It’s amazing when travelling without plans, how your luck can turn in an instant. Sometimes it’s an unbelievable cup runneth over with golden moments and lucky breaks. Other times… well. This was definitely a cup not even remotely runneth over moment. We started in the lap of luxury and ended 12 hours later squatting in a car park. Yup. But let’s start this from the beginning…
We awoke in our gorgeous motel room, complete with a little bar fridge, a massive bathroom with a rain shower head, fresh linens, complementary toiletries. Peeking out of the curtains we confirmed our suspicions, rain was bucketing down, dark and foreboding. “Let’s see if we can stay one more night” I said and Cleave volunteered to dodge the puddles across the courtyard to reception. Happily warm under blankets, I daydreamed about the awesome lazy day we were about to have, catching up on movies, WiFi, blog stuff, chatting to friends on Skype. Leaving our room only to supplement our snack supply. It was going to be the Best. Day. Ever.
Cleave appeared and as my hand rose up to greet him with a ‘Lazy Daaay!’ high five, he said “They’re fully booked up and we need to check out in fifteen minutes”.
We grumpily shoved everything back into the panniers, and minutes later we were wheeling the bikes down the drive, unceremoniously booted out into the drizzle. Being in the middle of farmland, and the end of summer, empty fields and mud stretched to the horizon. With no shelter, there was really no other option but to ride on. If we were going to ride today we were determined to make it as far as possible. Velcroing our rain hoodies tight against the cold trickles we pushed off into the dreary morning. Pausing to wipe the rain from our faces we took in the scenery. Field after field of dead sunflowers. Joy.
These donkeys agreed that the weather was rubbish.
Despite the rain, we made good time through small clusters of houses, more farmland, more empty fields and mud. The road was slick which made riding easier, our tyres skimming the bitumen giving us helpful momentum up hills. We had had breakfast by grabbing apples off a couple of roadside apple trees. However it was hitting 2.30pm now and we hadn’t seen a grocery store. Different clouds, of the hangry kind, were now threatening, our stomachs were protesting with loud grumbles. We were following signs to a SuperU, a french supermarket chain, but the signs had disappeared and it wasn’t showing up on Maps.Me either. We stopped and conferred. If the signs had disappeared, it must be really close, and if it’s a supermarket it must be near a huge road like a highway. We rode towards the highway… and we were right! SuperUuuuuuuuu!
Using the top of our panniers as a table, we made a quick cheese and tomato baguette, ripping open packets and inhaling corn chips, biscuits, sultanas and coffee eclairs.
The scenery slowly changed from muddy ploughed fields to very fancy vineyards and chateaus. We were definitely in wine region now. The Bordeaux region has been producing wine since the 8th century and dominates the world stage, from everyday wine to some of the most expensive and exclusive labels in the world.
I found a souvenir, if I could only get it on the bike…
With the landscape becoming more and more crowded now, most of the land was fenced off as private property. Since 6pm we were keeping an eye out for a wild camping spot but none seemed appropriate. We don’t feel comfortable setting up in clearly private property, so we didn’t go into the vineyards. Wild camping is frowned upon in France so we didn’t want to bring any attention to ourselves. We rode past a couple of hotels but they were full up or the reception didn’t reopen until 7pm. We couldn’t risk our last hours of daylight sitting on a hotel’s front step only to be told no. We tried to get to a municipal campsite, but looking down at it from the ridge, it was bleakly locked up, already closed for the season.
Bike lights on now, we rode on into the dark, hitting 9pm. It was too dark to gauge a wild camping spot from private property. Passersby were in short supply with the crappy weather. We hadn’t seen any hotel signs since three towns ago. Suddenly we spied a McDonald’s sign on a building with the promise of WiFi, bathrooms, food and water in the next 5kms! Yes!
Settling into the vinyl seats with a tray piled up from the €2 menu, and using the free WiFi we pulled up Google Maps satellite view. We could see the McDonald’s was sitting on a junction of four highways. It wouldn’t be safe to ride on in the traffic in the dark. Looking at the road we came in on confirmed our suspicions that we were smack bang in a very built up area. The only green spots were people’s yards. We had run out of options.
Which is why we put up the tent in the McDonald’s car park. Yes, that was us. We waited until McDonald’s had closed for the night, 11.30pm, waited for the staff to go home, 12.30pm, picked a corner furthest from the entry, set up the tent, threw our bags in and zipped up. We only unpacked our sleeping gear so we could pack up quickly if anyone asked us to move on and fell into a nervous sleep as car headlights beamed across the tent roof from the neighboring highways.
The next morning we collapsed the tent as quickly as we could, downplaying our status from ‘carpark camping’ to ‘just checking inventory, nothing to see here’.
But thanks to our rainy ride complete with unique digs we had smashed out 113km in one go, leaving only 25kms to Bordeaux! Yeeewwww!