Vieux - St-Maurin - In Céventh Heaven - CycleBlaze

September 18, 2011

Vieux - St-Maurin

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For twelve days we had been fast companions; we had travelled upwards of a hundred and twenty miles, crossed several respectable ridges, and jogged along with our six legs by many a rocky and many a boggy by-road. After the first day, although sometimes I was hurt and distant in manner, I still kept my patience; and as for her, poor soul! she had come to regard me as a god. She loved to eat out of my hand. She was patient, elegant in form, the colour of an ideal mouse, and inimitably small. Her faults were those of her race and sex; her virtues were her own. Farewell, and if for ever-

THE LAST DAY of a journey can be the best or the worst. It can take you to an unseen ocean or it may be no more than well-known roads, back home. Stevenson's journey ended with a note of regret about how he had treated Modestine, his donkey. For all that he abused her, she stayed loyal if often stubborn. By the end, master and beast had become friends. But then Modestine became lame. She would need two days of rest.

Stevenson, whose friendship for Modestine didn't extend to waiting two days for her to recover, sold her for 35 francs. Old francs, that is, or barely centimes in modern money. He felt bereaved, he said, but not so heart-stricken that he hadn't bargained up from 25.

My own last day began after a night of rain. The joy of a naturist site is that you can hang all your clothes to dry. The risk is that it will then rain and soak all you have. I fled at dusk, out of the tent, barefooted and more, to sweep up my belongings as the first drops fell. But by morning it had stopped and my 11-year record was secure.

The joys of morning rain - but not until after I'd taken down the tent
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There'd be little to say of this ride were it not for two events in the last two hours. For the rest was all roads I had ridden many times, past the tourist village of Puycelci - which died after the first world war because too many of its men perished on the barbed wire of the north - and then to Montauban, and Moissac, up the hill past the hostel where the walkers of the Chemin de Compostelle spend the night, across the junction at Fauroux where I once saw the Tour de France spin by, and then home after a couple more hills.

The first of two events was a bike race. I think I said before that the passion here in the south is not football, still less cycling, but rugby. What you may not know is that cycling has an official, international body called the FFC and another, more for enthusiasts although often at a high level, called UFOLEP - ooh-foe-lep. This was an ooh-foe-lep race.

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The riders I saw riding nervously down the road towards me weren't inclined to smile. They had things on their mind. When I reached the junction in the next village, I could see what. For lined across one road were two groups of cyclists with, to their side, a temporary stand from which a man with a heavy southern accent was trying to excite the crowd by reading a list of names.

Et quareng-neuf..a, c'est Richard Dumouleng..a, de Toulous..a...

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In the manner of southerners, he pronounced the E at the end of every word that had one, added one to those that didn't, and never failed to twang the rest, rendering vingt as veng and cent as ceng.

I stood and watched a couple of laps. There were two groups, one seemingly less talented than the other, the better riders setting off a couple of minutes behind They set off like starlings, a flapping pack, and they were no less ardent when they got back again after three kilometres and set off once more round the circuit. I remembered when I rode such races, never troubling the judges beyond making them stand around in the cold when they wanted to go home.

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But they weren't the only cyclists I saw today. For coming the other way, just as sedately and as loaded as I was, was a man with a week of stubble on his chain and skin that had withstood sun and storm. We stopped, of course, because that's what real cyclists do. His name was Fernand Gimenez. He had ridden to Santiago along the pilgrim trail, the St Jacques de Compostelle, then crossed Spain to the Mediterranean before riding over the Pyrenees for 'a week in the Cévennes.'

'I've just done that,' I said.


'A ride in the Cévennes. With Cyclo-Camping International.'

P. G. Wodehouse wrote once of a man who looked as though he had received the 8:30 express in the small of the back. Fernand adopted just that look. It turned out that he, too, was a CCI member and that he had spotted me as a nearby colleague and had planned to drop by. But, more than that, he had been on the very ride that I'd been on.

You'll remember that I told you members were free to come and go as they wished. Well, Fernand had come and gone and we had missed each other by a day. It's not every afternoon you meet another long-distance bike traveller who lives only an hour away. We exchanged e-mail addresses. We will meet again.

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Well, familiar roads, you remember. So not a lot to report, except that Moissac was en fête and that that included sheep and horses in pens along the road. Oh, and donkeys. Modestine would have been happy to have been among them.

And the donkey lived happily ever after...
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