Summer tours

Patrick’s parallel universe 2012

Otherwise known as the CC Luton summer tour 2012
 
 

For those of you who haven’t had a chance to read it, Mr Coleman’s eclectic, sometimes surreal account of the CC Luton’s 8-day,  550-mile summer tour between Lyon & Luton can be downloaded in its original and unabridged form here.

CC Luton Summer Penance 2011

A dark, mysterious 6 day, 570 mile odyssey between Lyon and Calais….By Patrick Coleman. This years summer tour featured a merry band of CCluton riders consisting of Martin Badell, Phil Runeckles, Pat Coleman and Stewart Mackay.

Preparation

As we were to fly from Stansted, both teams considered their options separately, apparently unconcerned as to what the others were doing.
Team 1 decided to go by coach from Hitchin to the Airport
Team 2, similarly decided to go by coach from Luton to the Airport

All appeared to by AOK, until Pat noted in the small print that ‘Express Coaches leave it to their driver’s discretion, on the day, as to whether oversized luggage will be transported.  Pat, therefore, offered to drive all 4-bike boxes to the airport on Sunday so as to negate this risk. However, Team 1 declined this offer as they already had a cunning masterplan. Team 1’s plan was to take their bikes to the coach point, strip them down on the pavement, fit them into boxes made from folded cardboard, before the coach arrived, then ask the driver whether he could fit them in’ a fine, full-proof plan!

As it turned out, the plans were perfect for both teams because: Team 1’s coach was empty and their driver was a nice guy. Team 2’s coach was full and their driver was an asbo case.

Arrival

For the purposes of the tour, both teams agreed to combine their riders into Team ‘FuCCL UK’. At the point of landing in Lyon the sun was shining, although the tarmac was wet. Just as they’d finished unpacking, bike-building and getting into kit, it started to rain, which Stew and Pat thought was due to martin and Phil, who were wearing black socks! By the time they’d cycled their 1st ½ a mile, the rain stopped and their capes came off.

They cycled to their hotel town, Villefranche, in 2-hrs but couldn’t find the hotel’s road. After cycling through and around the town, Phil pointed out “French signage is useless” “none of the locals have any idea where anything is”.

They asked a few people in one place and were amazed at how cooperative and friendly the local were; 1-guy offered to go into his home, log-on and find it on a map for us, but, this wasn’t necessary because another guy we’d asked stopped, stopped a runner, who was a local fireman and he asked us to follow him back to the station, we did this and so did the guy who’d stopped to ask him!

The hotel was for trucker’s, on a ring road like you’d find at Milton Keynes. Phil obtained keys for 2-rooms and handed one key to Pat, for a room with a double bed and said “here, this one’s for you 2-gay-boys” This comment put a severe strain on team cohesion, so when Pat saw Phil, changed for dinner, Pat tried not to ask why Phil appeared to be wearing Mary’s slacks?

Day 1 – Tuesday 26th July: Villefranche to Autun

They set off at 8.30am, cycled through St Etienne and up into Beaujolais country, passing through wineries in beautiful alpine countryside. As they ascended one hill they all had to try not to breathe in, as the farmer was spraying his crop with what smelled like Jay’s fluid. They stopping in Fleurie and sat in the warm sunshine for a coffee and their 1st photo opportunity, because of the wine heritage connection with this village.

Pat noted that Phil appeared to be wearing designer cycling shorts which proved to be seductively sexy to all onlookers. Pat asked him if they were compression shorts from Ann Summers? Later that morning, because Pat was sightseeing and not following a wheel Phil said “I worry about you”… to which Pat felt suitable warm inside.

They saw absolutely nobody that afternoon as they passed along forestry lanes, except when they stopped for a pee and then miraculously people would always appear.

Top tip # If you’re ever lost and alone, just stop and have a pee, then there will always be someone to ask for help.

The pressure of this year’s ‘penance’ told on the team that day, as because of their ascents of Col Fortmartin and Mont St Vincent, they were progressing too slowly to stop for lunch. By early afternoon their bottles were empty and they were all becoming depleted as they cycled in their own trance-like states. Pat was so desperate to eat that he considered every possible option to obtain food but he was frightened on being dropped. At last, at about 3.00pm they found a small town. Pat and Phil hit the boulangerie, with Martin and Stew raiding the supermarket. Phil had bought 2-desert cakes before Pat pointed out the savoury counter, where he bought 3-other flans and pastries. All four sat in the shade on a park bench next to the main road and scoffed uncontrollably, much to the amusement of passing motorists. The initial relief of refuelling was a beautiful contented feeling!

But it was followed by:
“Oh lads, my stomach doesn’t feel good after that”
“Perhaps you should have chewed some of it”
“But you’ve only gobbled 5-pastries of cheese and custard”?

They arrived in at their hotel at 6.30pm and being on the outskirts of Burgundy, drank the wine of the region and dined on local produce, cheese and beef bourguignon. The dining experience was very good and the restaurant was very smart in white linen and silver cutlery.

After a  long day on the road, they retied for the night and the next day they set off at 8.30am after a suitably filling breakfast and settling their bill of €85/rider.

Day 2  – Wednesday  27th July: Autun to Chaource

As they rode out of town, they realise what they’d missed, Autun has; Roman history, Edwardian architecture, narrow streets, café culture, parks and an ancient amphitheatre.  Perhaps they’d see it all the next time they’d visit?

All they’d seen the previous day was ‘agi’ and not café culture. They rode on through the Cote D’Or region of Burgundy into Champagne. Cycling through the Lycce forestry region, they returned to more farmland. After one particular descent, the road turned right into shade, disguising a surface of loose gravel, on which, each rider performed a fully upright slither. Before Pat hit this patch, he was shouting at Phil for what he thought was Phil showing off, doing back-wheel slides.

That afternoon, as the ascended again they noticed a hug tractor apparently in repair (because of the acreage of these fields their tractors are the size of Transformer-like robots!). On another ascend 1-hr up the road a small truck was hurtling down towards them, towing a trailer which was carrying a hug tyre, presumably for the tractor down the road. As the truck driver took a left turn too quickly, it looked to FuCCLUK that the trailer would bounce across the road into them, but the tyre was heavy enough the keep the trailer stable. Perhaps, it was this combination of; near misses, boring terrain, fatigue or simply the shock but the other riders became aware that Phil had come down with a bad case of ‘bugler’s turrets’.  As at the instant of relief that the trailer would stay on course he said “Doo doodle a do do do”.

The other riders tried to play Phil’s affliction down by joining him in a rendition of ‘the last post’.

Late in that afternoon, Stewart said to Pat “If anybody asked me what I’d seen so far, all I can remember is Phil’s wheel, saddle post and arse”. He had obviously seen too much of this vision as he rode on the inside of Phil wheel and Phil moved him onto the grass verge. With no harm done they progressed into the early evening. They didn’t arrive at their hotel until 7.00pm, due to 2-reasons; 1 –Chaource is too small a place to be shown on any map or road sign & 2 – they’d has another taxing day in the saddle, up and down dale.

At this ‘Logis’ Hotel, the care of the cyclist was delegated to an effeminate school leaver, who was a very junior manager who had no idea where to put our bikes for the night and the other young staff, who had the more experience, helped by giggling at him and leaving him to struggle. The rider’s appreciated the hotel’s ‘tough love’ training regime, as being close to their hearts.

The evening meal was very good and it was clear, that by viewing the clientele, that diners travelled far and wide to dine at this restaurant.  Unfortunately for the rider’s that night, they were too ‘bushed’ to even order champagne with their desserts.

Before going to bed, Martin said “Don’t worry lads, tomorrow’s a rest day, it’s only 60-miles” The next morning they settled their bills of €90/rider, which included; a few beers, fine wine, a gastronomic meal, a room with a fine view, bed & breakfast.

Day 3 – Thursday 28th July: Chaource to Sezanne

As they collected their bikes from the garage, the sun disappeared behind a cloud and rain started to fall!

In silence the four set off at 8.30am, 3-riders donning capes and Pat, optimistically, wearing a gillet. Within a few 100m, the rain stopped and cloudy sunshine was returned.
They were lucky to find an excellent place for lunch that day, as as it approached noon, they couldn’t find anywhere to eat.

They even chased and caught a bread van which was delivering to the village OAPs. Martin was the first to the van’s trading window and Pat when in front of it so they didn’t have to chase it down again. Martin asked for a baguette?, but the van only carried bread and Haribo! (Whatever this says about the eating habits of the elderly in France?).

They eventually found a family-run restaurant serving a high quality Plat de Jour for €12. Finding this restaurant confirmed to the riders how France had changed, as in previous tours, there were excellent cafes in almost every village, but in 2011, the villages of this region appeared to be unoccupied and the only places which had cafes were at intersection points with ‘red’ route roads.

At this lunch part of the conversation went like this:
Phil “Stew, don’t pick at your food, EAT, as you don’t know when you’ll get the chance to eat again”
Stew “can I get you a bigger spoon”.

Their journey that afternoon passed through more extensively large fields of grain, which was being harvesting to high precision by a contract work-force. This region was again; very quiet, nothing appeared to happen in these areas, Pat doubted whether it even turned dark at night.

This might be why they saw what looked like a small field of marijuana?

Approaching Sezanne, they were overtaken by a 16-year old on a moped, who was texting as he rode and who almost brushed the riders as he passed by. If he was looking to impress, he had achieved his goal, but this was not enough for him. He stopped, waited for them to go by, then overtook again, this time with his arms in a crucifix position, during which his front wheel hit a bump, throwing him into an S-shaped wobble. Unfortunately, he controlled the moped and avoided a crash which the riders were looking forward to.

The sun was shining bright at 2.00pm so a 3.00 they stopped in a café/bar for a beer, 3-sat down and as Pat went to the bar, Phil shouted “what’s that with the red tap”? It was lemonade, so Pat directed the bar-woman to serve the 3-seated riders from the red tap and that I’d have a beer. She didn’t believe me and served beers all round, much to the fun of the obligatory local customers.

The main street through Sezanne was under re-construction, where a new water main was being installed to all dwellings. Not having the same safety constraints as the UK, the unprotectedly clothed construction working put on a dust-cloud show for the riders entertainment complete with unguarded angle grinders.

Their Logis in Sezanne was a traditional hotel and restaurant. They’d arrived at 4.00pm that day, which turned out to be an 80-mile ‘rest’ day. This timing allowed the riders to stroll around town and enjoy a couple of beers before dinner.

Their meal was very well sourced, cooked, prepared and served by a carefree waitress who was more intent with chatting-up a guy who was dining alone on the next table to them. This evening they did order; aperitifs, fine wine and fine champagne, and that was probably why their combined bill at this hotel totalled €500 (when they settled it the next morning).

Day 4 – Friday 29th July: Sezanne to Noyon

As usual they set off at 8.30ish and at about 10.30 it started to drizzle, so they stopped at a café by the train station in Conde en Brie, which was the best coffee they’d tasted this trip! Typical of all French bars / cafes in the morning, the customers always comprise of; an OAP, a drunk, an idiot and someone with a physical disability, all somehow having the cash to continuously buy drinks. All these watering holes are, however, very pleasant and friendly to all visitors.

Martin was always keeping the others kept to the programme, as he constantly checked his watch, “We need to go” he said. Luckily the drizzle had stopped and on they progressed into the rolling agricultural countryside, where they hardly saw a car all day.

They were again late for lunch, only finding a restaurant at 1.00pm. They were tired from the previous days and as Phil parked his bike, he emphatically stated that he was going to have a ‘dry’ day.

Phil asked the proprietor “Cat Person, sil vou plait”? and sat down. When Pat returned from the toilet he saw 4-beers on the table. “Have you ordered these Pat”? Phil said menacingly. This situation all became clear when Martin realised that the proprietor thought Phil had ordered “Cat Precon, sil vou plait”? Eventually they clarified their order, plat de jour had ended, however, cold meat and exceedingly good chips were provided, but only because the female proprietor persuaded the chef to do so. She did this because her daughter is the reigning road race champion of France!

They arrived in Noyon at 4.00 and drank a beer outside a café in the sunshine, watching numerous people coming and going. They hadn’t seen enough of this, as in the villages they saw no sign of life at all. As they relaxed, people watching, Pat point and said “look at that for a tight arse” The others looked and said “Pat. That’s a bloke”
“Well” Pat said “we should be PC enough to appreciate any arse shouldn’t we”?

They stopped at the same hotel they’d used in 2007, but it had recently changed hands and the new owner said that there was no booking from us, to which Phil produced his confirmation email. So they we in, but the place had lost some of its charmed, which had been refurbished out of it and the new owner was entertaining a photographer in an attempt to publicise its modern refurb. Their rooms were palatial; 5m ceilings, artistic cornice-work, large floor plates, sumptuous double bed, kid’s bed, marble fireplace and even a piano.

At diner the owner gave the riders the bottle of champagne, from which he had served a glass to the photographer.  3-ordered a main course of fish mouse, which the owner said was an excellent choice and just to be different, Pat ordered course of Catfish and trimmings.

None of the 3-riders could finish their fish mouse, saying that they hated both its taste and texture. At trying their remains, Pat thought their dish tasted like bean curd, OK for a starter but way too much for a main course. After eating they retired to their beds, as they were all too old and tired to hit the town’s nightlife.

The décor of the hotel was simple but also of very high quality. This was the only hotel where their bikes weren’t undercover, so they locked them to drain pipes and relied on the CCTV system to deter thieves. Even with the free champagne, their hotel bill was €120/rider,

Day  5 –  Saturday 30th July: Noyon to Hesdin

They stopped in Montiel for coffee and found a Turkish Pizza and Kebab house for lunch. The Kebab lunch was good, old fashioned, tasty food, which the riders enjoyed with a couple of beers as a welcome change from their usual gastronomic cuisine.

The waitress has worked in the UK and spoke to them in rusty English. She had stayed in Wales where they spoke Welsh and had gone to London to learn English, but when she got there, she said that there weren’t enough English people she could speak with.

Unfortunately Stew couldn’t face his food, even though Phil reminded him that “This could be all we get to eat until we get back to Calais”.

It was unfortunate for Stew, because that afternoon he ‘bonked’.

On the final part of a shallow descent he complained of feeling; faint, cold and jelly-like. He dismounted and fell back on a grass verse, unable to go on; Pat got off and also sat down, happy to sunbathe until Stew had recovered. Martin and Phil back-tracked to them “What’s going on”? Warning them “You’ve’ picked a bloody dangerous spot to sunbathe” and “We’ve still got 30-miles to go!”. Pat asked Martin and Phil to carry on and that he and Stew were going to take a break. After about 10-mins Stew re-mounted and off they went, Martin & Phil had waited-up as Pat and Stewart slowly rejoined them. On they went at a slower pace, which was still too much on the remaining climbs.

That afternoon they enjoyed the best weather of the week. It was also the afternoon of 2-wasp stings; one on Martin’s hand and the other on the inside of his mouth, as they cycled across the Somme. This region has a rippling landscape of rolling farmland, without trees or hedgerows, where there appeared to be no noise and hardly any bird life.  They passed-by a series of cemeteries, all well maintained but the whole region had an eerie silence.

They arrived in Hesdin town square at about 4.00pm, replenished themselves with a couple of beers and whether the barmaid suggested a quiet and direct route to get to their hotel.

Phil and Martin shared a room next to an English couple who were in a Caterham 7, where Phil thought they meant they were from Caterham, Surrey. This was one or the cheapest hotels that they’d stayed at and it was one on the least expensive, it had a large garden with an orchard to sit and relax in, clean accommodation and very good food and wine.

They didn’t use the garden because in was being used a conference area for a group of French Social workers. Phil saw no purpose in social work, “The only thing troubled people need, is to join a good cycling club”.

It was their last night but Stew was in bed at 8.30, trying to recover. Phil was only half an hour behind him, there was to be no big-night finish although Phil did treat himself to a cigar that he’d been carrying all week. The coffee after diner had awoken Pat who decided to stroll around the area to see if there was any entertainment, but all the local residents appeared to have all gone south for their holidays, as tomorrow was, after all, the 1st August.

Day 6 – Sunday 1st August: Hesdin to Calais

The week had been a good journey, if a little too quiet and not quite sunny enough. However, they’d had; no punctures, no mechanicals, no accidents, mainly dry weather and a good ride each day.

After breakfast, they rode the last 60-miles to Calais non-stop, as they wanted to catch the earliest ferry home. Their final leg was into a gentle headwind and at one point, up a small climb, Stew turned to Pat and asked “What speed are we doing”? “21mph” Pat replied.

The Home Leg

The highlight of the ferry crossing was the guy issuing announcement on the PA system; first we was selling, in a language all of his own, as if he was an American actor:

“Don’t forget to pick-up holiday reading material” he said in English, where we were all going to England.

“The duty-free shop is open”
“The duty-free shop is still open”
“The duty-free shop will close in 5-minutes”
“Last chance to pick-up duty-frees”
“The queue at the cafeteria has somewhat abated and you can pick-up fish chips and ice cream for the take away price of £7,99”

Then later he became threatening:

“Do not go to your cars until I announce it is safe to do so, I will give you plenty of time”

“We are making our final approach into port, please move out of the corridors” The passengers weren’t aware that they’d made any previous attempts?

“Move away from the corridors”
“We will not open the doors if you crowd the corridors”
“For all those people who think my messages don’t apply to them, let me tell you, that they do”
“I can see you’re ignoring me, but we won’t let you go though to your cars until ALL PASSENGER MOVE BACK”

For the journey home from Dover, Team 1 had another cunning plan which was to go back by train

Team 2 sat on the beach eating 99’s and waited for Peggy to chauffeur them back to base.

Well done Martin, for; the route planning, timekeeping and map reading.

Well done Phil, for booking our accommodation in advance.

Well done Stewart for toughing it out

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