Day Sixty Seven: Noirmoutier - Grampies Go On Their Knees - CycleBlaze

June 2, 2017

Day Sixty Seven: Noirmoutier

This could only have been a wonderful day, because on it we were reunited with our old friend Michel. Michel drove down from Ste Luce, near Nantes, to guide us around Noirmoutier, which is a 20 km long island just offshore from where we are at La Barre de Monts.

We were meant to meet up with Michel in the parking lot of the Intermarche, a km away from our B&B. We had a bit of time, so I was sitting on the bed with our ground floor door open, writing an email, when up walked ... Michel!

It has been at least two years since we have seen this most wonderful man, so it really was a thrill.

Michel, for the record, is one of the few people who can actually cycle with the Grampies, since his trike allows him to maintain speeds as low as 1 km/hr!

Earlier I had thought that Michel has visited Noirmoutier three times, but in fact he has come every year since 2009. We would soon see why, for this island with its three or four towns has all sorts of great features.

Before even leaving the B&B, we introduced Michel to our hostess Karine, and to Vanille, her dog. Karine had a try with Michel's trike, which is "tadpole" design, with the two wheels in the front, and one wheel with a Rolhoff hub in the rear.

Then we were off, with Michel leading the way, presenting the characteristic low profile of the recumbent trike. It's a bit freaky following Michel, because from behind you can not see him pedalling, so he just seems to glide along, like a slow (very slow) moving car.

We proceeded first through the village of La Barre/Fromentine, which as described yesterday is comprised mainly of white houses with orange roofs. With Michel leading, for one Dodie got to just noodle along behind, unconcerned for where in detail we were going.

The first target, clearly, was the big bridge over to the island. It is not as scary as it looks, and from the top we had a great view of the surrounding beaches and waters. We paused at the top for a photo, and were soon joined by another cyclist making the crossing. This cyclist caught my attention because he had a complete outfit branded "Hyper U". I am very enamoured with the "U" stores, for their selection and quality. Previously I had only known of their "Super U", "U", and "U Express" size stores. But here was evidence of the existence of "Hyper U". Gotta see that.

Karine and Vanille give Michel's Scorpion a try
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Off we go, following Michel
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Through the white and orange buildings
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On top of the Noirmoutier bridge
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Hyper U!
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We already knew of three claims to fame for Noirmoutier - potatoes, salt, and oysters. We ran into these very quickly. First were the potato fields. You could see that there could be something special here, since the soil was almost all sand. We have also seen "sand wine" but for some reason vines are not grown here.

Michel told the story of an earlier visit when he tried to buy potatoes from a farmer in his field. The man refused, because potatoes here are controlled by a coop and even roadside sales are regulated. Michel was able to cajole the fellow by offering to buy him a coffee, in return for some free potatoes.

At our roadside stop we learned that there are three varieties grown, and the ones on offer right now are the "Sirtema". There are also organic ones or not, and different grading categories. So it is not easily possible to compare our grocery store ones from yesterday to what we might have bought today. Anyway, they were 5.50 per kg. So that's $3.50 / pound. How does that compare to back home?

Just down the road was the first salt flat. Here we saw men with squeegies on sticks sweeping the water towards a sump pump, in order to clean and empty the flat. Then to start the process again they will direct sea water through a series of flats, each, I think, with increasing salinity.

The salt is sold as both regular and "fleur de sel" varieties. The fleur you might think could be more powdery, but we bought two bags and frankly it looks like salt. I will try to learn more about it and see if I can tell the difference. We bought the salt from a lady in a little stall right in front of the flats. I asked her if the salt came from these flats, and got an animated but not angry reaction. It was a faux pas though to ask a French producer if they really produced the whatever. What do you think, it comes here from China??

(This reminds me of a similar type of faux pas that I heard once in a bakery in Montreal. A lady asked the baker "Is it fresh?" Ouch!)

Next we passed the oyster producers. Not being much (or at all) into oysters we did not stop off. so unfortunately I have not oyster anecdotes.

There are many bike rental places on the island, and this is for good reason. Firstly, the place is scenic. Next there are many bike paths and many quiet small roads. Finally, in and around the townsites there is little parking. So this is a place to bring or rent a bike. A little bike heaven, in fact. So we often joined cyclists on the paths, but really there were no crowds to make life even a little bit unpleasant. On the contrary, this was one of the most pleasant cycling experiences there could be.

The potatoes grow in a very sandy soil, probably the secret here
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Before any real touring, need to check out the bakery!
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ow about this fruit tart!
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Potatoes for sale by the roadside
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Working on the salt flats
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The salt lady
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Oysters for sale
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More salt flats. The maps shows vast acres of them.
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Lots of cyclists, lots of cycle ways
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Michel arrives at Noirmoutier town
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It was a pleasant surprise when we reached Noirmoutier en l'Ile, the town at the top of the island, to find that it had a bit of narrow street ambiance, a market in progress, and even a small castle and church.

The castle is basically a 12th century structure, with of course a long history which you can read here. The church was pretty normal, but I especially liked it for having recorded music of monks chanting inside. I also liked a poster that was mounted on the outside. The detractors of organized (and unorganized) religion have a very strong case, but the sentiments of 1 John 4:7 are right on:

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.

The market going on in the centre of town also had two notable things. First was a number of small or foldable pairs of ebikes, parked by their owners on the edges. One was a Kalkhoff model with eight speed rear hub, that looked very interesting. Kalkhoff is a brand that is well regarded by some friends of ours, but Michel warned that he has had a bad experience with them. so the jury is out on Kalkhoff bikes. It does happen to be a brand that one can find near our place, though.

The other notable thing was a band marching through the market. It's hard to characterize what they were. I will post two photos, but with any luck will be able to put up a short video. They sure were original and amusing!

Michel lead us out along a long embankment which formed an edge of basically a bird sanctuary, called the Mullenbourg natural reserve. I can't say we necessarily saw more natural things here, but it was a dramatic run out by the sea. we then turned and entered a forested area bordered by beaches. The forest gave us a shady spot for our picnic lunch.

Small ebikes at the market
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A small Kalkhoff ebike
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Potatoes at the market
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The amusing market band
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Downtown Noirmoutier
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In the chruch at Noirmoutier
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The poster on the church facade.
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A building in Noirmoutier
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The Noirmoutier castle and church
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Out beside the nature preserve
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A map view of Noirmoutier
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The picnic break gave me a chance to give my rear wheel a spin, as I had a look to see why it had been going "clunk clunk" on braking, for the past half hour. The reason was immediately evident. The rim was split and getting ready to fail. We knew this would be followed by a tire failure, blowout, and a screetching halt to our tour, assuming I did also not go flying.

The failing rim
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So now what? This was certainly a change to ur idyllic island jaunter! We returned to Noirmoutier town and got bounced from one bike shop to the one in town most likely to be able to help. This was called Charier Cycles, and certainly had enough tools and parts in heaps on its counters. But the staff shook their heads and said they did not have the parts for this repair.

It is a bit of a complicated problem. The simplest approach for this broken rim is to have a replacement one - that would be a 20" with 32 holes. Then "all" that is needed is to disassemble the old wheel and harvest the spokes, cassette, and hub, and use all this to build a wheel, presumably on a while you wait basis. Not going to happen. Especially since they did not have a 20" rim of any description. But they phoned around - bike shops up to 30 km distant. Nope!

Another solution would be to buy a complete 20" wheel and pop it in. After all, hadn't we seen lots of 20" ebikes running around - right over by the market? And then there are all those 20" kids' bikes. So is there a 20" wheel in stock? Nope.

I pointed to a 20" kids' bike and its rear wheel, and said "Well that there is a 20" rear wheel!" "But no" they replied "That is one of our rental bikes, not for sale".

At this point I said to Michel "Can you use your obvious French communication ability and work out some solution here?" But Michel (correctly) remarked "With your broken French you can appear more pathetic, and you will probably get further than me". Actually, the bike shop people were pretty good, and they were trying to come up with an answer. They took my point that they could rip the wheel from their rental bike now, and order a replacement in the coming week with no problem. But they pointed out that the rental wheel was a 5 speed freewheel. It was incompatible wih my 8 speed shifter.

We retired to the street to see if we could dream up another strategy. We could take a train to Nantes and look for parts there. We could gamble on the existing wheel making it to Nantes, and so forth. Finally I resolved that after 3000 km of cycling I did not really need any gears, all I needed was a wheel that turned. So why not slap that rental wheel on and get moving, any which way.

This time Michel went back in. He convinced them to sell the wheel The man included the installed tire and recommended that we just carry the complete assembled wheel strapped to the bike, and only attempt to use it if the original one did blow up. He sold the assembly for 58 euros, presumably his cost for getting a replacement in due course.

So now we had some kind of wheel, and Dodie deftly strapped it onto the bike. But this idea of waiting for the original to explode did not sit well. Firstly if it was going to do it it would certainly choose a highway in the rain, or some other equally inconvenient venue. Or it could choose to do it while zooming down the backside of a bridge. And besides, with the broken rim, I had no rear brakes.

The second consideration was, just as the bike shop had said, there is only a vague chance that a five speed kid's bike wheel with fat, weak, tire and greater rim width was even going to fit, or work, on my bike. Better to find that out in the cool calm of our B&B.

So we returned home, sadly bypassing he chance to look at the Passage du Gois, which is the other way off the island. This is a road that is normally submerged, but that becomes passable at low tide, obviously for a limited period. Ah, now there would be a good spot for the tire to explode!

We had to throw the fat tire away, readjust the brakes for the wider rim, and change the upper and lower end stops of the derailleur, but to our amazement my 8/9 speed cassette chain worked on the 5 speed freewheel, and the indexed shifting was right on the five sprocket locations, given enough clicks of the shifter to get the derailleur to select one of the existing sprockets. In short, it worked!

So assuming the kids' wheel does not buckle under the touring load, we are back in business. What's more we were able to add to our pleasant outing with our friend the challenge of working on a problem together.

(This in nothing new, of course. Every time we get together with Michel we have some sort of problem for him. In fact this time in advance of coming down here he asked what we needed, and was surprised to have us claim we were ok. )

So one more time we parted with Michel, watching as he pedalled away. But there will be another day. We will make sure of it.

Hey, what about using some of this stuff?
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A bike shop that looks like this ought to have something of use, right?
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The bikeshop manager confers with Michel
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The new old wheel gets strapped on
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In the distance we see cars passing over the Passage du Gois
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Beautiful shades as seen from the bridge
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Michel and Dodie come up over the crest of the bridge
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The view of Fromentine from the bridge
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The old team is back at it
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A few more adjustments and it's good to go!
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Bye for this time, Michel.
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Today's ride: 53 km (33 miles)
Total: 3,119 km (1,937 miles)

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