Arabian knights - A country hidden by a large dog - CycleBlaze

August 4, 2019

Arabian knights

Valence to Santhonay Village

Rolling through Lyon. The town's symbol, predictably, is a lion
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"TUNISIA", said one of the three men outside a side-street café. "It's a beautiful country. You really should go."

He had lived in France for decades but he still had his accent. Since we do, too, it made for mutual leg-pulling.

North Africans are strong on leg-pulling. Once, in Morocco, a Scottish acquaintance had booked an early-morning bus. He was looking forward to seeing Marrakesh and went on about it rather too long. When he didn't believe our claims that the clock would change overnight, he went into a bar to check.

The barman, quick to spot a set-up, looked at him seriously and then in a diary.

"Clock change tonight," he said earnestly. "It says here maybe yes, maybe no. Nobody has decided. You ask again in the morning."

Anyway, to get back to a small street in central France, the owner was maybe in his 50s and also from Tunisia.

"Hallo!" he had shouted in English as he saw us approaching. "Welcome, Americans!"

I don't know what we had done to be assessed as Americans and we concluded that perhaps his grasp of accents didn't go quite far enough.

He wore a pale T-shirt over a spinnaker belly. Printed optimistically on the shirt in English were the words "Triathlon: long distance." When I pointed it out, he looked down at a double-breakfast midriff that had long denied him sight of his shoes and he laughed.

"Getting in and out of bed," he said. "That's my training."

Our meeting was a relief  after the Via Rhôna turned to disaster. I don't know what the policy is at Lyon city hall or the departmental offices but the impression they give is that they have no interest in a route which everywhere else is treated with pride.

Those people in their comfortable government buildings need a good talking-to
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Gone were the smooth and separate paths. Gone was all sign of one of the world's loveliest and safest cycling routes. Sparse and apologetically temporary signs pushed us on to busy roads, then over a bridge on which tempers boiled because the lights at each end weren't set long enough to let each side through. And cyclists, of course, felt like gladiators at the first sight of lions.

We got sent down a stony track that challenged even mountain-bike riders, then to a highway of overheated drivers already delayed by Lyon's notorious jams and now spreading those jams elsewhere by trying to avoid the stopped traffic on the autoroute. This, after all, is one of the busiest weekends in France and the sun had drawn many to take the risk for a few nights by the sea.

We get our smooth bike path back in central Lyon, but probably only because the city would be too embarrassed to do otherwise
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Finally, after another single-track path and little help from Lyon's traffic department, we rode through the city centre beside a Rhône that had become an inland coastal town with sunbathers on the grass and swimmers in the river and families buying ice cream. River cruise ships waited for passengers they'd let loose into the shopping streets.

We rode slowly and happily through the crowds, noting women holding hands with each other, men holding hands with each other and a reassuring number of mixed-race couples entwined round each other. When I see things like that, I feel confident the world isn't such a bad place after all.

A bit of delicate map-reading took us over a pedestrian bridge and then through steep residential streets and into the countryside. We are camping tonight in a small grassy field lined on two sides by low, unkempt bushes and on a third by waist-high maize. That and the bushes keep us hidden from the stony path that brought us here.

I'm looking down on the wide and shallow valley through which high-speed trains travel at low speed because this is Sunday and a good day for digging up tracks. In the distance are hazy hints of the Alps. When I've finished writing this, I'll get out of this chair and turn in for an early night.

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