Return to the dragon's cave - How to avoid a mother-in-law - CycleBlaze

Return to the dragon's cave

There are times you feel smug just to be a cyclist. Yes, it's raining; yes, I'm on a busier road than I'd want. But only I, on a bike, could just stop where I chose and take pictures in the Défile de Pierre-Lys
Heart 3 Comment 0

The main road that the helpful villager had discouraged me from using was no problem at all. In summer and in better weather it could have been a lot busier, because it led to the Défile de Pierre-Lys. But, raining again, there was little incentive for everyday tourists to make the gentle descent through the towering white cliffs. I didn't exactly have them to myself, because the traffic was steady, but never did it become unpleasant. In fact there was a distinct pleasure in being able to stop and pull into tiny openings in the safety barrier to take photos. Those in cars may have wished to do the same but they couldn't.

I stopped in Limoux that night, the rain having stopped, then rode on next morning over a succession of tricky hills until I reached the Garonne valley. And there I turned off the road and on to the towpath of the canal du Midi. In a roadside restaurant advertised from the path, I was treated as a hero when the waitress asked where I'd been and where I was going and then spread the news to the rest of the clientèle.

"Well, I think you need a special reward," she said, all big beams, spreading hips and geniality. "To ride from Madrid is something special."

What I'd said was that I hadn't ridden from Madrid. Now wasn't the moment to argue, though, if I was to be specially rewarded.

"It's not every day we get someone who's done something like that," she enthused as she studied my bill and made marks on it with a pencil. I was sure I was going to be told I had eaten on the house.

"There," she said, turning the bill round and sliding it across the counter towards me, "I haven't charged you for the coffee."

All heroism has its limits, you see.

In general, the path along the canal is ridable, although most is partly compressed stones which take the edge off your speed. And for one stretch there was nothing but mud, which jammed under my mudguards and made progress difficult. I had given up riding and I was pushing and half-carrying my bike and now then poking a stick into it to keep it moving when a man riding the other way stopped to talk. His ambition had been to ride the canal from one end to the other but, since time prevented his doing it in one stretch, he was passing successive holidays riding on from where had stopped on the trip before.

"It'd be nicer to do it all at one stretch," he said in a thick, twanging southern accent ("Je preng du pang avec mon veng"), "but..." He shrugged to demonstrate the impossibility of life. "Peux pas. Tant pis."

He sympathised with the problem of the mud - he was on a mountain bike - but gave me the welcome news that not only would things soon improve but that the path would be surfaced properly all the way to Toulouse. And sure enough he was right. In another few hundred metres I came to a lock, where the path turned into a bumpy but firm lane, and then after 20 minutes of rough but firm track I started the perfectly surfaced section that ran between the canal and the motorway all the way to the city.

Riding through Toulouse didn't appeal, not because I was worried about the traffic - I could probably have got all the way to the centre by the canal - but because time was now pressing after 110km and I had no idea where I was going to stay. Riding into Toulouse would be followed by the time-consuming procedure of riding out again, with the demoralising effect of not knowing just when and where in the hinterland of the city I'd be able to sleep.

I turned off into the outskirts, soon realised that there'd be no camp site anywhere, and set off into Toulouse in the hope of a cheap hotel. Well, there weren't many and those that there were were full. There are a good dozen hotels around the station but not one had a bed. I never found out why. Shrugging, I walked to the station, discovered that I could take my bike on the next TGV to Agen, survived the attentions of an unpleasant beggar whom I pretended not to understand, got on the train and rode home through the darkness for a day of 151km. Steph, whom I'd phoned several times without success, was staying by the ocean with her mum, with whom she'd been playing golf. They arrived home next day.

I hadn't escaped my mother-in-law after all.

Rate this entry's writing Heart 5
Comment on this entry Comment 0