I would open this post with a picture but I cant remember taking one. The reason? The Weather!
Now, living in Devon, I’m quite used to the wet stuff dropping from the sky. It’s quite a regular thing down our way. It’s rarely a problem as we’re all geared up for it. I on the other hand, whilst in France was far from prepared. I didnt account for such eventualities as 2 degrees C, driving rain, sleet, and at one point, snow! Even the new gear I bought yesterday was struggling to cope with it.
I left Chaumont and immediately headed downhill towards the canal. The downhill bit made me wince with the cold in the air. Luckily for me (and this is the only piece of good fortune to fall my way today), the wind was from the north and although bitterly cold, it would give me a bit of a helping hand.
5 miles after setting off, spirits were quickly dampened (saturated actually) as rain started to fall. It fell downwards and at times horizontally. My new so-called weatherproof gloves were useless under such conditions as the circulation to my fingers retreated and numbness replaced it. The old feet weren’t fairing much better and after 25 miles or so on the canal, it was time to leave it due to there being a tunnel. This would mean going over the top but before departing the canal, I sought some shelter in a small shed that was provided for the very purpose.
Whilst sat in this shed, a local employee stepped out of his Renault. He was from the canal and waterways authority and approached me. He was of huge build with glasses that made his eyes look wider than they actually were. He reminded me of one of those filtered selfies you see on social media these days. It also gave him the appearance of someone that had just received some shocking news! In addition to this he was clearly very accomplished and adept at cigarette smoking. I watched as he took a long hard drag on a Gauloise before inhaling it deeply and continuing his conversation. I then stared in disbelief as this inhaled smoke was showing no signs of escaping. Between sentences he also had a terrific wheeze but then that’s no surprise! For the sake of reference we’ll call our smoke-swallowing friend Michele (all men in France called Michel drive Renaults and smoke Gauloises). Michele told me in pigeon english that I could proceed no further on the canal and needed to go over the top. I replied in pigeon French that I knew this was the case and then went on to enquire how steep ‘over the top’ actually was. After swallowing another litre of smoke, he gave a shrug and replied ‘pas mal’ – meaning ‘not too bad really’. At this point, I then had a brainwave to try and warm up my now-numb hands. I had a dry pair of fleece gloves which I then put on underneath a couple of polythene bags to keep the rain off. Actually, one was a Tesco’s carrier and the other had some stale brioche rolls in which I binned. It worked. Before long my hands were warm as I left the familiar and flat canal and headed for the hills. Michele had already stumbled into his Renault and departed the scene.
As it transpired, it turns out that Michele is also a bloody liar! The climb up to the town of Langres was brutal and with numb feet and now-warm hands I pushed the bike upwards with each summit concealing another. Langres seemed to be well appointed with plenty of bars and cafes (all closed of course). I was tempted to stop off and try and find somewhere for lunch and/or at least a hot drink but nothing was open (as usual!). On the way out of the town, I spied a restaurant that was open and almost turned tail and went in but then I thought, if I do go in and ‘de-robe’ so to speak, it would be even harder to get going again. The rain was still falling and turning to sleet. Utterly miserable it was too.
The southbound road out of the town then commenced with a 3 mile descent. I freewheeled down and with the tailwind, was soon cruising at over 30mph without even turning a pedal. Under blue skies and warm sunshine this would’ve been fab. Today tho, as the sleet then morphed into snow, the wind chill on my delicate face was now well below freezing. Also, after all the climbing, my hands were now hot, moisture had condensed in the plastic bags making the gloves wet and within an hour my hands were on their way to being numb once more.
With relief, I was back on the canal again. The tunnel was obviously the summit of the canal and after climbing gradually, it was now my turn to descend. A quick look at the Garmin told me I still had 42 bitter miles to cover. I’d given up on any ideas of lunch and just went for it. 42 miles pretty much without a stop apart from junctions where roads cross and you’ve no choice.
It was a quick 40+ miles (by my standards) and on arrival at Heuilley sur Saone, I found the accommodation quickly and was given a very warm welcome with hot tea and an offer to wash and dry all of my kit. Result! 70+ miles in total in dreadful conditions. If I’d been at home I wouldn’t have even entertained the thought of venturing out in it.
Anyway, all done! Tomorrow is Sunday and the forecast is changing for the better!
Ciao for now.