearly broke both the 100km barrier and ourselves cycling from St Malo to St Brice-en-Cogles. Many thanks to Digital Dave (who is following us on Strava) for sending us a ‘Chapeau!’ – the hard-earned traditional French congratulations for an exceptional ride. We don’t actually think we deserve it until we ride over that magical 100km mark. This was a mere 97.7km day (60 miles)!

Day 5 wasn’t meant to be so long but included what are known in our family as ‘Dad’s Dreadful Detours’. First, coming out of St. Malo, we missed the cycle track and found ourselves heading North East, thereby increasing the distance to Barcelona. Even though the beach views were spectacular, this felt slightly mad.

Second we took a significant detour into strong headwinds to gaze across at Le Mont St Michel but more importantly to ride across the same bit of sainted earth that saw the 2016 Tour de France Grand Depart.

Third, right at the end of the day, a wrong turn took us down a narrowing and rutted track through a woodland glade then up a steep hill to nowhere. At this point Clare had a mini ‘bong’, a cycling term for running out of steam, hitting the wall. I will leave you to imagine what she said. Suffice to say it included a surprisingly wide range of Anglo Saxon that would take too many *****’s to describe.


The Tour de Clare and Andy is now properly underway in France after our prologue in England. Unlike the real tour we needed a rest day to recover from the prologue and an excuse to stop in St Malo on Friday (Day 4). It’s a wonderful walled town but it was slightly marred for us by yet another flat tyre.  Clare’s back wheel flat again! This time we sprang into action as a team and took a mere 16 minutes, 37 seconds to mend it.

Clare and Andy 1, Bike Shops Boys 0

In the 18th century, the mayor of St Malo kept 24 dogs that were starved during the day then let out at night to chase after cavorters and drunkards. We’re pleased to report that they have not survived to chase after errant cyclists.

We’ll end this post with some other favourite reactions to being told about our proposed cycling trip:

“I’d rather go on a Lambretta!” – Andy’s dad, Garry

“You must be getting the ferry to Santander?” – surprised young man in a Bristol bike shop

But best of all from our son, Chris:

“Number 1, please come back alive.  Number 2, please come back married!”

After Saturday’s detours, we’re not sure we can guarantee the latter?

Clare and Andy