As I cycled out of Le Puy, the rain began to fall. I had to call in at the Decathlon store on the outskirts of town to pick up some supplies, before heading back and joining the Camino. Within a short distance I was off-road and on to rough track, and so glad I had switched my tires to the Schwalbe Marathons I had been carrying since starting out, as the going was pretty tough. The rain over these last few days had made the red clay soil pretty soggy – and this was proper off-road mountain biking.
Their is no doubt this is a superb trail and in the right conditions would have been extremely enjoyable, however what I found was that some sections are simply not possible to ride on a bike – however good your skills. In fact the official guide says this is not for bikes at all, as their is a road version close by. I rode as much as I could on the trail though and was frustrated when I had to walk with the bike. On reflection you really need a guide to tell you which bits are ride-able, but I was unable to find one.
Then disaster struck. On the first seriously fast rocky downhill section, I broke one of the front pannier racks. The lower holding bolt simply sheared, leaving behind the remains of the bolt in the frame. It was pouring (torrential) rain and as I tried to figure out a way to do a temporary repair, I wondered what else could go wrong – how blinking stupid of me. An hour later and I had managed to fashion a repair with string and zip ties that would hold on the rocky trails, at least I hoped until I could get back to the road. At the end of the downhill came a wooded section and the trail was flooded, the deep ruts filled with water. The rain running down my face mixed with tears as I waded through mile after mile of muddy water.
On regaining the road I cycled into the next village on route, hoping to find somewhere to have a coffee and grab a bite to eat. Nothing – Ferme -all was closed up. A local told me it was 7 km to the next village and the Gite (hostel) I was hoping to stay. It was closed. I was definitely getting the message, this was a challenge too far. I made camp for the night, with the unrelenting rain as my lullaby.
I knew when setting out that this was going to change me, that I would learn much about myself. I was determined not to be beaten and continued the next morning on the long climb into Sauges. As I climbed the steady rain turned into hail, the wind stinging as it drove into my face. An hour later and I was riding in near blizzard conditions, still climbing. An eternity later and I arrived in Sauges and pulled over in front of the local store. As I purchased my evening meal a little french lady beckoned me to follow her to the building next door, which turned out to be her home and the office des Pelerins.
My fortune had changed, here was a genuine angel. Although we could not communicate, Jeanine kindly warmed me in front of her oven and then booked me into the local Gite. The kindness of strangers is the most rewarding part of my journey thus far.
So here I am, stuck in Sauges. The snow has closed the mountain roads, making progress along the route impossible. I’m staying an extra night at the Gite and then hope to make my way via the bus past the snow and head further down the mountains. I will have to come back one fine sunny day and say a fond hello to my new friend, Jeanine.